What is Mentalizing

Mentalizing involves the ability to interpret/understand behavior (one’s own as well as that of others) as psychologically motivated in terms of underlying intentions and mental states, such as thoughts, feelings, wishes, and intentions.



Mentalizing is used to understand the behaviors and reactions of others (as well as ours) in terms of intentions and mental states, such as thoughts, feelings, wishes, and intentions. Mentalizing facilitates relationships and has an important interpersonal interpretative function, as it helps us to understand the reactions of others in terms of what it communicates about their feelings, intentions, and wishes. Mentalizing helps to make the social world predictable and meaningful because we can anticipate what people will do and know why they react as they do in certain circumstances. Mentalizing is also the basis of self-awareness because it helps us to understand our feelings, to become aware of our own reactions and to understand the impact that our behavior may have on others. When we successfully mentally, we are able to understand the reactions of others, to examine their perspectives and to imagine their psychological experience. Moreover, when we mentalize well, we are aware of our own reactions and emotional behaviors and are able to regulate our negative affect, especially when we see the effects on others. This understanding of our own perspectives and those of others facilitates interpersonal interactions at work and close relationships with spouses, children and parents.


Development of Mentalizing and Psychopathology

Mentalizing capacity emerges in the context of early attachment relationships in which the parent helps the infant develop a representation of his or her own mind, which in turn will facilitate communication with other minds. This process is initiated by what Fonagy and Gergely call a marked affect reflection that takes place when the caregiver reflects the emotion felt by the infant. This allows the infant to visualize his affect, thus facilitating the development of an early sense of self. When quality of care is severely compromised, for example in the context of abuse and neglect, the adult produces an inaccurate or inappropriate response to the infant's emotional experience. This failure in the reflection has the effect of leaving the child and / or the adolescent with a foreign self (alien self), because of the absence, the inconsistency and the lack of sense of a self formed around hostile or inaccurate affective representations. The foreign self is considered a key concept for understanding suicidality and the impulse leading to self-injury, because when mental capacity collapses, individuals are likely to face the emergence of non-mentalizing modes of functioning. and to be submerged by the foreign self. Indeed, when the foreign self is substituted for self-representations in the context of abuse or neglect, it can become particularly persecuting in the face of the internal pressure exerted to externalize it. It is felt intensely and expressed in relation to the body in need of punishment or repair in the form of self-mutilation or suicide. From a MBT perspective, suicidality and self-harm are understood as attempts to maintain self-organization and to combat the destabilization associated with foreign self-experience, abandonment or loss of attachment and to the primitive fears that accompany him. Consistent with the model of attachment and mentalizing defined here, MBT appears to have an impact on the reduction of self-harm through reduced avoidance attachment and improved mental capacity (Rossouw and Fonagy, 2012).