The Negative Assumption Trap

I confess: I have spent way too much energy over the years wondering what other people were thinking. And then making (what I deemed to be) the most likely assumptions of what they were thinking when I couldn’t, in fact, know what they were thinking. Usually to my own detriment.

Is this just me, people? For goodness’ sake, if it’s just me then please get me some help.

But I suspect I’m not alone here.

Someone responds to your innocent question with a “tone,” and three miles down your trail of thought later you conclude they must not like you and probably never have.

You walk into a group where everyone greets you except one person – the same person you accidentally cut off in the parking lot. Even though you gave them an apologetic wave at the time, they must be mad at you. Maybe not even speaking to you.

You’re at a party involved in (listening, mostly) a boisterous conversation and everyone’s laughing. You begin to speak when someone interrupts to tell (another) story, louder and more animated than you. Everyone’s attention turns to them. You must not be worthy of sharing your stories – why would anyone want to hear what you had to say after all? You’re not that funny.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Oh my word, it’s exhausting in my brain!

Over the years I’ve gotten a much better handle on this defeating sort of self-talk (most of the time), but in high school it could be almost paralyzing.

I may have never raised my hand a single time in high school. Speak in public? Probably get laughed at for getting something wrong. Ask a question? Probably get laughed at because I should already know the answer.

And if a cute guy seemed flirty? Forget about it. I would convince myself in a nanosecond that his friends put him up to it as a joke at my expense.

Call it paranoia if you want (could’ve been). Maybe social anxiety (I’m pretty sure this is our winner). Whatever it was, it was a problem.

It wasn’t until after college that I truly began to understand how often I was basically inventing backstories and lies regarding what other people were thinking about me. And not just “oh that’s not quite true,” but more along the lines of “wow, that wasn’t even close to the truth.”

I assure you it wasn’t on purpose, it just sort of happened.

Since then I’ve learned to distinguish between reality and false assumptions much more easily. (Well, most of time.) I can generally recognize the negative assumptions before my thoughts spiral downward, and am able get my mind back on the truth track before I actually start believing the falsehoods that pop into my mind.

In an effort to help prevent you from riding the negative assumption train like I did for too long, here are a few reminders to get our minds back on track when we start making negative assumptions about what other people think:

  1. Most people are generally good. It’s only right to give them the benefit of the doubt; it’s insulting to them to assume the worst.
  2. Most people are too busy thinking of themselves to be thinking that hard about me or what I said/didn’t say. This is freeing to me! Also, assuming they’re thinking that hard about me is pretty egocentric.
  3. Whose opinion am I after – theirs or God’s? Hands down, God’s. If I follow his lead and stay on his path, it doesn’t matter a bit if other people like/don’t like it. That’s up to God to work out.

Our thought-life is like a muscle. The part we exercise gets stronger. If we think negative things regularly, it becomes easier and easier to think negatively.

BUT. On the flip side, we can actually train our brains to think more positively. We just have to be extremely proactive about taking each negative thought captive and replacing it with truth. Soon it will come more naturally and we won’t have to try quite so hard.

As 2 Corinthians 10:5 implores us:

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Let’s choose to believe the best about other peoples’ intentions (until proven otherwise, at least). Let’s take every thought captive this week and speak truth into our minds. Why would anyone think poorly of us anyway? We rock!

Is this something you’ve struggled with? Leave me a comment to share your story!

8 thoughts on “The Negative Assumption Trap

  1. Man! I can relate. I generally have a pretty confident exterior, but it’s because I’ve done a good job crafting it to cover up my insecurities. You’re right that it’s egocentric of me to think that people give as much thought to me and my foibles as I think they do. Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Chip! I would imagine more people struggle with this than we’d guess!

  2. Well, apparently you live inside my head. Thank you for the reminder that we are actually NOT the center of everyone else’s attention.

    1. @CJ – I’m glad I’m not alone, although sorry you deal with it too. Thanks for commenting and prayers as you continue on this exhausting journey! 🙂

  3. Thanks for the good instruction here, Jessie. I think almost all of us have to work through this at some point. I know I did. I agree, there is a sweet feeling of freedom once you get your perspective re-worked in this area! As a young lady I generally thought of myself as self-conscious as I wrestled with what you describe in your post. During my younger years that was a socially acceptable term that was used often. It could bring a little bit of understanding your way, perhaps drawing compassion from others for you as you struggled with this “shyness”. However, one day I heard a Christian speaker discussing this topic. He pointed out that self-consciousness should be turned to GOD-consciousness, keeping our eyes on HIM instead of SELF. That really stuck with me and helped so much! So I agree with you that we only need to worry about pleasing ONE person in our lives (and that’s not us!) Isn’t it great to know the one whose voice we need to listen for is eternally gracious? Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Beach! I absolutely agree, God-consciousness should be what we strive for! Great thoughts! 🙂

  4. Our experiences sound really familiar!! As I’ve matured (I’m sure it’s the Holy Spirit’s work in me too!) I too have grown in my ability to recognize and talk back to the negative thoughts. I particularly resonate with the idea that other people just don’t give as much thought to me as I always assumed they did! Thanks for sharing this!

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