On the last track we discussed Aversive Chains. These included verbal behaviors, nonverbal sounds, voice quality, gestures using hands and arms, facial expressions and body movements.
On this track, we will discuss the cognitive behavior therapy technique Mind Reading. This includes calibrated communication and parataxic distortion.
Sebastian, age 24, described a situation involving his lover, Marina, age 23.
"I came home and the first thing Marina does is sigh and say, ‘You got a call from work. They expect you to attend a conference Saturday morning.’ I took this sigh to mean that something was bothering Marina, but, her voice didn’t sound angry. I figured Marina was angry because I was going to leave that Saturday for the conference. I got a little huffy, saying, ‘Well, it’s my job, what can I do about it!!?’ What I didn’t know at the time is that when Marina sighed, it had nothing to do with being angry.
"Marina had just been assigned an overwhelming project at work and when she arrived home, the toilet was clogged. The shit really hit the fan then. Marina said, ‘You give too much to that job.’ I said, ‘It pays the bills doesn’t it?’ Marina started talking louder, ‘You’re sucked dry at work! You’re just a yes-man. You say yes to them, but no to me. You’ve shown zero commitment to making this relationship work!’"
#1 Calibrated Communication
First, let’s discuss calibrated communication. I stated to Sebastian, "Calibrated communication occurs when an unclear message creates uncertainty about the true meaning being conveyed. Take Marina’s sighing, for example. It wasn’t clear, at the time, what was behind that. To deal with the uncertainty, you mind-read. You make assumptions about the feelings, intentions, motives or attitudes of the other person.
"The trouble can start because mind-reading is usually not completely accurate. However, you respond as though your mind-reading were accurate. You might get defensive or critical, but your negative reaction will put Marina on guard and she will begin to act defensively. With each exchange, you get further from the truth."
Do you have a Sebastian who mind-reads as a result of calibrated communication? Would playing the track be beneficial?
CBT Technique: Checking it Out
I stated to Sebastian, "This technique is especially valuable to use in situations where mind-reading is contributing to the escalation process." The antidote for the problem of calibrated communication is simply to check it out.
When something confusing is happening in an interaction, one person can say, "I observe_(blank)_______, and I imagine_(blank)_______, Is that right?" It’s now the other person’s turn to give feedback. "Yes, I am doing _(blank)_______, but I’m thinking or feeling _(blank)_______, Sebastian saw the application of this technique to his own situation. Sebastian stated to me, "I could’ve said to Marina, ‘You’re sighing. Does that mean you’re angry?’ She probably would have told me that she wasn’t angry; she was just stressed from work."
#2 Parataxic distortion
In addition to calibrated communication, parataxic distortion is the tendency to superimpose the experiences and meanings of an old relationship over a current one.
Eddie, age 36, had a childhood that was full of angry exchanges with his father. At a certain point in their battles, Eddie’s father would always raise one eyebrow. Eddie knew that meant his father was getting really angry, and was on the verge of "blowing it." Now, when Eddie is interacting with someone who raises an eyebrow while giving an ambiguous or incongruent message, Eddie assumes that that person is angry.
I stated to Eddie, "Mind reading is greatly influenced by parataxic distortion.Your assumptions about the thoughts, feelings and motives of the person in front of you are very often based on repeated painful experiences during your earlier years." Do you have an Eddie whose assumptions about other people are influenced by parataxic distortion?
Another example involved Jemima, age 41. Jemima’s older brother, Malcolm, was deeply involved in a fundamentalist church. Jemima had been an admitted hell-raiser during her late teens, and Malcolm frequently expressed disapproval. Malcolm would stare at the wall just behind her, but never make eye contact. Malcolm’s lips would pinch just before lecturing her on her "affront to God."
Now Jemima finds herself inexplicably enraged when someone won’t look her in the eye. Jemima’s husband tends to pinch his lips when his arthritic knee gets inflamed, and Jemima’s first reflex is to read disapproval in his expression. The residue from Jemima’s painful sibling relationship still distorts Jemima’s perceptions. Jemima bewilders and angers her husband when she acts on her old assumptions. Do you have a Jemima? Would it be helpful to play this track for him or her?
CBT Technique: Voices from the Past
Eddie asked me, "How do I know when I’m using parataxic distortion?" I stated to Eddie, "It’s often difficult to tell, but there are four helpful cues.
a. First, watch out for responses with a fast reaction time. Sudden anger or instant distrust suggests the presence of a habitual knee-jerk reflex. Black and white responses should also be suspected, since reality is rarely that clear cut. If someone seems all bad to you, if you’re using global labels, check your mind’s old files to see who you’re being reminded of.
b. Also, watch out for a familiar physical feeling. Do you always feel a lump in your throat when the boss says something critical? Or a warm glow when a blonde-haired person smiles at you?
c. Finally, parataxic distortion is often present when a small stimulus triggers a bigger response. If it feels like your reaction greatly exceeds the provocation, the situation may be charged with old pain and conflict."
I asked Eddie to try the Voices from the Past exercise. If you experience any of these four cues during an interaction, try the exercise of assuming that your present relationship is in some way being contaminated by a voice from the past. Start by writing down the salient elements of the current situation
Describe the provoking person’s physical characteristics.
Describe the tone of voice, gestures, body language, and facial expressions.
Describe the nature of the conflict. Is it a struggle for control? Do you feel devalued?
Describe your feelings in the conflict.
Do you have an Eddie, Malcolm, or Jemima who might benefit from listening to this track?
On this track, we discussed Mindreading. This included calibrated communication and parataxic distortion.
On the next track, we will discuss Coping Through Healthy Self-Talk.
What are the two parts to mindreading?
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