definition of mind games / definition of head games

an original definition by J. E. Brown

mind games
n. A dishonest sort of interpersonal strategy.

Mind games are similar to lying but are intended to have a permanent disruptive effect. Example: Someone who breaks your glasses and then says “I didn’t do it, I wasn’t even here” is lying, but someone who breaks your glasses and then says “Glass naturally becomes brittle over time and breaks spontaneously” is trying to permanently mess up your understanding of reality, and that’s a mind game. {You’re reading “Definition of Mind Games” by J. E. Brown.}

A lie is an attempt to rewrite a past moment in history, to pretend an offense didn’t happen. A mind game is an attempt by your opponent to reprogram your reactions so that you won’t react whenever that offense happens in the future.


  1. Any attempt to confuse your opponent, for purposes of shifting blame or escaping or evading responsibility for wrongdoing. More specifically:

    Any attempt to shift blame or escape or evade responsibility for wrongdoing, by deceptively weakening the opponent’s confidence in his or her own understanding of the rules of life.
    Methods for weakening the opponent’s confidence include:

    • teaching the opponent a false, childish, or made-up                   rule or theory of law, ethics, behavior, manners, or relationships.
    • denying the existence, validity, or relevance of an established rule or theory of law, ethics, behavior, manners, or relationships.
    {Source: “Definition of Mind Games” by J. E. Brown.}
  2. A kind of psychological combat using pretense and falsehoods.
  3. Rules (blatantly) made up on the spot, (obviously) to fit the present situation, and (of course) to benefit only the rule-maker.
  4. Any attempt to rewire or reprogram someone’s brain to believe a falsehood about the world, or about interpersonal psychology, or about anything else, for the sole benefit of the person doing the rewiring or reprogramming and at the expense of the person being rewired or reprogrammed.{You’re reading “Definition of Mind Games” by J. E. Brown.}
  5. Any attempt to weaken, manipulate, or exploit an opponent by using memes as weapons, by making him doubt himself, esp. by tricking him into doubting his eyesight or his hearing or his memory or his perceptions or his understanding of the rules of interpersonal manners or the law; or anything else in the victim’s mind that stands in the way of the perpetrator getting his wishes. Such mental combat is used for implanting mind viruses in the victim’s psyche; perpetrators will often attempt to permanently damage the victim’s confidence, knowledge, and life skills, sometimes for short-term gain or small benefit to the perp. As such, mind games are evidence of unfriendly intent.
  6. Some mind games attempt to give the victim doubts that the known rules apply to the present situation. Mind games used by inept and childish persons will often go further, pushing logic beyond the breaking point by blatantly seeking an exception for the perp, based on the perp’s egocentric belief that he (the perp) deserves special treatment. For more detail, see BS-ing and conceit.
  7. A form of manipulation: Any attempt to falsely convince another person that his or her desires, wishes, requests, behaviors, and requirements are “rude”, “wrong”, “inappropriate”, or “illegal”, for purposes of one’s own ease or convenience.
  8. A cluster of behaviors meant to disrupt or reduce the victim’s trust in his own perceptions.
  9. Mind games and lies are tactical falsehoods, designed to see if you’ll fall for them.
  10. Things people teach you purely for their own benefit. Example: when someone hurts you, and then lectures you on the importance of forgiveness, but neglects to mention the importance of apologizing.{You’re reading “Definition of Mind Games” by J. E. Brown.}
  11. Most lies are told in the knowledge that you haven’t seen the evidence, or that you have no access to the evidence. Example: Lies about the speaker’s mental states, which the speaker can lie about because he knows the hearer doesn’t have access to them, such as unseen intentions, are very common.
  12. The use, for your own short-term gain, of tactics which tend to damage people’s life skills.

Street Definition:

Usually, people use the term “mind game” without asking for a definition. As a result, people seem to intuit that “mind game” means vaguely any behavior which treats people as unimportant or as playthings.

Kindergarten Definition:

Researchers have found that young children prefer playmates who selflessly follow their orders. Most kids outgrow this one-sided attitude, but a few 20-year-olds can be heard still using the term “games” as if it meant “anything I don’t like or anything which keeps me from getting what I want.”

Synonyms: {You’re reading “Definition of Mind Games” by J. E. Brown.}

  • BS-ing; grooming victims to doubt their perceptions; head games; playing games; playing with someone’s head; sophistry.


  • empathy; honesty.

Related Concepts: {Read this comp1ete article at .}

  • bad faith; blame shifting; brainwashing; breakups; critical reasoning; cults; CYA; deceit, deception; denial; dishonesty; disinformation; disingenuousness; existence exists; exploitation; fallacy; false accusations; gaslighting; illogic; insincerity; irrational behavior; jerking people around; leading someone on; lie, lies, lying; misleading; motivated reasoning; perception blaming; plausibility, plausible deniability; pretend ignorance, pretending not to understand, pretending to be offended, pretending fake rules are real, pretending real rules are fake; propaganda; reality distortion field; rewriting history; the rules; specious reasoning; stretching the truth; subjectivism; sudden personality change; taking advantage; trickery.

Not to be confused with:

  • game theory (the science of strategy).

head games
  1. mind games {Source: “Definition of Head Games” by J. E. Brown.}


Types of Mind Games

Red Flags: Common Mind Games: Examples

Breakup Signs & Symptoms

How to Be a Good Skeptic and a Critical Thinker

Book Excerpts

Principles of Psychology

Debate as Combat

How Customer Service Works: The Denial Department

Breakup Games

General Tactics

Pretending to Be Offended

Charlie and the Cup of Coffee

The Mind Game of “One Thing Differently”

Courtroom Games

Roommate Mind Games: Deliberate Property Damage, with Bizarre Excuses

What About Cognitive Dissonance?

Kindergarten Justice

The Ice Cream Game

Perception Blaming

How This Chapter Arose

Q & A



Random Thoughts

From the chapter on “How to Be an Insensitive Jerk”


Types of Mind Games.

