Mentalizing is the ability to understand actions by both other people and oneself in terms of thoughts, feelings, wishes and desires, such as seeing ourselves from the outside and others from the inside. It supports us in making sense of ourselves and others.
An example of this, is when the US president, Barack Obama, had a commemorative photo-shot taken with two young ladies along with their serious boyfriends, which he learnt about during their introduction, and he suggested the two young ladies had another photo without their boyfriends, ‘You know just in case’ he said jokingly. He said it playfully and no one was offended. He was being very thoughtful, thinking if the relationships did not work out, they still had a commemorative photo without the boyfriends. He hinted that he remembered being younger and that relationships do not always last.
If we have a good mentalization capacity like this, we tend to enjoy better interpersonal relationships and intrapersonally (self-to-self), we tend to self-regulate better and have a healthier sense of self, where the two worlds interact. Knowing who we are, helps not being exploited by others. Mentalization often happens automatically without thinking about it. It requires imagination, involving mental states which are an invisible collection of someone’s subjective experiences. It helps to gain insight into ourselves and others and how we interact.
Source: Barley A. (2018). Holding Mind In Mind. Therapy Today. 29 (7), 34.
Jacinta Bourke is a counsellor and psychotherapist operating in the Ealing W5 and surrounding areas. She is a member of BACP - the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.