Wishing you a peaceful Christmas
As we approach the Christmas season many of us will be very aware that whilst it is supposed to be the season of good will, in reality it’s also a time of potentially explosive family rows. Often this is because when people are with their nearest and dearest they assume that they know what the other person is thinking and feeling.
In reality we can never know another person’s mental state, we can only guess at it. We make assumptions forgetting that it is guesswork, and we often get it wrong. This is a much more hurtful process when we are with people we are close to, than those we don’t care about. It’s horrible when other people completely misinterpret our mental state or our intentions and start blaming or judging us. I imagine that this process forms the basis of the expression ‘familiarity breeds contempt’.
As a therapist I am often trying to offer a ‘mentalizing’ stance. This means that I will really pay attention to what my client is saying and doing and try not to make assumptions. I’ll ask questions to clarify what I don’t understand and often I’ll be amazed at the answers I get. If I guess right, and I start to understand and describe how my client is feeling, then he or she will feel heard and comforted. But there’s nothing worse than not feeling heard or feeling misunderstood.
Human beings have this unique skill, of being able to guess what the other person is experiencing, but this process is located in a specific part of the brain, the same part in which we process our own thoughts and feelings. This means that we often get confused, imagining that the other person is feeling the same as us.
If there’s something we really need to remember for Christmas, it’s that we can never truly know another person’s mental state, and it’s worth checking before we say something that we will regret.
Have a Very Merry Christmas!!