Troubled Abuser YKTTW Discussion

Troubled Abuser
An abuser who has had a hard life themselves
(permanent link) added: 2011-12-02 20:52:03 sponsor: ThreeferFAQMinorityChick (last reply: 2012-01-22 07:34:08)

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Blackadder: (kicks a cat across the room)
Baldrick: Oh sir, poor little Mildred the cat, what's she ever done to you?
Blackadder: It is the way of the world Baldrick, the abused always kick downwards: I'm annoyed, and so I kick the cat, the cat (mouse squeaks) pounces on the mouse, and finally the mouse...
Baldrick: (jumps in pain)
Blackadder: ...bites you on the behind.
Baldrick: And what do I do?
Blackadder: Nothing, you are last in God's great chain Baldrick. Unless of course there's an earwig around here that you'd like to victimize.
--''Blackadder the Third"

The ways of dealing with an abusive situation in fiction vary, to say the least, depending on the author's opinions, the type of abuse portrayed, and even the genders of abuser and victim. Sometimes, it may be played for laughs, shown as not being a big deal, or portrayed as part of a loving relationship, despite the fact that the perpetrator's actions are clearly abusive, at least to the (aware) viewers. Other times, great care will be taken to detail the living hell the protagonist's life has been made by the Abusive Parent, Sadist Teacher, Domestic Abuser, or The Bully. Their assailant might even be painted as a Complete Monster.

But sometimes, you'll find out that the character who is notable for behaving abusively toward one or more others has a Dark and Troubled Past themselves. Maybe they were abused at one point in their life, or are presently in an abusive situation. Or else, instead of or in addition to having been the target of an abuser, they saw something as a child they were not meant to see, were bullied and/or raped, Did Not Get the Girl, have a Dead Little Sister, or did something that they'll never get past and may even be trying desperately to make up for. The Troubled Abuser is different from other abusers in that he or she has had (or currently has) a hard life themself in addition to making one of these for at least one other person. It may be a result of an Inferiority Superiority Complex or else a form of Being Tortured Makes You Evil.

Compare this phenomenon to Kick the Dog, except that the designated kicker was a Kicked Dog themself, making it Dog Kicks Littler Dog. If a writer really wants to play this up, he or she can have a whole chain of Dogs kicking down the line in this fashion. If a whole chain of these is used, you can reasonably expect it to be used for An Aesop about how abuse only begets abuse.

Compare the Troubled Sympathetic Bigot, whose bigotry is seldom portrayed as sympathetic due to the ugly reputation bigotry has gained over the years, but is nevertheless a sympathetic person. The Troubled Abuser, given that (s)he is, well, troubled, automatically gains some measure of Woobie status due to his or her status as troubled being out in the open, but unlike bigotry, abuse is less likely to be portrayed in an unsympathetic light. Sometimes, the Troubled Abuser may also be a Troubled Sympathetic Bigot.

May overlap with Jerkass Woobie due to the common traits of having had a hard life and treating other people in a substandard way. However, abuse is sometimes portrayed in a positive light, so this is not always the case.

Comparable to, and sometimes overlapping with, Freudian Excuse, in which a villain cites a childhood of poor quality as having a role in his or her evil deeds or is revealed to have had a bad childhood in order to gain Woobie status. However, unlike a villain with a Freudian Excuse, the Troubled Abuser isn't just guilty of any morally questionable act, they are guilty of committing one or more of these acts against someone with whom they have or end up developing an interpersonal relationship. Additionally, the Troubled Abuser can be troubled in ways other than childhood experiences. Sometimes, the Troubled Abuser has a Freudian Excuse, in which case these two tropes overlap, but Freudian Excuse and Troubled Abuser are not exactly the same thing. For example, a serial killer who targets random women he doesn't know and is later revealed to have witnessed his mother attack his father with a knife on a regular basis would go under Freudian Excuse, but would not be a Troubled Abuser because he is committing crimes, but not against people he has a relationship with, or even interacts with on a regular basis. A female character who is the single mother of a child that she verbally abuses on a regular basis, if she even gives the kid any attention at all, but is revealed to be doing so because the kid is a Child by Rape and reminds her of her rapist is a Troubled Abuser without a doubt, but wouldn't fit under Freudian Excuse because the hard part of her life, as far as we know, did not happen in her childhood.

