What Does It Mean to be “Psychologically Minded?”

A good observer of the human condition notices some fellow creatures who don’t get it. Several are obtuse. Many can be described as too logical. Others naïve or unworldly. More than a few don’t think through what they do and why, dismissing opinions different from their own. Their certainty of everything betrays their awareness of nothing. Large numbers can’t recognize the obvious ingredients in their complicated emotional stew.

They don’t even hear the stewpot boiling over.

I’d characterize such folks as lacking a certain “psychological mindedness.” Though this is not my own term of art, it is a phrase without a single definition understood and accepted in the field of mental health. Still, I’ll try to describe one possible understanding of such a state of mind and why it might be useful to us. If you are psychologically minded, several of these qualities will be characteristic of you:

  • All your decisions are not understood by you. Mystery resides in everyone. We are each some combination of genetic programming, the formative influence of our parents, education, experience, and choice. Emotion and reason both play their part. Should you be so unwise as to claim understanding of all your motives, you are mistaken.
  • Illogic troubles your thought process and you know you aren’t alone. You don’t insist your every idea is structured like an architectural work of art, nor hold others to this standard. Were logic alone in charge, you’d be a robot. We arrive at some of our most vehement opinions intuitively and only then find justifying reasons with blinding speed, a process invisible to the internal eye.
  • You are aware mom and dad were imperfect and don’t dismiss their effect on you, for good or ill, probably both.
  • You don’t believe your achievements are the singular product of your special genius and effort. We are interdependent, all of us: impacted by the color of our skin, the economic and social circumstances of our birth, the presence or absence of societal and political unrest, the power of love and loneliness; and by a helping or dismissive hand, not to mention the accident of our appearance. You are on board with John Donne’s poetic truth, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” As my friend, Life in a Bind, suggests, “you think about yourself in the world from a slightly more distanced stance than others do, and with a longer lens stretching back into the past.”
  • You know grieving takes its own time and is best done with one or more faithful witnesses, not by the toughness required for bullet-biting; or burying sadness in perpetuity. Others are not advised by you to “get over it.”
  • Unfairness, you think to yourself, can be subjective and therefore a matter of perspective.
  • To a degree you know the danger of being hostage to the opinion of others.
  • You don’t “blame the victim” by asserting you’d have been smarter in a difficult situation: made a better choice, demonstrated more resilience, or maintained a higher moral standard. Without experience in the same circumstance, in truth, you cannot predict what you’d have done.

  • You recognize your lack of “all the answers.” You are humble in the face of the things you don’t understand and accept the need to learn more. You grasp at least a bit of the human necessity for continual transformation as you age and face unexpected situations requiring new solutions.
  • You don’t reflexively condemn others when something goes wrong, instead demonstrating occasional willingness to look into the mirror. Nor do you make automatic assignment of blame to yourself, realizing, at least, the cost of doing so, even if you cannot yet stop.
  • Once in a while you ask, “Why did I do that” or “Why did I say that?”
  • To paraphrase Life in a Bind again, psychological mindedness permits insight into mind traps: the alteration of perception when gripped by defenses like projection. What feels real emotionally may not be true.
  • To your dismay, you are cognizant of the human capacity to rationalize almost anything, murder included. Perhaps it has dawned on you that you too rationalize. You regret another painful truth: even wonderful and wonderfully talented people possess a dark side.
  • While some challenges are uncomfortable to face, you believe avoidance of a direct glance or assertive action might be a costly life strategy.
  • You are a part-time observer of yourself, not obsessed with yourself. You are neither totally inward-focused, unable to get out of your own head; or totally outward-focused – mindlessly “in the moment” – never reckoning with who you are. You agree with Socrates (“The unexamined life is not worth living”), but not so far as to spend all your time in examination, avoiding action and risk. If you cannot yet venture forth, your realize you must find a way.
  • You either play or wish to learn how to play.
  • Self-righteousness is something you avoid.
  • You understand that openness is double-edged: the pursuit of intimacy means guaranteed risk in search of potential reward. You opt for openness, at least in theory.
  • From time to time you think about your default tendencies. Perhaps you are inclined to approach or avoid, argue or make peace, court danger or play it safe, etc. On occasion you even think your strengths (and the penchant to overplay them) are your weaknesses.

