Recently, I forgot to return something I had borrowed from a friend. I told them that I’d return it the next day, and they said it was no issue at all. When I approached them, though, I became nervous. They’re frustrated with me, and they’re thinking that they won’t let me borrow from them anymore, I thought. They didn’t act like it was a big deal, so why was I stuck on the idea that they were angry at me?
I later found out from a professional that what I was doing — assuming I could tell how someone feels without them telling me — is one of the most common cognitive distortions, called “mind reading.”
You might be thinking, don’t people do this all the time? Isn’t it common to pick up on social cues and read what’s been unsaid in a situation? Yes, that’s true, but mind reading is often excessive, like assuming how a person feels over a single isolated incident that easily could have been coincidental. Also, even if many people mind read, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a detrimental behavior — just a common one.
I am not a mental health professional in any way, but I wanted to bring awareness to this issue because while it is very common, people might be unaware they are doing it. Being able to identify negative thoughts as cognitive distortions is an important skill that can hopefully help you resolve harmful thinking patterns.
For example, have you ever assumed that your friend doesn’t want to talk to you anymore or feels annoyed by you simply based on the fact that they took more than 30 minutes to respond to your text? Or maybe you were a little late to a meetup and thought that everyone there resented you for the rest of the day? These can be examples of mind reading.
If you’re interested in learning more and stopping these behaviors, there are many resources online (just be aware of misinformation and be sure to use reputable sources). Also, if you’re a UC Berkeley student, you can always try to set up an appointment with college mental health professionals through eTang!