“I’m not a mind reader!”
“She can’t read my mind…how does she know?”
“He’s projecting his feelings on me!”
You’ve likely heard, or maybe said, phrases like these before. In a disagreement with loved ones or co-workers, it’s easy to feel frustrated that another party hasn’t adequately anticipated our needs (mind reading) or to wrongly assume that you understand what another person thinks, feels or expects (projection.)
As you might expect, mind reading and projection set the stage for relationships to be riddled with miscommunication, misunderstands, hurt feelings and resentment—all while preventing us from having loving, compassionate and constructive conversations with those around us.
The next time you find yourself trying to guess another person’s emotions or feel like someone may be misunderstanding you, here are some tactics to reach a clear and respectful resolution:
Get to know yourself
We can’t set useful boundaries if we don’t understand our own physical or emotional expectations, wants and needs. Having a genuine understanding of ourselves is the cornerstone of setting boundaries and improving our ability to communicate.
Tune in to your emotions
Part of getting to know yourself and setting these boundaries is understanding your emotions. Understanding our emotions and gaining a context for them is crucial for reducing mind reading and projection.
When we acknowledge and understand our emotions, we are able to better express them and distinguish what feelings and thoughts belong to us versus what feelings and thoughts belong to someone else.
It’s our own emotional state that drives mind reading and projection. Take time to reflect and gain an understanding of why and what you are feeling in the moment when you’re feeling misunderstood. This reduces the likelihood of being reactive, and prevents conflicts and miscommunication.
Give yourself permission to set boundaries
Many people know that setting boundaries is important, but don’t out of guilt or fear of backlash. When you’re feeling this way, recognize that you’re not responsible for whether or not others struggle to respond to these boundaries. Be patient and kind to yourself during this process.
Remember: no two people are exactly alike
No matter how close you are with someone else—even a family members, spouse or best friend—no two people think, perceive and feel exactly alike. Developing the ability to accept that those we love are different from us is a significant step towards cultivating even more intimate, loving and caring relationships.
Dr. Paula Durlofsky is a psychologist in private practice in Bryn Mawr, whose practice focuses on psychological issues affecting individuals, couples and families. She is affiliated with Bryn Mawr Hospital and Lankenau Medical Center, part of Main Line Health.