A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read
In the dark I like to read his mindbut I'm frightened of the things I might find
—Til Tuesday, "Voices Carry"
Alice's life is going swell until she gains the ability to read minds. She becomes very distraught when she discovers that the vast majority of the people around her have rather disturbing thoughts, thoughts better left unread. Random people think disgusting things all day long. Her friends are only using her. Her lover has been cheating since day one. Most likely, all of the above and more.
Much like the time she went on TV Tropes, Alice's gift has ruined her life. She might opt on never using her powers in hopes of not alienating herself any further. If she's really unlucky, she won't be able to turn her power off. In this case, Alice will probably end up becoming a jaded misanthrope, a doleful hermit, or maybe just become really depressed. It's certainly understandable that Alice may wish to remove or disable her powers somehow.
This trope is a prime example of Humans Are Flawed. In more extreme examples, this trope might be evidence of a Crapsack World, and you can expect people to act like assholes as well as think like them. A villain may start out with this trope, and then go on to contemplate The Evils of Free Will.
Can be related to Power Incontinence.
- Yoshiki, a high school student in Boogiepop Phantom, gains an incontinent ability to hear peoples' thoughts in episode nine, "You'll Never Be Young Twice". He promptly discovers that all of his friends dislike him, only sticking around to leech his money. He then gives his mind away to a bad guy out of desperation.
- Mao's Geass in Code Geass makes him an example of this trope. Lelouch calls out C.C. on this, seeing as she gave him the ability in the first place and let him roam around going nuts from hearing the base thoughts of everyone around him.
- One chapter of Keroro Gunsou has Dororo interrupt his team-mates' scheming to protest a particularly underhanded plot, only to be met with stunned silence. He promptly whips out a mind-reading ninja art and uses it on the other members to see what they thought about him. The answer sent him right into his Corner of Woe.
- In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex reading minds is usually harmless, but reading the mind of a suicidally depressed rape and abuse victim held in captivity for 16 years since she was 10 (her daughter is at least 10 years old) is not recommended.
- Getting stuck inside other people's fantasies in Paprika is dangerous enough, but It Gets Worse when the wall between reality and fantasy begins to erode and one of the users of the MacGuffin dies, creating a psychic black hole.
- This is the entire plot of the first episode of Kino's Journey, where one country developed a technology to allow its citizens to read one another's minds. This becomes so unbearable that they all move out to the countryside and stay out of each other's "mental ranges."
- In Yu Yu Hakusho, the mind-reader Murota seems to have no problem with his telepathic powers... until he reads the mind of Sensui and his other six personalities, after which he has a severe nervous breakdown before being taken out by one of Sensui's henchmen.
- Shaman King: This is part of the reason main antagonist Hao went batshit insane and became a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds. An accident left him with a very dangerous ability, Reishi ("Reading the Heart"), that he could not control. The negative emotions and thoughts of others constantly overwhelming him and, since he was unable to turn his Reishi off, the deluge of negativity eventually drove him to become the Shaman King so that he create a Shaman only kingdom on earth.
- Anna also had a powerful Reishi ability as a child. By the time she first met Yoh in person, it was causing her to accidentally manifest demons when she was around other people. She lost her Reishi powers not long after that meeting, sealing it herself after Matamune sacrificed himself to help Yoh defeat the Oo-Oni created by Anna's Reishi.
- A Weiss Kreuz doujin rewrote Schuldig and Omi’s confrontation to have Omi fighting Schuldig ‘s mind reading abilities by first imagining Schuldig in a Tutu… followed closely by a Schuldig/Reiji Takatori romantic scene. Schuldig ended up begging for mercy while Omi threatened to imagine even more vivid scenarios.
- Shiho from Zettai Karen Children has the ability since birth. At the beginning of the series she is somewhere around 12 and pretty much despairs of humanity.
- Made even worse by some of the ways others use her powers. Her own father the police chief has her read evidence in murder investigations, meaning she has been exposed to visions of horrible killings and corpses. She is a tad morbid and disturbing as a result.
- The minor character of the boyfriend of Shin's babysitter on Crayon Shin-chan is a telepath (although she doesn't this); it's mainly used for throw away jokes where he laments being able to read his neurotic girlfriend's mind while she she thanks god he can't hear all the crazy things she thinks and worries about.
