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A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read

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Medicham is confused!
Full comic used with permission.
"In the dark I like to read his mind
but 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. Her friends are only using her. Her lover has been cheating since day one. People she passes in the street are brimming with barely-contained malice and pain. Every random guy she meets wonders what she looks like naked. 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 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.

Dirty Mind-Reading is a Sub-Trope.

See Also: Unhappy Medium, Black Bug Room, and some types of Insanity Immunity. See Psychic Static and Poke in the Third Eye for cases where the target deliberately dredges up disturbing mental images to mess with the mind-reader. May intersect with These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know if the read thought is really terrible.

Can be related to Power Incontinence.

See also: My Skull Runneth Over


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Boogiepop Phantom: Yoshiki, a high school student, gains an incontinent ability to hear people's 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.
  • Cherry Magic! Thirty Years of Virginity Can Make You a Wizard?!: Adachi really doesn't enjoy being able to read every thought random strangers who bump into him have. And when he finds out what Kurosawa tends to think about him, he's horrified at first. But he slowly learns to appreciate the power for its pragmatic value and him being able to see how earnest Kurosawa's feelings for him are leads to him deciding he might just give a relationship with Kurosawa a try.
  • Code Geass: Mao's 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.
  • Crayon Shin-chan: The minor character of the boyfriend of Shin's babysitter is a telepath (although she doesn't know this); it's mainly used for throwaway jokes where he laments being able to read his neurotic girlfriend's mind while she thanks god he can't hear all the crazy things she thinks and worries about.
  • 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.
  • A downplayed example in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable: When famous manga artist Rohan Kishibe finds out that two of his teenage fans, Koichi and Hazamada, have tracked down where he lives, he uses his Stand Heaven's Door to read their minds, hoping to find new material for his manga Pink Dark Boy. Upon reading Hazamada's mind and finding out that (among other things) he attempted to rape a classmate and chickened out, Rohan is thoroughly revulsed.
    • Later weaponized by Yoshikage Kira: his Stand, Killer Queen, later gets an evolved form called "Bites The Dust"; this new bomb attaches to a host, activates whenever anyone tries to get information on Kira from the host, and then rewinds time by an hour, with only the host aware of it. We first see it used to kill Rohan when he tries to read the mind of Hayato Kawajiri, the son of a man whose identity Kira had stolen to hide from the heroes.
  • Kino's Journey: This is the entire plot of the first episode, in which 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."
  • A Knight Hunter 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.
  • Kotoura-san: Haruka Kotoura, the title character, is a victim of this trope enough to make this trope to be played in several ways in a single episode.
    • In the beginning she was socially shunned because of this trope— it didn't affect her sanity, but she was Innocently Insensitive enough to blurt out whatever she read. As a result she was treated as a freak or even a compulsive liar, and she caused her own Parental Abandonment because she blurted her parents were cheating towards each other.
    • After she had became a Broken Bird in her teens, she invoked this trope to drive people away, as she thought she'd bring harm to anyone she cared about.
    • The Downer Beginning was ended by a subversion of this trope; as she saw Manabe has no contempt for her, unlike everyone else. This subversion persists as Manabe is so honest that the invocation above doesn't work at all.
    • Discussed later in episode 1, when Manabe admired her powers...
      Haruka: You idiot. There's nothing cool about it, you idiot... You don't know anything! You don't know how it feels to look into other people's minds!
  • Medaka Box: Yukuhashi Mizou has this problem. It nearly drove him mad until he met Miyakonojou Oudo. His abnormality is the opposite of Mizou's and can block his, along with do other truly insane things.
  • Mousou Telepathy: The main plot. Ayako Nakano can see people's thoughts (and apparently can't prevent it). While some of her grief comes from being aware of other people's ugly thoughts and double standards, most of it stems from her classmate Toda Hayato, who has a crush on her... along with a very lewd imagination.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi: Whenever Nodoka 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.
  • Night Head Genesis: Naoya's mindreading powers give him a lot of grief, and it doesn't help that 90% of people in the anime are either evil or traumatized beyond repair. Particularly horrific visions cause him to hallucinate for hours, even days, on end. When he experiences his visions, they are also capable of rebounding off to the people surrounding him, leaving more room for judgement and ridicule. Even touching objects can trigger unfortunate visions. His older brother spends a lot of time looking after him.
  • Paprika: Getting stuck inside other people's fantasies is dangerous enough, but it's even 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.
  • Psychic Squad: Shiho 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.
  • In Ranma ½ anime-only character Satori has the power of mind reading. When he visits the Tendo house he tries to prove it by reading Nabiki's mind first, but he gets terrified by almost drowning in money. Then he reads Happosai's mind, it's unknown what he saw but he faints with a nosebleed. When he regains consciousness he complains that this family is so weird.
  • 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, whose thoughts are unintelligible because they're still in cat.
  • Sgt. Frog: One chapter 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 think about him. The answer sends him right into his Corner of Woe.
  • 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 overwhelmed 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 could 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.
  • SPY×FAMILY: This is a major source of comedy (and conflict). Anya Forger can read minds, and is often reading the minds of her adopted parents, a secret agent and a professional assassin. The latter's thoughts are often incredibly disturbing, such as Anya asking for a dog and seeing her mother's Imagine Spot of Anya being killed by onetwice.
  • Tell Me A Lie: The theme of this one-shot by Gosho Aoyama, better known as the creator of Case Closed.
  • In YuYu 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.

