I had a lovely young woman in my office recently that I have had the privilege of working with in her turbulent teens, and now in her trying twenties. She is one of those sweet, kind sensitive souls who would do anything to please someone she cares about. Personally, these are my favourite kind of people; otherwise known in the literature as “people-pleasers”. In this particular session, this pretty face looking at me intently spoke these words, “Esther, I have this problem with obsessing about what other people are thinking about me all the time and it’s driving me crazy. Can you tell me how to stop doing that?”
Well, little sister, your earnest request touched me deeply, for I too, was struggling with exactly the same issue when I was your age. And let me tell you, it’s not totally cured in my forties either. However, I have come a very long way in this regard. How? By increasing my awareness of what I am thinking, which then creates a feeling, and if it doesn’t sit well, then changing the way I talk to myself in a positive way, thus creating a more pleasant feeling.
In this young woman’s case, she is struggling with a form of distorted thinking called “Mind Reading”. Basically, you know you are mind reading when you assume you know what someone else is thinking without checking it out to be true. Unfortunately, we all do this and many of us do it A LOT. For the majority of times we mind read, we come up with a false conclusion which leaves us feeling crappy. Here’s an example:
Your partner is being quiet one evening and you automatically assume he’s mad at you. This creates a feeling of sadness and you feel rejected. Then all of a sudden, you yell at him, “Why are you so mad at me? You always shut me out!” What follows is shock on his part, then real anger because he’s being attacked and you falsely assumed what he was feeling and thinking and you’re both yelling and screaming and one of you ends up sleeping on the couch…or some variation on the theme.
So the next time you assume you know what another person is thinking, instead of attacking them or sinking into a funk because of a story you’ve made up, try communicating and getting your facts straight. I’m guessing the outcome will be a whole lot better. Here’s how you could re-do the following example:
You: “Hey sweetie. You seem quiet tonight. Why is that? Is everything okay?”
Your partner: “Oh. I didn’t realize that. I’m okay though. Thanks for checking in. I’m just a bit tired from working hard all day. How are you doing?”
You: “Hmmm. I’m not sure. I guess I’m a bit bored. Maybe I’ll pick up that book I’ve wanted to finish for a while…”
Which scenario appeals to you more?
Try this the next time you start mind reading and see what happens…I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
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