Are You Ascribing Intention To Other People?

by 26Health Staff

We all understand the dangers of making assumptions. In this post, I want to take a look at assumption’s ugly cousin: ascribing intention. Ascribing intention refers to taking something someone says and applying meaning to it based on your perception of what they’re saying instead of what they are actually saying. It’s just as damaging as an assumption, if not more so.

Our Perceptions Influence Our Understanding

Perception is based on a lot of things: your mood, the other person’s tone of voice, your personal opinions and views on the subject, and personal insecurities. Any of these things can affect how you hear what someone else is saying. When you find yourself assigning a negative intention to what someone says, rather than assume, ask for clarification. By posing the question, you’re giving the other person an opportunity to explain their thought process. This will clue you in to what’s going on with them, which can help you to understand their perspective.  

By asking for clarification, you’re also preventing unnecessary conflict and negative emotions from arising, which are the natural byproducts of assumption and ascribing intention. If you can’t ask for clarification, then ask yourself this question: “Why am I automatically going to the worst possible scenario?” 

A tendency to jump to negative conclusions indicates that there may be a deeper issue at play. Your internal radar for other peoples’ intentions towards you could be automatically set to negative. You should consider where that is coming from and why.

Hypervigilance for Negativity

Experts call this behavior hypervigilance for negativity. It has very little to do with what is being said and everything to do with how you’re filtering it. If you are looking for negativity, you’re inevitably going to find it. I do not expect everyone to go through life ignoring every negative thing they come across, but as an expert on mental health, I can say with absolute certainty: progress and growth do not come from focusing on negativity. Instead, find a silver lining whenever possible. Reframe what is negative into a more balanced, realistic, and positive perspective.

Ascribing intention through hypervigilance for negativity is an absolute recipe for disaster. People often fall into this way of thinking when they’re at their worst: if they’re depressed, when they’ve had a bad day, when they aren’t getting what they want from their partner, etc. This occasional behavior can easily develop into a pattern, and it’s a hard one to break. It often goes hand in hand with feeling victimized, and like the world is out to get you. If you fail to recognize your role and accept responsibility, you get caught up in the idea that you have no control, and things just “happen” to you. 

This is rarely the case as you have more power than you realize. 

Ask Questions to Reframe Your Thoughts and Expectations

By simply asking a question or two instead of assuming and ascribing intention, you are able to take control of the situation by admitting that you don’t know everything and allowing the other person to provide you with the information you need to reframe the situation and look at it from a more positive perspective. 

Do you struggle with hypervigilance for negativity, always jumping to the most negative conclusion possible? Learn how to regain control of your thoughts and reactions with help from a 26Health counselor.

Connect With a 26Health Counselor and Get Support