Mind reading and taking the blame are two skewed thinking patterns that often go together. We think we know what the other person is thinking, and it’s probably our fault. That can bring on a lot of stress!
“The boss looks upset. She’s probably unhappy with me again.” “Jack looked a little puzzled. He’s probably wondering what I’m doing.” “Alex is sure in a bad mood today! He’s probably sorry we went out last night.”
Do you notice how this kind of mind reading is usually about negative events and impressions? Have you ever thought “Wow, the boss looks happy! I bet it’s because I’ve been doing such a good job!” “Jack looked a little puzzled. He’s probably wondering how I managed to accomplish what I did in such a short time.” “Alex looks happy today! He’s probably thinking about what a wonderful time we had last night.”
Assuming we know someone’s thoughts, along with our tendencies to focus on the negative, disregard the positive, and assume the worst, is a recipe an emotional downer. “Are you upset with me?” is worth asking! If someone were really upset with you, wouldn’t you rather know the facts? But likely, the other person is annoyed, unhappy, puzzled, or concerned about something totally unrelated to us. Once we can dissuade ourselves from pretending to be able to read minds, we may not even need to ask.
To counter this kind of thinking, admit to yourself that you are not a Certified Mind Reader. Question your assumptions when you find yourself engaging in “knowing” someone’s thoughts. You can also verify the facts by asking questions. One strategy for checking up on yourself is to practice reflecting what you see: “You look upset, Charlie.” This accomplishes two things. First, Charlie might tell you whether he’s upset or not, and even tell you why. Maybe he needs to get something off his chest! You could even be helping him by your neutral observation. Second, it helps to keep Charlie’s “upsettedness” with him, not you. If it has anything to do with you, Charlie will probably let you know!
When you catch yourself blaming yourself for something you don’t even know is true, it’s time to stop and check your assumptions. Most of us have plenty of stressors without creating more for ourselves unnecessarily!