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I Believe That You Believe It

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"I believe that you believe it" is a Stock Phrase that can occur in several different contexts. For example:

Alice: "Bob, I've been keeping this from you from you for long enough; it's time you knew the whole truth. Ninja Pirate Zombie Robots are real, and I am the one tasked with slaying them. They'll do anything to get at me, including attacking my friends — you could be in grave danger. I know, it sounds crazy, but... you do believe me, don't you?"
Bob: "I believe that you believe it."


Alice: "Fine, that's it! I'm out of your life — forever!"
Bob: "Sure."
Alice: "You don't believe I'll stay away, do you?"
Bob: "I believe that you believe it."

Either way, Bob's not accusing Alice of lying, but he's still not quite as understanding as Alice might hope. He's implying (in the former case) that she's over-imaginative, paranoid, even crazy, or (in the latter) that she doesn't know herself as well as he does or that she lacks follow-through. In any case, Alice usually finds it pretty insulting, even though in most cases Bob means well by it. Related to Damned by Faint Praise, Trivially Obvious. Not related to believing in someone who believes in you.


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    Film — Animated 
  • Justice League: Doom. Vandal Savage tells the Legion of Doom that he's an immortal from before the dawn of humanity. Ma'alefa'ak, who can read minds, is only willing to concede that Savage believes the story he's telling them.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Ghostbusters (1984), Dana is hooked up to one of the group's special machines while she gives her account of a supernatural experience. When she's finished, Egon reports, "She's telling the truth, or at least she thinks she is." They then clarify that they do this to weed out people who are lying in order to get attention.
  • After John Doe's Motive Rant in Se7en, Somerset says "I don't doubt that you believe that, John."
  • Something Evil
    Marjorie Worden: Can you believe that I believe that the devil's in my house?
    Harry Lincoln: Yes. If you believe there's a devil, you believe the devil's in your house; then for you it's true.
  • In Tell No One, this is Helene's attitude when Alexandre tells her he thinks Margot might be first. Later, she comes to believe him.

  • Though the Stock Phrase isn't used in so many words, Wataru in Brave Story characterizes his uncle's reaction to Wataru telling him he met a wizard this way.
  • The Death of Grass by John Christopher. Roger tells Pirrie about a defensible farm in a valley.
    "And now?" John pressed him. "Do you believe us?"
    Pirrie sighed. "I believe that you believe it."
  • In The Feathered Serpent by Chris Heimerdinger, King Jacob says this to Melody after she tells him her Uncle Garth doesn't know the information he wants. Still convinced that Garth has the info, he threatens Melody's life and starts to slowly murder her before the helpless man's eyes.
  • Crops up in the Honor Harrington series frequently where Mesa is involved, often becoming a motivation to track down hard evidence. An example would come in At All Costs, when Honor is visited by Anton Zilwicki and Victor Cachat. They inform Honor that Haven was not responsible for a series of assassinations and have compelling arguments, but no hard evidence. Between this and the empathic abilities shared by Honor and her treecat Nimitz, Honor does not think they're lying, but the lack of evidence means that they're only telling the truth as far as they know it, leaving open the possibility of black ops plans they wouldn't been aware of. This is what prompts the pair of spies to head for Mesa for more concrete evidence, leading to the discovery of the Mesan Alignment.
  • The Lost Fleet: Discussed in passing when the protagonist first participates in the interrogation of an enemy prisoner. The intelligence officer overseeing the process briefs him on the Lie Detector technology they use, and explicitly warns him that it can only pick up on deliberate dishonesty: If someone has been given an incomplete or distorted account of something they learned about secondhand then it won't show up on the readouts as a lie. What would happen if it were directed at someone who's suffering from delusional psychosis ( Such as Captain Falco after his mental breakdown) or other mental illness never comes up.
  • Mount Misery by Samuel Shem.
    Cherokee Putnam: You think I'm crazy?
    Dr. Roy Basch: No, no, you are not crazy.
    Putnam: You believe that he's . . . you know, screwing her in therapy?
    Dr. Basch: I believe that you believe it.
  • Star Trek: New Frontier: Treason. Kalinda believes her dead brother is talking to her.
    Xyon: Kalinda, this is insanity.
    Xyon: I believe that you believe it, but that's as far as it goes.
  • A lot of Sword of Truth deals with the question of what truth is, so this issue crops up rather frequently.
    • There's a spell that Lunetta uses that lets her know if others believe what they're saying.
    • Richard is, for a variety of reasons, often telling people things that are implausible - and very true.
      • During the Anderith episode, he has an uphill battle against the notion that the Imperial Order is a bunch of nice guys, including a very snide member of the Anderith government.
      • Few of the Sisters of the Light want to believe that Richard could kill all of them, or that he's the single most prophesied character in their history. Also, he killed Mriswith and stopped Darken Rahl again.
      • There are shades and variations of this with the moral-relativist Bandakar.
      • When the Chainfire spell was unleashed, Richard had this exchange with half of the most dangerous people in the world. In their defense, they'd had their minds magically tampered with, and Richard only escaped it because he held the carefully-named Sword of Truth. Of course, since he was the single disagreeing data point, they all assumed that he was the problem and nearly tampered with his brain for his troubles.