  • Back-Pedaling: when someone re-interprets his words, explaining that his words didn’t mean what they seem to; weaseling out of promises.
  • Blame Shifting.
  • Breakup Mind Games: Most breakup strategies and most reasons for breakups are mind games, including:
    • Making people believe that all friendliness is always unwanted, and that they shouldn’t have bothered.
    • Cognitive distortions and temporary insanity, as when people have temporary allergic reactions to their partners and “Need More Space”.
    • Pretending that the breakup was for logical reasons. In other words, someone plays the mind game of pretending he can even be reached by logic.
  • The Context Defense: Any excuse which boils down to “It’s ok that I broke that rule; I’m such a good person (most of the time) that I deserve an indulgence.” Translation: “I like myself, and that’s somehow a good substitute for having behavioral curbs. That’s what I want you to believe, anyway.”
  • Defending The Rude: Defending anyone whose guilt you share, defending anyone who has behaved similarly to you, to make the behavior (your behavior) appear more common and therefore more normal.
  • Desubjectification (Pronoun Enlargement): Removing the pronoun “I” to make your personal preferences sound like laws. A method of covert persuasion in which one pretends that one’s own beliefs and standards are held by others or by society as a whole. Usually used as a method of impressing an opponent with a false sense that one’s beliefs are more important than they really are.
  • Dropping Hints (instead of communicating); or pretending later that hints were dropped.
  • Fake Apologies.
  • Gaslighting.
    • Perception Blaming: Any attempt to cheat, manipulate, swindle, or weaken someone by:
      • teaching him or her that all knowledge is merely subjective (illusion) and that there is no external or objective truth.
      • teaching him or her that human perception (or just his or her perceptions) are faulty.
      • Tactical Subjectivism: telling him there is no Truth, just “my truth” and “your truth”, and only one of those is real (guess which one).
      • The use of words like “perceived” and “alleged” and “feel” and “thinks” and “imagined” and “opinion” and scare quotes to subtly call the observations and accuracy of other people into question, and thereby reduce their self-confidence. Example: “My wife thinks she saw a prowler.”

      Of course, the person who uses this tactic doesn’t doubt his own reality, he just wants you to doubt yours. Because only Alphas are allowed to have a validated reality. {You’re reading “Definition of Mind Games” by J. E. Brown.}

    • Psychiatric Put-Downs.
  • Kindergarten Justice: False life lessons we teach to children to keep them quiet, like “You must share all your toys with everyone who asks” and “You’re not ever allowed to say No.” Lessons they pay for as adults.
  • Leading Someone On.
  • One Thing Differently. When people decide to be rid of you, they disingenuously claim you broke a rule.
  • Pecking Order games: Most strategies for creating a social hierarchy are mind games.
    • Stoicism, a collection of mind games designed to turn people into betas who are satisfied/happy with less privilege.
  • Playing Deaf: A mind game in which someone tries to make you believe you have a speech impediment and people don’t understand you. A domination tactic to reduce your confidence. A distancing tactic to make you go away. This is closely related to:
  • Pretending Not to Understand: When people say “I don’t understand what I did wrong” no matter how well you explain it.
  • Rewriting History: “I never said that.”
  • Smoke Screens. Pretended alternative explanations, intended to whitewash or angelize one’s motives.
  • Universal Excuses: Excuses that work in any setting, esp. excuses which teach false rules, e.g., “That’s in the past!” (Translation: “I’m not guilty of that crime because (1) I say so and (2) I committed the crime more than 5 minutes ago.”)
  • YCDNR: You Can Do No Right syndrome, a breakup symptom, a kind of temporary insanity in which proving and calling someone wrong at every opportunity becomes the goal, and subtlety and logic go out the window.

Special Mind Games found in the Dating Pool:

  • Monogamy Shaming: In some dating environments, people are told “You’re not supposed to want marriage and a family. It’s ‘inappropriate’.” And who exactly says so? The non-monogamists who think they own the dating pool. This game is derived from the more general game:
  • Tricking the other guy into believing that the dating pool is all about your needs, not his.

Special Mind Games found in Breakups:

  • Breakup explanations designed to hide the truth and throw you off the trail with false reasons.
  • Breakup explanations designed to make you think that all of your good points somehow caused the breakup, when the truth is that your only mistake was in trying to date a non-monogamist. Example: Your partner attempts to convince you that all of your best relationship skills are the problem, when the real problem is that your partner is having an allergic reaction to you or is genetically programmed to break up with you after a certain number of days.
  • Tactics designed to make you jumpy in your next relationship, by making you wonder if everything your partner says is a breakup hint.

Red Flags: Common Mind Games: Examples.

  • Lying about visible reality: “I never said that.” You begin to feel you should be carrying a voice recorder.
  • “That’s not what I meant.” Translations: “I decided not to keep my word.” “I don’t like the way you made me look (by quoting me verbatim or by recording my voice), so I’m going to rewrite history.”
  • “You misunderstood.” Biggest mind game on Earth.
  • “You’re overreacting.” Translations: “Your reaction is inconvenient for moi.” “You’re supposed to make things easy for me when I make things hard for you. That’s fair and equal, right?”
  • “That’s different.” Translation: “That rule doesn’t fit this situation. Because I said so.”
  • “You can’t change people.” (Actually, the whole premise of education is the fact that you can change people. Whenever someone tells you otherwise, question his motives.)
  • When you offend someone, and the victim corrects you and sets boundaries, lecture him or her on manners.
  • Telling people to shut up, using made-up logic. Making up a rule on the spot, intended as a direct order against one specific person at this specific time, but concealed as a general rule, under a pretext that the rule applies to everyone all the time and always has. Like John McCain did, when he tried to silence a soldier who spoke out about the lack of equipment in the Iraq War. Someone will always try to think up a creative excuse for abridging the First Amendment. As if the First Amendment didn’t come first.

    Mind games are all about using the logic du jour instead of the logic de jure.

    Mind games are made up on the spot: They are ad hoc, ad lib, and adolescent.

  • Strategies designed to trick you into believing that you gave consent without consenting. Examples: Non-monogamists who say “I thought we agreed we were just having fun!” Persons in power who say “I thought we agreed that you were to ____.” Beware of people who have imaginary conversations with you and then hold you responsible for the imaginary promises.

