15 thinking styles that lead to massive anxiety 4/15: Mind Reading

Mind Reading is an automatic negative thought that is very common in social anxiety and in many other types of anxiety. The anxious mind in order to head off feared reactions from others anticipates what others might be thinking or even what they think when they see us.

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.

Imagine walking down a hallway and passing by someone familiar walking the other way, they don’t seem to notice and pass by without so much as a hello. If I have social anxiety, I might automatically assume that he/she is angry with me, dislikes me, hates working with me, hates being in class with me, or something similar. “I know she’s thinking terrible things about me”, and I think of all of the things I did wrong to have made this person hate me. That’s mind-reading, and it makes anxiety and fear balloon to grow bigger than they already are.

Mind Reading

When we mind read we make snap judgements about others: “He’s just acting that way because he’s jealous” … “she’s with me only for my money” … “he’s afraid to show he cares”. There doesn’t need to be evidence (overhearing, reading, being told outright), but it just seems right or fits. In most instances, mind readers make assumptions about how other people are feeling and what motivates them. For example, we may conclude: He visited her three times last week because he was (a) in love, (b) angry at his old girlfriend and knew she’d find out, (c) depressed and on the rebound, (d) afraid of being alone again’. We can take our pick, but acting as if any of these arbitrary conclusions are true may be disastrous.

As a mind reader, we also make assumptions about how people are reacting to things around them, particularly how they are reacting to us. ‘This close he sees how unattractive I am … she thinks I’m really immature … they’re getting ready to fire me’. These assumptions are usually untested. They are born of intuition, hunches, vague misgivings, or one or two past experiences, but they are nevertheless believed, this can lead to general anxiety.

Mind reading depends on a process called projection. We imagine that people feel the same way we do and react to things the same way we do and this is a blind spot. Therefore, we don’t watch or listen closely enough to notice that they are actually different. If we are insecure about how we look we think everyone notices, if we are nervous about how good our level of speaking is we think everyone is scrutinizing us. This can lead to us avoiding people and situations all because we are taking our blurred idea of what others might be thinking.

If we feel excruciatingly sensitive to rejection, we can project that people are thinking rejecting thoughts of us. If we are very judgmental about particular habits and traits we assume others looks at us are critical. Mind readers jump to conclusions that are true for them without checking whether they are true for the other person. This is really bad for us as it creates general anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks and may make PTSD, OCD and Phobias worse!

Mind Reading comebacks                                                                      Check it out

                                                                                              Evidence for conclusion?

Mind reading is the tendency to make inferences about how people feel and think. In the long run, we are probably better off making no inferences about people at all. Either believe what they tell us or hold no belief at all until some conclusive evidence comes our way. Treat all of our notions about people as hypotheses to be tested and checked out by asking them. If we lack direct information from the person involved, but have other evidence, evaluate the conclusion using the three column technique from the last blog.

Here are some tips to stop mind-reading and projecting and thus decrease anxiety.

  • Catching ourselves in the act. When we feel judged, embarrassed, and anxious, pay attention to what we were thinking. Notice if  we are mind-reading or projecting. This is all we have to do at first because we are increasing awareness of the contents of our racing thoughts.
  • Test the reality of our thoughts. Once we are able to recognize when we are mind-reading and projecting, we 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 us 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 us at all. Just be in the moment without judgment.

By following these steps and challenging our negative automatic thoughts, we can stop accepting them. Mind-reading and projecting will no longer be anxiety’s minions, and our anxiety will be drastically reduced.

Mind Reading is one of 15 common types of distorted thinking. In our next blog we will be discussing Catastraphizing. If curious about anxiety please feel free to visit our website, take our anxiety quiz or get anxiety help. On this page we will continue to write about Anxiety and related topics. We are always happy to answer messages to our page or I am happy to take calls/text to see how I can help: 087 063 0948.

Take care,


Team Anxiety Ireland

1800 222 833


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