As tempting as it is to add large-scale criminals, such as practitioners of genocide, serial killers, etc. who happen to count as Troubled by virtue of having a Dark and Troubled Past or Freudian Excuse just because you think they are monstrous for their deeds, exercise great caution before you do. Simply doing evil deeds on a large scale does not make one an Abuser, which is the other part of the requirement to be listed here. However, that does not mean that large-scale criminals can't be abusers. Before listing any large-scale criminal, consult our handy Useful Notes page on the topic of abuse, read it thoroughly, and think carefully about whether or not any of the character or person's actions count as abuse. If they don't, then don't add them. If you've done your thinking and one or more of said criminal's actions seem to count as abusive to you, go ahead and add them, but give details on what they do that is abusive in the description.


Anime & Manga
  • Umineko no Naku Koro ni has both Rosa and Kinzo. Rosa was abused by her father, tormented by her brothers and sister, and is a single mother whose husband left her without marrying her and while she was pregnant with her daughter Maria. All in all, her life's a train wreck. Is it any wonder that she winds up taking so much of it out on Maria? Kinzo was manipulated as the heir to the Ushiromiya family, sent off to WWII, wishes to take his own life meets his love Beatrice Castiglioni only to have her and later her daughter both die. He winds up half-insane and is abusive to most of his children and has a child with his daughter Beatrice Ushiromiya through implied rape.
  • Akito Sohma from Fruits Basket fits this trope. She was set up as a male heir to the Sohma's, and her extremely cruel mother made her life a living hell. Is it any wonder that she goes insane and controls everyone around her with an iron fist?
  • In Zero no Tsukaima, Tiny Tyrannical Tsundere Louise mistreats Seito, often causing him more injury than the main antagonists. In her defense, not only is Seito a Lovable Pervert, but it's suggested Louise has had a long history of being bullied by the other students and on the recieving end of her not - so - tiny Tsundere sister's annoyance.

  • Discussed in the Eric Bogle song "Daniel Smiling".
    "That brutalised children become adults who then brutalise"

  • The titular V of V for Vendetta by Alan Moore definitely counts. If kidnapping your protegee and intentionally putting her through the cruel ordeal of the life of a concentration camp inmate that you went through yourself doesn't count as abuse, then what does? However, V is portrayed as a Type III Anti-Villain and/or Type V Anti-Hero who has good intentions, but repeatedly does things that are obviously immoral, and what he puts Evey through is given this same portrayal. His actions compared to those of the oppressive Norsefire government are meant to be morally ambiguous and the only reason that we are meant to sympathize with V is because, no matter how bad his actions are, even when it comes to what he did to Evey, we first see him saving Evey from being raped and murdered by the government's secret police.