    Comic Books 
  • In Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe, when Professor Xavier tries to read Wade's mind, the revelation of them not only being fictional characters but ones made to suffer endlessly for the entertainment of others immediately causes him to go brain-dead.
  • Mindfuck 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.
    • And interestingly inverted in the way her telepathy scuppered her romance with Sistah Spooky; instead of being unable to have a romance because she had full access to all her partner's most unpleasant thoughts (as is normal for this trope), her partner was too self-loathing to believe that anyone who could see through her facade would be capable of truly loving her. Mindfuck herself thinks the partner's mind is very sexy, and does deeply love the "beautiful mess" she is beneath her mask.
  • 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.
  • Irredeemable: Survivor promises amnesty to any supervillain who helps rebuild the world after the damage Plutonian has inflicted. To make sure their Heel–Face Turn is genuine, he has telepath Burrows look into their heads. The one vision we see involves a swarm of rats tearing Burrows apart and forcing their way down his throat. Later Survivor tells Burrows to look into a supervillain's head and predict his next move. We don't know what he saw, but it makes Burrows flee the room and hang himself.
  • JLA (1997): In an issue, the Star Conqueror has 99% of Earth's population locked in a deep sleep, trapped in a dream where they serve it. As the Conqueror has evolutionary similarities to marine life, Aquaman tries to use his telepathy on it. He starts to go mad the deeper he goes, mumbling things about how small and meaningless an ocean is compared to the bottomless depths of the cosmos, until the other Leaguers snap him out of it. This seems to be Grant Morrison's rejoinder to the "Aquaman could mind-control Cthulhu" meme.
  • 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 of a nihilistic teenager and had to leave the planet in order to perform a Martian psychic cleansing ritual.
    • In 52, Black Adam does this to the Manhunter all by himself.
    • What about the time he tried to rewire the Joker's mind to include sane thought patterns? Damn nigh gave himself a stroke with two minutes of effort. Course the Joker's mind would give anyone nightmares. And it did work, it just didn't last.
    • Another one in Martian Manhunter #23 is when J'onn is in his P.I. alter ego John Jones and he tries to scan Jim Corrigan AKA The Spectre. While J'onn didn't sense anything amiss when he was talking to Corrigan (though they are bonded and essentially the same person, they also have very distinctly different personalities), when he tried to do a simple mind scan (I.E. just a quick read of surface thoughts, nothing invasive), the image of the Spectre putting on his Game Face appeared and J'onn almost had an aneurysm. Let that be a lesson: if you're a telepath with strong mind-reading powers, DON'T try to read the mind of a guy who's also the host for the embodiment of God's own wrath.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2008): Mantis winds up reading the mind of a Zom, an undead cyborg created by the Badoon. She's horrified to discover there's still some of the original being's mind left.
  • If Simon Dark reads the mind of his vile opponents with foresight and cold detachment he's able to rationally shift through the intel he's given and push aside the emotions and other bits that would send him off-kilter, but when he does so in a panic it can temporarily overwhelm him and knock him flat on his back with far more ease than a physical attack.
  • Star Wars Legends: In one of the Darth Maul comics, he is sent on a mission to destroy all the leaders of the galaxy-spanning crime organization Black Sun. After all of the remaining leaders and the head are at the safest stronghold, he begins butchering their elite mooks with his lightsaber, his bare hands, a blaster, and the Force. The last one he fights before he kills most of the crime lords is a telepathic alien who tries to read his mind, but Darth Maul is so infused with the dark side of the Force the telepath either dies or goes into a permanent state of shock, complete with black blood dripping from his nose.
  • 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.
  • Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade: When Supergirl's jerkass duplicate is crystallized, Kara can briefly "hear" her thoughts...whose nature elicits an "Ew" from Kara.
  • 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."
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Wonder Woman (1942): Gail Young has frequent freakouts and meltdowns due to her overhearing an overwhelming number of thoughts and not being able to tell who they're coming from not get a coherent read on them. It doesn't help that she's in frequent contact with Priscilla Rich who often has murder on the mind.
    • Wonder Woman (1987): Angelica Wallis was overwhelmed and needed outside help to keep herself steady when she used her telepathy on a petrified Hippolyta.
  • X-Men:
    • Jean Grey had this problem early on after her mutant ability surfaced. She still deals with this problem, although she's much better at coping with it. The problem early on is that she didn't know how to turn it off.
      • Her time-displaced teenaged self suffers this even worse, because her telepathy manifested far earlier than it did originally, giving her even less control. It's also not helped that she is a bit of a busy-body who hasn't developed the restraint from popping into people's minds uninvited.
      • In the opening of one comic, her inner monologue concerns the unpleasantness of hearing people's thoughts. One guy politely gives her directions while thinking, "Please walk up and down my naked chest in stiletto heels."
      • In Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man meets Jean Grey and she compliments him on being one of the first guys who, upon waking, doesn't picture her naked. She then has to revise her statement. What follows is seven panels of awkwardness as Spiderman tries to stop thinking of her naked.
    • Emma Frost, as revealed in her origin comics, did not have a fun time of things when her telepathic powers first manifested. Over the course of three books, she realizes her brother is secretly gay and in a relationship with an illegal immigrant, kisses her teacher because she hears him thinking about how beautiful and smart he thinks she is (this leads to her dad getting him fired), is able to win just enough money gambling to get her new boyfriend's loan sharks to demand interest on his debts (which leads to the boyfriend's death and her kidnapping, though she does manage to escape with her own ransom), finding out that her college roommate, who she had an actually healthy friendship with, was in love with the same teacher she kissed before, and sees that her next roommate used her own psychic powers to make her little half-sister murder their parents. That's not even going into her constantly reading people's minds to see how secretly anti-mutant they are.
    • Psylocke once remarked to Havok that she made every effort not to read others' minds... the problem was shutting out the psychic background noise.
    • Rogue isn't a mind-reader, but she can absorb people's memories, which can be very discomforting. When this happened with individuals of the totally evil Dire Wraiths — the bad guy race from the series Rom: Space Knight — this caused Rogue to be physically sick on-panel on two separate occasions.
    • X-Men villain Gamesmaster reads minds. All minds. Everywhere. And he can't turn it off, so is constantly bombarded with the thoughts of billions of people throughout the world. He orchestrated the deadly "games" of the Upstarts in order to distract himself from all the thoughts he's bombarded with. He becomes obsessed with X-23 because her mind is so quiet.
    • Gambit once memorably ensured that his thoughts were free of telepathic eavesdroppers by imagining the Blob naked.
    • David Alleyne, a.k.a. Prodigy, telepathically downloads all the information from the minds of those around him. This ranges from technical knowledge like advanced science and magic, and extremely personal habits like sex activity and how someone prefers to wipe.
  • Alt★Hero: Soulsight can glimpse moments of people's past and feel their resulting pain. "Poor bastard," remarks Martel. It could be worse though: at least he can't actually see people's souls.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dilbert:
    • As seen in this strip, reading Dilbert's thoughts apparently either terrified or infuriated the two-headed telepath he was dating; maybe both.
    • In this 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 is not terribly frightened despite having just witnessed a demonstration of the latter ability.
    Dilbert: Are you worried?]
    Wally: Nah. If they read my mind, they'll all 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.

