Why Am I So Frequent to Assume What Other People Think of Me?
Do you frequently analyze other people's actions as signs that they are upset or angry with you?
You may be suffering from a "cognitive distortion" that psychologists refer to as "mind-how reading"—here's to get it under control.
I've always been someone who relies on the approval of others.
It's one of my biggest flaws – whether you're a close friend, a total stranger, or somewhere in the middle.
I've probably spent a significant amount of time worrying about whether or not you like me and running through a mental checklist of all the times I could have said or done something wrong.
Along with this need for other people to like me, I have an unhealthy fear of people disliking me.
It's a fear that pervades many of my day-to-day interactions with people, both online and in real life, often without my being aware of it.
It does not really take much to throw me into a mini-spiral — maybe you forgot to add a full stop at the end of your WhatsApp message or skipped over anything I said during the chat.
But before long, I'll be convincing myself that you're tired of my presence and annoyed at me for who knows how many reasons.
Of course, I realize all of this seems petty. I'm aware of how ridiculous it sounds when written down, and I'm aware that I'm probably coming across as a huge drama queen.
But, no matter how aware I am of it, and no matter how much evidence I have to the contrary, a small part of my brain always assumes that everyone secretly thinks I'm a bad guy.
It wasn't until I started talking more about my mental health and all the strange and amazing things that go on in my head that I realized I wasn't alone.
Through discussions with my therapist and serious conversations with friends, I've learned that many people, particularly women, face this issue on a regular basis. But why is that?
On behalf of Healthspan, I contacted Meg Arroll, a chartered psychologist, to learn more.
And, according to her, one typical "cognitive distortion" that is producing this problem is referred to as "mind-reading."
When we're worried about what other people think of us and afraid of being disliked, we tend to read between the lines and make assumptions about what other people are thinking, as if we have the power to read minds, according to Arroll.
"We use many easy and simple methods on a regular basis to help us analyze our neighborhood as well as our social environment,"
He says further, "since our world is complicated, so it is a difficult task for us to process and analyze them at the same time."
"While many of these cognitive processes are adaptive, allowing us to function and prosper, the mechanisms underlying them can occasionally go astray, resulting in skewed assumptions.
In our modern world of email and text communication, we use nonverbal and vocal behaviors, as well as punctuation, to swiftly come to a conclusion about what someone else is thinking, which is nearly always negative."
Females do experience this phenomenon more than men
in a recent poll conducted by Healthspan, more than twice as many women (15% of women compared to only 6% of men) expressed their concern about what others thought of them,"
Arroll says, "which is in part due to evolutionary psychology."
For females, ensuring inclusion in social groupings has been (and some would argue still is) through social means known as 'tend-and-befriend,' but for men, status is maintained through more external routes (quite literally 'bringing home the bacon in our forefathers' time).
The desire to fit in with a social group is inbuilt, which is why cognitive distortions are so common."
The problem with this urge to mind-read' other people and make assumptions about what they think of us based on little, if any, evidence is that our behavior toward them may alter without us even realizing it, putting pressure on our relationships.
Because I'm well aware of my proclivity to mind-read and read between the lines of other people's acts (due to treatment), I'm able to remind myself that it's my anxiety talking most of the time and ensure that my behavior doesn't change as a result.
But, before I realized this was something my brain did, I know I adjusted my behavior toward others.
Because I was afraid they hated me, either by a) going out of my way to make them like me or b) remaining silent to avoid having them hate me even more.
As Arroll shows, this type of behavior can actually harm our relationships, confirming our beliefs and encouraging us to accept our "mind-reading" instincts in the future.
"Consider the following scenario: "You see a coworker outside the workplace on Sunday (holiday) and she doesn't signal to say hello, do you think she doesn't like you and is just polite at work because, well, it's work," she explains.
"On next day (Monday), you ignore her because you felt uncomfortable and embarrassed and with his/her new gesture."
Earlier it was a pleasant working relationship. It starts to deteriorate with the passage of time.,
You get convinced that you were right and she/he defacto does not like you anymore.
"OK, now let's try it again, but this time with actual evidence — what % of the time has she disregarded you in the past?"
It's most likely fairly low. Is it possible that there was another reason she didn't wave? Could it be that she didn't see you because you're in a different environment?"
Now is the period for a cognitive experiment
Rather than avoiding this colleague, gesture as you would have before the encounter and see what happens," she continues.
She was probably too preoccupied with where she needed to be. Perhaps she just had a quarrel with her partner, for example – to see you.
She might even be perplexed as to why you're avoiding her right now!