If you recognize several of these qualities in yourself, you are a good psychotherapy candidate, assuming you muster the courage to gamble something great for something good. Your psychological mindedness is now and again misunderstood by friends who do not view the world with the nuance you do.

Keep going and growing. The world then becomes a bit more explicable and your understanding of yourself enlarged. The planet will take on colors never noticed on the black-and-white globe you used to inhabit. Your perspective may also attract new acquaintances.

Some will think you unnecessarily troubled, others conclude you are wise.

No free lunch.


The image of The Human Mind comes from Wikimedia Commons via Flicker. No author is identified. The second Wikimedia photo is a Psychic Apparition. It comes from the collection of Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums, from a series called Psychic Photography From a New Angle.

21 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to be “Psychologically Minded?”

  1. Dr. S and Life in a Bind, I really like what you both contributed here. I admit, I’m not always psychologically minded, though I think this is a really important concept! I also admit that I can be a great client at times, and a horrible client at others (or with specific practitioners). But the one small thing that I’ve held onto, in terms of being psychologically minded, is that we are all interdependent. None of my successes were achieved by my efforts alone, and I know that my own successes are not to be self-hoarded. I try to pass whatever knowledge or success I’ve received onto others by helping others achieve success as well, because so many people in my life have helped me get to where I am now. Sometimes I am biased, sometimes my dark side peeks through, sometimes I utilize my defenses to avoid looking in the mirror and really correcting what is going on with me. Sometimes I frustrate others around me, and sometimes I just want to take a stand (finally, after being silenced for so many years and forced to follow the status quo) to be a frustratingly socially awkward person who is real to myself in the moment – even if it isn’t the “norm” or is a pain to witness the stumbles, stutters, tongue-tied moments I catch myself in. And I’m very welcoming of people who share in my social awkwardness, because I understand their social anxiety, their posttraumatic reactions, their hardships with facing people who seem to blend right into society without having been harmed much by it, or who have had the privilege of having stronger support systems that strengthened them toward social intelligence. Sometimes I just want to be accepted just as I am – awkward, imperfect, dark and light sides with a huge gray area in the middle, and goofy or even uninteresting. But after reading this, I realize the importance of also being mindful of not only yourself, but the reactions of others to yourself. I don’t want to cause people pain or frustration by “being me,” but I also want a balance of being accepted for the person who struggles with this very thing. I also wouldn’t want to put pressure on others to be a certain way around me – to be something they are not – just because they want to please or impress or placate me at the moment. I just want us to all be safe, real, loving, kind, and even not-so-kind when honesty and emotions really do need to get a point across (without physically harming or psychologically damaging the other or the self, that is). I am at the point of letting go of my grief (not because I’m avoiding, but rather because I really want to focus my energy on the great things in life, on helping others, on making the most out of every moment, and on seeing every pain and loss in my past now as an opportunity to learn, forgive, find better understanding of that which may never be known or revealed, etc.). I’m at the point of really embracing life as a space worthy to be in, as a place where I can explore like anyone else the many great things this life has to offer, and even the many dark things this life teaches us. I don’t want to hide under the grief anymore; I want to say that I fully accept everything that has happened in my life – not out of pride, but simply out of “it’s time.” I can still revisit some things along the course of my life, and I will still have some residual flashbacks, nightmares, incomnia, social anxieties, non-crippling paranoia, but I have the tools to counter them more swiftly, and I have the resources to seek help when I need it. I haven’t felt more free than when I finally fell on my sword, admitted my shortcomings (at least to myself, but at least one trusted other), grieved over things with a friend (if not a trustworthy practitioner), and finally took a step in life and said, “I’ll try. I’ll fail, fall, succeed, and fail again, but I want to keep going.” And I can now have the compassion for others because I was able to find compassion in the dark parts of me over the years. I can go on throughout life and learn to be psychologically minded, and forgive myself when I forget to be mindful. I’ll never stop learning, and I’ll never be perfect. But I will continue to live as long as this life will have me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A wonderfully upbeat and triumphant way to look at life. You’ve humbled me, for sure, PP!