The skill of mentalization enables us to interpret human behaviour automatically along inner mental states (desires, feelings, intentions, etc.). So if somebody dives into the fridge, we see not only the behavior, but also interpret that they are likely to be hungry (feeling) and they are looking for food (purpose).
Most adults can distinguish between an outer and an inner world, we understand that behind the behaviour of another person there are various inner states that only the other person has access to. A person can be reticent, because we hurt them, because somebody had hurt them earlier or because they have simply nothing to say. We are in a mentalizing state, if we ask them about their inner state instead of forcing our own interpretation onto them.
It enables us to approach ourselves from an outer, and the others from an inner perspective. Mentalization is the key to our emotional and personality development and behavioral regulation cannot be effective without this skill. Mentalization is necessary for skills like labeling and controlling emotions, developing our personal boundaries, changing perspectives and assertive communication, all of which are essential for gaining social competence.
Even in adulthood when in an intensive emotional state mentalization can quickly collapse. Our own inner state starts to dominate the interpretation of the situation, our control is low and it is hard for us to see the the other’s perspective or (as Fonagy puts it) “to see ourselves as others see us, and others as they see themselves”.
The skill of mentalization can be developed with self-reflective work.
During our group sessions we work with a mentalization-focus: we amplify and elucidate the inner states behind our own behavior, and we help the participants in doing the same. Whether it is a case discussion group for experts or a children’s group, working with feelings is essential and serves as the foundation to every other development. Our experts and volunteers also participate continuously in mentalizing supervision.