- Whenever Nodoka in Mahou Sensei Negima uses her artifact in any situation that's not very serious, she tends to learn things she really wishes she hadn't. Not terrible things, but very awkward. First she tries it on herself and realizes she's a Covert Pervert. Later she tries testing out some new equipment she got and learns that she accidentally set up a love triangle among some new friends. And after that when she tries reading Negi's mind when he's gone berserk the diary pages literally go black with rage and hatred. Since she presumably still had on that equipment, imagine what horrible things she must have heard.
- In School Rumble, Yakumo's ability to see the thoughts of people who are infatuated/in love with her (As text floating in the air) generally only makes her miserable. She gets asked out/confessed to/propositioned by boys all the time, but is put off by what they REALLY want. (Except for Hanai, who actually thinks what he says, but he puts her off in other ways.) Even worse, she can't read the guy she's actually interested in, because he's one of the few guys she knows that is NOT infatuated with her.
- The exceptions are her sister, whom she can read the mind of and cares very deeply for, and a cat she adopted, who's thoughts unintelligible because they're still in cat.
Comic Books[edit | hide]
- Jean Grey, from X-Men, had this problem early on after her mutant ability surfaced.
- At times, it's shown that she still deals with this problem, although she's much better at coping with it.
- Thing that made it so much worse early on is that she didn't know how to turn it off.
- At times, it's shown that she still deals with this problem, although she's much better at coping with it.
- Happens to Martian Manhunter once or twice in various continuities. Like the time he met a thing called IT and nearly went into a coma. Or the time he read Superman's mind when he was controlled by Mageddon and nearly went into a coma. Or the time he read the mind a nihilistic teenager and had to leave the planet in order to perform a Martian psychic cleansing ritual.
- Fables: Kay has the ability to see every evil deed someone has done by looking at them. He uses this on Gepetto - he probably shouldn't have.
- Madison in Wandering Star. Cassie quotes Madison in describing what it's like to be psychic: "It's like being locked alone in a room. Next door they begin to kill someone. You can hear everything. The screams. The sobs. The pleading. And you can't do a thing. All you can do is listen."
- Mindf██k from Empowered not only lives most of the time on a space station to avoid getting headaches from reading other people's minds, but admits being tired of reading the filthy minds of lunatics.
- Stormwatch: Team Achilles member Avi Barak learns this when he first joins the team. His power, called "inductive telepathy", lets him see the true answers to whatever questions he asks someone. When he encounters Jukko, whose entire body is covered with scars, he asks on impulse what happened to him. He suffers a near-fatal seizure from the instant download of all of Jukko's traumatic memories, and in later issues, continues to have nightmares about them. Jukko himself could be said to qualify, as his power is hyper-empathy, which results in him feeling the pain of every being within a four mile radius.
- As seen in the Dilbert comic above, reading Dilbert's thoughts apparently either terrified or infuriated the two-headed telepath he was dating; maybe both.
- In another strip, the Pointy Haired Boss is talking about how the company with whom they are merging is made up of mental giants who can read employees' minds and torture them mentally if they dislike what they find. Wally, not terribly frightened despite having just witnessed a demonstration of the latter ability, remarks that "if they try reading mine, they'll go blind." A later comic where Catbert does indeed go blind from reading a paper readout of Wally's mind seems to prove him right.
- As the author Scott Adams noted in one of his annotated Dilbert compilations, he's glad women don't know what men are really thinking.
- In DC Nation, Mento was recently revealed to be a decent telepath, even without his helmet. However, he hadn't any ability to block out thoughts. Rita (his wife) and The Chief knew, but he never thought to say it to anyone else. Worse, his brief superheroing career was with Doom Patrol, a group of Blessed with Suck superheroes with dubious acceptance among not only the community they served, but the superheroing community as well.
- Played for laughs in Harry Potter fanfic Need to know, in which Ron suddenly starts hearing people's thoughts and is understandably horrified to learn that, among other things, Harry and Draco secretly fancy each other.
- In Maldoror's Gundam Wing AU fanfiction Monsters, the pilots are vampires, werewolves and so on. Except for Quatre who (as in the series) is an empath. The "steady diet of fear, greed, lust, anger, and the occasional nugget of happiness" makes him the most scarily psychotic of the lot.
