When I was first married, I would get on my husband if he didn’t put down the newspaper when I was trying to talk to him.
Me: “Are you listening to me?”
Him: “Yes. I heard every word you said. You said you’re mad because your boss has been micromanaging you and why did they hire you if they don’t think you are capable of getting your work done without someone looking over your shoulder.”
Me: “OK, but I want you to look like you’re listening.”
Him: “So, you don’t care that I heard every word you said. You just want me to look like I’m listening, whether I’m really listening or not.”
Me: “Well, of course I want you to really listen. I also want you to look like you’re listening.”
Have you ever had a conversation like this? Often, in our relationships, what we’re saying is not really what we’re talking about. What I was really talking about was how much I wanted to feel connected to my husband and know that he cared enough about me to put down his paper and give me his undivided attention. But I never told him that. I just secretly hoped he would read my mind and know what I wanted without me telling him.
Mind reading is just one example of a “cognitive distortion” that interferes with our ability to communicate effectively and experience the enjoyment and fulfillment we want in our relationships.
Psychologists define cognitive distortions as irrational, erroneous beliefs and false assumptions that occur in the form of self-talk. This “stinking thinking” can lead to feelings and reactions that are out of proportion to the situation and that linger on long after the situation has passed. We all engage in stinking thinking from time to time. But when it is pervasive, it can wreak havoc in our relationships.
In addition to Mind Reading, below are some other cognitive distortions that you can become more aware of and learn to replace.
Thinking in extremes, with no middle ground, you tend to use words like “always” and “never.” You commonly think or say things like: “I’m always the one who gives in.” “You never listen to me.” “Either I get my way or this relationship is over.”
Your partner is likely to become defensive and lash out at you or disengage altogether when faced with all-or-nothing thinking.
Imagining and then expecting the worst possible scenario, you often blow things out of proportion. Small issues usually escalate into big arguments when you catastrophize or “make mountains out of molehills.”
Emotional reasoning will result in you ignoring facts and instead using emotions as evidence. Your emotions drive and direct your conclusions, and lead you to think things like: “I feel insecure, that’s how I know he’s cheating.”
Shoulds and Musts
Having rigid rules that need to be followed, you think you must be perfect and your partner should behave a certain way. You grant yourself or your partner no flexibility in living up to these self-imposed expectations. When directed towards yourself, you feel guilt. When directed towards your partner, he or she will feel angry or resentful.
Mind Reading/Jumping to Conclusions
You make interpretations as if they are established facts even though you lack the necessary information to arrive at a definitive conclusion. You might think things like: “I know she’ll know what I want without me telling her.” “I just know he’s going to be angry when he finds out.”
Believe Something Different for a Change
Cognitive distortions eventually become barriers to effective communication. What you believe also has a tremendous influence on how you feel and what you do in your relationships. You can’t change the other person, but you can change yourself. Targeting your stinking thinking is a great place to start.
If you want to improve your communication and your relationships, identify which cognitive distortions you tend to engage in the most and then commit to change them. Just increasing your awareness will make a difference. Practice refuting your irrational, faulty beliefs and replacing your negative self talk with accurate and constructive thoughts. Stick with it and over time you will see an improvement in your communication and your relationships. Persevere!
© 2010 Peggy Mitchell Norwood • All Rights Reserved