Breakup Signs & Symptoms.

  • Total change of personality: There’s no reasoning with them, due to their denials of:
    • the past
    • past beliefs and positions
    • past promises
    • past actions
    • visible reality (past and present)
    • To cap it off, they deny having a change of personality!
  • They try to weasel out of promises.
  • They begin playing the mind game of “I never said that.”
  • They begin pretending that words don’t have literal, objective meanings. Can’t be pinned down when they lie because whenever you repeat their words back to them, they say “That’s not what I meant.” By the way, they won’t allow you to make the same claim about your words. There’s no reasoning with anyone that sleazy and slippery.
  • They pretend that something they used to enjoy about you is now somehow offensive or painful.
  • They try to make you think that normal things like the desire for a relationship, romantic gestures, asking for sex, displays of affection, etc., even asking for a lunch date and spending time together, are now “inappropriate”, even though they weren’t inappropriate three weeks ago.
  • Their positions on ethics change. Expect to hear reversals; expect to hear outright lies: “No, I never said I believed ____.”
  • They start giving more thought to their excuses than to their actions.
  • It becomes impossible to tell whether they were faking their personalities earlier, to draw you into the relationship, or faking later, as a way of breaking out of the relationship. You have to wonder: Was it all pretend? Was your soulmate pretending to share your ethics and values? Was everything before the breakup a lie? Or after? Is anything believable now? Can they ever be trusted again?

I’ve come to believe that anyone who engages in these behaviors has a personality disorder (a severe mental illness) and should be dumped on the spot.
Dump them, and warn your friends.

Jekyll-and-Hyde Disorder.

From having housemates, I learned that screening isn’t the answer, because when a housemate decides to turn on you, his behavior will totally diverge from the way he described himself during the interview. That’s when you’ll see that his interview answers were BS. Housemates become totally different people when they no longer like you.

How to Be a Good Skeptic and a Critical Thinker:

One of the elements of critical thinking, one of the elements of learning to think scientifically, is learning not to be a fool, learning that much of what you are told is said to fool you into believing things that put you at a disadvantage. When enough people have tried to take advantage of you, you’ll start asking:

  • “Why does he want me to believe that?”
  • “How much of what they’re saying is designed to trick me into giving them an advantage at my own expense?”

Excerpts from my book (in progress)

Principles of Psychology.

Expect that all base motivations will be hidden. You’ll never hear anyone say “Turn the other cheek so that I can dominate you and always have my way” — you’ll only hear the first part, “Turn the other cheek.”

The lovely thing about intentions is that they’re all hidden inside your head, and therefore invisible to other people, which makes it possible to say something offensive and then pretend you intended something else, and no one will ever know that you’re rewriting history.

Debate as Combat.

Corrupt persons envision all debate and debating techniques as an opportunity for psychic destruction of the opponent, nothing more: to convince the opponent by way of the shortcut of insult, in place of evidence and contradiction; by seeking ways of tricking the opponent into doubting himself, rather than doubting his own evidence; by calling the opponent defective and stupid, rather than showing him where he is in error or teaching him a more complete truth or showing him where the attacker’s argument is better; to end every argument by hurting the opponent’s feelings rather than by hurting his case. Such persons demonstrate that to them all debate is mortal combat and that shattering the self-esteem and confidence of the opponent is not off the table. {You’re reading “Definition of Mind Games” by J. E. Brown.}

Any claim that (other) people’s perception is faulty is made for the purpose of cheating them; and this in itself exposes all such skepticism as tactical, indeed raises doubts about the very existence of “disinterested skepticism”. … I have learned to suspect a vested interest in most “skepticism” and in most “logical argument”. … If I subject all skepticism to skepticism, does that make me the ultimate skeptic? :^)

The tired old tactic of challenging the correctness of your opponent’s perceptions, the tactic of asking your opponent to doubt himself — to doubt not only his own beliefs, but his whole psychological apparatus — will not work on me, is nothing more than a psychological attack.

There is nothing wrong with my perceptions, thank you very much.

How Customer Service Works: The Denial Department.

It is the policy of all large corporations to respond with psychological tactics instead of solutions. It is also a matter of policy that your particular complaint has never happened to any other customer before and that no one else has ever complained. About anything.

It’s called “Don’t Fix the Problem, Fix the Customer.”

It is the general position of all large corporations that all customer complaints are improper, incomplete, lacking in detail, unfair, inconvenient, were sent to the wrong department, and if nothing else, had a tone which they didn’t like. No matter how mild and factual your complaint is, it is company policy that you should have found a nicer way to say it. Expect to hear such position statements and psychological tactics whenever you complain about poor service. Ignore such dismissive remarks. Show them that these tactics will backfire and will cause you to complain at whole new level: louder, higher up, and more publicly. {You’re reading “Definition of Mind Games” by J. E. Brown.}

— J. E. Brown

Breakup Games

The following mind games occur specifically in romantic breakups, and sometimes in the dissolution of working relationships. The person who initiates the breakup is likely to behave in strange ways:

General Tactics.

  • They act like something you’ve been doing all along is now suddenly offensive, and is the cause of their sudden change in behavior. Like the age difference or the height difference: Anyone who breaks up with you and gives a reason which was true when you met is playing head games with you. It’s like saying “Oh, I’m sorry, we have to break up: you’re 5 foot 5 and I only date people who are 5 foot 11 or taller. I’ve enjoyed the three months we’ve been together, though.” Please. Any legitimate reason to break up was a legitimate reason not to get together in the first place. Or, turning it around: Any reason that didn’t keep you from starting the relationship is still BS at the end.

    As scientists have been saying for centuries, “Only a change can be the cause of another change.” So when someone tells you “I’ve decided to break up with you because of a non-change,” you’re being played.

