Dogs are the second best mentalizers, right after humans! 😉
Mentalizing occurs when we are trying to make sense of behaviors. It validates AND inquires more deeply into inner experience. Learning and practice at mentalizing effectively reduces cognitive distortion and emotional dysregulation.
A person who is mentalizing is:
· Curious / Wondering
· Not knowing
· Nonjudgmental / In beginner’s mind
· Capable of emotional validating based on hypotheses
· Trying to make sense out of thoughts, feelings, urges, and behaviors
· Intellectually humble, perhaps with self-deprecating humor
Examples of Mentalizing
Mentalizing one’s self
Ex. Why did I say that? What was I thinking? What on earth made me do that?
Ex. My son said he had a stomach ache and did not eat breakfast. I wonder if he might be anxious about an exam he has today… I think he might have had an argument with his girlfriend recently… Or maybe he just ate something that did not agree with him… I’ll have to ask him how he is feeling after school and see if I can understand what is going on… Maybe he is under a lot of stress…
Examples of Non-mentalizing
Feelings are facts
There is no genuine interest in exploring internal experience.
· “I feel this way, so this is how it is.”
· “I know you are cheating on me because I am jealous.”
Feelings are minimized or disconnected from facts or from what is being said.
· Self-deception: “It was only a couple of beers.” Or “The only reason it is a problem is because you found out.”
· The elephant in the room: A major problem or controversial issue that is obviously present but avoided as a subject for discussion because it is more comfortable to do so.
· Stonewalling: Refusing to answer or giving evasive replies.
Only results matter
· Feelings are resolved by doing. If you love me you would give me the money I need.
· The end justifies the means. If you break up with me, I will kill myself.
How to Start
Ways of interrupting non-mentalizing might start with choosing to ignore or not notice non-mentalizing narratives. The practice of validating the valid and ignoring the rest can be the first step.
Practice mentalizing your own experience and share that with a safe persons, exploring together to make sense out of how it turned out that you said or did something.
Introducing mentalizing with another when cognitive distortions arise is a gentle, empathic, and validating practice. Timing is everything when we want to further explore thoughts, feelings, and motivations! It is best to begin to try it when there is not a lot of emotional dysregulation and the other seems like there is some openness to having a dialogue.