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  • Writer's pictureBernard Beitman, MD

What Do You Think I Think of You?

Interpersonal coincidences challenge us to know the mind of the other.

How do you know what someone thinks of you?

At dance the other day, I ran into Paul, a friend of mine. He did not greet me with his usual positivity. Had I offended him the last time we talked? Only way to know is to ask.

We can’t ask every time we want to know. Some relationships don’t tolerate questions like this. The question may seem intrusive, too intimate, and possibly challenging. The person being asked has to stop, activate their self-observer, scan their mind for their representation of you, and then decide whether or not the answer will offend you. You need a trusting bond to withstand these implications. Paul and I are close enough that I think he would answer the question truthfully. Maybe Paul is mad at me. If he does answer truthfully, then I may need to apologize.

What do I think that he thinks of me?

Mind-blindness

The concept of mind-blindness emerged from research with autistic people. Simon-Baron Cohen proposed that they lack the normal ability to develop a theory of mind. They have difficulty grasping the thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and intentions of others. To varying degrees, mind-blindness applies to all of us, not just people with autism.

As I write this, I try to keep in mind a concept of your mind comprehending these written words. Who are you? Why are you reading this now? What do you hope to learn from it?

A 34-year-old unmarried woman became absorbed in the possible meaning of a series of romantic coincidences: “I really loved him, like no one else I have ever loved. We seemed to be able to communicate telepathically without being in the same room. When he was in the same building, I could feel his presence. I melted into his arms. His mother’s name was the same as my sister’s. His father’s name was the same as my brother’s. I could tell how he was feeling when we were apart. I told him these things, because they seemed like evidence that our love was meant to be, that we should last for all time. After about two years, our relationship was over. The coincidences were meaningful only for the time we were together. They didn’t mean forever.” She emphasized her fusion with him, but nothing about him as a person. She didn’t see his selfishness and unwillingness to care for her. She was blind to his intentions. She sadly realized that sustaining a loving relationship takes more than remarkable coincidences. (For more on coincidence-inspired romance, see the post “Do Coincidences Signal That It's Meant to Be?”) Your Coincidence Is More important to You Than It Is to Me

I received the following email:

"We have to talk about this subject. I had to pull off the road having listened to just a few minutes of your audiobook. I’m shaking right now, I can barely contain myself. Believe me, I may be your most interesting subject yet. Synchronicity has been an experiment for many years of my life. Seriously. Stop what you’re doing and contact me! You won’t be disappointed."

He excitedly reported some of his synchronicities.

His stories illustrated simulpathity (feeling the pain of a loved one at a distance) and human GPS (finding your way to a need place without knowing how). For him, outstandingly amazing. For me, examples of common coincidence themes. The intensity of coincidences can move the coincider like this, to excitedly tell others about the amazing set of events. Caught in the urgency to understand, the coincider can go through numerous details of the story that all feel relevant and important. The listener's interest can be easily forgotten. As the study of coincidences evolves, we will develop outlines for how best to communicate the essence and eliminate the personally exciting, but attention-depleting details.

Back to Paul — Go Ahead, Ask!

I asked Paul by text if he was mad at me. He replied, “Nope, I’m having knee problems, and I am not myself.” He was not thinking about me at all. He was caught up in questioning how well he could dance. I had projected my own self-doubt into the unknown of his mind. When you wonder if someone likes you, you are wanting to know that person’s image of you. When you can, ask! The 34-year-old woman caught in the throes of amazing coincidences needed to do more wondering about her lover's mind and ask about his intentions.

Respect the Uniqueness of the Person

No one else is standing where you are at this time. No one else occupies your place in time and space. Your perspective on a situation is yours and only yours. You bring to the interpretation a set of experiences that are different from mine. To make matters yet more confusing, my insecurity will generate negative projections onto your mind, as I did when thinking Paul might be mad at me. To better guess what you think of me, I have to comprehend the unique experiences of your reality before making guesses about what you think of me. What You Think of Me Is None of My Business

You think your own thoughts. I have to respect that. And my endless speculations about what you think of me take up unnecessary conscious thought time. How, then, do we balance the reality of our need to know what the other person is thinking about us with its potential waste of thought time and energy? Why do we want to know what is in the mind of the other concerning us? Lovers want to know whether or not the loved one reciprocates. Dancers want to know if the person they want to dance with will accept their invitation. (Sometimes you have to ask.) Vulnerable people want to know if the person(s) who can hurt them are likely to hurt them. Voters want to know what a candidate really thinks of them, and what the elected candidate will do to or for them. Sometimes we have to guess based on nonverbal and/or past behavior. The best guideline is this: If we guess wrong, how bad will the consequences be? If not that bad, then cease your speculation, and either ask or go on to something else. If you can't know, wait for further information. Put your thought energy someplace else! Your Coincidence Is More Important to You Than It Is to Me

Often coinciders will excitedly tell someone else about their amazing synchronicity. The listener nods with appreciation, but with far less excitement. Why the difference? The coincider is the one who experienced the emotional charge. The listener can experience that emotion only through empathy, not directly. Coinciders often need to learn that the listener's view of the coincider is not anything like the coincider's experience of themselves. article continues after advertisement Some synchronicities do make great stories. Like parables, they may illustrate some wisdom, or be funny or hard to believe, or offer a novel explanation for coincidences. When having a coincidence story to tell, think of the interest and openness of the other person at that time.

 
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