It is important to remember that mentalization is about NOW. It is not about any other moment than now. Therefore, if you aredragging old issues or future worries into the conversation (or if the other person is) then you are experiencing a “failure to mentalize.”
You mentalize by continually monitoring the progress and state of a conversation. You mentalize by asking questions about thecurrent conversation, the feelings and intention of the other person and monitoring your own feelings and understanding of the current conversation. It is a natural skill and is built into the human mind; however, it is also a difficult skill, because we are often not mindful of the current moment when having a conversation. We are often distracted by our own thoughts and feelings, assumptions and automatic thoughts, history and attachment to the other person. If your mind meanders into these things, you are experiencing a failure to mentalize.
Mentalization is done from a “stance,” which is summarized as follows:
- Compassionate for yourself and the other person
- Focus on the other person’s mind
- Humble about your viewpoint and not bullying
Curious and interested, an authentic desire to see the other person’s point of view
- Validating for additional information about inner mental states (before offering alternative perspectives)
- Normalizing and generalizing –“everyone makes sense (to themselves) at all times”
Mentalization is the true essence of love, compassion and understanding, because it allows you to internalize the authentic “image” of the other person’s mind (and they can yours as well).
Mentalization is essentially done through asking questions, but not leading questions. One cannot ASSUME the other person’s thoughts and feelings are what you think they are. You have to start with a blank slate each time. You can “read” momentary feelings (such as recognizing micro-expressions) but the MEANING of those feelings is not always clear.
If you don’t know, you have to ask.