Created By: Grain on November 18, 2009
Nuked

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Read

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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 very negative thoughts; she hears a lot of things that she was better off not knowing. She might hear random people thinking snide things all day long. Her friends may think that she's an idiot, are only using her, or maybe even wish that they'd never met her. Maybe she'll discover that the love of her life has been cheating on her since day one. Most likely, all of the above and more.

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 misanthropist, a doleful hermit, or maybe just become really depressed.

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.

This is a subtrope of Blessed with Suck and Telepathy.

See Also: Unhappy Medium.

Can be related to Power Incontinence.

Examples

Anime
  • 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.
  • IIRC, Nodoka from Mahou Sensei Negima! refrains from using her artifact in fear of this.

Comic Books
  • Jean Grey, from X-Men, had this problem early on after her mutant ability surfaced.

Live-Action TV
  • 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.
  • This happens to Buffy in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Earshot".
  • 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.
  • 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 blames her for the loss of his successful medical career.
  • On Star Trek: The Next Generation there was a Betazoid who had his ability from birth (most get theirs during puberty), who had 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.
  • In Star Trek, it's implied that Betazoids are afflicted by this as children and their brains learn to filter it out.
  • The bad '90s Outer Limits episode "What Will the Neighbors Think?"

Literature
  • 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 Callahan's 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Video Games
  • 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 him, ouch), and that apparently looking too deep in too many minds of SerialKillers 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. Squick!

Western Animation

Other
  • An original work by Troper Jewely J features an antagonist who was driven mad by this trope. She states that she has always believed in this trope. She doesn't get why so many people and shows and books act like reading minds is such a cool thing. You don't WANT to know whats going on in her head. Sometimes, even she wishes that she didn't know.

Community Feedback Replies: 28
  • November 14, 2009
    foxley
    Happens to Buffy in the Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode "Earshot".
  • November 14, 2009
    Arilou
    I thought this was going to be about people whose minds it is a bad idea to read.

    Case in point: Ravenloft had rules that trying to read the mind of anything that was "non human" (plants, oozes, undead, evil outsiders, etc. etc.) would force you to take an insanity check or Go Mad From The Revelation.
  • November 14, 2009
    Machiavellienne
    You know, I've been searching for this, because I'm honestly surprised we don't have it. It seems that most examples are being lumped under Blessed With Suck.

    • In Graceling, mind readers tend to be terribly lonely and unhappy people, as a result of this.

  • November 14, 2009
    Tezcat
    I haven't an example to add, but that's a great trope title.
  • November 14, 2009
    Machiavellienne
    Yes, the title is great.

    • 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.
  • November 14, 2009
    jason taylor
    Firefly in the beginning of Objects In Space River is wandering around in a trance bombarded by other people's thoughts.
  • November 14, 2009
    Thinks Too Much
    A short story in the magazine Teen Ink had this as the premise. All Works Are Notable.
  • November 14, 2009
    Grain
    I appreciate everyone's contributions, and thank you for the compliment about the title.

    Jason Taylor, your suggestion doesn't exactly fit. This trope is about the nature of peoples' thoughts and the telepath's emotional reaction to them. The Firefly example is just a general Power Incontinence. In the way you've described it, she's in a trance because the sheer magnitude of the thoughts is overwhelming her senses, not because what the people are thinking alarms her personally.

    This trope is related to Humans Are Bastards. It has a theme of losing faith in one's fellow man, so, I'm going to leave out Arilou's example too. Trying to read the mind of a plant or a zombie or something like that doesn't really apply to this.
  • November 14, 2009
    jason taylor
    Remember the "where I should be" from Simon?
  • November 14, 2009
    Grain
    I looked up the last episode of Firefly on Wikipedia. It seems to be of the gist of the trope. I will add something now. I thank you for the addition, but, I must ask that you be more descriptive next time, lest you may muddle your examples with general Power Incontinence.
  • November 14, 2009
    Paradisca Corbasi
    • The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries, on which True Blood is based. Sookie never had control of her powers until getting with Bill and the other supernaturals. So she is pretty much the personification of this trope.

    • Jean Grey had this problem early on after her mutant ability surfaced. Emma Frost used the power to her advantage, so didn't have this problem.
  • November 14, 2009
    random surfer
    On Star Trek The Next Generation there was a Betazoid who had his ability from birth (most get theirs during puberty), who had this reaction to everybody. He was quite relieved when he met Data, who had no (organic) mind to read.
  • November 14, 2009
    Sir Psycho Sexy
    Mao's Geass in Code Geass makes him an example of this trope.
  • November 14, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    This is common for psychics within a blurred line...
  • November 15, 2009
    Arivne
    Literature
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • November 15, 2009
    Ronka87
  • November 15, 2009
    CodeMan38
    [Never mind, was mis-remembering the plot of Heroes; Parkman didn't discover his wife's affair via mind-reading. Though I swear this trope did come up later.]
  • November 15, 2009
    random surfer
    ^^I thought he did find out via mind-reading. He accidentally "heard" her think "Oh God, he found out about the affair," and later he heard his partner think "HA! I'm doing your wife and you don't know!"

    Also, once when he was in a bar the thoughts of the patrons were overwhelming him until he got captured by The Haitian and Mr. Bennett.
  • November 15, 2009
    Frank75
    Alice may also go simply crazy. Don't we have Crazy Seer or something like that?
  • November 15, 2009
    Grain
    Not exactly, Frank75. What you're thinking of is something like Go Mad From The Revelation of the fact that Humans Are Bastards, or maybe Comes Great Insanity. This trope is, in simple terms, With-Mind-Reading-Comes-Great-Depression.
  • November 15, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    How come Mel Gibson's protagonist in What Women Want hasn't been mentioned as yet? Probably leads to Unfortunate Implications later, but at the beginning at least he's reading ... some minds.
  • November 15, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    Variant: In The Fairly Oddparents, Timmy wishes to get mind-reading. Unfortunately, the banal thoughts of everyone overload his head.
  • November 16, 2009
    Medinoc
    IIRC, Nodoka from Mahou Sensei Negima refrains from using her artifact in fear of this.
  • November 17, 2009
    Fanra
    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.
  • November 18, 2009
    Professor Thascales
    The bad '90s Outer Limits episode "What Will the Neighbors Think?"
  • November 18, 2009
    JewelyJ
    YES This needs to be a trope.

    An original work of mine has an antagonist who is driven mad by this.

    -[[This Troper]] and her brother have always agreed on this. She doesn't get why so many people and shows and books act like this is such a cool thing. You don't WANT to know whats going on in [This Troper's head}} Somes she wishes SHE Didn't know

    -don't know if Truth in Television counts but ....
  • November 18, 2009
    Michael
    Babylon Five - pretty much every teep ever.
  • November 18, 2009
    gorgardard
    In Star Trek it's implied that Betazoids are afflicted by this as children and their brains learn to filter it out.
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