A narcissist’s grandiosity and egocentricity causes them to develop an almost delusional belief that they’re so important that others should know what they want, when they want it, and how they want it done.

In the narcissistic realm this is known as mind reading, and it is to blame for a crippling level of anxiety in many of those who have suffered narcissistic abuse

For those who have had to coexist with a narcissist, you’ve probably noticed that their vanity forced you to analyze every single one of their micro expressions to predict what they want and avoid anything that could rock their boat. 

A nervous woman trying to guess what her narcissistic partner is thinking.

It probably took or is going to take you years of therapeutic guidance to stop being so hyper-vigilant with everyone, and stop thinking that everything that went wrong was somehow your fault. 

If this level of trauma was left neglected, you’ve probably had to suffer a multitude of panic/terror attacks for as long as you can remember. 

Narcissistic mind reading is not a one-way street. While they do expect you to be able to read their mind, they also believe that they’re so quick-witted that they’re able to read the minds of others as well. 

This article is going to guide you through the ideologies behind mind reading and explain why it is to blame for the continuation of many narcissistic relationships. 

What Does Narcissistic Mind Reading Look Like?

There are two ways narcissistic mind reading can manifest: classical mind reading and gaslighting mind reading. 

Classical mind reading is when the narcissist in your life expects you to know every single detail about them without them having to tell you anything. 

For example, imagine that the narcissist in your life invited his/her boss out for dinner and wants you to join because his/her boss’s wife/husband will be joining as well. 

The narcissist in your life puts you in charge of making dinner reservations because his/her falsified reality, arrogance, false sense of superiority, and jealousy prohibits him/her from acknowledging that they are trying to impress someone who they are threatened by. 

If they were to do the reservation themselves, they would have to accept that on some level they are trying to impress their boss, so they rather project the responsibility onto you.

A narcissist projecting her own responsibilities onto her partner.

This is anything but a simple task. The narcissist in your life will expect you to know which day to make the reservation, what time to make the reservation at, and what restaurant he/she wants to go to without telling you any information at all. 

Because narcissists build their self-esteem off of the accumulation of materialistic things, this particular scenario might be a recipe for a huge narcissistic injury, an overreaction to an ego injury.

If you pick a restaurant that’s on the cheaper side, the narcissist in your life could experience a narcissistic injury because they’ll believe that your selection means that they aren’t in the financial position to have a grandiose night out. 

However, if you were to pick a restaurant that they felt was on the more expensive side, they will likely experience yet another narcissistic injury because the feeling of not being able to afford something contradicts their sense of specialness and superiority. 

This was a very specific example of a narcissist expecting you to read their mind, but this behavior pattern can circulate around very trivial aspects of their life as well. 

It is not above them to expect you to know when they are hungry, what they want to eat, when they’re thirsty, what movie they want to watch and so on.

A narcissistic man in a green shirt being upset that his wife didn't make him any food.

Circling back to the example I just gave about dinner reservations, it’s time to turn our focus towards gaslighting mind reading. 

Under the circumstances I laid out in the scenario above, being in the position where you have to mind read and coddle the narcissist insecurities/vulnerabilities is incredibly difficult.  

When you aren’t able to read the mind of the narcissist in your life and make a “mistake” they become consumed with rage. 

A common misconception is that narcissistic rage is just anger or rage from someone who happens to be a narcissist, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Anger is a normal emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. 

We may get angry and break something, say something hurtful, or scream at the top of our lungs but at the end of the day, a non-narcissistic person is able to regulate their own emotions, apologize for their actions and move on with their life. 

A healthy argument being resolved in a respectful way.

While it is rarely an acceptable response, rage usually occurs when something along the lines of your life being threatened or the lives of those you love being threatened, occurs. 

But because of the fragility of a narcissist ego, narcissistic rage happens over the most trivial aspects of life that you could possibly imagine. 

So, imagine that you chose a restaurant that was too expensive for the narcissist in your life and they became consumed with rage. 

They spent hours saying the most horrendous things imaginable to you and top it off by pushing you into a wall. 

This is where gaslighting mind reading comes in…

They’re probably too terrifying to confront while they are raging, but imagine that a week later the two of you attend couples therapy and you have the opportunity to speak about the situation. 

The moment you explain how terrified and humiliated their rage made you feel, they’ll say something like:

  • You know that’s not what I really meant.
  • You know how important that meeting was to me, sometimes I feel like you don’t know me at all.  
  • You know me well enough to know not to take me seriously when I’m like that. 
  • You know I was just stressed out because my boss has been overworking me. 
  • You should’ve known it wasn’t about you, it was about this other thing.

After months, years, or even decades of being dragged through the depths of: 

  • Self-doubt
  • Self-blame
  • Anxiety
  • Manipulation
  • Lies
  • Emotional/physical abuse
  • Trauma
  • Fear 

gaslighting mind reading will most likely cause you to second-guess yourself and rationalize, normalize, and justify the narcissistic abuse. 

There’s an argument to be made that the entirety of mind reading could be classified as gaslighting

But what I’m suggesting is that gaslighting mind reading circulates around the idea that you should know the intentions of the narcissist in your life, specifically after they rage or break your boundaries in any other way. 