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Dr. S. Actually, I am the one humbled. I am fighting the tears from reading both Life in a Bind’s and your words here. I’ve been trying so hard to be perfect, and I’ve also tried so hard to find the “perfect therapist” as of late, that I asked myself, “What more can I say that hasn’t already been said over the course of many good therapists who have really helped me? What more can I learn that I’ve already learned in terms of coping skills, mindfulness, grounding techniques, containing, social skills, etc.? What more can I grieve over that I haven’t already grieved over with a friend, a therapist or few therapists actually, a mentor, a teacher, a professor, a stranger, a pastor, etc.? I’ve become a self-righteous complaining brat at times, but I have also the compassion for myself to know where that comes from, know how to process these emotions that may or may not be identifiable from some source, and really enjoy my life with myself (I spend a lot of fun and interesting times by myself at home or strolling outside alone), with others whom I’ve formed a bond with (friends, safe family members), and with others who are colleagues or mentors or authority figures of some sort. I’ve lived a great life, but I’ve focused so much on my own shortcomings and losses for so long that I forgot about all the good stuff, too. And when I say good stuff in life, I also mean good stuff that came from abusers in the past, etc. After all, we don’t walk into toxic traps with perpetrators because we like to be abused; we saw something good, and we wanted to take an opportunity to explore that goodness. If only the goodness wasn’t turned so dark or toxic, we tell ourselves. I needed decades to grieve, and I’m so grateful to those who allowed me the time to grieve. Their patience is such a reward to me, and I only hope to be patient with others some day as well. There were times that I didn’t want to focus on anything positive because it hurt too much to be positive; I needed that time to grieve, to be validated for my pain, to find some form of justice – even if it came from a friend or therapist who agreed that what happened to me was wrong, unfair, and horrible. But then I learned how to find validation within myself, even when no one believed me, and even when I didn’t believe myself. I learned to find justice when all physical and legal forms of justice wasn’t given to me. I found justice by telling myself that I can still live and enjoy life, even while I was in the grieving process, or in treatment, or in-between treatment, or even during traumatic experiences. There was something I held onto in this life, some hope, some joyful thing – even if I couldn’t feel it at the moment. It could be something as simple as the sky being clear that day while the abuse happened, or a stranger being kind to me when everyone else was not. I forgot to focus on the good, and it took me years to focus on the grief and loss in my life in order to focus on the good again. I only wish that those who are grieving and are in pain can come to this moment I have of awe, but I also am not all knowing, and I know that I can easily slip into depression if I allowed myself to. I fight it every day, but now it’s not much a struggle anymore. I actually found things I enjoy in life, and I can actually feel free again. I can accept others in their pain too. I’ve read a lot of really awesome posts and comments by you and Life in a Bind. It has humbled me for sure, even when I was too afraid to respond, comment, or admit it to myself. I’ve truly learned from both of you and many other people on this blog. And I’ve learned so much from my mentor, who puts up with me day after day, year after year, but who sees in me what I’m barely learning to see in myself now. I am truly grateful to everyone in my life who has humbled me with words of truth. Thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome, but we owe you thanks, too. You seem to have benefited from patience and kind attention. Borrowing a bit from the movie, “Lady Bird,” these can be an expression of love. And you now give them back.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you! I’ve gotta rent that movie one day, to understand the reference, but thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Funny, my psychiatrist used that exact wording, “psychologically minded” to describe me the other day. I’ve puzzled over it for a while, and I still don’t quite understand what she meant. Thanks for adding this piece to my mind-puzzle!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dr. Stein, thanks for another informative and insightful article that opened the window to my “psychological mindedness.”

    One of the characteristics you describe is especially disconcerting to me at this moment in time: “To your dismay, you are cognizant of the human capacity to rationalize almost anything, murder included. Perhaps it has dawned on you that you too rationalize. You regret another painful truth: even wonderful and wonderfully talented people possess a dark side.”

