Wednesday, August 27, 2008
HSPs and the danger of Mind Reading
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!
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