Opinion piece by Susan Delacourt

Mental health: Mind reading can be damaging

If any of us truly could read minds we would likely be sitting on a beach somewhere with nothing to do but manage our investments. Somehow though, we often feel certainty about what is in the mind of a partner, boss, or offspring. Just listen, over the next few days, and see if you can detect a closet mind reader in your midst.

They usually start like this, “You think that…”.

A variety of endings might be:

1) just because I’m home all day, I don’t do anything but watch the soaps,

2) our bank account is a bottomless pit,

3) you will magically get good marks without opening a book,

4) it’s easy to get up every day and go to the office,

5) you’re the only one who has stress,

5) all teenagers do is drink and do drugs.

Mind readers are so confident of their abilities, that even if the listener corrects them, and says “actually, that’s not what I think,” the mind reader often says, “Oh yes you do!” It is hard to convince a mind reader that they have a comprehension problem. Nor can you have a meaningful conversation with one. You spend all your time arguing about who is right about what is in your mind.

In reality, the mind reader imagines what another’s intentions might be and then projects it onto the other, upgrading it to the level of fact. This process is incredibly damaging to communication, and to relationships. It is actually a subtle form of bullying. It is invasive and controlling.

The path of integrity is to say, “Sometimes I imagine you think that………. Then, follow that up with, “Am I correct, or am I reading something into your intentions that is not there?” If the person confirms you are right, then you can proceed and discuss how you feel about that. If they say you are wrong, humbly accept your mistake. You might even apologize for misreading them. Then, ask for what you need, without criticizing or judging the other. You have a much better chance of getting your needs met this way.

Gwen Randall-Young is an Alberta author and award-winning psychologist.