IMAGE: Sergio Marín Gómez
Text: Alejandra Misiolek
Mentalization as a tool for emotional processing and good communication that can help us manage our conflicts.
We all have been in a conflict situation and we all know how difficult it is not to lose our ability to mentalize. What is this ability?
As I explained in the previous post, mentalization is the ability to see ourselves from the outside and others from the inside. Or, in the words of the author of MBT (Mentalization based therapy): “To adequately mentalize we have to strive to de-center ourselves that leaves aside our own perspective in such a way as to allow us to capture the other’s.”
We can do it in two ways:
- It is controlled and involves slow, conscious reflection.
- We use this way of mentalizing less often and in more complex or new situations.
- We use it in the therapeutic process.
- It is unconscious, automatic, emotional, and intuitive.
- It makes it possible to respond in the immediate present.
- We use it often, in daily life, especially in situations that we already know.
- It is part of our procedural memory and memory of skills.
To describe a good mentalization we are going to start by describing the faults in it, in other words, what is best not to do. There are 3 typical modes of lack of mentalization:
1.PSYCHIC EQUIVALENCE MODE
- It is also often called concrete understanding.
- It is the inability to experience subjectivity as something different from external reality.
- “What exists in my mind is equivalent to what exists outside.”
- Thoughts are perceived as real.
- “There is no perspective or difference.”
- Generalizations and prejudices are typical examples.
For example: There is no doubt that the individual’s perspective is the only possible one. As we saw in the example of Ana, “he hasn´t answered my Whatsapp, this means that he does not care about me.”
2. PSEUDOMENTALIZATION OR PRETEND MODE
- It is a separation between external reality and psychic reality, to the point where the connection between the two cannot be achieved.
- It implies an internal state of mind dissociated from the external.
- Hypermentalization or highly intellectualized but emotionally empty speech is very typical of this mode of lack of mentalization.
For example: “The pants are too small for me, I know I have put on weight, but I imagined that maybe they have shrunk.” Or “I myself don’t know very well who I am and what I want in life. But I know I want to travel and I can’t stay still. Knowing who I am is very important to me.”
3. TELEOLOGICAL MODE
- It is more about actions.
- Action is put ahead of thought activity.
- The interpretation of the internal states is based on the external demonstrations.
For example: “I have become fat, I am useless!” or “If you don’t give me (physical) signs of love, I don’t know that you love me.”
Failures in mentalization are very typical in personality disorders, but we all sometimes lose the ability to mentalize when something affects us emotionally and, especially, when these emotions are strong.
In these situations it is very important to have the ability or tools to regain a good mentalization, and these would be 10 ways to do it.
- Let’s not forget that the other’s mind is opaque, we can make assumptions, and we do, but we cannot take them with certainty. Eg “I think the boss is upset, but he may also have had a very stressful Monday morning and maybe it was his own personal issue.”
- Let’s not consider the thoughts of others to be a significant threat to us. Eg “I don’t like it when she gets angry, but we can talk about it and solve it.”
- Contemplation and reflection used to think about how others think in a relaxed way. Eg “I wonder why he took it this way.”
- Perspective taking is accepting that the same event can be very different if we look at it from different perspectives. Eg “for me she has disrespected me, but I can understand that from her perspective she was defending herself.”
- A genuine interest, curiosity, and exploration of the thoughts and feelings of others.
- Let’s also be curious about our own mental states and feelings.
- Openness to new discoveries without getting caught up in what we know so far.
- Acceptance of others and the ability to forgive them thanks to the understanding of their mental states.
- Recognize that our own feelings can create confusion for the other.
- Bear in mind that we may not always know or be aware of what we feel, especially in conflict situations.