Mind-Reading and Projecting in Social Anxiety
Thursday, December 10 2015 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
Social anxiety rarely works alone. Mind-reading and projecting, two negative thoughts that manipulate your mind, contribute to social anxiety, feeding it and super-sizing it. Social anxiety can be exhausting because of the chatter of racing thoughts going on inside the head. Someone with social anxiety takes in what's going on around him while simultaneously listening to harsh internal dialogue berating him and telling him he's worthless and that everyone else thinks so, too. Social anxiety can be a monster, and mind-reading and projecting are among its minions.
Mind-Reading and Projecting: Automatic Negative Thoughts
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic approach to helping people transcend mental health challenges, including anxiety disorders--social anxiety among them. CBT helps people notice and change automatic negative thoughts, those self-defeating thoughts that pop into our minds automatically, without us consciously putting them there. They play repeatedly and relentlessly in our heads, and we end up believing that they're true. They're racing thoughts that increase anxiety.
Social anxiety wants people to feel worthless, to feel judged, to feel unable to ever be good enough. To accomplish its mission, it uses automatic negative thoughts to sabotage our confidence and heighten our anxiety in various social situations. There are multiple automatic negative thoughts. Two of those thoughts in social anxiety are mind-reading and projecting.
Mind-Reading and Social Anxiety
Mind-reading is an automatic negative thought that is very common in social anxiety. Anxiety pretends it has the power to read other people's thoughts. In the case of social anxiety, we automatically conclude that people are judging us negatively. It can strike anywhere, at any time, and it typically happens so frequently that we don't even realize it or question it.
Perhaps you've walked down a hallway and passed by someone going the other way who doesn't seem to notice you but, instead, passes by without so much as a hello. If you have social anxiety, you might automatically assume that she is angry with you, dislikes you, hates working with you, hates going to class with you, or something similar. You know she's thinking terrible things about you, and you think of all of the things you did wrong to make this person hate you. That's mind-reading, and it makes social anxiety grow bigger than it already is.
Projecting and Social Anxiety
Projecting involves listening to your own thoughts and, like a movie theater projector, transferring them onto someone else. Social anxiety takes a toll on self-esteem. It typically makes people believe that they're worthless, flawed, and incapable of doing things right. This skewed perception clouds how we think about ourselves and how we see others.
When we automatically project, we take our own thoughts of self-doubt (and sometimes self-hatred) and assume that others are thinking those very same things. Projecting and mind-reading are similar in nature and, thus, collaborate as social anxiety's power-increasing minions.
Stop Mind-Reading and Projecting
Mind-reading and projecting are negative thought patters that occur automatically and fuel social anxiety. That does not, however, mean that we're doomed to be a prisoner of our own thoughts. Here are some tips to stop mind-reading and projecting and thus decrease social anxiety.
- Catch yourself in the act. When you feel judged, embarrassed, and anxious, pay attention to what you're thinking. Notice if you're mind-reading or projecting. This is all you have to do at first because you're increasing awareness of the contents of your racing thoughts.
- Test the reality of your thoughts. Once you're able to recognize when you're mind-reading and projecting, you can begin to question these thoughts. How realistic are they? Catching them and, later, testing them begins to reduce their power.
- Look for other possibilities. That person who passed you in the hallway without saying anything, could she have been preoccupied, lost in thought about something else?
- Suspend judgment. That woman who passed by could have been lost in thought. She might have been sick or anxious about something. There are many different possibilities, and because mind-reading is actually impossible, there's no way to know what she was thinking. That means she might not have been looking down on you at all. Just be in the moment without judgment.
By following these steps and challenging your negative thoughts, you can stop accepting them. Mind-reading and projecting will no longer be social anxiety's minions, and your social anxiety will be drastically reduced.