  • J. K. Rowling seems to be a big fan of this trope, given how many characters in the Harry Potter series are these.
    • Severus Snape is notable for his being a Sadist Teacher who favors Slytherins over those from other Houses and dishing out cruelty, insults, and strictness to the latter. However, starting from Prisoner of Azkaban, the reader discovers that he is one of these. He was bullied throughout his school years by the Marauders, hinted to have had an abusive father and neglectful mother, and lost any chance of being with his one true love, Lily Evans, when he called her a Fantastic Slur. Then he had to watch her date and marry one of his bullies and have a child with him. Finally, she ended up dying for that child, despite his attempts to make a deal with Voldemort to save her life. He then spends the next sixteen years trying to make up for what he's done.
    • Sirius subjects his house-elf, Kreacher, to a barrage of verbal and physical abuse because he is a reminder of his rotten childhood caused by his status as The Unfavorite in the eyes of his parents, who unsubtly liked his brother Regulus better than him. Even after he left his Abusive Parents, he couldn't catch a break. His best friends have been betrayed by someone they thought was their friend, resulting in their death and orphaning their son and Sirius's godson. To top it all off, he was blamed for every crime that said false friend committed and sent to Azkaban, where he was subjected to enough Mind Rape to make him Younger Than They Look.
    • Merope, Voldemort's mother, was subjected to a barrage of verbal and physical abuse by both her brother and her father, some of it for the reason that she was a Stalker with a Crush on Tom Riddle Sr., a Muggle. Then when both of them were locked away in Azkaban, she slipped Tom Riddle, Sr. a Love Potion, using the induced infatuation to get him to marry her and do the nasty with her enough times to conceive Tom Riddle, Jr., who later comes to be known as Voldemort.
    • Tom Riddle Sr. was slipped a Love Potion and raped by Merope Gaunt. When she stopped giving it to him and told him that she was a witch, he was understandably not pleased. However, abandoning her and leaving her with nothing was certainly knowingly abusive, especially if he had known that she was pregnant with his child. His abandonment of his wife and child results in Merope being reduced to poverty, dying giving birth to their child, and in that child growing up unloved in the orphanage where he was born. The Parental Abandonment of said child comes back to directly bite him in the ass later on, given that he grew up to become The Sociopath who discovered his father's identity and proceeded to deliberately become a Self-Made Orphan.
    • Voldemort himself also counts. As well as being a mass murderer and torturer, he has a charisma that attracts him multiple followers. Despite the devotion that his followers have for him, he doesn't return it at all. He uses this devotion, along with insults, the Cruciatus Curse, threats to harm their family members, and blackmail to get them to do what he wants. He was abandoned by his father before he was born and had his mother die on him just after he was born, leaving him to be raised in an orphanage and unloved. J. K. Rowling says herself that he would have turned out much differently if he had been raised by at least one of his parents.
    • Harry's Aunt Petunia is notorious for being one of Harry Potter's Abusive Muggle Foster Parents, but then we find out that she was jealous of her sister Lily's turning out to be a witch. The discovery of Lily's magical abilities also resulted in their parents favoring Lily over her, making Petunia The Unfavorite.
  • So many works by Stephen King feature at least one of these
    • In It, Beverly's abusive husband is revealed in the narration to have had a physically abusive father.
    • The novel Rage focuses on a school shooting in which Charlie Decker, the Villain Protagonist, kills multiple people and holds several students hostage. The narration reveals that Charlie Decker has suffered multiple incidents of physical abuse at the hands of his father, including one where Charlie Decker was hit so hard with a belt that it required a trip to the emergency room, where Charlie gave a Cut Himself Shaving excuse to explain his injuries.
    • In another Stephen King novel, Carrie, the titular character is regularly subjected to loads of abuse by her widowed Christian fundamentalist mother, Margaret White. We later find out that Carrie is a Child by Rape. At one point, Carrie's parents were so hard-line fundamentalist that they were remaining celibate and then Mr. White changed his mind and forced himself on Margaret in a combination of Its Not Rape If You Enjoyed It and Marital Rape License. She is so ashamed of having "sinned" and so unwilling to think of her experience as rape that she refuses to believe that she's pregnant when she is, calling it "a cancer of the womanly parts."
      • Chris Hargensen also counts, being one of Carrie's many bullies, one of the key players in the infamous "pig's blood" prank that ends up being Carrie's Despair Event Horizon, and a victim of Domestic Abuse by her boyfriend, Billy.
  • In The Hunger Games, Katniss describes how after her father died, her mother fell into an Angst Coma with what was most likely depression. For the duration of her Angst Coma, she neglected both Katniss and Prim as well as herself, resulting in them both having to care for her to keep up appearances and prevent their being sent to the Community Home while Katniss had to scavenge, and later start hunting, for food to keep them all from starving to death.
  • In the novel Starfish, one of the characters is a pedophile named Gerry. At some points the narration follows his point-of-view, and it's revealed that he himself was molested as a child.
  • Edward Cullen in Twilight was orphaned by the Spanish flu as a teenager and is trying to make up for a period of time in which he killed humans and drank their blood. Also, from how his family describes his behavior just before he met Bella, he seems to have met the criteria for clinical depression. Despite being Bella's love interest, that hasn't stopped the multitude of pieces published on the Internet on why he is a domestic abuser. For one thing, he sabotaged Bella's truck when she was about to go out to see her friend Jacob. Controlling where a partner can or can't go or who they can or can't have contact with, as well as damaging their personal property, is abusive behavior and is noted as such in resources on dealing with abuse.
  • Erik, the titular phantom of Phantom of the Opera, kidnaps Christine and threatens to blow up the operahouse, where the man she loves is, if she doesn't agree to marry him. He is revealed to have been reviled for his deformity even when he was a child to the point where his mother neither kissed him or permitted him to give her any.
  • In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Warren, one of the Scary Black Man attendants who are downright abusive toward the patients of the mental hospital they work in, is said to have seen his mother being raped by a white man as a child.
  • AM's sole female victim, Ellen, is subjected to abuse by the four men who AM has also been torturing nonstop for 109 years.
  • The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris provides us with Jame Gumb, who was abandoned by his alcoholic mother and then lived with multiple sets of abusive foster parents. He then grew up to become a serial killer who would kidnap overweight women and starve them for a week, during which he'd torture and taunt them, before killing and skinning them.
  • The End of Alice by A.M. Homes features a pedophile who was sexually abused by his mother as a child. Both the sexual abuse he inflicted on a young girl before killing her as well as that he received are described in graphic detail that certainly qualifies as High Octane Nightmare Fuel.
  • In Mercedes Lackey's When the Bough Breaks, the rich and successful father horrifically sexually abuses his preteen daughter. When he's brought to the elven version of justice, it's shown that his father physically and psychologically abused him as a child.