- In the Daria/Legion of Super-Heroes crossover Legion of Lawndale Heroes, Cadet David Allen Farrington - one of the uber-powerful 'Class Five' psionics at the U.S. Academy of Extranormal Studies - is seen by most of the people around him, as well as the Legionnaires, as a Jerk with a Heart of Jerk. This comes into focus when you realize that his primary power is not telepathy, but empathy... and that not only can he feel the emotions of everyone around him, but (except for when he takes a power-suppressing drug) has been able to do just that since he was a week old.
- In What Women Want, Mel Gibson's chauvinistic character starts this way, once he's given the power to read women's minds from a freak accident. Although later on in the film it dawns on him that he can use this power to manipulate women's emotions even more than he did before without the ability, at first he's definitely a little anxious and eventually winds up at his former marriage counselor's work building.
Marriage counselor: This is phenomenal! You can hear inside my head. Why on earth would you want to get rid of such a brilliant gift?
Nick: Well... for starters... most of the women I know think I'm an asshole...
Counselor: * Thinks* That's what I thought when I first met ya.
Nick: Doc, would you please give me a break here?!
- Would that be an inversion? He finds not that others are bad, but that he is.
- There's also a scene where he reads a pair of way-too-happy women and hears nothing.
- Played straight elsewhere as he discovers that, after reading the mind of one of his dates, she was perfectly willing to commit suicide if he rejected her. He wound up lying and claiming he was gay because he could tell from her thoughts this was what she preferred to believe.
- He also discovers from another woman who he dates in the film, that his lovemaking abilities are nowhere near as good as he'd like to believe. She spends most of the time that they're having sex either thinking "I don't like that, why is he doing it?", or wondering about what's on television or what she's going to have for dinner. After a brief freakout in the bathroom, however, he does successfully turn the evening around and reads her mind to find what she really *does* like in bed, and proceeds to send her into a state of blissful delirium.
- A major element of Matt Damon's character in Hereafter. He can read people's minds and/or communicate with their dead relatives by touching their hands, and this is not a good thing at all. Imagine accidentally discovering the girl who you've been flirting with was sexually abused as a child by her father. Blessed with Suck, indeed.
- While no actual mind reading occurs on screen, it's mentioned in Men in Black that human thought is so primitive, it's considered an infectious disease.
- Which is apparently something to be proud of.
- In The Dresden Files, it is not recommended to read the mind of a supernatural unless you specifically want to fry your own brain.
- A short story in the magazine Teen Ink had this as the premise.
- In Graceling, mind readers tend to be terribly lonely and unhappy people, as a result of this.
- The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries: Sookie never had control of her powers until getting with Bill and the other supernaturals. She is pretty much the personification of this trope.
- Spider Robinson's Callahans Crosstime Saloon story "Two Heads Are Better Than One". A telepath suffers from Power Incontinence: he regularly makes full contact with any mind within a certain radius, which causes him great distress. One time it's so bad he tries to bash his own head open to make it stop.
- In two other Robinson novels, Very Bad Deaths and Very Hard Choices, the telepath Zandor "Smelly" Zudenigo is so painfully sensitive that in college he avoided bathing, so his body odor would keep other people out of his physical range for mind-reading. Later in life his range has expanded, and he has to live as a hermit on a remote island.
- Andre Norton's The Zero Stone. In order to convince a Patrol officer that he's innocent of the crimes he's accused of, Murdoc Jern is mentally joined to the officer by his companion Eet. It's extremely uncomfortable for both men.
- In The King's Justice, Kelson questions Gorony and Loris telepathically after they're captured. Gorony was an enthusiastic inquisitor, and Kelson likens reading Gorony's mind to "taking a swim in the castle middens in the summertime."
- Subversion: In Alfred Bester's novel The Demolished Man, Police Prefect Lincoln Powell is an Esper, one of a small minority who can read minds. His boss the Commissioner is prejudiced against Espers. So, in order to try to soften the prejudice, Powell tells the Commissioner how lucky he is that he can't read minds, because of this trope. Of course, Powell is lying, since he doesn't read minds except on invitation (or unless he suspects criminal acts), and Powell actually finds much to love in every mind.