    Fan Works 
  • Absolution: When Amy asks why Tattletale doesn't seem to be squicked out by the possibilities of Amy's full biokinetic power, Tattletale starts describing some of the dirty secrets she's been able to deduce just by glancing at the people around them, from the hot dog salesman who doesn't properly wash his hands and has caused multiple disease outbreaks, to the security guard who's a serial rapist when he finds someone vulnerable hanging around, to the woman who distributes child pornography online.
    Lisa: That's what I like about you, Amelia. You know you're not a good person. Nobody is, really. But despite everything, you still want to be.
  • The Bridge:
    • It is said that anyone who tries to read Monster X's mind ends up passing out screaming, after seeing Kaizer Ghidorah.
    • Mothra Lea goes into screaming convulsions when she reads Xenilla's memories and discovers he's inherited the memories of the Mothra family line, and she gets a first-hand look at Bagan wiping out her ancestors.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series fanfic The Tresine Troubles has a terrorist group use telepaths to take over key personnel for a coup and later, hijacking the Enterprise. Said telepaths are all mostly untrained teenagers (or in their early twenties) and are clearly run to the ground by the strain put on them. Spock, a much better experienced and trained telepath, warns them directly that they are close to burning out. Unfortunately, the telepaths in question are more than willing to attain martyrdom.
  • Apparently, it's for the best that nobody looks into a Newfoal's mind in The Conversion Bureau: The Other Side of the Spectrum. The complex lattice of spellwork governing their minds is apparently so horrifying to see directly that it left TCB!Fancy Pants vomiting and suffering nightmares for the better part of a week when he went on a Journey to the Center of the Mind of one.
  • In Diaries of a Madman, Navarone deliberately invokes this when Shining Armor tries to read his mind, resulting in the good captain on the floor screaming in terror.
  • The Supernatural fanfic Down to Agincourt features a new psychic who can't control her mindreading and doesn't know how to turn it off. No individual mind is too terrible, but she can "hear" anyone who's in her range, all the time, and gets migraines—though she has not, as yet, had a Psychic Nosebleed.
  • Satori discovers this the hard way in FREAKIN GENSOKYO when she reads the protagonist's mind, and promptly uncovers his memories of steamy Touhou porn.
  • In the Animorphs fanfic Ghost in the Shell, Tom is mortified at the idea that Jake might've seen some of his most intimate memories that Temrash brought up time and time again.
  • In Harry Potter and the Nightmares of Futures Past:
    • Harry tries to use Legilemency on Luna, and finds that her mind is complete chaos.
    • When Snape is using Legilemency on Ginny, Luna gets between the two of them, so that Snape is now reading Luna's mind. It has similar results as Harry's attempt, but more dramatic.
  • Inheritance: Tattletale likes to mislead people about her super-intuition power by claiming to read minds. However, when Weaver invites her to do so, Tattletale doesn't get further than, "Well, you’ve clearly—" before Weaver cuts her off and concludes that she isn't a mind-reader after all.
    Weaver: If you were, you would have recoiled in disgust and likely need years of therapy to get over what the chorus just ran through my head.
  • 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 The Mind's Eye, a short RWBY Fan Fic, Jaune discovers his semblance is reading minds. It's all fun and games until he tries reading the mind of a Grimm, bringing him face-to-face with a very ticked off Salem. Things go down hill from there.
  • In Maldoror's Mobile Suit 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.
  • 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 the Harry Potter fanfic One Flew Into the Coocoo's Nest, Fred debunks the possibility of he and George having Twin Telepathy with this trope:
    We can't read each others minds, or anything; but, even if I could, I wouldn't want to. Stepping into the mind of George Weasley would be like wearing clothes made out of bacon and climbing into the den of a half-starved werewolf, singing at the top of your lungs: ' My trousers are made of pork products! Dinner's served! Come and get it! ' Oh yes, like that's' healthy . . .
  • In Pareidolia when he's chided by the Rikudo Sennin for his actions, such as letting Naruto die, Kyuubi retorts that after centuries of sensing only hatred wherever he went, he started returning said hatred onto the world.
    • Brought up years later by the reborn Naruto who uses Ninshu to make Temari and Tayuya fully understand him and each other. Tayuya is upset when he stops because she understood while he was doing it but Naruto insists that it's only good for friends and would be a disaster if done to a group of strangers or enemies.
  • Smurf Village Upturned offers a variant when Brainy and Vanity are given the power of Insight, enabling them to see the souls of their fellow smurfs. Brainy flips back and forth between regarding his newfound ability as overwhelming and wanting to be able to see, process and retain even more... as well as wishing he could see himself. Vanity, meanwhile, was granted Insight for himself along with Brainy and everyone else, and becomes completely absorbed with admiring himself... as a defense mechanism, as he quickly decides that this power is horribly invasive and doesn't wish to intrude on anyone else's privacy.
  • This Bites!:
    • This is the distinction for Apis's Whisper-Whisper Fruit compared to other Speaks Fluent Animal abilities: hers is explicitly telepathy-based. Projecting more...visceral thoughts falls under this trope, and it's what allows her to keep her larger beasts—particularly her dragon friend Lindy—in line.
    • When Popora uses his powers to refresh Cross's memory in Chapter 60, he reveals and relives his memory of Ace's death in the War of the Best. Cross wakes up in a tearful Troubled Fetal Position, and Popora is stoically sobbing.
  • In Ultimate Re-Imaginings, Emma has Joey try to read the minds of a group of people to help him control his powers, but he gets distracted by one person's thoughts and renders the exercise ineffective.
  • In "Unpaid Internship", part of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Hearts series, J'onn J'onzz refuses to read Batman's mind to satisfy the Flash's curiosity, partly because it would be unethical and partly because "exploring Batman's mind is extremely unpleasant. I would prefer to be able to enjoy the rest of my day."
  • In Zero Context: Taking Out the Trash, Marc Maddhouse floods his own mind with images of everything crass and vulgar he wished he could do to the telepathic Callista. Said target, previously established to be overly conservative, wails and reacts as if she were in actual pain. Marc's later attempt at using this tactic against her fails, however.
  • In Thoughts after Harry suddenly gains the ability to read minds, he discovers that all of Ron's thoughts about him are derogatory.
  • Infinity Train: Boiling Point: Boscha has the ability to look into the memories of someone by touch, and both times she uses it (one on Lapis, one on Chloe), what she sees causes her to flip out.
  • Played for Laughs in the Evangelion short fic Cruel. In canon, the angel Arael looked into Asuka's mind and traumatized her. Here, it looks into Gendo's mind instead, and is Driven to Suicide by what it discovers. Knowing what an utterly loathsome person Gendo is, the NERV staff and even his superiors in SEELE find themselves empathizing with the angel.
  • Domoverse: Glitch's ESPer defense strategy sets up his mind with shocking thoughts for ESPers to read. He altered his brain to have a small section of it constantly and loudly remembering a Hentai video he watched.
  • In At the Edge of Lasg’len, Thranduil is a powerful telepath who is something of a captive audience to the thoughts of humans around him...whether he likes it or not. The more exposure he has to humans, the more he wishes the ability came with an 'off' switch.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Wanda is absolutely horrified when she is able to read Ultron's mind and discovers his plans to wipe out humanity.
  • Dredd: Averted. The villainous Kay tries to use this on psychic cop Anderson, hoping that his mind would break hers. It appears to work at first... only for Anderson to show she's in complete control of his mind.
  • In Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, American Queenie has a breakdown in the middle of Paris because she’s being drowned out by a cacophony of gibberish she can’t understand because it’s in French and not English.
  • 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.
  • Men in Black: While no actual mind-reading occurs on screen, it's mentioned that human thought is so primitive, it's considered an infectious disease.
  • A variation occurs in Star Trek (2009) when Kirk mind-melds with the Spock from the original timeline. Spock blames himself for the destruction of Vulcan, and thus is feeling huge amounts of grief, guilt, and overall pain. Since Vulcan emotions are stronger than humans', and emotional transference is an effect of the mind meld, Kirk is overwhelmed and left stumbling around in a daze for a few seconds.
  • 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: (thinking) That's what I thought when I first met ya.
    Nick: Doc, would you please give me a break here?!
    • 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 the same woman, 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.
  • In When Evil Calls, a student who is failing an exam wishes he could read the mind of the smart kid sitting next to him. He gets his wish, but discovers that the boy whose mind he is reading is panicking about the possibility of recieving The B Grade. The boy is so stressed that he commits suicide by driving pencils up his nose into his brain. And the first student is still reading his mind when this happens!
  • X-Men Film Series
    • X-Men: Days of Future Past: When Charles was in between 9 and 12 years old, he was Hearing Voices and wasn't aware that he was telepathic, so he had assumed that he was going mad from an acute mental illness. His past self is so broken that it's torture for him to be bombarded by the thoughts of others, and he uses a serum designed by Hank to block out the ceaseless "chatter" in his head. In order to visit his future self, Xavier has to go through Wolverine's mind, which is full of traumatic memories; it's a pretty shocking experience for him. Likewise, when he attempts to use Cerebro, all he can sense is people crying out all over the world in loneliness and pain.
    • X-Men: Apocalypse: Jean Grey loathes being "trapped inside [her] own head" because of her telepathy, and Xavier understands her anguish because he was also haunted by other people's suffering, pain and secrets in the past. When Scott asks Jean, "How do you know what [Alex] felt?", her face is somber when she gloomily replies, "I know how everybody feels." Professor X momentarily stuns Apocalypse on the astral plane by letting his enemy hear the inner voices of hundreds of minds that are within Charles' psychic range.