  • They pretend to be interested in something different. The pretense may occur either before or after the relationship; namely:
    • Before A meets B, A leaves unspoken his expectation of only a one-night stand; or …
    • After the one-night stand, A realizes B isn’t “The One”, and pretends he wasn’t interested in something more, as in “I’m not looking for a relationship” (with B).
  • They suddenly adopt the belief that you are stupid and will fall for anything.
  • They rewrite history. “What relationship? We never had a relationship.”
  • They get the far-out, cockamamie idea that “breakup sex” is required for “closure”. That mind game comes directly from the hormones, trying to trick you into staying in any relationship at any cost.
  • They act like you asked for too much of their time — when all you asked for was THE USUAL amount of time which they gave HAPPILY when the relationship was alive and well.
  • They’re happy to insult you. After offending you, they’re happy to inform you that your brain doesn’t work, that you remember the offense wrong, that it happened differently. Notice that they never explain how they can plausibly have such an x-ray view of the inside of your mind, or how they can be so sure human memory is faulty and yet be so sure of their own memories.

Pretending to Be Offended.

These tactics are attempts to damage your interpersonal skills and your understanding of the dating pool.

When people break up with you, a part of their brain (very likely the amygdala, whose functions are known to include an associative memory which can mark places and persons as disliked, unlucky, or evil)
labels you a persona non grata.
Psychologists speak of a phenomenon called the Halo Effect, under which a liked person is assumed to be perfect in every way, and a disliked person is assumed to have no good qualities; and I have noticed a related-or-same effect, which I call the
You Can Do No Right syndrome (YCDNR). {You’re reading “Definition of Mind Games” by J. E. Brown.}
A person suffering from YCDNR will adopt the position that everything you do has suddenly been relabeled as wrong, painful, and/or dangerous, including all of your good qualities which were (until recently) liked, sought after, and appreciated.

For example:

  • Persons who were once liked for their attentiveness will now be criticized as “needy”.
  • Persons who were once liked for their availability will now be criticized as “having no friends” or “need to get a hobby and/or a life”.
  • Persons who were once liked for their affectionate ways will now be criticized as “being in love with me”. (Oh! The humanity! :^| How terrible!)
  • Your partner complains that you’re “too nice”, whatever that is.
  • Your partner begins recoiling from your touch, and may even describe affectionate contact as painful.
  • You ask your partner to lunch. Your partner reacts with “I don’t have 24 hours a day to spend with you!” This shows extreme confusion about how long a meal takes, and perfectly illustrates the cognitive distortions and temporary insanity found in the breakup event.
  • Your partner pretends that you are the one who is more interested in a relationship. Your partner pretends that it’s a crime to be the more interested party, even though there was a time when the roles were reversed and he or she was the more interested party and he or she didn’t think it was a crime then.

Besides being breakup symptoms, these criticisms are overt attempts to damage your self-esteem (= emotional abuse), and so, anyone who tries these on you should be dumped swiftly, permanently, and memorably.

Oh, also: To add insult to injury:

  • Your lingering attachment will manifest as emotionality, which your partner will relabel as “manipulative”.

False accusations of wrongdoing are verbal abuse.

Dump them, warn your friends, and don’t look back.

— J. E. Brown

Your ex is criticizing everything he once loved about you because he’s trying to break away from you.* The worst mistake you can make at this time is to believe that his criticisms are wise, insightful, or sincere, and that you should therefore ditch the best parts of yourself.

Mind Games are designed to mess up your dating skills, designed to make you less of a competitor in the Dating Pool. I can’t tell you how many times someone tried to mess with my relationship beliefs, in an attempt to make me believe that affection and reciprocation and making the first move (or the second, or the third…) were all “inappropriate”. Your best response: “If you don’t appreciate it, I can find someone who’s grateful.”{You’re reading “Definition of Mind Games” by J. E. Brown.}

When people change their minds about you, their favorite tactic is the Orwellian pretense that new rules and boundaries are now in effect; and if you object to the change, you’ll be told “Change? What change? The rules have always been this way.”

Let your ex play this neurotic mind game if he wants to, fight back if you like, but don’t believe him. Let his strange beliefs put him out of the dating pool, and be glad to see him go.

* Freud may hold the key to what your ex is doing. Wasn’t it Freud who said:

“Show me something a man hates and I will show you something he once loved.”

— J. E. Brown

Charlie and the Cup of Coffee.
Apparently, Dinner Is Offensive.

True story, names changed.

Charlie and Denise had a sexual relationship lasting a few months. Charlie decided to break up with Denise after only a few weeks, but perhaps because of inexperience, Charlie was unable to state this honestly. He continued to drop inconsistent hints, stopped sleeping with Denise, and led Denise on for many weeks longer by saying “We can still be friends.” Denise fell for these reassurances. Denise later learned that Charlie was sleeping with two other women, both of whom thought their relationships with Charlie were monogamous.

One particular event stands out: the incident with the cup of coffee.
Denise asked Charlie if they could get together for dinner.
Charlie’s response was puzzling: “That would be inappropriate,” he said.
In the discussion that followed a few days later, Charlie explained his reasoning like this:
“Asking me out to dinner was inappropriate. … But if you had asked me out for coffee, that would have been ok.”

One key fact should be mentioned: In the typical American city where Denise and Charlie lived, a meal is not harder to get than coffee is.
Coffee and full meals are served in the same cafés and restaurants.
Whether you’re having coffee or steak, the ritual is the same: you have to wait to be seated or order at the counter; then you have to wait for someone to bring your order.
It’s not like there’s a sidewalk vendor with a pushcart who only sells COFFEE.
So Charlie was not trying to claim that coffee is easier to find, or less hassle.
Charlie was claiming that dinner is offensive. It’s an insight into the bizarre thinking and cognitive distortions that occur during breakups. We’ll study this example in depth in the definition of Breakup.
Of course, Charlie didn’t explain why coffee was ok and a meal was bad, nor did he offer Denise that choice at the time of the so-called “offense”.

After repeated protests of “I’m not looking for a relationship right now,” Charlie started a new relationship the very next week. That relationship lasted years.
Denise said:

Twenty years later I looked him up on Facebook. He was single again. His ex was listed as a “friend”. ;^) Aww, how sweet. Good old wishy-washy Charlie, still telling his exes “We can still be friends.”

The Mind Game of “One Thing Differently”.

