Wednesday, August 27, 2008

HSPs and the danger of Mind Reading

One of my teachers once said: "Our thoughts about a thing are usually far worse than the thing, itself."

HSPs tend to be deeply empathic people, and one of the aspects of the trait is that we are often able to sense the moods of others. For some, this empathy borders on what observers might call "psychic" abilities.

However, HSPs often get in trouble because we not only sense someone's general mood, we start "interpreting" what the mood "means," often using our intuition to try to build a "scenario" of what's going on. I call this "mind reading," and it can be a slippery slope to miscommunication and anxiety.

Let's say we're in a room with someone-- let's call him "Bob"-- participating in some kind of work project. And we pick up (quite accurately) that Bob is irritated or angry. So far, no problem. However, with our tendency to be aware of environmental subtleties and then to introspect and process deeply, we start fixating on that anger. Soon a little "chorus" starts up, inside our heads: "Bob is angry. I wonder why Bob is angry. What if Bob is angry because of something I did? Bob doesn't like the way I work! I'm working too slowly for his liking. I have to speed up. But then I'll get flustered, and Bob will get annoyed with me for making mistakes. Bob is angry because he HATES the way I work, and he HATES me!" At which point, we start responding to Bob's anger by becoming defensive... and we start to feel bad about ourselves.

Every found yourself "building" such a scenario, and working yourself into a state of overstimulated anxiety?

In actual fact, Bob is angry because he was in the manager's office 10 minutes before starting work with us, and was told he would have to cancel the long getaway weekend he'd planned to take with his wife because an unexpected project came up. Bob's anger-- which we sensed correctly-- actually had nothing to do with us.

As HSPs, we must be careful to not "mind read" and assign "meaning" to situations without having the relevant information on hand. A better approach to Bob's situation might have been to simply say that he seemed upset, and ask if he wanted to take a break, or if there was anything we could do to help. Often the answer will turn out to be much much simpler-- and far less dramatic-- than the scenarios we create inside our minds!


Talk Back: Have you ever worked youself into a state of anxiety as a result "mind reading?" Did the situation turn out to be far less severe than you'd originally thought? Leave a comment!


  1. Yes, if I had a dollar for everytime I 'read' people's mind I would be set for life! You certainly hit the proverbial nail on the head with this article. As a fellow HSP I am very happy that I stumbled across your site. Thank-you for inspiring me! Jody

  2. Great post. I do this all the time!

    I've just started an HSP blog today (more of a 'my experience' thing than advice like yours) and I'd like to link to you :)

  3. thanks for writing! I think I have this problem, and you're only the 2nd guy who's an HSP that I know of.

    So thanks again!

  4. I re-read this from time to time as a reminder. I also forwarded it to a few people that I thought could benefit from it.
    Thanks for the great post. :)

  5. YES YES YES, this happens to me a lot, on a daily basis and it's really tiring!

    I love your site. It helps me more than you know!


  6. I have always been fascinated by why people do the things they do, trying to figure out human behavior (good luck!). And it gets me in trouble because I am, in fact, trying to reading their minds. It can be such a drag for me, thanks for the reminder to stop.

  7. I struggle with this on a daily basis! Not only do overdramatize situations, but I call-out my friends/coworkers/family when they'd rather not talk about it or realize it themselves.

    Co-workers are constantly asking me how I can tell if they had a bad sleep, or are anxious about something; I even notice when a guy slightly trims his beard! Suffice it to say, I'm working on controlling myself... or, as I tell my friends/family, I'm learning to use my powers for good instead of evil.

    Soooo, I'm glad I found this blog too! It's nice to know there are people out there that can empathize!

  8. I am a HSP HSS and I strongly suspect my fiance is too we tend to feed off each others emotions and one bad day turns into weeks of negativity feeding back and forth. I get irritated at him continually asking me to find his socks (I don't REALLY mind but for 2 seconds it annoys me!). He picks this up but attributes it to something else like I'm genuinely irritated at him. Within a day or so, he's accusing me of cheating and I'm ready to scream and throw something because he just doesn't understand me.
    There is of course a flip side, when were happy the energy cycles, he can feel how much I love him and says the sweetest things and it makes me soar.
    The drama of the entire situation is so draining but the good times are so exhilarating.
    While our HSP/HSS compliment each other sometimes they're our biggest obstacle.


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