The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

Patching Cracks

 

February 12, 2020



My kids argue. Any parent will tell you that kids always find something silly to disagree about. They get angry and start yelling or freezing each other out because of some petty disagreement. I’ve discovered that one of the most frequent elements of these fights is the assumption that they know what the other child is thinking. They assume that some careless word or accidental slight or offense is inspired by anger or spite or mean intentions. They are almost always wrong. Kids usually grow out of the petty version of this habit, but people in general struggle to shed the tendency to “read the mind” of the folks around them. I’ve often heard this habit referred to as a “thinking error” because we guess at something we can not possibly know and generally do so in the most incorrect way possible. With those we dislike, we assign the worst motives and thoughts. When we are insecure, we assume that everyone is judging us for some flaw we believe is glaringly obvious to the world. It is rare that I encounter folks who engage in “mind reading” in a way that helps make their lives better. Generally, it creates or amplifies hurt feelings or paralyzes us with anxiety. In the marital setting, it almost always results in arguments or loss of intimate communication. The assumption that our spouse did or didn’t do something based on cruel intentions cannot help but damage a relationship. Often, when I encounter this sort of problem in counseling I ask: “Is your spouse an evil person who wants to destroy you? Are their motives always aggressive? What do they gain from attacking you in this way?” Except in the more extreme instances, the response is: “No, they aren’t evil and trying to destroy me.” Once we scratch the surface of the issue, it is more often than not the case that the offense was thoughtless or impulsive. The crazy reality is that for the most part, people think about themselves or don’t think at all about the things they say or do. If I feel self conscious about a stain on my shirt or how messy my house is, I will be more likely to notice it and guess that everyone else does too. Most of the time other people just don’t pay that close attention to such things because people are not really that observant. If they do notice, they will likely offer a more charitable opinion of your situation that you will. How often do you notice an imperfection in others and assume they are a failure or a slob or a loser based on one thing? Most folks don’t think that way, but it’s easy to assume they are thinking it about us, especially when we feel insecure. This is why mind-reading is usually wrong and a terrible guide for thinking and feeling because it is usually motivated by our own insecurities and feelings rather than on what we know about the other person. It is terribly difficult to empathize with another person well enough to really anticipate what their motives or thoughts are. Often the best tact to take when we begin to assume things about how another person is thinking is to stop and ask: “Is this really realistic?” or to ask their perspective if the situation warrants it. The worst tact is to get bent out of shape or alter our lives around a guess at what someone else might be thinking, because we are almost always wrong.

 
 

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