Habits of a lifetime are ingrained in our brains. It takes a miracle to reroute our responses.
One of the most prevalent and damaging cognitive errors is the tendency to think that you know what another person is thinking. In marriages or other close relationships, you may be very surprised to find out that you are having a “gut-response” to another’s words or actions that you may be interpreting wrongly. The reason for your response may lie within you, not with the other person’s words or actions.
We develop our perceptions based on our experience. If we are, for example, a person of low self- esteem, we may perceive another’s remarks so wide of the mark that what was meant as a caring statement may seem to us to be a “put-down.”
I have wide experience with this particular cognitive error. Because I have been ill for long periods, my husband has, with good reason, developed a very watchful attitude where I am concerned. I have wrongly interpreted this for years as being evidence that he thinks I can’t take care of the smallest thing by myself. It has made me very belligerent at times! In a recent epiphany, I finally realized that his caretaking of me was NOT rooted in the idea that I am incapable or stupid. As a matter of fact, he has profound respect for my abilities and intelligence. When he tries to smooth my way, it is out of a sense of devotion and love. He cares deeply for my welfare. When he seems to be “micro-managing” my life, I now see this as evidence of his joint commitment to my goals and well-being. I still lose my temper on occasion, but when I step back, I can see that his love for me is vast and deep.
How do we overcome “mind-reading” or other false cognitions? For me, it took a complete change in attitude. I spent a great deal of time in prayer. I realized that this tendency was born in me at a very young age when I had to mind-read in order to know how to react to certain situations so as to avoid abuse. Growing up with someone irrational sometimes creates irrationality in us. We attribute base motives to everyone around us, because that is what we are used to. When we encounter someone who truly loves us and who is rational and giving, we don’t know how to react properly. We interpret what they say and do in a way that we have scripted for ourselves from our earliest years.
We need to leave the past in the past. This is not easy. In fact such a change really requires a complete change of heart. We have to put off the injured, frightened child, and act like a grown up. In order to do this, it is necessary to apply to our Heavenly Father for help and courage in making this change. It involves a change in our essential world view. Everyone is not judging us wrongly. Everyone is not thinking to harm us. There is such a thing as love in the world.
We start by recognizing the depth of our Savior’s love for us. When we study about Him, pray for knowledge of His character, and grow in understanding of Him through our temple experience, we can begin to feel His love. That feeling and knowledge is a key to opening our hearts and minds to truly understanding those mortals who love us. Our defensiveness dissolves, and we can become open to their love and their unique expressions of love. The “buttons” we have that, when pushed, ignite our indignation, will slowly disappear.
Habits of a lifetime are ingrained in our brains. It takes a miracle to reroute our responses. But this is the type of miracle we are promised when we make an effort to be spiritually reborn. It is a gift we are given when we place ourselves upon the altar and become submissive to our Heavenly Father. We are given a new heart. And this change of heart makes it possible for us to change our cognitions. We can truly leave the thought patterns of the past in the past and begin anew.
G.G. Vandagriff is the author of fourteen books in many genres. Her most recent genre of choice is Regency romance. The latest book in her series will be The Taming of Lady Kate. Watch for it on her website. She loves to hear from her readers.