By David Joel Miller.
How good are you at reading minds?
I see a lot of mind readers and would be mind readers every day. I also see a lot of people in relationships that seem to believe their partner should be able to read their mind. These folks think they know what other people are thinking. These are amateur mind readers or spouses of amateur mind readers.
We are not talking here about the professional mind readers. The ones who study nonverbal communication and can tell about your feelings from your behavior. Professionals use intuition, that mix of gut felt-sense and small clues, which let them read the person in front of them. They couple that with some standard lines, some stage presence and a lot of luck and skill.
Amateur mind readers are neither skilled not willing to practice reading others. They just assume that they know what everyone else thinks about them. They are sure that no one likes them; everyone is talking about them and that the world is out to get them.
These would-be mind readers also believe that everyone else can, or should be able to, read their minds. They love to say. You know what I mean – without further explanation. If questioned they are indignant that you don’t know what they mean and will tell you that you should know how your speech and actions will affect them.
Mind readers are also quick to tell you that if they have to explain something to you then you wouldn’t get it anyway. There are also surprised at how often people just don’t get them. Their thinking goes that since you should know what they want and how what you say and do is affecting them, you must be doing things deliberately to hurt them.
Mind readers make serious efforts to guilt people into behavior. When that effort to guilt you into knowing their wants and needs fails to work, they are quick to tell you that if they have to explain it then you wouldn’t be able to get it anyway. You, of course, know what I mean?
Mind reading, the belief that we know what others are thinking about us, is one of those “cognitive distortions” that result in maladaptive or irrational thoughts. As we have seen in previous posts (see – Are they laughing at you) if you believe that others do not like you or disapprove of you, and you look for evidence of that, you just might find it.
These mind reading problems result in a lot of couple’s relationship problems. One partner believes that the way the other acts or something they say “means” that they don’t like you, don’t want to be with you and so on.
Occasionally these beliefs turn out to be correct not because of this current situation but cumulatively a person’s behavior and statements can give you that gut feeling we call intuition.
One thing that amateur mind readers fail to do is directly check out this belief about why others are saying and doing the things they do with the person involved. Getting couples to talk to each other and really hear what the other partner is saying and feeling, is a large part of couples counseling.
Despite what most mind readers believe, most partners have no idea what the other partner is talking about a good part of the time. They are often not attaching the same meanings to the words they say. (See post on Denotative and Connotative meanings of words.)
Continuing to act as if the person has the feelings and motives you have assigned to them creates actions that can bring this to reality. Remember when we talked about how thinking you are sick can actually make you sick? (The Nocebo effect) The same thing happens in relationships if you practice this amateur mind-reading.
You partner walks in the door, there is a disgusted look on their face. You realize that there are some things in the living room that you did not get picked up. You KNOW that they are thinking that you are a slob, they hate you and they wished they had never married you.
Your response to this partner’s look of disgust is to start to cry followed by a loud outburst. “I hate you.” Men skip the crying part and just storm out of the room.
The key problem with mind reading is that we decide what the other person is thinking without getting information from them. We also make the mistake of thinking that what others think and do is somehow about us. Often the others in our lives are preoccupied with their own problems and issues.
That partner of yours, they may have had a really bad day at work. Something went wrong and they are thoroughly disgusted with a coworker. They came home expecting to tell you the story. They were expecting some support from you. But your mind reading, your belief that everything the partner does is about you, has resulted in your statement “I hate you.”
Mind readers need to learn to check out these thoughts and beliefs at a calm rational time. We also need to stop thinking that everything others do is somehow about us and that others are responsible to do and not do things that might upset us.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books