I’m a mind reader.
Don’t worry. I’m not claiming to know what you’re thinking right this moment, while you’re reading this.
But if you and I were talking with each other, I would be able to interpret the true meaning behind everything you said.
I would not need to nor would I want to ask you what you meant by something you said.
Because I’m a mind reader. Or, rather, I practice mind reading.
That’s one of the lessons that was brought home to me in today’s session of Cognitive Behavioral Analysis System of Psychotherapy, or CBASP.
I first wrote about my therapist using CBASP to treat my chronic depression here.
During our first two sessions of this new (to me) therapy, we discussed my significant other histories, the stories of the people in my life who have had big influences on me and on how I view other people and myself.
Today we completed our first situational analysis questionnaire, which is a form that guided us through analysis of “an interpersonal problematic event.” The analysis included role-playing to give me the opportunity to practice new coping skills.
Before the session, my assignment was to select the interpersonal event—an exchange between another person and me—that troubled me and write a brief “slice of time,” with a beginning, an end and a short story in between.
Then working with my therapist, I did the following:
*Described my interpretation of what happened, or how I “read” the situation.
*Described what I did during the situation, which included what I said and how I said it. This was what someone else would have observed if he or she had been able to see me during the situation.
*Described how the event came out for me. This is called the actual outcome. Outcome has to do with the last thing I did, not what the other person did.
*Described how I wanted the event to come out for me, which is called the desired outcome. I arrived at that description by considering the end point of the situation and what would have been the best I could have done at that point.
*Answered whether or not the desired outcome was achieved and why.
What I discovered was that I tend to assume I know what the other person means when he or she says something. I don’t ask. I just assume. And I tend to read a situation with my past rather than staying in the moment and dealing with what is.
I didn’t do the very simple but very important thing that would have changed the whole dynamic of the “interpersonal problematic event.” I didn’t ask, “What do you mean when you say that?”
I was trying to avoid conflict. I am afraid of conflict. But when I avoid it, when I avoid asking questions because I’m afraid of the answers, I stuff my feelings. The more I stuff my feelings, the more they fuel my depression.
There is no guarantee that if I ask the question, I will get the answer I want. But I will have something real to cope with, instead of something that may or may not be true.
My therapist likes to use the example of the baseball player who is petrified of not hitting the ball. There is no guarantee that if he swings at the ball, he will hit it. But it is guaranteed that if he does not even go up to bat and try, he will not hit the ball.
People with chronic depression tend to not even try, to think there is no use in trying, because we’ll just fail.
So why should I explore the meaning behind what another person tells me that upsets me? I already know what he meant, right?
Well, no, I don’t. I am going to need to practice staying in the present and tackling what is, not letting the past dictate how I interact with others.
This therapy is not particularly pretty or easy. I had to face some things about myself, and I cried. That box of tissues on the therapist’s bookcase is going to come in handy.
But I feel heartened by it, too. My therapist and I are not spending time analyzing why I interact with others like I do. As he said, what happened in the past can’t be changed. I can learn how to act with more strength and assertiveness now.
I may sometimes believe I’m helpless, but I’m not.
You don’t have to have chronic depression to sometimes make assumptions about the meaning of the other person’s words. Are you a mind reader? Do you sometimes let the past dictate how you act today?