    Live Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Xander overhears Buffy talking about being the Slayer in the pilot episode and confronts her with, "I only know that you think that you're the Slayer." Getting attacked by actual vampires quickly clears up his misconception.
    • Played for Laughs when Buffy says it's not true that she always resorts to violence. Xander replies, "The important thing is you believe that."
    • Buffy says this regarding Spike's professions of love, as she refuses to accept that you can love without a soul. Spike is furious to have his feelings dismissed so casually, especially as he believes that Buffy shares them.
  • Melinda's friend, Delia, in Ghost Whisperer is an egregious example of this. She spends at least one season/year trying hard to fit this trope into her life, and for an episode Taking A Level In Stupidity by not believing anymore.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Can You Hear Me?" Tahira insists that the monsters she's trying to warn everyone about are real, and Maryam's response is "I understand they seem real to you."
  • Grey's Anatomy episode "Dream a Little Dream of Me"
    Meredith: So what, you didn't believe that I would let you move in, in the first place?
    Derek: I believe that you believe it.
  • Joan of Arcadia episode "Silence"
    Joan: [explains about her talks with God] You have to believe me. If you believe me, then... I know it's not crazy, but if you don't... you promised.
    Adam: I believe... that you believe it.
  • In the Pilot of Once Upon a Time, Henry tells Emma, a Living Lie Detector, about Storybrooke's nature as a town of amnesiac fairytale characters. When Emma doesn't believe him, Henry asks her to tell if he's lying. She confirms he isn't, but then says that doesn't mean he's right.
  • Liz on Roswell got this reaction from another character when trying to tell them about the aliens.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation has Counselor Troi, when asked if someone is lying, often using variations on this line, like "I sense no deception in him" or "He certainly believes it".
  • Supernatural episode "Hunted"
    Scott: I have this ability. When I touch something, I can electrocute it if I want.
    Dr. Waxler: How do you know?
    Scott: I did it to the neighbor's cat. Its insides fried up like a hamburger.
    Dr. Waxler: [frowns and takes a note, his face passive]
    Scott: You don't believe me.
    Dr. Waxler: I believe that you believe it.
  • In one episode of That '70s Show, Eric fixes a lawnmower all by himself, but it gets destroyed after Kelso accidentally drives into it. Red walks away, muttering "Well, it was broken anyway", but Eric insists he fixed the mower on his own, and asks Kitty if she believes him. She answers "I believe that you believe you fixed it.".

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In Peanuts, Linus got this reaction from Peppermint Patty after he told her about the Great Pumpkin.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, a successful use of the Bluff skill is used to make someone believe you're being genuine even when you're not. As The Order of the Stick can demonstrate, it is much too easy to buff this skill to the point where even the most Blatant Lies will stick without any trouble. Many GMs therefore declare that "convincing the NPC you're being genuine" doesn't mean "convincing the NPC to believe what you said", and the NPC will just decide you're a very strange person who honestly believes something clearly false. Pathfinder made this fix explicit.
  • This is basically the entire reaction of the Tau in Warhammer 40,000 where the Warp is concerned. Since they have a natural immunity to anything Warp-related, (including, but not limited to, Hearing Voices, psychic powers, and that perennial favorite Demonic Possession), they see the Imperium happily slaughtering their own men by the thousand to prevent this kind of corruption, but simply can't imagine it happening to them (they know Chaos daemons exist, but see them as a race of psychic aliens rather than sentient emotion given form, and their FTL travel doesn't go near the Warp, but is much slower, so no Hyperspace Is a Scary Place for them).