- Another Alfred Bester Subversion - In "The Stars My Destination" (aka "Tiger, Tiger"), there's a reverse telepath. Instead of reading minds, she constantly projects HER thoughts to everyone around her. Whether she wants to or not.
- The short horror story The Ring by Margaret Bingley, in which a girl acquires a cursed ring that enables her to read the minds of everyone around her and is soon driven insane when she discovers how much her family and "friends" really despise her. In the ending, the ring returns to The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday where the girl bought it, and is purchased by a woman whose husband is about to kill her to claim on the insurance. When the original victim reads the minds of her three-year-old half-brothers, she hears that they love her. So, perhaps the ring wasn't that evil and everyone really did hate her. What a cheery little tale!
- In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, the Belcerebons of Kakrafoon Kappa were found to be in contempt by the Galactic Tribunal for smugly living lives of peaceful contemplation. As a punishment the Tribunal inflicted a terrible social disease upon them: telepathy. For some time they could only mask their minds by chattering endlessly about trivia. Their salvation came when they hosted the plutonium rock band 'Disaster Area'; music so loud it wiped their telepathic abilities out for good.
- In The Tommyknockers, by Stephen King, an entire town becomes mindlinked to each other as an alien ship causes them to mutate. It's implied that this effect is part of what makes the creatures evil—or at least callous and careless; they are forced to hear each other's petty gripes and trivia 24/7.
- In The Last Herald-Mage trilogy, young Vanyel Ashekeveron is pushed even further towards the edge (after his lover goes insane and suicides) when the same event gives him Mindspeech and he finds out that most of the Heralds despise him. And the Herald set to watch him is not only unsympathetic but homophobic to boot.
- This is one of the reasons that the Registered Talents in Anne McCaffrey's Tower and The Hive series tend to move into the large isolated and insulated estate established for them. Living in one of the crowded, high-rise residence blocks drives them to distraction.
- In Orson Scott Card's The Tales of Alvin Maker series, Peggy's ability to see into people's hearts doesn't bother her very much, but the fact that she knows all the deepest secrets of everyone she encounters makes other people very uncomfortable, and her being a Little Miss Snarker doesn't help much. She eventually gets lessons in social skills that include practicing not automatically reading everyone's mind; when it's all done, she's all grown up and extremely popular.
- Card also discusses this in The Worthing Saga, though there it's a little bleaker, since other people's memories feel just as real as one's own. Jason Worthing is a virgin, but in his memory he's been involved in "acts he did not think his neighbors had enough imagination to invent." At the story's opening he's never killed, but he clearly remembers killing a man in a riot. All the worst aspects of humanity are a part of him.
- In the Sirantha Jax series, March the telepath knows the worst of everyone around him, and hardly bothers to hide his contempt for them. He knows when they lie either to others or to themselves. In fact, the main draw he feels towards Jax is that she doesn't lie and there's no disconnect between what she's thinking and what she's saying.
- The main character's wife in Frameshift by Robert J. Sawyer can read minds due to a frameshift mutation. She developed a dislike of men because of the disgusting things they think about doing to her, and married the protagonist partially because he thinks in his first language (French), and she can't understand his thoughts.
- The short story Through Other Eyes by R.A. Lafferty involves a scientist who's spent his entire life wondering whether everyone experiences things the same way he does—whether what he calls red really looks to others like what he calls blue, whether roses smell as sweet, and so on. He builds a machine to translate the thoughts in one mind to another, and uses it on a woman he considers himself to be in love with. Through it, he learns that she sees the world as a place of vileness and horror; that (as she herself later says) every time a bird flies by she thinks of what's gurgling in its stomach—and she glorifies in it. Later on, she absolutely smashes him mentally by convincing him he has the worse worldview--her world is twistedly beautiful, and his is utterly dead, lacking in any sort of romance or wonder. At the story's close, he's almost ready to sell the device to the public--but first, he's modifying it so it lies to the user, making the subject's thoughts seem less different than they really are, because true understanding is just too horrible.
- The Redemption of Althalus: Leitha was born with the ability to read minds. Unfortunately, the bad guys know this from the beginning, and from the moment that she joins the group, the bad guys constantly throw at her horrible and disturbing thoughts to try and break her. This is made worse by the fact that all of the bad guys are varying degrees of Complete Monster, ranging from a chaotic evil cannibal to a lawful evil warlord wannabe, and just their ordinary thoughts would be bad enough.