Charlie’s example illustrates a common breakup behavior: The sudden development of allergic reactions to the partner and to all of the partner’s behaviors. The pretense that the partner did something wrong. The claim that something the partner was doing all along was harmful — or so he wants her to believe. And his claim that if she had just done that one thing differently, all the breakup drama (which he caused) somehow wouldn’t have happened.

Illogically, Charlie claimed that Denise calling him up to make a dinner date was somehow offensive; an ok alternative, he said, would have been to call him up and ask if he’d like to get coffee, on the spur of the moment, as if he wouldn’t have found something offensive in that too. He’s pretending that any (other) involvement of her in his life would have been acceptable, when in fact none would have been. If Denise had just done this one thing differently, he claims, Denise would have avoided stepping on a mine. What shall we call this phenomenon, “Mine Games”? :^)

Mine games” are a special kind of mind games in which you step on hidden booby-traps which you could never have seen coming. From the game-player’s point of view, the strategy is to pretend retroactively that there even was a mine. Or a way to avoid it. But you didn’t, and as a result, you stepped on a “relationship land mine”, and Aw, that’s just too bad. Of course, he didn’t warn you about the land mine up front so you could avoid it. No, he made sure you stepped on it. Perhaps more accurately — Let’s be real: He made the land mine up. Then he retroactively pretended the land mine existed and was stepped on. The land mine was actually a smoke grenade, designed to conceal the breakup.

There’s a phenomenon which I’ll write about later called YCDNR, which stands for “You Can Do No Right”: You make one mistake, and suddenly you lose a friend, because the friend now thinks everything you do is wrong. I consider YCDNR the major mechanism by which people get dumped and bullied. Some lower part of the brain, perhaps the amygdala (which processes fear and panic reactions and emotional labeling) or the insular cortex (which processes disgust) has the power to make someone instantly fall out of love with you. Meanwhile, the more logical parts of his brain are trying in vain to figure out why the lower brain centers are vomiting the boyfriend or girlfriend out. The logical parts of the brain don’t remember making a logical decision to dump you, so they deny that the decision was internal and instead start looking for external explanations — in other words, ways to blame it on you. {You’re reading “Definition of Mind Games” by J. E. Brown.}

As other people have described their breakups:

After HE chased ME for six weeks, he said “You move too fast. You should learn to go slower.”


I was rejected cuz apperantly we were moving too fast tho he asked me to stay the night for weeks and he was the one talking about taking trips and living together where I never uttered a word in those subjects, some bullshit lol


There was the guy who pursued ME in chat. I mean (and I’m ashamed to admit this) I didn’t want him to think I was a dirty old cougar, so I allowed HIM to do all the pursuing and to make all the first moves. Every time we chatted, I allowed HIM to start our chat sessions. The result? Sure enough, when he broke off our friendship, he accused ME of being the needy one!

Later he claimed he was trying to end our relationship for months and dropping lots of hints — even though during that time, he continued to seek me out!!!

Outside of relationships, the One Thing Differently game is found in statements like:

  • “I can’t believe you complained in a letter. You should have come to me and said it to my face.”
  • “Don’t ever interrupt my work by bothering me in person again without an appointment. (Yes, that’s right, you need an appointment. No, that’s always been the rule.) Put your complaint in a letter.”
  • “I can’t believe you typed the letter instead of handwriting it. Typing is just so cold and impersonal.”
  • “I can’t read your chicken-scratch handwriting. Learn how to type.”

Under the logic of Mind Games, it’s always the other guy’s fault. Someone else is always more to blame. One major goal of a mind game is to tamper with someone’s certainty.

Mind game players see conflict as an opportunity to shift the blame, move the goalpost, and infect you with a fake rule of interpersonal conduct.
They call their preferences “the rules”. They call your preferences “unimportant”.

Breakups are a time of bizarre accusations and temporary insanity.
To help you avoid the mess Charlie caused, may I suggest a few strategies:

  • If you believe you’re monogamously involved with someone, make sure your Facebook wall mentions this and names your partner. Even if you’re not ready to change your relationship status, make sure your outings and dinner dates are recorded on Facebook. That way if any of your friends know that your new “soulmate” is two-timing you, they’ll know they need to alert you.

* PS. And hey, what’s with all this business about “moving too fast” and “I don’t have 24 hours a day”? What’s with the pretense that something was always true when in fact it changed recently? Do I see a pattern here? Do you see the pattern? Do breaker-uppers suffer from a distorted sense of time and speed and motion? Does the breakup virus affect the brain center that understands time? A medical school should study this. An fMRI might be revealing.

— J. E. Brown

Courtroom Games:

I’m reminded of all those defendants in Judge Judy’s courtroom
who can’t answer a simple yes-or-no question.
Instead of saying “Yes, I did it, I broke the plaintiff’s window,”
they try to muddy the water by:

  • Debating the definition of the crime.
  • Presenting bizarre justifications and unconvincing excuses.
  • The Context Defense: Saying “My words and actions were taken out of context.” This context defense is usually followed by the defendant’s attempt to substitute his conceited or inflated self-image for the facts (attorneys call this “bringing up irrelevant and prejudicial information” and “being non-responsive”).
  • Complexity Theory: Pretending that the complexity of the issue makes the question simplistic. This is a variant of the “You Misunderstood” tactic. Usually the only misunderstanding is that the defendant thinks he’s innocent.
  • Claiming that the answer isn’t black and white. Translation: “You misunderstood how complex this topic is, — er — Your Honor.”
  • Mind Games: Alternative theories of reality in which everyone (else) has his own reality, because (supposedly) each person’s reality is only a perception.
  • Outright Denial: “I never said that,” “I never did that.”

... and all the other mind games defendants use when they’re in denial about what they’ve done.

When people start pulling that crap on me, I don’t explain the problem to them — I don’t assume they made an honest mistake — obviously they did not. I take a page from Judge Judy: I go straight for the penalty phase.

The guilty never like the way they are caught. There will always be speeding drivers who say “I was given a speeding ticket by a camera, not by a real live policeman. That’s not fair.” Excuse me for Shifting the Focus (back where it belongs), but — the question is not how they were caught. The question is, What the Hell were they doing breaking the law?

