Mentalizing is a basic psychological process that is involved in all significant mental health disorders. It is a term used in neuroscience, psychology and psychotherapeutic theory to capture the noteworthy, yet ordinary, pervasive human tendency to understand an interpersonal interaction by considering the thoughts, feelings, desires, motives, intentions, goals, reasons, purpose etc. of yourself and other people (self and other interactions). It reflects a central interpersonal dynamic (relevant to all relationships and daily interactions) where we try to understand ourselves and others through effective communication. Communication is not just the words we use, but encompasses all aspects of our personality and ability to relate including body language, facial expression, voice intonation, posture, senses, personal space, perception, observation, emotional resonance and empathy. We take a mentalizing approach when we feel able to explicitly communicate expressing something about what is in our mind, what we understand is in the other person’s mind and what our needs are at that time.
Making assumptions, jumping to conclusions, black and white thinking, rigid rules and beliefs, ideas of a fixed personality and overuse of stereotypes and labels are common examples of a non-mentalizing approach to communication, interactions and relationships. A mentalizing approach is about preventing misunderstanding and helping to understand misunderstanding which frequently occur in all relationships, especially the more important ones with family, friends, significant others and authority figures.
The mentalizing approach acknowledges that the human psyche is complex, opaque and non-transparent. We are not mind-readers, but also we are not mind-blind. Mentalizing captures the process of effective robust interactions and communication which are the daily foundations of all relationships. The mentalizing process (keeping mind in mind) encourages more open, elaborate, exploratory and creative relational contact with another person, using the interplay of minds, in the broadest sense as outlined above.
Mentalizing is about being able to understand and appreciate daily life events from many different perspectives, which is a central feature of many common mental health difficulties. It puts the spotlight on our social, emotional and cognitive capacities to understand ourselves and others. It encourage a flexible and reflective style of relating that can help to manage distress, develop relationships, normalise emotional responses and encourage an integrated, mixed, but tolerable emotional experience. Enhancing your mentalizing capacity can increase emotional regulation and reduce avoidant behaviours and responses. It can also mean you experience less incidents of overwhelming or shutdown feelings and you are less suspicious of others motives and intentions.