- Of course, even an ordinary person's mind is deeply disturbing at times: Leitha herself states that most humans are much closer to animals than they would ever like to admit, and given that she's a rather beautiful woman, from men she tends to get horribly perverse thoughts, while from women she tends to get spiteful and jealous thoughts.
- In Twilight, Edward Cullen's telepathy is strongly hinted at as one of the reasons he's so alone previous to Bella's coming to Forks. He's rich, pretty, smart, strong, and wanted by every woman who comes in contact with him (it seems), but he ends up falling in love with a rather dull, uninspiring, self-described plain girl whose distinguishing feature is the fact that he can't read her mind.
- Jeremy Bremen from Dan Simmons' The Hollow Man suffers this as soon as his wife dies, who was the only other telepath he had met. Being around large crowds of people makes him suffer horrible migraines, considering his ability is the equivalent of watching thousands of television shows at once in 3D at full volume with no way to turn it off. The only people who he can be around with no negative effects to him are those who are mentally deficient or psychotic.
- In Animorphs many species are capable of "thought-speak," a form of willing telepathy, but Leerans read minds automatically even if the subjects don't want them to. Though this is normal for them, the Animorphs found it disturbing when they morphed Leerans and suddenly could hear each other's neuroses. Luckily, they figured out how to shut it off.
- This is pretty much what did in the Martians in The Martian Chronicles. While they were perfectly fine being telepathic by themselves, the sheer novelty of thoughts emanating from the first handfuls of human explorers were enough to drive them completely insane, resulting in the rapid downfall of their civilization and the destruction of the entire species.
- A major danger for the tinish from A Fire Upon the Deep, who are all sort of mini-Hive Minds (usually about 3-8 tinish per each individual pack) that “think” by transmitting their thoughts as sound among packmates. Because of this, the notion of personal space means having enough distance (usually about 20' or more) where they can whisper politely among themselves and yell at normal conversational levels to chat with other packs, as being closer means the packs' thoughts will muddle together making coherent thought impossible without intense concentration. Such mental discipline is especially crucial during close combat, as weaker-minded packs will break down into animalistic “singletons” under such proximity to another pack.
- In Timothy Zahn's Distant Friends series, telepaths coming closer than 20 miles apart experience insanity, identity confusion, and pain. If they continue approaching each other, the strain kills them. Two of these telepaths have fallen in love. One of the two commissions a gizmo that blocks the telepathy so that he can be with his beloved; unfortunately, the inventor turns out to be a villain, tricks him into a chase ending at the beloved's house, then holds the telepathic pair hostage by threatening to turn off the machine.
- Jakub Wedrowycz uses this to protect himself from nosy telepaths and possessive demons - the squicky things he has among his memories will make anyone or anything back out in panic.
- Kim Newman's Richard Jeperson, agent of the Diogenes Club, developed psychic powers at school, where he was horrified to discover that many teachers fantasized about killing the boys. He soon realized that the ones to really be wary of were the ones who didn't, since they had the same frustrations, but no safe release for them.
- Harry Potter discovers several things that he didn't want to know, though they inevitably help him save the world, through Dumbledore's pensieve. On one occasion, what he sees tarnishes his image of his father.
- Played with quite a bit in this. The telepath's abilities have caused her to become a misanthrope, but since she has always been able to read minds, she actually considers it a benefit, as it allows her to know people's true nature.
- The world of Chaos Walking is one where everyone hears everyone's thoughts. There is no off button. Most of the people there are used to it but when newcomers arrive on the planet, they... have a little more trouble adjusting.
- In Mephisto In Onyx, Rudy Pairis is a telepath who has yet to encounter a mind that doesn't make him want to vomit. Unfortunately, he frequently finds himself in situations where he is tempted to reach out and touch some mind. The story gets rolling when a friend he can't turn down asks him to read the mind of a convicted serial killer to prove him innocent. It Gets Worse from there.
- Toshiko Sato of Torchwood gains telepathy in the episode "Greeks Bearing Gifts". She races home hurt and angry after hearing the thoughts of her co-workers. On the other hand, it does help her stop a man from killing his wife and kid.
- This happens to Buffy in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Earshot". The problem more arises from being overloaded with hearing people's thoughts, as opposed to being shocked at what people are truly thinking. Though she was surprised to learn that All Men Are Perverts.