Speeders have always tried to shift the focus. They say “That other guy was going faster than me, why didn’t you pick on him instead?” and “Shouldn’t you be fighting real crime instead of harassing motorists?”

We need more police officers who say, “I was going to let you off with a warning, but I can tell by your evasiveness that you’re not really sorry. So here’s your ticket.”

— J. E. Brown

Roommate Mind Games: Deliberate Property Damage, with Bizarre Excuses.

It’s easy to tell when housemates stop liking you: they start damaging your stuff. They leave wet towels on your good wooden furniture. They put big scratches in your teflon cookware. I’m sure they think of their carelessness as “normal wear and tear” (roll eyes).

I have a beautiful polished aluminum roasting pan that looks like my old housemate used a chainsaw on it. His excuse for scratching my teflon amounted to “Well, … a plastic spoon didn’t appear right in front of me when I needed it.” There was no effort to comply, no effort to problem-solve, and no taking of responsibility. He wanted me to believe the Universe was at fault. He treated his failure to think of and reach for a plastic spoon as equivalent to the non-existence of plastic spoons. As though in the magical Universe where he grew up, plastic spoons magically appear whenever needed!

If only roommates would put as much effort into finding a spoon as they put into their creative excuses, all your property would still be in one piece!

Kick the bad roommates out. When they cry and object, tell them, “Think of your eviction as ‘normal wear and tear’ ;^) .”

— J. E. Brown

What About Cognitive Dissonance?

Do people really feel compelled to keep promises? Will people really feel guilt if they don’t act consistently with their past policy statements?
Psychologists tell us about the phenomenon of “cognitive dissonance”, under which people supposedly feel guilty or conflicted if they don’t behave predictably or don’t live up to their own avowed standards.

There’s just one problem with the theory: It doesn’t account for romantic breakups. The partner who initiates a breakup will usually break all promises. Mind Game theory gives us the only complete picture of how breakups operate. Cognitive Dissonance theory ignores the topic of breakups entirely.

CD theory can probably be salvaged if we bend it somewhat. The usual definitions say that people will act in a way that reduces the dissonance between a promise and a contradictory behavior; if we allow for denial, i.e. self-deception which denies ever making the promise, then cognitive dissonance still holds. However, we must learn a hard lesson: Cognitive Dissonance does not mean that people have an innate drive to be honest or to keep their word. CD does not imply trustworthiness nor constancy over time, but merely that weaker thing, self-consistency for the present moment, with occasional policy changes made for expedience. CD theory fails to warn us that people will deceive us without hesitation during breakups. (I refer, of course, to the predators who make up much of the dating pool. Anyone who thinks CD will make people keep promises hasn’t been in the Dating Pool lately.) {You’re reading “Definition of Mind Games” by J. E. Brown.}

If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values — they’re hobbies.

— Jon Stewart, quoted at The Writer’s Almanac, 28 Nov 2011

However, we should remember: To the extent that the modern dating pool tends to be a trap for social rejects and predators, any theory based on the modern dating pool is largely a theory of abnormal psychology and does not apply well to normal people. “Normal single people” may not be a contradiction in terms, but it makes a nifty Venn diagram. I have no alternative dating pool to offer, so I hope the reader will put my warnings to good use.

— J. E. Brown

Kindergarten Justice.

Kindergarten Justice, those false rules which we teach to young children, just to shut them up. All the ways in which we damage children’s boundaries by teaching them false rules. These shortcut rules apply only in the sandbox and on the playground and in the classroom, but children don’t understand this, and take the rules to heart, adopting them as rules for adulthood:

  • When our little children fight, we proudly tell them “I don’t care who started it!” and then we punish the child with the bloody fist and the child with the bloody nose as if they were both guilty — and then we wonder why our grown children have no compassion for victims and no spine to demand justice.
  • We teach our little children that they’re not allowed to say no — and then, when a creepy stranger shows up at our front door and asks “Can I come into your house?” we wonder why our children don’t refuse. We wonder why our teenage daughters don’t say no when their people-user boyfriends pressure them for sex. We wonder why they’re so easily manipulated by every boy who mimics those magical parental words, “Don’t you believe in sharing?” {You’re reading “Definition of Mind Games” by J. E. Brown.}
  • We teach our little children that they have to be friendly to everyone — and then we wonder why they get involved with drug abusers and criminals in high school and college.
  • In short, we wonder why our teenagers and adult offspring still have the naïve boundaries of a 4-year-old. We wonder why we taught them such rubbish when we should have been teaching them how to spot manipulation.

Instead of feeding them false rules for our own temporary convenience, we should have been teaching them to be wary when people use false rules against them for unsavory purposes.

— J. E. Brown

The Ice Cream Game.

I’m reminded of an old friend, who gave this example.
He was eating ice cream with his little daughter, who informed him:

Ivy explained to me tonight that I eat too much ice cream. Ice cream is meant for little girls and if I eat less of it then she can have more ice cream. I tried to explain that I was in fact sharing my ice cream with her, but she disagreed.

Of course, as I read that, I’m smirking and shaking my head at the same time,
because no one in her right mind would believe such a thing.
In only a few words, it … just … exemplifies all the BS we humans are supposed to detect and deflect when we deal with other people.
Children are crafty little beggars, and I guess my mixed reaction shows that
I’m both horrified at her dishonesty and celebrating her creative use of strategy to get what she wants.
While I wouldn’t want Ivy to actually believe what she said here,
when she grows up, she’s going to meet people who will try these kinds of mind games on *her*, and
any parent would be proud to know that his child is a subtle enough thinker and tactician to outsmart the competition.

We smirk for good reason.

— J. E. Brown

Perception Blaming.

I remember that when I was 20, all my little college undergraduate friends had studied neither philosophy nor psychology, and yet they were experts at repeating every truism they learned on the street. Starry-eyed truisms like “There is no reality, only your perception of it!”

