My grandmother used to say, "Don't get all your exercise from jumping to conclusions!"
But we all do it from time to time.
By itself, jumping to conclusions is normal, but it can be a problem if we don't recognize that we're doing it. Then, this form of cognitive distortion can lead to us feeling depressed or anxious—or both. Learning what it looks like in our own minds gives us the chance to argue back using rational rebuttals and to hopefully prevent the negative impact on our moods.
There are two ways we tend to do this:
This is exactly what it sounds like: We assume we know what someone else is thinking.
This is a problem for at least three reasons:
1. We really can't read anyone else's mind. If we could, we'd probably find out that their thoughts are as random and fleeting as ours.
2. When we make the assumption that we know what someone else is thinking, we often convince ourselves that the other person is thinking about us (which they are usually not).
3. We tend to assume that their thoughts about us are negative. The truth is that most people spend their days thinking about themselves, their own lives, and their own impact on the world. If they think about us at all, it's brief and usually neutral.
Mind-reading during the dating process can look like this:
"He didn't text me back. He must not really care about me. Maybe he doesn't want to see me anymore. He must think I'm hideous/uninteresting/not worthwhile."
Notice that we rarely assume a positive spin on things: for instance,
"He didn't text me back yet. He must be trying to figure out how to put his true feelings into words. He must be speechless with positive emotions!"
"He didn't text me back yet. He's probably completely backed up at work. Or perhaps he can't get to his phone now and hasn't even read my text yet."
Because it's usually negative, it leaves us feeling down, depressed, and anxious to find out if we're right.
The second type of assumption is known as fortune-telling. This is assuming that we know what will happen in the future. If you can do that, you have a better crystal ball than I do.
In a dating scenario, fortune-telling might sound like this:
"I just know what's going to happen. I'll get all attached to him, he'll figure out that I'm a fraud, and he'll dump me. I'll end up heartbroken and alone."
But here's the thing: You don't know the future. And just like with mind-reading, the assumptions we make when fortune-telling are usually negative. No wonder we end up feeling anxious.
So, what can you do about it?
Defeating these two cognitive distortions (twisted thinking that ends up hurting us) is straightforward, but that doesn't mean it's easy.
First, we need to catch ourselves in the act and to identify this as twisted thinking.
"Oh, there I go again, mind-reading."
Then we need to respond with a more accurate rational thought.
"Oh, I really don't know what will happen in the future. I'm uncomfortable with the uncertainty, but I really can only wait and see what happens."
The more we can use this kind of rational rebuttal, the less we will automatically believe the twisted thoughts, and the less likely they are to bring down our mood.
A final thought on responsibility and control:
In any situation, responsibility and control can be either internal or external.
Internal responsibility and control:
For example, when dealing with your feelings, and internal sense of control means you feel that you control whether you are happy or sad. You find that other people don't really "make" you upset. An internal sense of responsibility means you feel it's your own job to be happy. You don't lay that responsibility on someone else.
External responsibility and control:
An external sense of control means that you think the world yanks your feelings around and you can only respond to outside events. An external sense of responsibility means that you think it's someone else's job to make you happy.
The healthiest situation is when both of these are internal—at least in regard to your feelings. In regard to someone else's feelings, these should both be external (to you). This means recognizing that their feelings are under their control, and that it's their responsibility to feel happy.
If you try to take responsibility for someone else's feelings, they won't give up control—but they might be glad to let you have responsibility. It will end up making you frustrated, sad, and anxious. In fact, any time you take responsibility for something over which you have no control, these are the likely outcomes.
To correct this you might try to grab control as well as responsibility, to MAKE them feel better. But it's unlikely they will give up control. Better (but still hard) is to recognize this dichotomy and to then give up responsibility (for their feelings).
You'll end up less frustrated and less burdened as well.
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