  • 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 into Leerans and suddenly could hear each other's neuroses. Luckily, they figured out how to shut it off.
  • Kevin J. Anderson's novel Blindfold has the entire justice system on the human colony of Atlas based on a telepathic caste of people called Truthsayers and the premise that they're always right and truthful. Truthsayers touch the accused and scan his or her mind in order to determine guilt or innocence. A Truthsayer's verdict is final and cannot be appealed (there is no higher authority). However, given the kind of minds they scan, Truthsayers have to undergo years of training (from early childhood) in order to detach themselves from crawling around minds of murderers (they don't deal with lesser crimes). The book's main story arc involves a young female Truthsayer who, after crawling around in the head of an insane mass murderer (who believes in the rightness of his brand of justice), is extremely disturbed. Her next scan is of a young dockworker who was caught next to the body of his supervisor (wrong place at the wrong time). However, the dockworker still felt intense guilt over failing to submit his paperwork on time, and this, coupled with her previous experiences, resulted in her declaring him guilty. She did finally realize she was wrong a few days later, but too late for the poor kid who has already been sent to an orbital facility from where no one returns.
  • The Chaos Walking trilogy has this in the form of the Noise germ, which basically means that any thought (in the form of words, fragments of sentences, or even pictures) flows from the mind of the thinker, and is out there for anyone to hear/read/see. Todd, the main character, even comments that Noise can have 'texture' and 'color', reflecting the emotional state of the thinker. This is where the series gets its title, and the constant flow of Noise is understandably difficult to cope with. Also, in an even darker twist, the fact that only men produce Noise led to much paranoia and hatred between the sexes in the early years of settlement on the new world, to the point that the men of Prentisstown slaughtered all of the women unlucky enough to stay.
  • The Demolished Man: A Subversion in Alfred Bester's novel. 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.
  • 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.
  • In The Dresden Files, it is not recommended to read the mind of a supernatural unless you specifically want to fry your own brain.
    • It is also not recommended to read a mortal's mind without permission, unless you want to lose your head. Not because of the mind-reading, but rather the angry, sword-wielding Wardens who know too well this kind of thing will almost inevitably turn you into an out-of-control psychopath.
    • If you are a wizard, you have to be careful about making extended eye contact with anyone who has a soul. Otherwise, a Soul Gaze will be triggered, which exposes you to a visual representation of that person's soul and vice versa. Gazing into a sufficiently nasty Soul (or when using 'Sight', like when Harry 'looks' at the Skin Walker in Turn Coat) is an extremely traumatic experience that can never be forgotten since the memory of a Soul Gaze will never fade.
    • Molly gets the worst of it. As her magical power grows, so does her sensitivity to the thoughts and emotions of beings around her — humans, various evil supernaturals, and Eldritch Abominations. It gets so bad that, by Cold Days, she can barely stand to be in a crowded room.
  • In Graceling Realm, mind readers tend to be terribly lonely and unhappy people as a result of this.
  • The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries: The eponymous Sookie, who can't turn off her powers. She is forced to read the minds of people and see the dark underbelly of her town. Highlights include finding out abusive relationships, a woman who is married to a man but is actually a closeted lesbian, a teacher who has dark thoughts about abusing her students, and the nasty things people say about Sookie herself. Sookie never had control of her powers until she found 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.
    • 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.
  • 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." When it's Loris' turn, Kelson finds "[r]eading Loris was even more loathsome than reading Gorony had been"; Loris gave explicit instructions to Istelyn's executioners and reveled in their grisly work, and he engaged in inquisitions and burnings in many outlying areas of the kingdom prompted by his "long-standing and unreasoning hatred of the Deryni."
  • Another Alfred Bester Inversion — In The Stars My Destination, 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!
  • Inheritance Cycle:
    • The protagonist Eragon brings this trope up in the second book, claiming to be "uncomfortable with the idea of prying into people's secrets ... secrets that they have every right to keep to themselves". He shortly thereafter learns to use this power for good.
    • Elva, however, was cursed with the ability to sense the pain of everyone around her. Her 'range' so to speak, is several dozen miles, and the effects of it nearly drive her insane. And she's been enduring this since she was a baby (which wasn't that long ago, as she matured rapidly).
  • In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, 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. Now in order to hide their thoughts they either have to babble endlessly about meaningless topics like the weather or play host to a concert by plutonium rock band 'Disaster Area'.
  • In Stephen King's The Tommyknockers, an entire town becomes mind-linked 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 Ashekevron is pushed even further towards the edge (after his lover goes insane and commits suicide) 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.
    • In the rest of the Heralds of Valdemar series characters with untrained Mindspeech or Empathy find themselves here by way of Power Incontinence. Unless one learns (or is taught) how to shield out thoughts/emotions, one can easily be driven to madness or hermitage by the sheer weight of other people's thoughts everywhere, especially in a city.
  • In Larry Niven's The Soft Weapon, the cat-like alien Kzinti have a telepath that they use to eavesdrop on their human prisoners. Nessus instructs the crew to think of eating delicious raw salads, which disgusts the meat-eating Kzinti so much that they can't continue to read their minds.
  • To Ride Pegasus: This is one of the reasons that the Registered Talents in Anne McCaffrey's trilogy 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.
  • Orson Scott Card's:
    • In the 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 reason for his attraction to 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 glories 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 horrible and disturbing thoughts at her to try and break her. This is made worse because the bad guys range from a chaotic evil cannibal to a lawful evil warlord wannabe, and just their ordinary thoughts would be bad enough.
    • 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 The Twilight Saga, Edward Cullen's telepathy is strongly hinted at as one of the reasons he's so alone prior to Bella's coming to Forks. He's rich, handsome, 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.
  • 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 Tines from A Fire Upon the Deep, who are all sort of mini-Hive Minds (usually about 3-8 Tines 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.
  • Jakub Wędrowycz 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.
  • In Harry Potter the title character's late father, James, used to have a bitter teenage rivalry with Harry's least favorite teacher, Snape; naturally, Harry disregards every single thing Snape says about his father being a pompous Jerk Jock. At one point Harry uses a magical device called a Pensieve, which stores thoughts, to see a memory Snape put in. To Harry's horror, the memory shows James acting like a self-absorbed jackass and humiliating Snape for no reason. It ends with Harry's own mother, Lily, coming to Snape's defense and telling James that he's a miserable person who absolutely disgusts her. Harry is so shocked he begins to wonder how the two of them ever wound up Happily Married.