Buffy: You had sex with Giles?...On the hood of a police car?!...Twice?!
- Oz has some interesting thoughts on this matter.
Oz's internal monologue: I am my thoughts. If they exist in her, Buffy contains everything that is me, and she becomes me. I cease to exist.
- We also learn that Cordelia pretty much always says exactly what she's thinking. Which makes a lot of sense.
Cordelia's internal monologue: Whatever. I'm bored.
Cordelia: Whatever. I'm bored.
- True Blood: Sookie hears a great deal she doesn't want to, and people treat her as if she is stupid because her power makes her behave oddly. She was also a twenty five year old virgin since hearing what guys really thought was a big turn off, and she only lost her virginity when she did because vampiric minds can't be read.
- Actually, the show's gone out of its way twice now to remind us that telepaths hate hanging out with normal humans- both Sookie and the bellhop-telepath in Dallas have actually mentioned their preference for the vampire community because of their power out loud, on-camera.
- Firefly: River is distraught by the thoughts of shipmates in the last episode, experiencing several upsetting emotions. In particular, it's implied that her brother Simon blames her for the loss of his successful medical career. Simon never outright says this, though he does nearly slip up at times ("And I would be back there right now if she hadn't... I mean, if THEY hadn't done those things to her."), but just because he never says this to the audience or the crew can't prevent him from thinking it on occasion. Of course, such thoughts are probably as pure as the driven snow compared to others River is bombarded with from the rest of the crew, and Simon very clearly loves her enough not to regret his own sacrifice.
- Subverted in one instance: When River reads Jayne's mind, she sees what appears to be regret for trying to sell her out to the Feds. It's surprisingly sweet considering that he's spent the whole series trying to get rid of the Tams.
- In Serenity the Operative believes this to be the reason for River's insanity, or at least a major part of it - She was driven crazy by the secrets she inadvertently picked up from the Alliance Parliament. It's also the reason the mere presence of Reavers is enough to send her into a Heroic BSOD until the film's climax.
- The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Tin Man" has Tam Elbrun, a Betazoid who has had his ability from birth (most get theirs during puberty). He has this reaction to everybody. He was quite relieved when he met Data, who had no (organic) mind to read.
- Babylon 5: Pretty much every teep ever.
- Reading the minds of dying people is implied to be even worse than other cases, because the mind reader can be "dragged" down together with the dying person. Bester, the resident creepy Psi Cop, specialized in deathbed scans... one too many of these are implied to have made him the cheerful fellow that he is.
- Played for laughs when Talia gets into an elevator with Garibaldi, then shortly afterwards hits him. See, they can't avoid hearing really strong thoughts, especially when you're checking them out.
- There is a severe shortage of telepaths willing to work in the area of mundane (i.e., non-Psi Cop) criminal justice. Crawling around in the brains of murderers and rapists is nobody's idea of a good time.
- The '90s The Outer Limits episode "What Will the Neighbors Think?"
- This happened to Matt Parkman when his ability first manifested.
- Kelly from Misfits develops the power of telepathy, which only heightens and exacerbates her personal insecurity as she is frequently judged harshly by the people she encounters - while she is a genuinely kind and sensitive person she's something of a rough diamond who uses her abrasiveness and slightly gaudy appearance to mask her low self-esteem. Her power causes her to break up with her fiancee, and generally hear a lot of things she'd rather not about the way people see her. Also, she tends to hit or shout at people whose thoughts particularly offend her (making her look entirely mad, of course) and she frequently embarrasses others when she blurts out their secrets without thinking, so really her power sucks for just about everyone involved.
- Parodied in Chappelle's Show as What Men Want.
- In one episode of Gilligan's Island, a special type of seed gives the castaways mind-reading powers which lead to arguments and division. Luckily, the effects are temporary, and Gilligan, in one of the smartest moves he would ever make, burns the bush that produces the seeds so it will never happen again.
- In the Supernatural episode "You Can't Handle the Truth", the Monster of the Week magically forces everyone in earshot of its victim to practice unedited honesty in order to provoke this effect. The victims are Driven to Suicide.
- The Twilight Zone episode "A Penny For Your Thoughts" is about a bank clerk who develops telepathy. While he doesn't hear anything too awful, he's thankful to be rid of it by the end.
