Inflexible thinking in relationships
It’s easy to get stuck on our versions of love and friendship, right and wrong, but how often do these beliefs serve us in relationships?
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Written by Sonder
Updated over a week ago

Kate McLisky is a clinical psychologist with a background in mental health research. Kate works clinically with an integrative therapeutic approach to help clients of all ages to manage and reduce symptoms of mental health disorders.

How often have you witnessed someone else’s behaviour and thought you could mind-read the intention behind it? “They’re looking at my clothes because they think I look awful”, or “They’re staying quiet because they’re angry at me...".

Let me answer for you - we humans do this all the time! We try and predict the intent behind others’ behaviour in order to keep ourselves safe.

Our perspective is subconsciously influenced by our beliefs

Without realising it, these predictions are greatly influenced by our own beliefs - what behaviour is associated with love, care, right, wrong, fidelity or callousness. These beliefs are usually created in our early years, and influenced by our family, friends, cultural context and community values.

Example 1 - If you grew up in a family in which birthdays were an important time to show your love for one another, it’s likely that you’ll grow up to associate gift-giving and celebrating with love and affection. It’s understandable, then, that if you find yourself with a friend or partner in adulthood who doesn’t buy birthday gifts or attend parties, you might think “They don’t really care about me. If they cared, they would have come to my party”.

Example 2 - For a person who grew up in a family or culture that associates togetherness and sharing with love, it may feel hurtful to find that their new partner doesn’t respond to multiple messages or phone calls a day, or that they would prefer to have some time alone than be with them, thinking “if they loved me, they’d want to spend more time with me”.

This type of thinking is known as a cognitive distortion, which is a thought that distorts reality. It is also known as inflexible or rigid thinking because it leaves little room for curiosity or other perspectives.

Why might this be harmful?

When we take action based on a distorted or inflexible cognition, we leave little room for others’ perspectives, which often leads to them reacting with defensiveness, anger or injustice. It also blocks us from ever seeing their point of view

What can I do?

Let’s take a few steps to help defuse this inflexible before it becomes a relational time bomb!

  1. First step, always, is to regulate. You will have little chance of seeing things with perspective if you are dysregulated. So take a few slow, deep breaths and see if that helps. If you need more, stretch or move your body, splash water on your face, eat something, go for a walk or have a shower.

  2. Take a look at which of your beliefs are influencing your thinking. Is it absolutely true that attending a birthday party is equivalent to care? Does togetherness mean love for everyone? If you took this thought to court, would it persuade a jury? What’s the evidence for and against this thought?

  3. Try and see this from their perspective. What might be influencing their behaviour, other than your prediction? Do they have different beliefs or values to you? Is there another explanation for their behaviour?

  4. Own your feeling! Go on, admit it…. Underneath these thoughts, you’re having some feelings. Try and identify the feeling, is it: Anger? Hurt? Worry?

  5. Communicate! Talk to them using this formula.

    1. When you _____ [didn’t show up to my party]

    2. I felt ______ [hurt]

    3. Because thought that meant _______ [you didn’t care]

    4. Can we talk more about it?

If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app to connect to our team of qualified, caring health professionals.

Article written by: Kate McLisky

Image credit: Anna Shvets at Pexels

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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