Red-haired woman engaging in mind reading

Mind Reading (A Cognitive Distortion)

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Thank you for stopping by for my ongoing positive self-talk series.  Self-love starts with positive self-talk, and all of that starts with you.  Shifting the way that you think requires the ability to recognize the power of your thoughts.  You can learn to love yourself by changing what you think about yourself and how you talk with yourself.   

We all struggle from time to time with cognitive distortions.  The healthiest person you know will struggle with a little cognitive distortion here and a little exaggeration there.  Doing this here and there won’t have an impact on your mental state in the short term.  However, when you start to do it constantly and become your everyday thinking style, your mental health will suffer. 

What does mind reading look like?

Mind reading assumes that we know what another person is going to say or do without having much to go on.  This can be fine in small doses. For example, we know that certain nonverbal behavioral cues can indicate what a person is thinking.  But when used too much without much evidence to go on can become problematic. 

Here are some examples of what this cognitive disotrtion looks like. 

Finding yourself eating alone in the cafeteria and thinking that everyone must assume that you’re a loser for eating alone. 

Arriving to work a few minutes late and you begin to believe that everyone at work is thinking about your tardiness. 

Assuming that you know what a partner or friend is going to say before you ask them something, so you assume that you’re right and don’t bother to ask them before you go on ahead and do it. 

How this cognitive distortion can be harmful. 

This type of cognitive distortion can be pretty miserable after a while.  If you rely on it too much and make assumptions about what we think others think of us.  This cognitive distortion can really wreak havoc on your mood and your relationships.  Most individuals who rely on mind-reading experience depression, anxiety, and social anxiety from this cognitive distortion. 

How to know if you’re using mind reading in your life. 

If you are assuming what others are thinking and are convinced that you’re right, even if you’re wrong. 

You are predicting that something will occur (with little to no evidence) in an attempt to try and avoid a difficult situation.

You are acting in a way that supports your mind reading and thus (unknowingly) creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that enforces the belief that you created.  For instance, acting as if someone doesn’t like you causes them to pull away, and this then becomes further evidence for the negative belief (mind-reading + self-fulfilling prophecy = “I knew they didn’t like me”). 

How to get out and overcome mind reading. 

  • I.C.E. – and I’m not talking about “in case of emergency.” 

I’m talking about…

Identify the thought that indicates you are personalizing. 

Call it what it is – a cognitive distortion. 

Explore if the thought is valid.  What is the evidence?  If another individual was there would they too see the same evidence?   

  • Separate your self-worth from the evidence – Rarely do we ever look for evidence that steers us away from our predictions. But, regardless of whether your prediction is accurate or inaccurate, what will it cost you to continue to hold onto it?  And do you really want to pay its price?  Or would it be better just to let it go?    

Feeling Great book by Dr. David D. Burns

Check out Feeling Great by David D. Burns, MD [affiliate link].  Inquiry and self-disclosure can be useful techniques.  Instead of jumping to conclusions (mind-reading), you ask what a person is thinking and feeling.  And instead of assuming you know what another person is thinking about you, you self-disclose.  A word of caution – do so thoughtfully because it can backfire.           

  • Introduce shades of grey into your thinking – Instead of mind reading and blaming yourself or someone else for what you assume is going on, examine all possible factors.   

Let me know your thoughts and what strategies have worked for you for overcoming mind reading.     

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