As a child I had gone to a fair, where I saw a fortune-teller with a huge crystal ball and colourful stones. She claimed to be able to read your mind by gazing into the crystal ball. Not just what you were thinking but what you actually wanted or desired. I was extremely fascinated by this concept and wanted to learn it too (what a useful skill it would be for a psychologist!!). Unfortunately my mother told me that it was all fun and games and there was no such thing as mind reading. Disappointed as I was, it was one of the most useful lessons I have learnt.

Unfortunately, most of us still do believe in this magic of mind reading. We expect the other person to know what we are thinking or what we want without ever having expressed ourselves clearly. We believe that the person who loves us has the power to understand our needs and desires. While it is true that we can understand the person we love better than others, it does not mean that we can mind read all the time.

Our responses and reactions to others are based on the feedback mechanism. In simpler words, we see how the person reacted or responded to us in a similar situation and base our future interactions on that response.

Now imagine if we got no such feedback or got a faulty one. How would we know how to react?

I met a girl who hated horror movies. Yet whenever she went to one with her boyfriend, she would pretend to be happy and excited because she did not want to hurt his feelings. The boyfriend believed that she too enjoyed the movies and started taking her to those more often. The misunderstanding built up till one day the girl felt that her boyfriend did not understand her at all and that he should have known that she hated such movies if he truly loved her. The poor boy all along believed that he was doing the right thing because he never received the correct reaction.

Another young man never told his elder sister that he did not particularly care for the affectionate name she called him with. She did not realize that her display of affection was not appreciated and in fact annoyed the young man till it led to a fight and harsh words being exchanged. Had he expressed his dislike right at the beginning it would probably have prevented both of them being hurt. It probably resulted in the sister second guessing all her communication because she was unsure of what her brother liked or disliked.

We often do not tell people if we don’t like something because we do not want to hurt their feelings. What we fail to realize is that the people who love us would rather know that their actions or words are making us unhappy and work towards changing it. It definitely hurts more to know that the actions that were done in good faith were unwanted.

Sometimes we do not express ourselves clearly because we assume that the other person knows us well enough to know what we want. Unfortunately, it rarely is that simple. Often we end up giving mixed signals to people around us.  A young man responded positively to all the attention he received from his friend, whenever he was feeling low. He even appreciated the effort put in by that friend. However subsequently he started withdrawing and reacting negatively to his friend’s attention because he was uncomfortable with the attention to begin with.  When confronted he confessed to never having liked the attention and it made him uncomfortable but did not say anything because he thought the friend knew him well enough to understand.

Sometimes we probably have expressed our displeasure or dislike through what we thought was a clear way. However this may not be clear enough for the other person. A young girl who was trying to lose weight felt overwhelmed by her roommate who would constantly force her to exercise or try to stop her from eating junk. This girl never openly asked her roommate to not interfere but would just smile and say yes to the suggestions. The friend never understood that what she thought was care was actually being perceived as interference.

The problem is not just with communicating what we do not like; sometimes we do not even make clear what we do like. A lot of times we just go along with the plans others have made only because we did not express what we like.

A housewife was very upset with her husband because he did not take her along for the office parties. She assumed it was because he thought she was not good enough for his circle. In reality, the husband did not know that she liked going to such parties. Another man felt angry because his girlfriend never made impromptu plans with him while she did it with her other friends. She assumed that he did not like being disturbed at work because that was what was conveyed to her multiple times. He, however wanted her to ‘know such things’.

As a species we are blessed with the power of language. As a species we fail to use it to our advantage. Guessing games and mind reading games are fun when they are in a fair and not in real life. Words and expressions can take us a long way and make life simpler.

If a satellite could get lost because communication was lost, we are mere humans. Human relationships could be simple if only we stop expecting super powers from each other. Sometimes all that is needed is saying things, out loud and the magic will respond.

The crystal ball of mind reading may be missing, but the crystal ball of love is all we need.

Dr. Gauri Nadkarni Choudhary
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