  • One of the Saw film series's serial killers, Hoffman, became one of Jigsaw's apprentices by way of Jigsaw catching him killing his Dead Little Sister's murderous boyfriend and trying to make it look like another Jigsaw killing. He becomes a rival to Amanda, another apprentice of Jigsaw's, to the point where he threatens to tell Jigsaw of her role in Cecil's robbery of Jill's drug rehab clinic, in which he accidentally caused her to miscarry Jigsaw's unborn son if she doesn't commit the murder that he tells her to, which is seriously magnificent bastardy, given what Jigsaw did to Cecil.
  • The Wachowskis' film version of V for Vendetta has V put Evey through an ordeal much like the one he suffered in a concentration camp, just as in the original comics. However, the Wachowskis gave V a more sympathetic portrayal than Alan Moore did and had Evey fall in love with V even after all that he put her through. Even though what she went through is meant to be horrifying to the audience as well as her, her falling in love with V still seems uncomfortably like Stockholm Syndrome.
  • The Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs forces Snow White to work and dress as a servant in her own residence and even tries to have her murdered. A prequel novel called "Fairest Of All" was published, in which the Queen, named Grimhilde, is revealed to have been made insecure about her appearance by her emotionally abusive father, who her sisters turned into her magic mirror.
  • In the film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs, the serial killer is Buffalo Bill, who infamously kidnaps overweight women, keeps them in a pit, starves them, and periodically comes to visit them to give them lotion to put on their skin and taunt them. After a week of this, he kills them and cuts away a piece of their skin to make into a flesh-suit. It turns out that, as Hannibal Lecter put it, "Our Billy wasn't born a criminal, Clarice. He was made one through years of systematic abuse."

Western Animation
  • Light example, Homer Simpson frequently physically abuses Bart, it is often revealed in flashbacks that his own father Abe was rather aloof and emotionally abusive to him as well. Abe was in some cases even seen strangling Homer in the same manner the latter does to Bart today.
    Homer: He said I was an accident, he didn't wanna have me.
    Marge: You didn't want to have Bart.
    Homer: Yeah but you're not supposed to tell the child.
    Marge: You tell Bart all the time, you told him this morning.
    Homer: *flustered* But when I do it it's cute!
  • Dr Robotnik of Sonic Sat Am who is incredibly abusive to his nephew Snively, was revealed in "The Void" to have initially been a surbordinate to wizard Naugus, who used his magic to torture and intimidate Robotnik. The fact Snively thought his treatment was Actually Pretty Funny probably only furthered Robotnik's spite towards him however. In the planned third season Naugus would have returned, actually reducing Robotnik to a cowering toady similar to Snively.
  • On Moral Orel, Clay Puppington abuses his son (both physically and psychologically) and was all but ignored by his father after inadvertently causing his mother's death.
  • In Hey Arnold!, the titular character has a Stalker with a Crush named Helga who is also eager to hide the fact that she has a crush on Arnold... by subjecting him to relentless bullying and harassment that includes physical and verbal abuse. She also has Abusive Parents who favor her older sister over her and barely pay attention to her.
  • In The Dreamstone, Elite Mooks Urpgor and Sgt Blob are often shown ordering about and abusing lower Urpneys, something that makes some sense given they are most often at the brunt of Zordrak's horrible temper.
  • The South Park episode "Cartman Sucks" has a subplot where Butters gets sent to a "straight camp" that very Anviliciously shows how ineffective, pointless, and wrong it is to attempt to Cure Your Gays. One example is one of the staff members, who cheerfully tells the campers that being gay and bisexual is abnormal and encourages them to "pray the gay away" from the inside of a Transparent Closet. To inspire them, he tells about how he was once gay, but not no longer because he turned straight by way of praying to God to make him straight, which he was obviously encouraged to do when he was younger by one or more homophobic authority figures.