A narcissist in a brown hoodie using gaslighting mind reading.

Why Is Mind Reading So Dangerous? 

Many narcissistic relationships are kept in place by the normalization, rationalization, and justification of narcissistic abuse. 

When you’re stuck in an environment where you are constantly trying to anticipate narcissistic behavior, or read the mind of the narcissist in your life, it teaches you on a subconscious level to gaslight yourself. 

Narcissistic behavior patterns are designed to erode your emotional stability, when this happens you begin to accept and believe the narcissist’s version of reality that portrays them as pure and you as rotten. 

This has a strong correlation with mind reading because overtime you begin to gaslight yourself into believing that you should be able to read your abusers mind which causes you to become consumed with guilt.

A woman in a green shirt doubting herself because of how manipulative her narcissistic partner is.

Narcissistic abuse can often feel like an out-of-body experience and how could it not. It causes you to lose your identity, abandon your core values, and live your life like you’re constantly walking on eggshells. 

One of the hardest aspects of recovering from narcissistic abuse is abandoning the narcissist distorted version of ”reality” and snapping back into the real reality. 

Not everyone is in the position to leave an abusive environment, but for those who are, refusing to acknowledge that what you’re experiencing is abuse means that you are normalizing, rationalizing, and justifying abuse on a daily basis. 

Now, does this mean the abuse is your fault? Absolutely not. 

There are a multitude of reasons that explain why people remain in abusive relationships, so it’s completely understandable. 

6 ways a trauma bond can be formed: power imbalance, love bombing, intermittent reinforcement, growing up in an abusive childhood, idealization, low self-esteem.

But as innocent as it may be, if you remain in an abusive environment when you’re in the position to leave, the reality is that you’re being forced to normalize, justify, and rationalize the abuse on a daily basis. 

It’s a harsh reality that you have to face but there are plenty of support groups and therapists who are ready to help you. 

Having a good support group, and a therapist who understands narcissistic abuse, will allow you to address your neglected trauma and enable you to rebuild you self-esteem and identity because they understand what you’ve been through.

How Do Narcissists Use “Mind Reading” to Their Advantage?

One of the most destabilizing aspects of narcissistic abuse is how well they know you. 

Narcissists are masterful at a manipulative tactic called mirroring

In a narcissistic relationship, mirroring is when a narcissist will pay an incredible amount of attention to things like your core values, goals, desires, needs, behavior patterns, and reflect them back to you. 

No matter how your narcissistic relationship began, mirroring played a major part in the continuation of the relationship. But where it’s most commonly seen is the love bombing phase. 

People who’ve experienced the love bombing phase from a narcissist have described it as magical, a once in a lifetime experience, a unique connection, and a fairytale type of love story. 

A narcissist swooping his partner off of her feet during the love bombing phase.

A narcissist’s ability to learn the most intricate details about you very fast makes you feel like you’ve found your soulmate, best friend, beloved family member, or perfect co-worker. 

It makes you feel like you found someone who can read your mind and that is a very, very rare experience. 

It’s something you don’t wanna let go of, so, you don’t. 

When the devaluation phase hits you harder than a freight train, the narcissist in your life will use all of the information they gathered about you from mirroring you to keep you hooked in the relationship. 

This is called intermittent reinforcement, the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals. 

Intermittent reinforcement can take the shape of many different manipulative tactics like breadcrumbing, or future faking but what you might not know is that intermittent reinforcement manipulates the chemicals in your brain. 

Narcissistic relationships are so emotionally starved that a slightest amount of empathy, compassion, or intimacy is the “reward” used in intermittent reinforcement. 

When a narcissist feels like the narcissistic supply is dying out, they’ll use all the information they gathered about you while mirroring to create the perfect “reward.”

A narcissist on a green couch using intermittent reinforcement to keep his girlfriend stuck in the relationship.

When this happens it actually activates your brain’s reward sector flooding your body with dopamine which is an insanely addictive feeling. 

In fact…

It is the same addiction that people get when they abuse substances. 

What ends up happening is that the narcissist in your life becomes your only known source of happiness so you remain in the abusive environment chasing your “happiness.” 

Narcissists are proud of their ability to “read minds” but it’s impossible. The only ability they have is to step out of their self-centered aura just long enough to learn enough information about others to exploit and use against them in the future. 

What Should You Take Away From This Article? 

It is not your job to read the mind of the narcissist in your life. In a healthy relationship there is a lot of communication, compromises, respect, affection, honesty, and love, so your partner should never expect you to read their mind or make you feel bad if you “fail”.

In the narcissistic realm, mind reading is when a narcissist manipulates your reality so severely that you exhaust yourself through rumination/anticipation in an attempt to make the narcissist in your life happy.

You are not responsible for anyone’s happiness but your own and the happiness of those who deserve to have someone as amazing as you in their life.

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      This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care. Please consult a health care provider for guidance specific to your case.


      Reinforcing behavioral variability: An analysis of dopamine-receptor subtypes and intermittent reinforcement

      Suggested Readings:

      How to Deal With Gaslighting

      Why Do Narcissists Use Projection?