Can we read minds? It’s a question that everyone has asked once in their lives. The answer is, yes! Well, sort of. How we read minds? By having empathy.

Empathy

Empathy is the ability to place yourself in someone else’s shoes, to share and understand the feelings of another. Combined with reading someone’s facial expressions,  body language or speech, we’re capable of making a reasonable estimation of what someone experiences or even feels. We’re actually semi-clairvoyant! But do take note: we can only estimate what someone’s feeling and or thinking. We don’t know for sure.

Why empathy is useful

It’s human nature to want to belong to a group. From our evolutionary past we have learned that working together helps us survive. In prehistoric times, the chance of dying was much greater when you were on your own. This social necessity of life is now woven into our genes. We find it important to have relationships and to develop social harmony within our own communities. If we don’t seem to fit in, we feel hurt or/and anxious. By trying to read someone’s mind we can try to figure out our status within a group. This way we can see the signs when we do something that doesn’t follow the group’s norms and values. By doing this we can continuously adapt.

Control

“Reading” minds is a form of staying in control. We have the human need to control as much as we can, because this will contribute to a positive outcome. Lack of control adds uncertainty to a situation and causes anxiety. The danger with trying to read minds lies in the fact that fear is an emotion that tries to protect us from mistakes and harm. When we anxiously trying to predict what someone is thinking, this could go wrong. Fear makes us assume the worst, which is why we sometimes tend to read minds in a less positive way than they actually are. 

We have all experienced this fear in some kind of way. It helps us to work on relationships and feel loved. For some more than others, it can be very stressful: for people that have trouble reading signals from others or for people that are really good at reading minds and try to catch the smallest signals.

What can you do?

Think about whether you belong to one of these groups. Could it be helpful for you to practice social interaction to improve your mind reading skills, or can your social radar tone it down a little bit? If you notice that reading minds causes stress, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you feel the urge to adapt to avoid rejection?
  • Did you check if what you’re thinking is true?
  • Could it be that the social tension is preparing you for something negative?
  • Is what you’re thinking the worst thing anyone could be thinking?
  • Could that person also have less negative thoughts? If so, what could that be? 

By thinking about this you can slightly release some of the stress you’re experiencing. It is great that you’re able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, but don’t forget that this person might be having more positive thoughts than you’re expecting. Our feelings can be treacherous and don’t forget: we are not actually able to read minds!

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Wouter Schippers

Hey, I am Wouter. I'm a NiceDay coach and psychologist. I like to play football and to make electronic music.

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