I have always fancied myself pretty good at reading other people’s minds. It comes from my tendency to over-analyze small details: the micro-actions or inactions of someone I’m familiar with. It’s a self-preservation tool to try to be prepared to respond in any situation. I’m always thinking about what other people are thinking about.
And I’ve been told (by someone I love and trust) that I’m not as good at it as I fancy I am.
The downside to always trying to read friends’ and family members’ minds, whether I’m good at it or not, is that I spend an inordinate amount of time and energy worrying. I worry that they’re unhappy or uncomfortable (which I always seem to make my problem when it’s not). And I worry that if I don’t make it my problem that they’ll think I’m being selfish. There are days that paranoia or people-pleasing consume me.
My solution? Quit cold-turkey. I know it’s drastic and could come off as harsh to some, but I have chosen to assume that my people are fine unless they say otherwise. Stop trying to rescue people who don’t need rescuing. And stop blaming myself if they need something but never asked for it. I cannot anticipate everyone’s needs.
Of course, some loved ones are from cultures that ask in indirect ways, so I try to be sensitive to that. And those whose voices have been metaphorically silenced by injustice, I try to be sensitive to their needs, too. And welcoming friends and family into my home means that it is my joy and responsibility as a host to anticipate my guests’ needs and try to make them feel as comfortable as possible. And, if I were a mother, I would need to be sensitive to what my children need especially if they cannot or will not ask for it.
Outside of that, my attempts at mind-reading and the subsequent worry are on a downward trend.
But I still have withdrawals. Here are the mantras I tell myself in my moments of weakness:
You are nobody’s savior.
A complaint isn’t always a request.
A request isn’t always a demand.
It’s not your fault until it actually is.
And then I go on with my life: addressing the actual needs that present themselves to me, and trying to fill any left-over headspace with thoughts of beauty and joy and growth instead of cluttering it with the problems of my imagination.
Please don’t use this post as an excuse to show no concern for the needs of others. Just try to stop imagining needs that don’t exist and stop being paranoid about what you think people think about you. If someone does voice a need or a concern, give it legitimate consideration and either try to help in some way or, if you are unable, point them in the direction of someone who can.
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