Can you read minds? Now you might be thinking, “What kind of question is that?” But if you’re anything like me, there have probably been times when you didn’t have all the information, yet you were adamant that you knew what the other person was thinking.
Last week, I asked my partner Lynn why she was avoiding me. Then I answered my own question for her, inserting all of my shortcomings as her reasons. I was trying to be a mind reader!
As humans, we have the ability to make inferences based on people’s behaviors. That’s a good thing and it helps us navigate social situations. But sometimes, we get it wrong. The worst part of being so sure that we know what others are thinking is that our actions are then based on those faulty assumptions, creating a negative chain reaction. Many times, our faulty assumptions are a reflection of our own fears more than the other person’s mindset. We believe others are thinking thoughts that are far worse than they really are.
Sometimes, we get it wrong.
Take the above example. My accusations were projections of my feelings of inadequacy, part of my core hurts. I didn’t solicit any information from her and it was inflammatory. Is she going to let that slide? Most people would not. They’d retaliate in some way to defend themselves. Lynn does a great job not engaging in conflict, but she doesn’t like it when I act like I know what she’s thinking. Who could blame her?
Despite my mess-up the other night (I’m still a work in progress), I do a lot less mind reading than I used to. How? The key is to recognize early that I’m feeling badly. Once I see it happening, I try to remember this feeling is often (usually?) coming from inside my head and not based on real circumstances. I challenge the distorted thinking.
I try to remember this feeling is often coming from inside my head and not based on real circumstances.
Even if I can’t convince myself that my feelings are baseless, just having doubts is healthy. I’m more likely to ask her about what is happening vs. telling her. That, of course, feels better to her and is more likely to lead to a constructive conversation vs. an argument that could escalate.
Making assumptions and acting like a mind reader is just one of the many ways we create conflict and let it invade our relationships. Catching our negative feelings early and challenging those thoughts before we accuse our partners is a great new relationship skill to build.
Here’s another time when a relationship with God becomes an awesome benefit: it answers the inadequacy question. Do I have shortcomings? Sure, lots of them. Does that mean I’m inadequate or not valuable as a person? Not at all. God knows all of our deficiencies and still loves us. Removing my feelings of inadequacy helps me not mind-read, which means I’m less likely to start an argument. That’s progress I couldn’t make on my own.
Many thanks to LF who identified mind reading as a helpful topic for us to cover and who co-wrote this post with me. – Michael