I hate having to be a psychic, but I do it all the time. How else would I find out what horrible things my friends and loved ones feel about me, let alone what the barbarians in public think? It’s all about me of course, and while people won’t tell me what they’re actually thinking, with just a glance I can read people’s minds and know how they really feel about me.
This is ludicrous, of course. While I can pick up on non-verbal communication as well as the next person, there’s no way I know what they are thinking. What I’m really doing is making an assumption based on my interpretation of what is said and those non-verbal cues, and usually my assumption is incorrect.
I define my self-worth based in part on what I believe others think about me, because it is difficult for me to believe that I am worthy of someone’s love or friendship. I am constantly trying to get a real-time gauge on where I stand with a person, which is impossible if the person isn’t explicitly telling me their honest feelings. People very rarely do that of course; sometimes they filter their thoughts, sometimes they lie, and sometimes they say nothing.
I assume the worst when people don’t speak to me, whether due to physical distance (I’m too far away to hear), social norms (people don’t often speak to strangers), or by choice (someone could speak but is choosing to ignore me). In each of those cases, I feel like I have to fill in the blanks with what I believe their thoughts are at a given moment. Then I interpret those invented thoughts through the “I’m not worthy” filter, and reach the illogical conclusion that everyone is thinking negatively toward me in some way. This black-and-white thinking is clearly distorted, but I fall into the trap every time.
When I can look at things logically, I can see things from a less judgemental perspective. Strangers are probably not thinking about me very often, and possibly not at all. Acquaintances may have a nuanced opinion about me, while friends apparently like me despite my flaws. Loved ones care about me for my positive qualities. I don’t have to be on-guard against others’ negative thoughts all the time; that’s just an artificial defense mechanism that I learned during childhood.
However, thinking logically is difficult when your spouse is giving you the silent treatment, and you can’t figure out why. It’s easy to be emotionally insecure when a social interaction doesn’t go as you think it should. Fears of rejection, awkwardness around people, and feelings of inadequacy cause me to fall back into the pattern of self-centered, black-and-white thinking. I spend a lot of mental energy in this way, and it detracts from my well-being.