    • In the last book, he sees more of Snape's memories and discovers the necessary but rather startling information that he's actually one of Voldemort's Soul Jars and Dumbledore wants him to basically let Voldemort kill him. Though, this one ends up a subversion since Snape didn't know that Harry could possibly survive thanks to his blood running through Voldemort's veins and therefore Harry didn't learn that either until later.
  • Played with quite a bit in Brendan Rizzo's "Reading". 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.
  • 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 doesn't go well from there.
  • Mahnahmi from the Humanx Commonwealth series was born a telepath, fully aware of the thoughts of everyone around her. As it happened, she came into the care of a certain fellow by the name of Conda Challis, who was probably in the running for the Most Depraved Person of the Commonwealth award. Among the least of the things she learned was that he intended to use her as a torture/sex slave when she grew up. This, understandably, permanently warped her psyche and drove her to utter nihilism.
  • The protagonist of Robert Silverberg's Dying Inside can read other people's minds, and he is unable to function in society because of it.
  • The young-adult book The Lies They Tell tells the story of a young girl who develops telepathic abilities after a blow to the head. She has some upsetting experiences, but eventually learns how to block out thoughts, and manages to discover a corrupt politician's dastardly plot.
  • Scott and Jamie from The Power of Five don't like to read minds for exactly this reason.
  • The Zack Files book Zap! I'm a Mind Reader is basically all about this (at least until he overhears what sounds like someone planning a murder) — he learns that his father hasn't gone to the dentist in years, some of the kids in his class haven't changed their underwear in a week, and a creepy lady in his apartment building has a crush on his dad.
  • In Stone of Tears, Zedd heals a badly wounded seer. To do that, he must first enter her mind. The pain of the wound itself is described as mild once he manages to get past the seer's visions.
  • In Gone, Orsay has the ability to see people's dreams if they go to sleep near her. One of the people she reads in this way is Drake. Made even worse by the fact that Drake noticed her presence in the dream and finds her in the real world shortly thereafter.
  • Sandman Slim once notes two ways to block out mind readers: Psychic Static or taking the intruder for a ride. Nosy telepathic guard gets to experience some choice memories from literal Hell and is left curled on the ground bubbling and crying.
  • Inverted in the Young Adult Jack Bishop novels, Alexandra Courtney is freaked out and horrified when she CAN'T read minds as immune types come across as zombies to her.
  • In Horns, while Ig can't actually read minds, his new power does cause people to tell him their dark thoughts and desires, which leads to him discovering a lot of unpleasant secrets being kept by his friends and family.
  • One of the original trope setters here is the short story "Journeys [sic] End" by Poul and Karen Anderson, in which a male and a female telepath discover each other after a lifetime of loneliness. In their eagerness, they open themselves completely to each other, only to recoil in loathing from their own personal failings, quirks, and oddities, which they can see reflected in each other's minds.
  • Kind of Inverted in Touch (2017). Caspar doesn't necessarily like his power, finding it uncomfortable or overwhelming at times, but he notes that finding truly "bad" people is harder than you might expect.
    "Like, I can tell there’s a robber in a shop, but I can see how desperate he is for money. Or I can tell you about the teacher who has dirty feelings about kids in his class, but I can also feel how guilty it makes him, and I can tell from the kids around him that he hasn’t done anything. It’s... complicated.”
  • In The Licanius Trilogy, Augurs are able to read minds at great personal danger to themselves. It's possible to get lost and die if they lose themselves in another's memories.
  • In Wild Cards, a villainous telepath tries to read and control Modular Man's mind, not knowing his true nature. The last we see of him he's in an asylum, capable of nothing but reciting endless strings of 1s and 0s.
    • Additionally, if an Augur tries to forcefully read someone's memories, it can render the target brain-dead.
  • 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.
  • A short story featured a black businessman who frequently harangued the people around him. When a scientist appears with a helmet that he claims can allow you to read minds he promptly tries it on and starts hearing just how much people hate him, either for his behavior or his race. Worse the helmet burns out leaving him permanently stuck hearing the thoughts of everyone around him driving him insane due to being unable to cope with reality being far harsher than the fantasy he'd lived that people liked him. Eventually, he commits suicide in the asylum they place him in (no surprise there, given what kind of thoughts he got bombarded with THERE).
    • A similar story features a crooked businessman who's cursed with gradually increasing empathy with and sensitivity to others' pain, past and present. At first he is able to ignore it, but eventually it becomes such a horror he steals a boat and rows to a buoy several miles from the shoreline. He's caught by police, sedated and sent to a brand-new mental health facility... which was built on a former slaughterhouse and site of an illegal dogfighting ring. The story ends just as he starts waking up.
  • Witnesses in Nevermoor can't literally read minds, but they can see colors and lights that no one else can, which reveal things about the world around them. For example, Jupiter sees a black cross over someone's heart and knows they've just lost a loved one and are in mourning, or he sees someone with a smaller, second shadow following them and knows they have problems with their younger sibling. The problem with this is that seeing everyone's secrets, emotions and insecurities all the time is a lot of information to process, and incredibly stressful, to boot—especially in highly populated cities like Nevermoor — and it can cause psychosis if allowed to go unchecked. Most Witnesses are said to live out in rural areas where there aren't too many people, or wear eyepatches to act as a filter. Jupiter can handle it, but it took him many years of practice and training.
  • Star Trek:
    • Some of the early expanded universe works implied that Vulcans did not like to be touched - especially by more emotional species - because such physical contact was often enough for Vulcans to pick up on the thoughts and feelings of the person who initiated contact.
    • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel "Metamorphisis", in an alternate timeline the mercenary Sdan - who was a mixed species individual with some Vulcan ancestry - remarked that even before Surak's reforms most Vulcans were reluctant to kill others as it would mean feeling the thoughts, pain, and fear the other would feel before dying.
    • In The Next Generation novel "Q-in-Law" Deanna Troi is revealed to be somewhat envious of her mother due to Lwxana's ability to errect strong telepathic shields that eliminated telepathic background noise. While Deanna was able to errect similar shields, her lesser telepathic abilities made errecting such shields something of an effort for her.
  • The third Wayside School book has Wendy Nogard, a woman born with an extra ear hidden on top of her head that allows her to listen in on thoughts. Once she revealed her ear to a love interest, but then heard him think that she was an ugly freak. She then became a misanthrope who enjoyed making people miserable, until one day she heard the pure love of a newborn baby, which restored plenty of hope in her.
  • Amusingly subverted with Gary and Cindy's daughter, Leia, in The Supervillainy Saga as everyone tries to watch their thoughts around her due to the fact she's a small child. Leia responds that as a small child, she doesn't understand most of what she reads and isn't affected by it anyway.
  • In Strata the protagonists find themselves having to deal with a rather annoying demon. Having had enough of it, Marco (a Kung, i.e. a tightly wound ball of violent impulses barely held together by a thin veneer of civilization) confronts the demon.
    "I hear you can read minds? Then read mine.
The demon is utterly terrified and perfectly docile afterwards as long as Kin (the sole human in the team) promises to protect it from the alien monstrosity...

