They must be thinking... We look at another cognitive distortion from Key Four: Feel Your Feelings, Challenge Your Thoughts in the 8 Keys to Recovery From an Eating Disorder Workbook.
Mind Reading - a habitual thinking pattern characterized by expecting others to know what you're thinking without having to tell them, or expecting to know what others are thinking without them telling you.
Kristie shares her top recommendations on how to overcome the overwhelming negative head chatter.
5. Mind Reading
Everyone is looking at my stomach and thinking how big it is. People are wondering why I'm not doing something about it. The conversation just paused because people are so horrified they can't get past it in their heads. I know they are telling themselves I shouldn't even be eating. How embarrassing.
I paste a smile on my face, reach for a glass of water and shrink into the corner of the room. I spark up a conversation with someone but the thoughts drum away in my head, overriding the music, the laughter and the party. I feel as though I want to crawl out of my skin and disappear where no-one can see me.
That is a snippet of what used to go through my head when I had an eating disorder. I never connected it as 'mind reading'. For me, it was simply fact. I believe people absolutely were thinking those things and no amount of reassurance would have me think otherwise.
As I recovered, I learned some essential tools and skills to help give me some distance from the overwhelming negative head chatter that would happen when I was in public.
My top three recommendations:
1. 'I'm having the thought that...'
It was a very short walk in my head from 'people are thinking I should do something about my body' to 'I should do something about my body'. Pretending to mind read was a tool my eating disorder would use to get its claws into me and draw me back into its lair.
My therapist helped me make the walk in my head a little longer by amending any 'mind reading' thought I had by adding this line:
- 'I'm having the thought that...everyone is looking at my stomach'
- 'I'm having the thought that...people are thinking how big my stomach is'
- 'I'm having the thought that...people are wondering why I'm not doing something about my stomach'
It was a small change in my thinking but a significant one. It allowed me to observe my thoughts rather than drown in them. Most importantly, I felt a sense of power when I started to observe my thoughts.
In my eating disorder, I was very used to thinking something about myself or others and that was immediately labelled in my head as 'true'. Coming from a place of curiosity and asking myself 'what are the other possibilities' forced me to look at alternative options (which the eating disorder hated!). It was interested in one thing and one thing only, that my body was the problem. Searching for other possibilities lessened the power the eating disorder had over me.
The notion that I wasn't responsible for my first thought but I was responsible for my second began to intrigue me. My eating disorder could throw all sorts of thoughts at me and my responsibility was to give myself some distance, objectivity, and control by responding differently.
Over time my thoughts started to shift and sound more like this:
- 'I'm having the thought that those people are noticing my stomach.'
- 'This sounds familiar...like something my eating disorder would try to throw at me to get its claws into me.'
- 'Ok, what other possibilities are there?'
- 'Ummm, they might have noticed but they don't pay as much attention to my stomach as I do because I have an eating disorder. So even if they did notice my stomach, they would be noticing the fact I have a stomach rather than a judgment on it.'
- 'Even if they had a judgment on it they might also be judging the fact I have white skin or judging the clothes I'm wearing.'
- 'Maybe they aren't noticing at all but I am noticing my discomfort with doing something I normally wouldn't - wearing a bikini. Maybe I'm making my discomfort their discomfort.'
- 'There is a slight possibility that the over attention to my stomach is a bigger problem than my actual stomach. I'm going to have over attention right now because I'm doing something hard. As the eating disorder thoughts come in, I'm going to keep giving myself distance from them with 'I'm having the thought that...' so I don't drown in them.'
It wasn't a quick process. It took time, but as I was able to lean into curiosity and objectivity I began to detach from the thoughts more and more.
In the past my thoughts would almost instantly equal my reality. Now, my thoughts are a source of curiosity - where is that coming from? What other possibilities are there?
- I'm having the thought that...
- You are not responsible for your first thought but you are responsible for your second.
- What other possibilities are there?