What is mentalization and why is it important?

Mentalization is the ability to understand your own and others behaviour on the basis of mental states. Mental states can be feelings, thoughts, needs, goals and reasons. We all mentalize when we interact with each other but we are rarely aware of it.

Mentaliztion is usually an automatic process that we aren’t aware of. For example when the interaction is going easy and we are feeling good with each other. We aren’t conscious about it but we are constantly aware of our own and other’s mental states and we adjust our behaviour accordingly. It can be small changes in like facial expressions or the way we say things. Automatic mentalization release mental capacity to other things.

In the moment that conflict, misunderstandings or disagreement arises in a situation you can use controlled mentalization to reflect over your own and the other person’s mental state in the situation.
For example if you are eating dinner with your wife and she suddenly stops to talk, stops eating and avoid your gaze. In this moment you might stop and think: I wonder what’s going on. Did she get upset by something I just said? By considering these questions about what caused your wife’s behaviour you can ask her about it and together you can figure out what caused the misunderstanding.

Mentalization can be described as trying to understand misunderstandings. When you mentalize you have minds on your mind. Both your own mind and others mind. You look behind behaviour and consider what the reason for the behaviour is.

Exercises from the Mentalization Guidebook

The Mentalization Guidebook

Hagelquist, J.Ø (2015). The Mentalization Guidebook. Karnac Books.

The Mentalization Guidebook is a tool for working with traumatized and neglected people.

You can find different exercises from the Mentalization Guidebook here.

Video clips about mentalization

An introduction to mentalization and mentalization failure.

Peter Fonagy talks about how children, adolescents and families is able to learn fundamental skills like the ability to mentalize. The ability to mentalize helps the individual to create and maintain relations.

Peter Fonagy talks about the psychology of violence
– a fragile ability to mentalize is the foundation for exerciseing violence on others

Janne Oestergaard Hagelquist talks about her book “The Mentalization Guidebook”.