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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 and lose part of themself across the barrier to the great beyond in the process. Bester, the series's 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, implied to be for a dirty thought that crossed his mind (intentionally or accidentally is unknown).
      Garibaldi: (bending over in pain) I think I'm in love.
    • There is a severe shortage of telepaths willing to work in the area of criminal justice despite the high demand for it. Crawling around in the brains of murderers and rapists is nobody's idea of a good time.
    • Telepaths have to go out of their way to generate internal Psychic Static to keep themselves from being overwhelmed by the barrage of thoughts being projected by the mundanes all around them. Methods described range from repeating nursery rhymes or Ear Worm songs to visualizing a protective wall built around them to keep the white noise out. Sometimes, this isn't enough, as certain people's thoughts are louder than others. Garibaldi is evidently a particularly difficult man to ignore in this fashion. One annoyed telepath points out the irony of a paranoid man who distrusts telepaths insisting on broadcasting his every thought at full blast.
  • 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 (to her mom): You had sex with Giles?... On the hood of a police car?!... Twice?!
    Xander's internal monologue: Four times five is thirty. Five times six is thirty-two... Naked girls... Naked women... Naked Buffy! Somebody stop me!
    Random guy in the hallway: Buffy's so beautiful... (she pauses, flattered) I mean, look at that body. God, I'd love to shove her against that locker right now and..... (Buffy hurries away)
  • Parodied in Chappelle's Show as What Men Want. A woman walks into an elevator full of men, who all start thinking incredibly perverse things about her... including a little kid, much to her disgust. Though the end of the sketch seems to imply they were all deliberately trolling her.
  • The Collector: The Devil doesn't exactly take well to hearing the pain and evil thoughts of everyone in the universe.
  • Doctor Who: In "Hide", the Doctor explains that empaths tend to be both extremely compassionate and extremely lonely.
  • Fantasy Island (2021): In "Girlboss, Interrupted" the episode's guest Courtney gets mind-reading powers. She isn't pleased at how many people insult her in their thoughts, and some off.
  • Firefly: River is distraught by the thoughts of shipmates in "Objects in Space", experiencing several upsetting emotions. It doesn't help that she's only getting fragments, so that she hears Simon thinking about the loss of his old life and career, making her feel guilty even though he neither holds her responsible nor regrets rescuing her—he just misses it sometimes.
    • 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. And again in the same scene, when she gets a brief peek at the Shepherd's thoughts.
    • In Serenity the Operative believes this to be the reason for River's insanity, or at least a major part of it, that 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 4400: In "Voices Carry", Gary Navarro, a baseball player who disappeared in 1973, is unable to cope with his telepathic powers. He hears every thought of every person around him and can't filter any of them out. As such, he becomes increasingly unstable. NTAC gives Gary an anti-psychotic drug called haloperidol which quietens the thoughts in his mind. However, when he is goes undercover in the 4400 Center, the drugs are confiscated and the voices return. Gary blows his cover when he bursts into Jordan Collier's office demanding the return of the haloperidol. In "The New World", Gary tells Diana that he eventually learned to control and harness his power and he now thinks of it in the same way as he does his other senses.
  • 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 far from the only life Walter has ruined with his experiments.
  • 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.
  • An octopus-like Wesen in Grimm can steal people's memories with his tentacles. It clearly takes its toll on the guy. Then he accidentally tries to read a Grimm's mind, which is apparently a bad idea. The last we see him, he's screaming in a jail cell, constantly reliving all the ways she's killed Wesen.
  • Hannibal: While it may not be a traditional kind of mind-reading, Will Graham's empathizing puts him in serial killer's mindsets to catch them for the FBI. His mind and sanity deplete as a result of killing people in his head in the place of the killer, to know how they think. No one ever said getting into murderers' heads was good for you...
  • This happened to Heroes' Matt Parkman when his ability first manifested. Most of the people whose minds he touched were thinking about what a loser he was, and how he didn't know his wife was cheating on him.
  • 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 fiancée, 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.
  • 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 My Hero (2000), George gains mind-reading powers, and is soon shocked at the twisted thoughts within the minds of the human race.
  • In No Ordinary Family, Daphne's power is mind reading. She is initially overwhelmed, but learns to control it. Similar to the Buffy example above, it had more to do with the volume of thoughts than what she was hearing. 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.
  • Resident Alien: Asta is unhappy about Talking Animal Octopus's telepathic presence in her mind. So is he.
    Octopus: You think I like it in there? It's darker than the woods in a Tim Burton movie.
  • An episode of SeaQuest DSV involves three psychics being brought in to aid the UEO in negotiating with other maritime nations after the discovery of the Library of Alexandria on the ocean floor. One of them is determined to prove that using psychics in this manner is a bad idea by deliberately giving false information to Captain Bridger (e.g. that the Libyan ambassador is bluffing when he isn't). His daughter (one of the other two psychics) admits to Bridger that she was once asked to go into the mind of a criminal, and she's still suffering the aftereffects. She also discovers that Bridger himself has latent Psychic Powers and even tries to train him a bit in using them. This is the last we hear of his powers, though.
    • It's also strange that foreign dignitaries would agree to the presence of psychics, unless they don't believe in their powers.
    • Dr. Wendy Smith comes aboard later and also has a high psi-factor. She doesn't use it much, though, mostly for psychiatry.
  • Stargate SG-1: At the climax of Season 8, the Replicators attempt to use Daniel Jackson's mind as a conduit to the knowledge of the Ancients. This works, but as it turns out, even the entire Replicator collective is incapable of processing that much information... Daniel replies that the knowledge is infinite, so only a non-corporeal being could possibly make sense of it. This drain on the Replicators' processing power actually allows Daniel to briefly reverse the mental link and freeze the Replicators, slowing their invasion and giving everyone else some much-needed breathing room.
  • Stargirl (2020): After Dr. Henry King became a Professor Guinea Pig thanks to his mind-expansion experiments, he started hearing other people's thoughts, accompanied by headaches. Many of those thoughts were base and vile, so eventually he concluded that people are monsters. This led to him becoming the supervillain Brainwave. After his son Henry Jr. starts manifesting these abilities, many of the thoughts he hears are the same. Courtney tries to convince him that those are just surface thoughts of people who are scared, and if he looks deeper, he will find love and kindness. Henry expresses doubt.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: The Vulcan Mind Meld is serious business because of the danger involved for both parties in the meld. Spock only tries this as the last resort, and every time, the toll it takes on him is clearly shown.
    • In "The Devil in the Dark", Spock feels incredible mental pain when he first tries to establish a Vulcan Mind Link with the Horta. He tells Kirk that she's in agony — she was seriously injured by the earlier phaser blast. He does better on the second try, probably because the creature is more trusting, and he might be using Vulcan mental disciplines to get past the pain.
    • He also felt a brief surge of pain and shock in "By Any Other Name" when he looked into the minds of the Kelvans and saw their true, horrific forms. Understandable, as the Kelvans are non-humanoid beings whose thought process is completely alien to that of humans.
  • The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Tin Man" has Tam Elbrun, a Betazoid who has had his ability from birth, resulting in Power Incontinence (most Betazoids develop telepathy during puberty, and are able to control it). He was quite relieved when he met Data, who had no (organic) mind to read.
  • 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.
  • Toshiko Sato of Torchwood gains telepathy in "Greeks Bearing Gifts". She races home hurt and angry after hearing the petty thoughts of her co-workers. On the other hand, it does help her stop a man from killing his ex-wife and kid in a Murder-Suicide.
    • At the same time, Jack is an utter blank to her, resulting in a Nothing Is Scarier situation. However, during the episode's climax, it's revealed that he may have suspected something and deliberately blocked out his mind, only letting carefully-selected thoughts slip to let Tosh know what to do. Given his past as a Temporal Agent, this could be part of his training. Alternatively, it could very likely be because he was changed when the Bad Wolf entity made him immortal in Doctor Who.
  • 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.
    • Telepaths in the show 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.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "A Penny for Your Thoughts", Hector B. Poole discovers how petty and self-centered the people around him can be when he becomes inexplicably psychic. It's not as bad as some cases (and it helps him get the girl, Helen Turner), but he's still relieved when his newfound power vanishes. Moreover, the point is made that thoughts aren't always an accurate gauge of people's real intentions. For instance, he overheard his co-worker Mr. Smithers 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, having had that thought everyday at closing for years, but never following through.

