Do we actually know if that particular friend dislike us?

In my clinical practice, it is quite common for some of my clients to be so sure about their perception on their family members or friends.  For instance, some of my clients insisted that they knew one of their friends disliked them by some vague gestures they showed during social gatherings.  With this thought in their mind, they treated their friend in a less friendly way and this led to a deteriorating relationship in the long run.  In fact, it is important for all of us to have the awareness of our own mental state and others’ mental state.  That is, it makes us easier to navigate in this world in different relationships, if we are being able to have the self-awareness and other-awareness of ones’ thinking and feeling.  However, can we be so sure that we actually are mind reader and being so accurately aware of others’ thinking and feeling?

Let us see an example.  One of my clients was very sensitive to others’ minor gestures and easily concluded that the other parties are disrespecting her or discriminating her.  One day when this client went to a restaurant for lunch with her husband, the waitress only poured water to her husband’s cup and did not pour to her cup.  She felt angry immediately and complained to the manager about the poor service of the waitress.  When I explored her thinking during the incident, she told me that she thought the waitress discriminated her as a woman and disrespected her.  Given her background of being discriminated sexually by her parents in her childhood, she felt very angry at the waitress because she thought the waitress must be disrespecting her as a woman like her parents.  However, after complaining to the manager of this restaurant, the waitress came to her table to explain to her that her water bottle was emptied after pouring water for her husband, so she went away to get another water bottle to pour water for my client. 

In this example, my client misinterpreted the waitress’s behaviour as a disrespect and discrimination, as if she actually can accurately know what was in this waitress’s mind.  On the contrary, my client’s husband had a clue that my client might think the waitress sexually discriminated her, but he also knew that my client did not want him to confront her because she already felt embarrassed when the waitress explained her behaviour after the manager was informed.  As a result, he told her he understood how she felt and it was understandable for her to have such a perception in a traditional Chinese restaurant.  He also asked if this might be related to her feeling of being discriminated.  He accepted the fact that he might be wrong in his interpretation of the underlying thinking of his wife, so he did not directly confronted her with his own interpretation.

My client’s husband is definitely more mature in his awareness of his own and others’ mind.  He was aware of his own feeling towards his wife’s behaviour and was able to control his temper.  He was also aware of his wife’s possible underlying thinking of the situation but at the same time, remain neutral on his own interpretation.  This is very important for us to develop stable relationship with others.  We need to be able to be aware of others’ mental state but at the same time, remain neutral about our own interpretation.  That is, we need to understand that we might never know the true thinking or feelings of our significant others without them actually telling us frankly.  Sometimes, even they themselves cannot be aware of their actual internal mental state.

To answer the above question in the topic of this article, we actually do not know whether a particular friend disliking us if they did not show it obviously or tell us directly.

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