What Is Mentalizing?

Mentalizing has to do with how our mind works. It is the way our mind tells us what we are feeling and thinking, and why we are behaving as we are.
It is also how our mind tells us what someone else is feeling and thinking and why they are behaving as they are.

Mentalizing is how we experience and understand our relationships with others.

In order to have good personal and social relationships with others, it is essential that we understand each other, and ourselves, reasonably accurately. What is going on in our mind to make us feel as we do? What is going on in the other person’s mind to make them behave like that?

What is Mentalization Based Therapy?

Mentalization Based Therapy aims to improve a person’s ability to mentalize in close relationships. Having improved mentalizing ability means:

  • Experiencing a more stable sense of who you feel you are
  • Being less likely to let emotions get the better of you
  • When emotions do get the better of you, you are able to regain your composure more quickly

This means that you will become stronger emotionally, engage in harmful behaviors less, be less likely to get into interpersonal conflicts and be better able to deal with any conflicts that do arise.

Learn more about Mentalization

How Does Mentalization Based Therapy Help You Improve Your Mentalizing?

To be good at something, you need to practice it. Weekly Mentalization Based Therapy provides the opportunity for you to practice mentalizing skills within a safe therapeutic environment.

Why Is Mentalizing Important?

Mentalizing helps us:

  • Have a more accurate understanding of what is taking place between people
  • Understand ourselves, who we are, our preferences, our own values, etc.
  • Communicate well with our family and close friends
  • Regulate our own feelings
  • Regulate other people’s feelings
  • Avoid misunderstandings
  • See the connection between emotions and actions more easily, which will help us to escape destructive patterns of thoughts and feelings.

Why Do We So Often Misunderstand Each Other?

  • The mind is hidden – we can never know what is going on in another person’s mind unless they tell us.
  • Sometimes we cannot even work out what is going on in our own mind
  • We tend to guess what is going on in someone else’s mind without checking it out
  • We decide we know what they are thinking. For example, we think that others are thinking the same way as we do
  • We make snap decisions: we ‘know’ what the other person is thinking even if they deny it
  • We often assume that others understand us without us having to say what is going on for us
  • Individuals have different experiences of the world, and we sometimes don’t like that
  • A person who feels threatened holds back feelings and/or thoughts because he or she is afraid of something (such as being embarrassed or judged or humiliated) – this then affects their ability to understand what is going on in their own mind.

How Do We Know When We Are Mentalizing?

We can never be 100% sure. But, good mentalizing is characterized by a genuine curiosity about the other person’s experiences, thoughts and feelings. It is a ‘not-knowing’ and exploratory attitude. When we are mentalizing, we allow our feelings to happen without trying to get rid of them; we can doubt ourselves and reflect on our thoughts and feelings; we are open to alternatives and can genuinely listen to others.

What are the Consequences of Poor Mentalizing?

  • Poor mentalizing of our own thoughts and emotions means that we do not have a good understanding of our own reasons for acting the way we do. Instead, things seem to ‘just happen’
  • Our sense of who we are can become unstable. We may second-guess ourselves, feel insecure or need constant confirmation and reassurance from others
  • We misunderstand each other frequently. This can have negative consequences: for example, others may feel overlooked, not heard or wrongly interpreted and become upset about this; or we feel that others do not understand or care about us
  • We may react in a very emotional way based on misunderstandings – for example, we may become afraid, angry, disappointed, etc.
  • We can be taken over by emotions or act without thinking (that is, we allow the surrounding circumstances or our own impulses to govern our actions)
    *A very special thank you to Dr. Anthony Bateman and the Anna Freud Centre, London

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