  • Hawkwind's song "Psi Power" is all about this trope.
  • Tom Smith's Filk Song "I Wish I Couldn't Read Her Mind", naturally enough. (And the Christine Lavin song that inspired it, "Good Thing He Can't Read My Mind", though more hypothetically in that case.)
  • The subject of Peter Gabriel's "Here Comes The Flood". The inspiration was from a dream Gabriel had where "the psychic barriers which normally prevent us from seeing into each others' thoughts had been completely eroded producing a mental flood. Those that had been used to having their innermost thoughts exposed would handle this torrent and those inclined to concealment would drown in it."
  • Hinatazaka46's "See Through" is about the difficulties that come with having the power to see through minds.

  • Zia from Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues gains telepathy from the Mass Super-Empowering Event, and is quick to learn all the downsides to it. Other people's thoughts frequently overwhelm her and are often lewd or rude, if not downright disturbing (such as Daigo sending her a mental image of a corpse that he drained all the blood from).
  • 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.
  • Alyssa Montrove of Re Evolution gains the ability to read minds, but she can't turn it off and the strain and disorientation takes its toll on her sanity.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Dresden Files: While there aren't any formal rules associated with mind-reading, the section on the Third Law of Magic heavily invokes this trope as one reason why breaking said Law is a bad idea — especially with regard to any nonhuman targets (technically not covered by the Law) that a human would-be mind reader might be tempted to try his or her trick on. An actual soulgaze (see above under Literature) does explicitly automatically involve a mutual psychic attack.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Isle of the Ape: The party can end up inside the mind of the mad god that created the island. Characters can quickly go insane there if they don't get out fast, but it's also the only source of hints for getting past some of the extremely deadly obstacles. (This module is Tomb of Horrors levels of unfair, easily wiping out even expert groups.)
    • Planescape: Reading a fiend's mind is dangerous. Even the lowliest of manes has experienced and caused more pain and suffering than most mortals can dream of, and trying to look into a demon's thoughts can drive a man insane from the horrors he sees there.
    • Ravenloft: You do NOT want to make telepathic contact with fiends or aberrations. Doing 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.
    • The Detect Thoughts spell can backfire nastily on the caster if it's used on an extremely intelligent person or creature. Similarly, a proactive person who has survived powerful fear magic can turn their mind into a lethal Brown Note for anyone who tries to read it.
  • 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.
  • Leviathan: The Tempest: The eponymous Leviathans are Eldritch Abominations straight out of Lovecraft, with tremendous psionic might. Needless to say, trying to read their minds has a serious risk of backfiring and leaving the telepath mad or a Beloved.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Every psyker who's tried to plumb the Hive Mind of a Tyranid swarm has either ended up absolutely, incurably insane or experienced fatal seizures.
    • The Scourged used to be a Loyalist Chapter named the Seekers of Truth more or less reserved for Inquisitorial service. The Chapter Master prayed regularly for the ability to tell truth from lies to better carry out their duties. Unfortunately, Tzeentch granted his prayer, and from then on they heard every lie being spoken across the Imperium (to give an example, a lot of the Imperial creed was written by one of the Traitor Primarchs before he turned). They fell to Chaos very quickly, and their battlecry is now "THE LIES, THE LIES!".
    • 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.
    • The psyker John Grammaticus once had a brief glimpse of what lay beneath the Emperor's appearance. Just remembering what he saw during that nanosecond of psychic contact later in life makes him pale.

  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • Satori Seers are Ayakashi that can look into a person's heart. Ayakashi: Romance Reborn features Aoi, a Satori Seer, as one of the love interests. He thinks everyone has darkness in their hearts, and being naïve to the ways of the human society, he is quite terrified of looking into people's hearts. He is quite cynical because of this.
  • Exploited in Afterlife (1996) where one of the punishment structures you can build in hell is "Telepathy Towers", a city where everyone suffers from this. The description notes that the fact that most souls in there are driven insane often leads to a feedback loop, as that makes their minds an even worse read.
  • Metal Gear Solid has Psycho Mantis. He stated in his Final Speech that as a kid he was unable to shut off his powerful telepathy (learning that his father hated and likely wanted to kill him), 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 powers 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.
    • In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, it's shown to have been even worse for him, as he read the minds of Naked Snake, Venom Snake, Colonel Volgin, and Skull Face with their malice and lust for revenge wreaking havoc on his psyche and turning him into an Emotion Eater.
  • Satori Komeiji from Touhou Project 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 too, but in the way mind-reading makes it nightmare fuel to poor Satori.
    • Her younger sister, Koishi, hated this so much she closed off her mind reading third-eye. This came with a whole bunch of side effects like immunity to mind reading, the ability to read and mess with people's subconscious mind, and, unfortunately, also left her unable to read her own mind which has resulted in her becoming devoid of feelings and thoughtsnote .
  • 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.
  • Sam and Max Save the World: In "Situation: Comedy", Hugh Bliss reads Max's mind and comments that what he read was "unspeakably depraved", whereupon Max says he's right.
    • In the third season, it's Max's turn to read the dankest recesses of peoples' minds.
  • In Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, 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 for beastmen 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.
  • In ADOM, using mindcraft powers on any undead will cause injury to your character, due to backlash from the horror of reading an undead mind. (This can be problematic, since mindcraft powers go through walls and a zombie could be lurking on the other side.) Using mindcraft on a corrupted creature will cause you to get corrupted.
  • Dawn of War 2 has a group of powerful psychics on board Gabriel Angelos's ship who weren't even trying to read the Tyranid Hive Mind, just push back its influence on the Warp so their ship could get back home safely. Only one survived even that indirect contact with the Hive Mind. And in his bad ending in Chaos Rising, the mental scars from that effort make it much easier for a daemon to possess him and force his betrayal.
  • At one point in Mortal Kombat X, Takeda tries taking a peek inside Ermac's head. Seeing as how there's something around ten thousand souls in there, he nearly has an aneurysm from the overload.
  • Sister Psyche of City of Heroes is one of the world's strongest psychics. But her powers are so strong she can't help but hear the surface thoughts of everyone around her. Her skimpy costume does not help cultivate altogether pleasant thoughts from local teenage boys...
  • God of War: After he saves her, the Oracle of Athens reads Kratos' mind to see the man he truly is... and is horrified to discover that Athena's chosen "hero" is/was a brutal, bloodthirsty Spartan warrior who committed all manner of atrocities.
    Oracle: By the gods! Why would Athena send one such as you?
  • In StarCraft, the first time Sarah Kerrigan and Jim Raynor meet, halfway through updating him on the situation we have this exchange.
    Kerrigan: Captain Raynor, I have finished scouting out the area, and - you pig!
    Raynor: What? I haven't even said anything to you yet.
    Kerrigan: Yeah, but you were thinking it.
    Raynor: Oh yeah, you're a telepath.
    • Becomes a Brick Joke in StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm.
    • In the book Liberty's Crusade, the reporter Michael Liberty meets Kerrigan and learns that she's a telepath. He immediately things how great such an ability would be for someone in his line of work, but Kerrigan picks up on the thought and tells him that it really wouldn't be.
  • Lucario's Pokédex entry in Pokémon Ultra Moon has this to say:
    Lucario reads its opponent's feelings with its aura waves. It finds out things it would rather not know, so it gets stressed out easily.