    ~ My fear is that this human capacity to rationalize – and I’m no exception – will prevent our species from ever accepting the Other in order to work together to resolve our ills as a nation as well as globally.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree, Rosaliene. I think our future depends on several things, including these two: international prosperity (without which, people will be inclined toward blaming outgroups, war, and taking from each other), and education. The founders were well aware of the dangers of self-interest and opportunism, but, if we have enough time and a little luck, perhaps the young (less tribal) people world-over will triumph.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. There’s a lot in that post. I see myself in most, if not all, of the qualities and characteristics you listed. I guess that makes me a good psychotherapy candidate….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Only if I’m right, of course. But then comes the next question: do you want therapy or do you even need it? I always have more questions. (This is not necessarily a characteristic I would recommend, but it is just my nature). Take care, JT.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, I always have questions. I am nothing if not inquisitive. I just finished Walter Issacson’s Leonardo DaVinci. It is a magnificent biography and highlights the value curiosity. I highly recommend it.


  5. Thanks, JT.


  6. impressive article. thank you so much

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This comes very late, but it does require saying: “psychological mindedness” is hardly a term you came up with. Presenting it as such is confusing at best, misleading at worst.
    There is an extensive body of scientific work dedicated to the subject, reaching back as far as the 1960s, and arguably the construct was discussed much earlier under different names (William James’s “tendermindedness” or C.G. Jung’s “intraception” come to mind). I am deeply troubled by the fact that you neglected to do just one web search for a term you claim to have invented. You might have found a wealth of definitions, debate and research…
    Moreover, the concept of psychological mindedness has been used fruitfully in clinical work for decades. There are even a number of valid standardized measures for it that have excellent predictive qualities for psychodynamic therapy outcome. They have been translated to several languages and are in use around the world.
    This kind of willy-nilly usage of established terms is one of the reasons why some folks remain skeptical of our field in general (because if you can just make everything up as you go, nothing means anything really) and why in academia there still is a prejudice against psychologists (because “real scientists” deal in facts, not in soft terminology). Please do your research before you blurb out whatever comes to mind. This kind of “publishing” makes all of us look bad.
    If you care to read up on the matter, I recommend McCallum and Pipers “Psychological Mindedness. A Contemporary Understanding”. The book is from 1997, but remains an excellent introduction. Please don’t forget the responsibility you bear as a professional. People believe the things you say – so tell them the truth.


    • I will start by saying that I could have been clearer in the third paragraph of the essay. I should have added two words so that the first sentence of that paragraph read this way: “(Though) this is (not) my own term of art…
      I will change this shortly and thank you for alerting me to the need for clarification.
      The remainder of what I wrote is correct: there is no single accepted understanding of “psychological mindedness.” Here is a reference confirming the point by the very authors you cite who reviewed the literature on the subject:
      Your assumption about an alleged failure to do any research is incorrect.
      Some of your words, such as “make everything up” and “blurb out” I will leave for others to consider as they wish, and whether they reflect poorly on me or on the one who wrote them.


  8. I think it is deeply concerning that any criticism of your musings is just deleted and not addressed.


    • What you state is not true. Do you mean to suggest you’ve read all the over-600 essays I’ve written and come to this conclusion based on reading all those comments? Indeed, how would you know about any comments that did not appear? You would never have seen them.

      There have been very few comments I’ve deleted. These came from individuals with their own ax to grind, whose tone and form of opinion was not civil. For those who wish to be civil, I’m usually dutiful in reading what they’ve written and acknowledging what they’ve said.


      • Apologies for the second comment – when I refreshed the page, my first comment appeared to be gone and I was quite upset. That was unfair of me and I’d like to take that back.

        I commend your plan to change the sentence “(Though) this is (not) my own term of art…”. I think that would be important for very obvious reasons.
        Also, don’t get your panties in a twist over my tone. Sometimes the oldest of us (and that includes me) need a little jolt of disrespect to be reminded that we do not have all the answers. It’s rude to claim otherwise and dangerous to believe it.

        I am sure you have had wonderful successes with your patients over the years and I wish you all the best for the future. Stay humble 😉


  9. Thank you for your apology, Muriel. Best wishes.


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