Are You Reading My Mind?

4 min read
Vinícius Vieira ft/Pexels

Source: Vinícius Vieira ft/Pexels

Have you ever had a feeling that someone could read your mind? Maybe you were just about to order a coffee when your buddy walked in with one in hand. Most of us smile and brush these experiences off. Yet, there does seem to be some synergy there at times.

Some people find the experience bothersome.

Thought Broadcasting

I remember walking through the school halls with the sense that people could hear my thoughts. It felt intrusive. Would they judge me? What if I thought the wrong thing? I cleared my 11-year-old mind. I thought about benign things like numbers. I talked to my mom. She told me that this was normal.

While fleeting experiences like mine are common and usually within the range of healthy, some go through a more significant version of this called thought broadcasting. Thought broadcasting is a belief that others could have access to your thoughts. It is classified as a delusion and can lead to great stress, isolation, and changes in one’s ability to live life to the fullest.

For the majority, thought broadcasting involves a belief that those they encounter can hear their thoughts. Other manifestations of thought broadcasting and related phenomena are ideas that one’s inner dialogue is broadcasted through technology like TV or that others can manipulate their thoughts, either by stealing them or inserting new thoughts. It can be an incredibly confusing and frightening experience. Thought broadcasting is often linked with psychosis and schizophrenia.

Although some have reported psychic experiences, the consensus is that mind reading is not possible. I routinely joke when asking someone how they feel about something: “You know I can’t read minds. Let me know if anything’s bugging you.”

The concept of mind reading, on the other hand, is a bit more complex.


In mentalization-based therapy, a psychotherapy focused on improving relationships with self and others, it is accepted that minds are opaque. Yet, mentalization itself is the ability to gather both what we and another might be experiencing at any given moment. In many ways, mentalization represents an attempt to guess what another is thinking (and feeling). In a sense, we are constantly trying to read minds.

Some are naturally better at mentalization than others. We all struggle with mentalization sometimes, particularly when under stress. When we feel safe and close to someone, it is easier to balance the complex processes involved in mentalization. This fosters the ability to build meaningful relationships.

Theorists postulate that individuals living with schizophrenia often struggle with mentalization (Weijers et al., 2020). While the precise space where mentalization goes around in psychosis is unknown, it has been noted that many individuals with psychotic disorders struggle with hypermentalization and psychic equivalence. In plain English, the person may take radical guesses about what another is thinking or feeling and be more confident in this. Or they may project their own experiences out into the world.

When Problems Arise

For those experiencing difficulties with thought broadcasting, treatment can help. These may include medical interventions assigned by a psychiatrist. Different forms of psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy for psychosis, mentalization-based therapy, and compassion-focused therapy, are available.

For those who are not going through the terrains of thought broadcasting but who feel disconnected from others, mentalization-based therapy can also help. By creating a mentalization profile, a therapist and individual can partner together to understand their mentalization strengths and challenges. The interventions in mentalization-based therapy can then assist with overcoming those difficulties so that a person can build the kind of relationships they desire.

Mind Reading Essential Reads

In Closing

Can people read minds? No. Well, mostly no. We make ever-changing guesses. Ironically, recognizing that we can’t read minds allows us to understand our own and others’ experiences better.

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