As a therapist I often have these great insights into myself when doing therapy. I’ll be working with a client and as they have a realization about their behavior I will, too. Carl Whitaker, a famous Marriage and Family Therapist, said (I’m paraphrasing) that if the therapist isn’t getting something out of therapy then he isn’t doing it correctly. That feels about right to me. It is hard to look at other people’s patterns and behaviors and not compare them to you own. Insights seem almost inevitable.
In most cases it is a wonderful experience, having insight, recognizing places where I can make changes and do thing in a better way. But sometimes that’s not the case. Every so often when that insight strikes it isn’t “oh, I see how I do that and could do it differently”. Instead it is “OH CRAP!! I DO THAT!”.
It is usually something that I’ve heard about from others. Of course I’ve claimed that I don’t do that. But I have…and now I have to admit it to myself. Don’t get me wrong, it is still beneficial. It just doesn’t feel all that good.
That happened the other day. As often happens, I hit the same issue with several clients in the stretch of a few days. I think maybe the universe was presenting it to me in client after client until I finally realized…crap, that’s what I do.
What was the issue? It involves “mind reading”. I had heard variations of the same comment from client after client, usually regarding a partner. “He should have known how important it was” or “she should know when I do that it is because I love her so much.” In other words, they expected their partner to read their mind.
Yes, I realized that I do that. I do something for someone and I am surprised and sometimes hurt that they don’t recognize how important or meaningful it was meant to be. The other version is that there is something important to me that I want or expect…and it doesn’t happen. Why not? Because the other person didn’t know it was important to me.
It really comes from not verbalizing important things. Important things like feelings, emotions, needs, desires. People often want others to just know this information. After all, it is just obvious, right? If they really cared they’d just KNOW it. The trouble is, it isn’t obvious. If we are clear about what is important, what we like and don’t like, others wont’ know. Because despite my incredible desire otherwise, people can’t mind read.
Yes, it is true. They can’t. If we don’t express..and by express I really mean verbalize, our thoughts and feelings, others just don’t have any way, or at least any reliable way, to know what they are. And if they don’t know, the chance that they are going to act towards us the way we want. They’ll disregard things that are important to us. They’ll not appreciate things we do that are meant to carry great importance. All because they can’t mind read. Or because we didn’t bother to tell them.
So, yeah…apparently people can’t mind read and everyone else doesn’t look at the world exactly like I do and have the same experiences as me. So my intentions, my thoughts, my feelings…they aren’t always as obvious as I think they are.
What does all of that mean for me? It means that if something is important and I want others to respond to it that way, I need to clearly express it. If I have a real need or desire I need to directly and overtly state it or else I shouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t fulfilled. It means I can’t expect others to mind read. And neither should you.
Don’t get me wrong. I may not give up on trying to develop the mind reading thing. In fact, if you come into my office one day and I don’t speak it may be that I am just letting you develop your mind reading skills. But until we make some significant progress I think I’ll be happier if I actually say what is important to me.