- Moreover, the point is made that thoughts aren't always an accurate gauge of people's real intentions. For instance, one man he overheard thinking of getting revenge on the bank that employed him by robbing it wasn't really angry and determined enough to carry out his plan.
- In Fringe, one of the child subjects in the cortexiphan trials conducted by William Bell and Walter Bishop became a telepath. When Walter found out, he had him kicked out of the trials for fear of the boy finding out the truth about the program. It turns out that he is unable to shut off this ability or even put up some sort of a mental screen. He reads the mind of anyone within 50 feet. When they find him next, he has grown up and lives alone far away from anyone. They only people he can't read are his fellow cortexiphan subjects. Of course, this is by far not the only life Walter has ruined with his experiments.
- Emma in Mutant X is an empath but later "evolves" to a more powerful version. One of her new abilities is full-blown telepathy, although she tends to block out people's thoughts unless necessary. In one episode, she is forced to use all her abilities to keep their Cool Plane hidden from an army looking for them. She warns Jesse that she will be unable to block out other people's thoughts, as all her concentration is required for the "psychic cloak" and asks him to think happy thoughts. Then he accidentally glances at her low-cut cleavage, and she frowns at the unavoidable thought in his head.
- In No Ordinary Family, Daphne's power is mind reading. She is initially overwhelmed, but learns to control it. She ends up helping her father fight crime, against her mother's wishes, become elected to student council and makes a guy like her. Eventually, her powers progress and she is able to control thoughts.
- The Collector: The Devil doesn't exactly take well to hearing the pain and evil thoughts of everyone in the universe.
- In My Hero (TV), George gains mind-reading powers, and is soon shocked at the twisted thoughts within the minds of the human race.
- Hawkwind's song "Psi Power" is all about this trope.
- As is Tom Smith's Filk "I Wish I Couldn't Read Her Mind," naturally enough.
- And the Cristine Lavin song that inspired it, "Good Thing He Can't Read My Mind."
- Kongu finds this out after activating his Mask of telepathy in Bionicle. It's also implied that Orde's psionic powers have made him very impatient with other people, as he is able to know exactly what a person is going to say before they say it, and he often appears frustrated when he then has to endure the actual conversation that he's already heard.
- Played for Laughs when The Nostalgia Chick gained the power to read guy minds. She kidnapped Todd in the Shadows as usual and actually fell over in frustration when she found out Obscurus Lupa was the only thing that existed in his brain. Not like that stopped her obsession, however.
- GURPS: Psionic Powers has rules for letting a psi trap an attacker inside her mind. More mundanely people with Anti-Psi can make their mind such a void that when people try to read it that the abyss gazes back into them.
- In the Dungeons & Dragons setting Ravenloft, you do NOT want to make telepathic contact with fiends or aberrations. Do so can drive your character insane from contact with a mind so alien. Making telepathic contact with a Darklord can cause all sorts of mental stress, though not outright madness.
- Warhammer 40,000 has the Tyranids. Every psyker who's tried to plumb the Hive Mind of a Swarm has ended up absolutely, incurably insane.
- Except of course the Chief Librarian of Mary Sue chapter, Tigurius. I mean, it wouldn't be fair if something was impossible for the Ultramarines.
- In Dark Heresy, using any telepathy power on any character who has more insanity points or corruption points than yourself may lead to 'spillage' and having the telepath gaining a few of their own. Playing a telepath quickly leads to the character either becoming the craziest, most corrupt member of the team, or learning to only use them on people you already know to be pure.
Video Games[edit | hide]
- Metal Gear Solid has Psycho Mantis. He stated in his Final Speech that as a kid he was unable to shut off his powerful Mind Reading ability (learning that his father hated and likely wanted to kill him, ouch), and that apparently looking too deep in too many minds of Serial Killers drove him off the deep end. Apparently he still couldn't completely shut off his Telepathy since he asked for his mask back to block the voices out, and complained about "how everyone thinks of only one thing".
- He even mind controls Meryl a minute earlier and makes her behave like some sort of a caricature, a sex-crazed meat puppet.
PM: In my lifetime I've read the pasts, presents and futures of thousands upon thousands of men and women... and each mind that I peered into was stuffed with the same single object of obsession: That selfish and atavistic desire to pass on one's seed. It was enough to make me sick... every living thing on this planet exists to mindlessly pass on their DNA.
