Mankind through the ages has been fascinated with mind-reading, dream interpretation, hypnosis and all things unknowable. Religion, science fiction, crystal-ball gazing, palm, tarot card and tea leaf reading all share some common elements: wanting to know more than what is immediately before us. We humans have a desperate desire to stretch beyond the realm of our own minds beyond the limits of our own realities. From time in memorial our species has carried on a love affair with the ephemeral, with things of the imagination. Whether we are talking about Galileo or Thomas Edison history is filled with tales of those who radically changed our world by challenging the unknown. We are intrigued with stories about remarkable coincidences that turned out to be true, with parapsychology, psychic phenomena with unique mental connections between people.
Women spend endless hours trying to ‘psych-out’ their boyfriends and husbands, trying to translate their behavior. “What he really means is…” “The reason he acts this way is….” We spend endless hours trying to figure each other out without, I might add direct conversation. As the holiday season approaches people struggle with selecting gifts that their friends and loved ones will just cherish. Magazine and TV ads tempt us to extend our credit limits with ‘life-changing’ gift selections that promise perfect happiness and love. Unfortunately, more often than not this backfires. Sometimes we don’t and can’t anticipate what that person will actually think about that gift and how they will react to it. An innocently chosen item can result in emotionally charged reactions, all this boils down to the fact that we are not mind readers.
Recently I had occasion to select a gift for a friend and was shocked to learn that the friend not only hated the gift but had a slew of beliefs and projections associated with it. As the story unfolded the gift carried negative messages about the value of the friendship itself especially as compared with other friendships that had more value and thus the emotional entanglement took on a life of its own. Contrary to my patients’ beliefs that I’m a ‘mind reader’, this example clearly demonstrates the opposite. No instead of being a mind reader I’m just good observer with a fairly good memory. All this goes to show that knowing how someone’s mind works is not easy and certainly not magic. It requires hours of communication and continuous feedback or the expectation/disappointment cycle will escalate into a self-fulfilling and nearly unstoppable whirlwind. So, stop guessing start asking and by all means publish a disclaimer somewhere that unequivocally states “I am not a mind reader.”