When people ask you to believe that reality is only your perception, what they are really asking you to believe is that you, and only you, are not entitled to a validated reality. The person who asks you to believe this will rarely be seen applying the same principle to himself. He is asking you to believe that nothing is certain — except the preceding statement. He is claiming to have special knowledge which you don’t have. He is asking you to bow down to his self-appointed privileged place in the Universe. Watch carefully for this double standard.

The fact that the Perception Blaming tactic can be thought up and repeated by teenagers should immediately tell you that it’s an urban legend and there’s no science behind it.

Now — What is important here is not the question of whether you or I or the external world actually exist. I will not be making a plea to Descartes or Locke or Hume or Hegel or Socrates to try to convince you either way on that question. What I wish to draw your attention to is that the use (usually by untrained persons) of assertions about Perception are bare psychological weapons. The children who use this weapon don’t use it out of knowledge. They can’t prove it. They merely heard it somewhere. And the phrase is so compact and easy to repeat that they repeat it! They don’t use it for its truth value — they use it for its stopping power. They use it for its ability to stop you. All it has to do is to make you stop and think and doubt yourself. Any schoolyard bully can see the value in that. {You’re reading “Definition of Mind Games” by J. E. Brown.}

Left or right, east or west — what I am about to say holds true, no matter the longitude of your philosophy nor the handedness of your politics —

Like I say, I can offer you no deep commitment to the nature of reality. You are free to believe that the world rests upon the Standard Model of particle physics or on a herd of elephants or the back of a turtle. My point is more important and fundamental than that. I am here to remind you that whenever someone attempts to use a weapon on you, you should learn to recognize it as a weapon. And ask yourself what it is he’s trying to steal from you.

— J. E. Brown

How This Chapter Arose.

From what I’ve been able to learn about the history of psychoanalysis,
the analysts under Sigmund Freud believed that all neurosis began during childhood and was caused by childhood trauma:
“Aha,” Freud would say, “You must have been sexually attracted to one of your parents, whom you could not have all to yourself.”
Some analysts went even further with this: Otto Rank believed that all trauma, throughout life, was a reflection of birth trauma.
And so, therapy consisted of extracting detailed life histories from each patient’s childhood, in hopes of discovering exactly how the Oedipal love affair went down.
It wasn’t until about 1920, after the First World War, when analysts realized that psychoanalysis wasn’t working, and in particular, it couldn’t handle PTSD of the type generated by combat. [1]
The belief that all psychological problems began in childhood didn’t work on soldiers.

Of course, later psychologists like Karen Horney finally worked up the bravery to contradict Freud
and admitted that traumas can occur anytime in life and can really mess you up.
I will go a step further: {Read this comp1ete article at .}
Traumas can occur anytime in life, and furthermore, many of these traumas are deliberately inflicted by adversarial persons for their own advantage.

Even nowadays, the Freudian myth is still a popular belief among abusers, who have told me,
“I’m sorry you feel that what I said was abusive, but you’re obviously upset because of something that happened during your childhood.”
And my response would be “:^o Wow. What a NIFTY tactic for evading the responsibility for your own actions.”
That’s what every mind game is.

At first I collected a few examples of mind games. Soon I had dozens. Then hundreds.
I had enough material to build a book chapter. And then a major section of a book.
I had to conclude that a large portion of the cerebral cortex is surely dedicated to generating and deciphering these interpersonal combat tactics.

So it was obvious that there needs to be a whole definition of Mind Games,
so that people can read and learn and be inoculated against these strategies.
That is how this chapter began, and that is how this book began.

PS. Oh, I’ll go even further: Many modern Freudians still believe that spousal abuse is not a real problem. They’ll look you in the eye and tell you so! It doesn’t happen during childhood, so it doesn’t fit their theories, so they discard it. Many religions have a curiously similar position, telling battered wives to stay with their abusers.
Abuse is real, and abuser defenders are real — as Anna Freud pointed out with her concept of “identification with the aggressor”.
Abuser defenders have blood on their hands.

— J. E. Brown


  1. M. Asch, Psychoanalysis: Its Evolution & Development (2004)

Q & A.

  1. Is it being selfish if you don’t want people borrowing your things, especially when they don’t ask?
  1. No, that’s just what they want you to believe. Their strategy is to get you to believe that standing up for yourself is wrong, so that they can do whatever they want with your belongings.

  1. If I misunderstood something, does that mean I don’t deserve an apology?
  1. No, that means you deserve TWO apologies, because ….
    • First of all, you didn’t misunderstand anything. Pretending you misunderstood is how they try to confuse you. See gaslighting.
    • So now you deserve an apology for the original offense AND for the mind game.

— J. E. Brown


Statement Meaning
The customer service rep who says
“Nobody else complained.”

“Nobody I’ll admit to, anyway. Now get back in the herd. Get back in line with the rest of the lemmings.”

“We should slow down.” “You’re moving too fast.”

Such utterances have only one meaning: “I’m no longer attracted to you.”

“If you had done this one thing differently, it would have been ok.”

“If you hadn’t broken this one little rule (which I made up after you broke it), everything would have been fine.”

“I don’t have 24 hours a day to spend with you!”

“The truth is, I’m not even willing to spend one minute with you.”

— J. E. Brown


Responses to a few childish debating tactics.

If someone tells you: Your correct response is:
“That’s in the past!” “Yes, I know. Everything’s in the past. That’s how time works! Everything everyone ever did is in the past. Now: Are you going to apologize for what you did, or not?”

“What a nifty tactic for evading responsibility!”

Dropping hints instead of communicating:
“I thought I made it obvious that I only like you as a friend.”
“If you had really meant to make it obvious, you wouldn’t have resisted saying it for as long as you did.”
“That’s not what I meant. You took me too literally.” “Oh REALLY. There’s such a thing as ‘too literally’ now? Most people want to be taken seriously more often, and are grateful when it happens.”

“I took you at your word. I assumed you were honest. Is your word worthless?”

“Why is it so important for you to be right all the time?” “Oh, and it’s not important to you to be right? You need to start fighting fair, instead of pretending that the rules should be tilted in your favor.”
“You’re being defensive!” “Yes. I stand up for myself. Get used to it. Congratulations, by the way, on finding a psychiatric put-down that makes my correct strategy sound bad.”