    Visual Novels 
  • Chaos;Head has Kozue, a young girl, that is forced to hear the thoughts of people in her general vicinity without any control over it and is unable to shut them out, which makes her go crazy to a fair degree mentally.
  • Chaos;Child, the sequel to aforementioned Chaos;Head, has Hinae Arimura who can also sense the emotions and feelings of people she interacts with, and is able to tell how they feel about her at any time, which makes her very uncomfortable and she struggles to form any genuine connections with people as a result of this.
  • In Da Capo, Kotori actually does like her mind reading ability. However...
    1. It lets her know people only see her as the school idol and not as a fallible person.
    2. She now knows that they're extremely critical.
    3. Too much exposure to others makes her physically ill.
    4. Situations like when she accidentally mentions she used to bathe with her sister in front of Junichi are extremely embarrassing, apparently.

  • 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, Alissa 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 thinking about Lilith.
  • Karl from FreakAngels has taken to wearing a Tinfoil Hat to block his telepathic link to the rest of the group, because their communications tend to be immature infighting, Seinfeldian Conversations, and bragging/complaining about their sex lives, all of which pretty much annoys and/or disgusts him.
  • Archipelago: Accomplished hypnotist Vaniji Ralo avoided this by simply brainwashing people, no mind-reading involved. Except when he encountered a mind that fought back.
    Raven: Broke into the wrong brain, didn't you? He looks all frail and frightened, but he has a mind that will swallow you up before it lets you take over. Take it from me, more powerful minds than yours have tried.
  • In The Last Days of Foxhound, a telepath really suffers from this (see last two panels, then go back to see the context).
  • A problem for both Vriska and Aranea Serket in Homestuck. They go to extreme lengths in order to get attention and be admired, because they can sense the thoughts directed towards them. Vriska also says this is why she never tries to Mind Control Karkat: she certainly could, but she hates being in contact even for a second with his acerbic, hate-filled psyche.
  • In Nobody Scores! the broadcast inanity of Jane Doe's thoughts is fatal to virtually everyone subjected to them.
  • Nodwick: A rare villain reading the hero's mind example of this occured when the comic spoofed Dungeons & Dragons (2000). Damodar tries to read Piffany's mind instead of Marina's. Being bombarded with the Incorruptible Pure Pureness of her thoughts is far more than he can handle and he hastily lets her go.
  • A strip from Rare Candy Treatment, which serves as the page image, has a Medicham attempting to read the mind of a Shiftry using Nasty Plot. It doesn't go well.
  • In The Order of the Stick, at one point Durkon is held prisoner by an evil negative energy spirit that's going through all his memories. Durkon can't actually break free, but if the spirit taunts him too obnoxiously, he can punish it by forcing it to relive memories of him being sick.
    Evil Spirit: Biology is disgusting! I don't know how the living can live like that!
    Durkon: Ye've na ev'n seen half tha gross stuff skin can do yet! Yer gonna love tha extended pus-squeezin' montage I got lined up!
  • In String Theory (2009), Dr. Schtein only invades Phineas' mind in order to stun him in a fight, but then has to take a moment to recover from absorbing the memories of a sadistic, psychopathic Serial Killer.
  • In Strong Female Protagonist, Patrick, a former supervillan, received his telepathy at a young age, the trauma motivated him try and take over the world as a teenager after coming to the conclusion that the world was not worth saving.
  • In TwoKinds, the dragon Princess Reni reads Trace Legacy's mind to verify his identity. During this, she gets flustered when she comes across memories of him being intimate with Flora. Later, Nora detects her intrusion on his memories.
    Nora: You know, young one, it's rude to pry.
  • Early in Voldemort's Children, Harry discovers that he is a Legilimens. Unfortunately, this trope is in full force.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • DC Animated Universe:
  • In a variation on this trope, in an episode of Duckman, a New Age spiritualist decides to try and read Duckman's aura, which she describes as his essence, the very nature of his soul. She then runs away, shrieking in absolute horror.
  • In The Fairly OddParents!, Timmy wishes to get mind-reading powers, but unfortunately, his fairy-obsessed teacher figures that out and exploits this trope by getting everyone to stand around Timmy and think, causing the banal thoughts of everyone around him to overload his head.
  • 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.
  • In an episode of the US Acres side of Garfield and Friends, aliens give Orson the pig a device that gives him the power to read minds ("How did you know I wanted the power to read minds?" Orson asked, and quickly realized it was a stupid question). He uses it to topple a corrupt game show, but then throws it into a river because it's a power he decides he doesn't want. The episode closes with the alien on his ship in the company of another alien, who is concerned that the Earthling would not know what to do with it. The alien who gave the device to Orson then turns on the viewscreen and they remotely observe Orson throwing the device into the river, and the episode ends with the alien who gave it to him saying "See? He knew exactly what to do with it."
  • Parodied in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002) when Teela briefly gains telepathic powers and is driven up the wall by learning just how crazy and bizarre all her friends really are; the first thing she hears is Ram-Man casually wondering if he could knock over the building they’re in by head-butting it, and it only goes downhill from there.
  • In The Owl House, Adrian Graye attempts to sift through Gus' thoughts to find the location of the Looking Glass Graveyard, only for Gus to unconsiously cast a spell in self defense that causes anyone who gets near him to relive all their worst memories on repeat. Graye is rendered catatonic from the experience and he's still pretty shaken up from it a week later.
  • In Rick and Morty episode "Claw and Hoarder: Special Ricktims Morty", after Jerry returns with a cat that can talk for unexplained reasons, Rick performs a mind-scan to learn its secret. Immediately both Rick and Jerry are disgusted and horrified by seeing the truth, demanding the cat leaves while the both of them continue freaking out.
    • In "Morty's Mind-Blowers", Rick gives Morty a device allowing him to hear the thoughts of animals, and he is horrified to learn that the world is controlled by a secret cabal of squirrels. When a few squirrels catch on to Morty's powers as a "Dolittle," he is suddenly chased through the streets by dozens of squirrels.
  • Star Trek: The Animated Series: In "The Slaver Weapon", the cat-like alien Kzinti have a telepath that they use to eavesdrop on their human (or half-Vulcan) prisoners. Spock instructs the crew to think of eating delicious raw salads, which disgusts the meat-eating Kzinti so much that they can't continue to read their minds.
  • Star Wars Rebels: "The Siege of Lothal" has a variant — When Ahsoka Tano uses a Force connection to reach out to the mind of the hotshot pilot who is attacking the Ghost, she learns firsthand that not only is this the Sith Lord Darth Vader, but also that, deep down, Vader is her former mentor Anakin Skywalker. The combination of this shocking revelation and the sheer power of the Dark Side veiling Vader's mind causes Ahsoka to scream and then faint. When she wakes up, she denies knowing anything about the Imperial pilot, and it's made clear to the audience that she's lying and deeply in denial about it.
  • In Young Justice (2010), when Manhunter tries to enter The Joker's mind, it ends with him doubling over in pain.
    Joker: Scary in there, isn't it?


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"A-an assassin?!"

Anya finds out something about her new mommy that she wishes she could forget.

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