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, the PC can say this about Leliana's vision.
  • Mass Effect:
    • In Mass Effect, Shepard follows a trail of clues to work out Saren's plan, only knowing at first that he's looking for something called "the Conduit" and that he intends to use it to bring back the "Reapers". Once you gather all the clues you need, Shepard learns that the Reapers are a race of sentient warships that commit genocide on a galactic scale every few thousand years and that the Conduit is located on a remote planet called Ilos. When you presents your findings to the Citadel Council, however, they refuse to send a fleet to Ilos because the Mass Relay needed to reach it lies within the hostile Terminus Systems, and sending their ships there could be seen by the criminals inhabiting the sector as an act of war. Instead, they choose to believe that, while Saren is plotting to attack the Citadel, he merely fabricated the Reapers as a tool to manipulate the geth into his service and that the Conduit is meant to distract Shepard so that Saren can keep his real plan hidden.
    • In Mass Effect 2, if you once again try to convince the Council about the giant killer robots from deep space, they say they believe that you believe this but they still think Sovereign was just a geth ship.
      Turian Councilor: Ah, yes. Reapers.
  • In Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, Cybil tells Harry toward the end that she believes that he believes he's Harry Mason, even though the real Harry Mason is on record as having died 18 years ago.

    Web Comics 
  • Freefall has this exchange at Mr Kornada's trial:
    Clippy: [Kornada] was quite confident once he became the richest person in the star system that he could handle any negative effects.
    Blunt: Did you. Believe him?
    Clippy: Yes. He ordered me to.
    Blunt: And now. That his orders. Have been. Rescinded?
    Clippy: I still believe that Mr Kornada believes he could have handled things.

    Western Animation 
  • From the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode Bible Fruit:
    Bert Banana: You've read the Bible, haven't you?
    Frylock: Yes.
    Bert Banana: And you believe that, don't you?
    Frylock: Well, I believe that I've read it.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Jet tells a story that is obviously false, yet Toph's normally foolproof lie-detector ability suggests he's telling the truth. Everyone comes to the conclusion that Jet thinks he's telling the truth, but has actually been the victim of brainwashing.
  • From The New Batman Adventures, "Sins of the Father", Tim believes that his father is dead after Batman comments on a John Doe found at Metropolis. While Batgirl tries to reassure him that's not true, Batman believes in Tim's statement.
  • A Running Gag on Freakazoid! had Dexter's Jerk Jock older brother trying to convince their parents about the big blue-and-red fairy tormenting him (actually Dexter's eponymous Superpowered Alter Ego exacting some revenge). After one plea, Mom replies cheerily, "Oh, we believe that you believe it, dear, but you believe it because you're an incurable nutcase."
  • There was one episode of The Smurfs (1981) about a daydreaming smurf meeting an alien, and while Papa Smurf did not just believe him he said that at least he thought that it was possible. This got its reward in the end of the episode, when he also would see the alien's spaceship leaving (with the rest of the smurfs still believing the other smurf to be crazy).
  • Kyle uses this line on Cartman in the South Park episode "Fishsticks", where Cartman is concerned that Jimmy is going to take all the credit for a joke they "co-wrote." Kyle tells Cartman that he believes Cartman thinks he helped write the joke because his ego won't let him think otherwise. Later in the episode, Cartman remembers what Kyle said and applies it to Jimmy, thinking this is what Kyle really meant.

    Real Life 
  • Medieval heretics didn't like to be caught by the Inquisitions but a lot of them also didn't like to lie, since that was frequently one of those things that they found so reprehensible about mainstream religion that they would bother to be heretics with the associated risks and effort, so Inquisitors' manuals are full of warnings of their trying tricks based on this. Especially in the form:
    Inquisitor: Do you believe in the one true faith?
    Heretic: I am unlearned, this I do not know. What is this faith?
    Inquisitor: We believe that [insert orthodoxy].
    Heretic: This I believe.
    • With notes emphasizing that what the heretic means in this case is "I believe that you believe this, though I do not."
  • Jay Leno's interview on the Oprah Winfrey show. Oprah was talking about her decision to stop doing her show.
    Jay: I'm not going anywhere; neither are you. [snip]
    Oprah: You don't believe I'll do it?
    Jay: I believe that you believe it.
  • This is effectively how the United States and the People's Republic of China deal with the issue of Taiwan when the two established formal diplomatic relations in 1979. Up to that point, the United States recognized the Republic of China on Taiwan as the sole legitimate ruling authority of China, and both the PRC and ROC maintain a "One China" policy (the difference, of course, being who represents that One China)note . To get around the potential relations nightmare (both international and public) of dropping the anticommunist government for the communist one in the midst of the Cold War, the US's official position on the issue (as expressed in the Shanghai Communiqué of 1972) is that it "acknowledges" the PRC's position on the One China policy (as opposed to "endorsing" it). China was willing to go along with this in order to develop relations with the West after the Sino-Soviet Split.
  • While being interviewed about Communion, Christopher Walken was asked if, after having met Whitley Strieber, he believed the author had actually been abducted by aliens. He replied, "I believe *he* believes it."