— J. E. Brown

Random Thoughts.

Mind games are great fun until someone gets blinded (metaphorically speaking). And blinding the opponent is the goal of mind games.

Give a man a fish, and he won’t want any more fish today. But tell a man that fish are full of toxins and that a single fish can kill him, and he won’t want any more fish for the rest of his life. That leaves more for you.

The correct response to many mind game behaviors is to deliver the ultimatum “You had better stop playing mind games with me, or I will make a change to our relationship, and it will be a change that you won’t like.” When people play head games with you, realize that you’re being messed with, and go for the assertive option.

Evil and abusive people don’t second-guess themselves — you shouldn’t either, when dealing with them. They just want you to be the only one with self-doubts. Don’t fall for it.

Recognize the danger of mind games, and avoid people who use them on you. The most dangerous mind games are those games designed to make you think that your efforts at friendship or relationship are ever unwelcome and that the most desirable aspects of your personality are annoying. Ungrateful people can be replaced, and you should tell them so.{You’re reading “Definition of Mind Games” by J. E. Brown.}

Sometimes people aren’t dense — they’re opportunistic. Remember that, next time someone uses you but doesn’t see why that would bother you.

People who don’t like “black and white thinking” are usually peddling something more smoky. The color of smoke. Smoke screens. Smoke and mirrors. Sophistry. A flurry of cubism. Mental hopscotch. Selective logical rigor.

Why is it that rude people think all disagreements are about “perception” and that the solution to any such disagreement is “getting to know me better”? They should drop the rudeness, and people will want to get to know them better!

Anyone who tries to settle a disagreement with you by telling you to be more flexible
is in fact less flexible than you are.

Don’t reason with them. They don’t even believe what they’re saying.

— J. E. Brown

From the chapter on “How to Be an Insensitive Jerk”:
How to Become Hated by Using Mind Games to Annoy Others:

Rewrite the book of history, and the book of manners. Make up new facts, and new rules:

In General:

Convince people that only you have a right to privacy. If your friend keeps a personal secret from you, involving things you had no right to know about, accuse your friend of “being uncommunicative” and “lying by omission”.

Pretend that everything you want is the law; pretend that everything your opponent wants is illegal.

Did you offend someone? If you think about it, that’s always the other guy’s fault. So nit-pick the complaint: You shouldn’t have behaved any differently; they should have objected differently. The objection is always the problem.

Did someone truthfully accuse you of wrongdoing? How rude of them. They’ll back off if you can get them to question their own judgment, or their own ethical beliefs, or their perceptions, or even the reality of the Universe.

If they ask their friends for advice before confronting you, that too is against your rules, and you can correct them for going behind your back and not coming to you first.*

Anyone who’s having a problem with another person must be told that it’s all in his head. He must be told this instantly and automatically and without even hearing the specifics. As Machiavelli said, conflict between others is your opportunity to gain an advantage over the warring parties while they’re both in a weakened state. Weaken them further, and you’ll rise in the pecking order.

The New Rules for Writing:

  • Do you have difficulty reading? Make that everyone else’s problem. Anyone who has a complaint against you must speak to you directly. If they choose to write you a letter instead, that immediately takes all responsibility off of you and puts it on the letter writer.
  • Instead of admitting that you can’t type, try to convince people that it’s rude to use e-mail.
  • When you lay down the Fake Law, add a lecture, in the most snotty, non-conciliatory tone possible: “I’m disappointed that you used a letter to vent your gripes. If you’d like to discuss this face-to-face, like adults, let me know.”
  • If someone objects to your behavior, the objection must be letter perfect, even though your crime wasn’t.

New Rules about Timing:

There’s a blame-shift for every occasion: If you say something offensive, and people correct you immediately for your first offense, you can lecture them for their jumpiness. But if they wait until your second or third offense (because they’re reserving judgment and giving you the benefit of the doubt while they gather more evidence to make sure they understood you right), that too is their fault, and you can complain that they should have been quicker to stop you: you can slam them for being “passive aggressive” or “politically correct” or just “too polite”. In other words, no matter what you do wrong, someone else is more to blame than you are.{You’re reading “Definition of Mind Games” by J. E. Brown.}

More Ways to Train People:

People must object in the way you dictate. It’s all about you.

If your boyfriend does x, break up with him, and tell him he should have done y. If your next boyfriend does y, break up with him, and tell him he should have done z.
Always keep people guessing where the line is drawn.

Everybody should have done One Thing Differently, including simple stuff like reading your mind, and seeing the future.

* I once had a housemate who broke a household object. I corrected him by e-mail. He threw a fit, and lectured me for “not coming to him” — which, obviously, is what I did. He meant to use the “e-mail is bad” excuse, but in the heat of the moment, he became confused and forgot which bogus objection to use ;^)

— J. E. Brown


How mind games are used:

Everything indigenous is always illegal.

…we are always told that you will get richer if you follow the path which makes us poorer.

— Vandana Shiva

They’ll kick you, then they beat you,
Then they’ll tell you it’s fair

— Michael Jackson, “Beat It” (song) [boldface mine]

2nd edition 16 Mar 2017
1st edition 06 Feb 2017

Notes & References

  1. ~reference 1 details: ~author, “~title” (at ~website) ~More can be imported from file “dealbreaker.html" when that is finalized.

Further Reading at Other Sites

Thought of the Week

more Thoughts of the Week


definition of mind games, definition of head games, what does mind games mean, what does head games mean, define mind games, define head games, what are mind games, what are head games, mind games are defined as, head games are defined as, examples of mind games, examples of head games. defination, deffinition, difinition, what is mind games mean

More at This Site

  • Is there a booklet of manners in your house?
    We offer this one:
    How Rude! — a booklet about rude and abusive people, and how to recognize them

heart logo

Brown’s Dictionary of Relationship Terms
Copyright © 2000-2017  J. E. Brown   all rights reserved.
Relationshop™: educational materials for good relationships
Los Alamos, NM USA