- Satori from Touhou is widely feared and hated because of her powers (and her lack of discretion about them). However, she is still liked by animals that can't speak, and by animal youkai who befriended her as non-speaking animals. The non-predator kinds, of course. Predators like her to, but in the way mind-reading it works as nightmare fuel.
- Her younger sister Koishi hated this so much she closed off her mind reading third-eye and ends up a) being immune to mind reading, b) able to read/mess with people's subconscious, and c) devoid of feelings or thoughts.
- In fandom, Satori is frequently portrayed as subject to this trope in other ways, getting easily frightened by violent thoughts or offended at dirty thoughts.
- The girl who knew too much.
- In Psychonauts cracking open one of the mental vaults in the mind of Sasha Nein reveals that as a young boy he ran away from home after reading his father's mind and seeing some things about his late mother that would be rather traumatizing to a growing boy.
- In Da Capo, Kotori actually does like her mind reading ability. However...
- It lets her know people only see her as the school idol and not as a fallible person.
- She now knows that they're extremely critical.
- Too much exposure to others makes her physically ill.
- Situations like when she accidentally mentions she used to bathe with her sister in front of Junichi are extremely embarrassing, apparently.
- In Sam and Max Freelance Police episode 102, Hugh Bliss reads Max's mind, comments that what he read was "unspeakably depraved", whereupon Max says he's right.
- In the Third Season, it is Max's turn to read the dankest recesses of peoples' minds.
- In Fragile Dreams, Shin tries to end what's left of humanity because of this. However, at the very end it's revealed that the experiment which granted him the ability to pick up on the selfishness and hatred in the human psyche was flawed and incomplete. He loses the will to fight upon realizing that Sai loved him deeply, he simply didn't sense it.
- Comes up briefly in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. Sveta demonstrates her mind-reading power and then talks about how she'd rather not use it unless necessary, since reading minds full of hate caused her father to hate humans. Karis mentions that her father Ivan isn't as fond of his own telepathy these days as he used to be, and she's grateful she didn't inherit them.
Web Comics[edit | hide]
- Jigsaw Forte from Last Res0rt suffers from this, to the point of having a panic attack when a crowded room gets all abuzz. Daisy can bring Jigsaw pretty close to the brink when she panics, too.
- It Gets Worse when she discovers that she has a hard time telling the difference between what she hears and what she reads, causing her to mix the two up and respond to information she's not even supposed to know.
- A Softer World 281; "I thought a psychic girlfriend would see the real me. And she did. I just didn't think she'd call the police".
- A more positive, but still awkward, version in Think Before You Think, a romance about an involuntary telepath. One of the difficult situations that arises: when he overhears a stranger contemplating suicide, how can he be the friend she needs without seeming unfaithful to the girl he's dating?
- In The Non Adventures of Wonderella, Intelli-Ape comes to this conclusion after making the mistake of prying too deeply into Wonderita's mind.
- In Gaia Allisa is shocked that magical genius Lilith can't read minds, but she then points out it might be a good thing to not know what runs through the heads of men about her.
- Martian Manhunter goes through this from time to time; his Justice League incarnation almost left the team because he was so depressed at hearing the selfishness of human and wondered why he should even help them. He regained his faith in humanity, though, when he stumbled upon a search party looking for a little girl in the woods and "heard" all the thoughts concerned purely with helping a lost little kid.
- Variant: In The Fairly OddParents, Timmy wishes to get mind-reading, and unfortunately, the banal thoughts of everyone around him overload his head.
- Specifically, he's abusing his power and doesn't care about the consequences, but then his psycho fairy-obsessed teacher gets everyone to stand around him and think. He then has to find Cosmo to unwish his wish by trying to use the ability specifically on various green things until he 'hears' elevator music, because instead of thoughts to read all Cosmo has is elevator music. He looks for just Cosmo and not Wanda because that causes him to be easier to find.
- In the fourth Futurama movie, Fry suddenly gains mind-reading abilities, and is soon overwhelmed by the random brain-chatter of everyone around him. After he figures out what's going on (and realizes he isn't invisible) a mind-reading hobo gives him a tinfoil hat to block the brainwaves.