Live Action TV
  • From Veronica Mars we have Aaron Echolls, who abuses his son. We learn later that his father was also an abusive alcoholic.
    • The abused child in question, Logan Echolls torments Veronica, provides the drugs that are used in her rape, and arranges such deranged activities as "bum fights." Despite being one of her biggest tormenters, he eventually became Veronica's boyfriend. He became woobified, as large portions of the audience chose to excuse his actions on the basis of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father.
  • Lionel Luthor on Smallville is an Archnemesis Dad who abuses his son Lex financially and emotionally in an attempt at making him stronger. He is absolutly ruthless in his desire to make Lex into a worthy heir for his corporate empire, and easily deserves the title of "Worst Father Ever." In Season 3, however, we learn that Lionel's own parents were a pair of alcoholic washouts who beat him regularly and went out of their way to sabotage his success; if Lionel can be trusted, they actually wanted him to end up just like them. He eventually killed them, then fabricated a new past for the family, claiming descent from Scottish nobility. Not only does this explain Lionel's drive for success, it also helps to demonstrate why he seems to be unaware that he is abusing Lex: in Lionel's mind, abuse is physical; he sees himself as an involved parent and nothing worse.
  • In most incarnations of Black Adder, the title character heavily abuses Baldrick, often in frustration at his mistreatment at the hands of his own higher power (often a monarch). His lampshading of this "Dog Kicks Littler Dog" scenario in the third installment is the page quote.
  • The titular character of House was abused by his father when he was a child and grows up to be a Jerkass who goes to illegal lengths to coerce or force people into unwanted medical procedures that are sometimes painful.


Video Games
  • Mystery Case Files: Escape From Ravenhearst -- Charles Dalimar claims to be this. (Well, technically, he never admits to the "Abuser" part, just the "Troubled".)
  • If you consider the relationship tree of the Metal Gear series, about half of them are abusive connections. Forgive the liberalness with which relationships are interpreted. Troubled Abuser always listed first. It helps that everyone has a Darkand Troubled Past.
    • Liquid Snake to Solid Snake: Abusive brother to brother.
    • Solid Snake to Liquid Snake: It may be entirely necessary, but it's still an abusive relationship.
    • Sniper Wolf to Otacon: Emotional abuse. Uses his affections to try and manipulate Snake, to a small degree.
    • The Colonel and Naomi Hunter to Solid Snake: Hard to interpret the relationship into friend or familial terms, but they're both using Snake for variously selfish ends.
    • And of course, Solid Snake to the Genome Soldiers: In the most fucked up way possible, abusive brother to brother.

Truth in Television
  • If statistics are right, 30% of all Abusive Parents were mistreated by theirs.
  • Joseph Frizl described his relationship with his mother as physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive. As an adult, he kept his mother imprisoned in the attic for 20 years before her death and infamously took his 18 year old daughter Elisabeth and imprisoned her in the cellar, meanwhile raping her enough times that she gave birth to seven children, three of whom never saw the light of day until one of them had a seizure requiring medical attention, enabling their release, at which time Elisabeth was 42 years old.
  • Chris Brown, who infamously physically abused his girlfriend Rhianna, spoke about having watched his mother being beaten by his stepfather from the ages of 7 to 13.
  • Richard A. Cohen is an "ex-gay" "therapist" who works to "cure" others of being gay by telling them that it's wrong to be gay and to try as hard as they can to be straight, even if that means going against themselves, which is an emotionally and psychologically abusive thing to do. He had an abusive home life that he states caused his homosexuality, which he says he has since healed from.
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