Often, when speaking with someone who is a close “attachment person,” misunderstandings, assumptions and ineffective modes of thinking creep into the situation. Bateman identifies several “modes” of thinking that inhibit mentalization. These modes are:
- Psychic Equivalence – when the world is equivalent to the person’s mind. This is the “feelings = facts” mode. “If I feel sad, there must be someone/something that made me sad.”
- Pretend – mental states are not anchored in reality. Pretending “as if” something is true, when external evidence shows the contrary. This is “bullshitting” mode.
- Teleological – mental states can only be expressed in action. “If you loved me, you’d buy me a car.” Only tangible actions count, not words or thoughts.
In addition, there are other ways of thinking that inhibit mentalization such as:
Concrete thinking – “But he said he hated me!” Taking something as gospel and ignoring the underlying mental states and their malleability.
Pseudo-mentalizing – seemingly understanding of mental states, but used in a self-serving fashion.
What do you do when the failure to mentalize happens? When a break in mentalization occurs, you must intervene immediately. You cannot let the break go unnoticed or simply “let it go.” You have to be attentive to the level of mentalization in the conversation and stop the flow of the conversation right away.
Bateman has 3 basic ways of dealing with the break in mentalization, each used for a different intensity of the break. They are:
- Stop, Listen, Look (for minor cuts, bumps or abrasions).
- Stop, Rewind, Explore (for breaks, burns and internal injuries).
- Stop and Stand (for life-and-death struggles and near-fatal injuries)
Huh? What’s up with those?You will notice that “Stop” begins each of these methods. Bateman suggests actually holding up your hand, palm forward in a traffic cop sort of way and saying, “Stop…” (or some variant). This “mentalizing hand” is the “shock to the system” that indicates a hold on further progress to a conversation. It is an indication that you can’t continue the conversation without some sort of clarification of what just happened.
Stop, Listen, Look
This puts the conversation in “pause mode.” It is to remedy a small break in mentalization. It is a reaction to the reaction of the other person. If the person is triggered into an emotion by something that you said, you must stop, listen and look. Some of the ways to do this are:
- “Wait. I’m confused. What I said seemed to have upset you. That wasn’t what I intended. Can you clarify how you feel?”
- “Stop for a minute. You said I was being mean. I didn’t intend for that to be mean, but I guess I was. What do you feel that’s about?”
- “Hold it. You appear to be angry at that. Is that right?”
- “Hang on. I think what I said upset you. Can you help me out here and explain why?”
I know all of this seems rather clunky; however, the purpose of this is two-fold: 1) to get the other person thinking about their thinking (a re-engagement of mentalizing) and 2) to communicate that you are really engaged in the conversation and interested in how the other person is feeling.
Stop, Rewind, Explore
This process is a bit arduous. It requires you to step back through the last few moments of the conversation and explore each, “frame by frame.”
- “Let’s go back and explore what happened just then. It seemed to me we were relating well and then something happened. What do you feel happened?”
- “Something happened just now. Let’s try and rewind a bit to see where the conversation went astray, alright?”
- “Hang on a second. I feel like my intention and the way you felt about what I said are not in synch. Let’s go back and see what happened.”
- “Wait. There appears to have been a misunderstanding a moment or so ago. What do you feel about what I said?”Then, you have to go forward, step-by-step, statement-by-statement and explore each one and see how those made the other person feel.
- “So, I said, ‘maybe he was just tired’ and you felt I was being dismissive of your feelings? Is that right?”
- “You said that you didn’t want to talk about it and I continued. You felt badgered, correct?”
- “When I started talking about our daughter, you felt I wasn’t being attentive to your feelings. Do I have that right?”
Stop and Stand
This process is for the big problems. It is the way that you apply your own personal boundaries to a situation. When the other person is way down the path of emotional dysregulation, stop and stand can be the only option. It is basically your way of either ending the conversation or trying to re-frame it completely.
- “As far as I can tell, we are going around in circles about this. I don’t see any point and continuing to talk about it.”
- “I feel we have reached an impasse. You have your view and I have mine. I don’t think going back and forth will do either of us any good.”
- “I can’t really discuss this anymore right now. Maybe we could discuss it again in the morning.”
- “I can’t listen to you when you’re drunk. Let’s talk about this later.”
Remember: like any application of boundaries, this one is likely to cause an immediate strong reaction, but the “stand” part is that you have to stand your ground.
This content is based solely on my interpretation of mentalization skills.