Recently, I visited my friend Bethany, who just brought home a new puppy. The puppy sniffed my shoes when I came inside, and began to bark.
Bethany used a silly voice, talking as the dog. “Who’s this? Who are you? Friend or a foe?”
Bethany is a Shakespearean-trained actress - apparently the puppy was also a fan of the Bard. I leaned down and scratched the puppy’s head.
“Oh, I like that,” said Bethany, still speaking in the puppy voice. “A little to the left.”
The puppy blinked soft brown eyes. I shook my head, laughing. “I know what you’re thinking,” I said to the dog. “You’re thinking, ‘My owner is a crazy woman.’”
Bethany picked up her puppy and nuzzled it. “I am crazy. Crazy about you.”
My friend and I were reading the dog’s mind. In this case, our mindreading was innocuous and humorous. Often, however, people imagine they know what others are thinking, and they are thinking the worst, as in the following examples:
Arturo lay on the couch in my office, telling me about his weekend. He saw a couple of movies and spent time with his girlfriend. I listened, but said nothing. He sighed. "You're right, I should have done some work this weekend. I can’t believe how lazy I am."
Corinne wept in frustration as she described a recent problem at work. She blew her nose and shook her head, apologetically. "You probably think I'm such a crybaby."
My friend Kellie and I had dinner recently, and she ordered dessert. She gave me a sheepish look. "I know what you're thinking. I have no business eating tiramisu."
Each person in these examples projected his or her own critical thoughts about themselves, into me, and then felt guilty or ashamed.
Arturo’s father always accused him of being a slacker, and he had internalized that view of himself. He thought I was viewing him through his father’s eyes.
Corinne grew up in a family that did not tolerate emotions or tears, which were viewed as signs of weakness. She imagined that I was viewing her tears contemptuously.
Kellie’s mother constantly monitored her weight, and Kellie thought I was doing so, too.
What do you think others are thinking about you? Are they critical? Kind? Indifferent? Angry?
Who viewed you that way in the past? How have you identified with them?
What is another way to view yourself and the situation? For example, “It’s important to relax over the weekend and recharge your batteries” or “it’s healthy to cry if you’re upset” or “it’s okay to eat dessert, or anything, in moderation.”
Mind reading leads to feeling bad, which can lead to disordered eating. When you stop thinking the worst of yourself, you will likely no longer fear that others are thinking the worst of you, and will not turn to, or from, food, to soothe, distract, or numb yourself.
Comments and questions are welcome. Please share on Facebook and/or Twitter so more people can benefit from the information on this blog.
Legal Disclaimer: The content on this site is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as psychotherapy or as a substitute for psychotherapy advice, diagnosis or treatment.