Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cognitive Distortion # 6b, Mind Reading

The second cognitive distortion that falls into the category of "jumping to conclusions", ie: jumping to a negative assumption that is not justified by the facts of a situation, is mind reading.  This is where you assume that others are disappointed in you or looking down on you and you are so convinced of that that you don't bother to notice or ask or investigate whether or not that is true.

For example, you are giving a talk in church and a fellow in the middle of the center section is falling asleep.  You immediately assume that it's because you aren't a good speaker or because he thinks your talk is boring.  In this case, it's actually because he was up late the night before driving kids home from a dance, but you don't know that.  You just automatically assume that it must be because he finds you lacking.

Or your co-worker passes you in the parking lot without saying hello because he's absorbed in trying to memorize a bunch of facts he needs for his next presentation .  You erroneously conclude that his silence is because he doesn't value you as a worker or that he is mad at you because he doesn't like your last report.

Or your spouse is watching television and doesn't answer you when you ask her a question.  Your heart sinks as you assume that your questions are not as important to her as they used to be.  And you feel your levels of frustration rising.

Or you commit a sin and your mind tells you that God must be totally exasperated with you, or, at the least, completely disappointed in you, ignoring the facts that though he does not condone sin he also completely understands why you did it and totally and lovingly wants to help you do better.

The biggest immediate problem with this mind reading thing is that most of the time it propels you unnecessarily into actions of either a) withdrawal or b) resentment or of c) counter attack.  Not only do these responses worsen relationships but it's a stark tragedy when you are propelled to make them based on assumptions that aren't true.  So when you are mind reading, you are not only misunderstanding in ways that discourage you, but you also are more likely to respond in ways that make things worse.

Whether dealing with God, your grandmother, your neighbor or anyone else, mind-reading can take you quickly into the frying pan and from there into the fire.  So much better, when you catch yourself mind-reading, to ask a question or two and find out what's really going on and then respond to that reality, instead of your mind-reading assumptions.

1 comment:

Susan said...

I just heard a great NPR interview this afternoon with Daniel Kahneman, who talked about mental errors we make in jumping to conclusions, among other things. What a coincidence! Worth a listen if you get a chance: