[[quoteright:250:[[Manga/{{Saki}} http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/Saki_-_the_king_who_hated_tacos.png]]]]
[[caption-width-right:250:And so, he harnessed the power of corn to wage war...]]

->''"I always wanted a fire truck when I was little. I never got one. [[ParodiedTrope That's why I'm evil]], [[EvilLaugh heheheheheh!]]"''
-->-- '''Zorak''', ''[[SpaceGhostCoastToCoast Cartoon Planet]]''

The writers have a villain, and they want to give that character some depth. The obvious solution is to PetTheDog. Unfortunately, that tends to make the character less scary, causing BadassDecay and VillainDecay.

Instead, writers may keep the villain just as vile as before, but reveal that they have a reason for being that way. The most popular one is the Freudian Excuse: the villain had an [[DarkAndTroubledPast abusive and particularly violent childhood]] (such as AbusiveParents, [[AllOfTheOtherReindeer being bullied by peers]], etc.), making them insane and warping their perception on the universe, and that's why they're sociopathic {{Serial Killer}}s going on a RoaringRampageOfRevenge, or why they [[SuicidalCosmicTemperTantrum want to destroy everything out of their misery]], or why they're {{Straw Nihilist}}s who adhere to the SocialDarwinist philosophy that it's a CrapsackWorld where MightMakesRight. Sometimes, this is done for deliberate BadassDecay, but usually it isn't. The villain is as horrible as ever, only now the audience can look at them in a new way.

Unfortunately, just like a PetTheDog moment, the Freudian Excuse sometimes fails to give a villain any depth at all. If the villain is particularly evil, it can come across as an illogical and lame NonSequitur: "his father beat him, and that's why he's an OmnicidalManiac." Even if the villain's crimes are proportionate, the writers have to strike a hard balance. Too much emphasis on the excuse, and it looks like they're attorneys justifying the villain. Too little, and it is a fallacious AppealToPity that looks like a ridiculously gratuitous scene of {{Wangst}}.

Most importantly, the Freudian Excuse does not involve the character growing or changing; it explains why they haven't changed, and in fact, often serves as a signal that they cannot and ''never will''. Bad writers often think that the excuse can substitute for CharacterDevelopment, but it does the exact opposite. Good writers know the excuse has limits, and watch them. If done shrewdly enough, it may lead the audience to CryForTheDevil. A Freudian Excuse is often invoked to explain how someone who UsedToBeASweetKid became such a monster instead - again, much writerly skill is generally needed to pull this off and make it poignant rather than pathetic.

The excuse however is often subverted. One way is to use it to show how ''pathetic'' a villain is -- after the villain gives a BreakingSpeech, a hero's classic rebuttal is "[[GenreSavvy says the guy who became a hit man to work out his daddy issues]]." The second is for the villain to sneer at the hero's pity for them, even exploiting it in a fight. (In a DoubleSubversion, the villain is protesting far too much.) A third subversion is to simply present it as an ''explanation'' rather than a full excuse. Sometimes the author simply shows what warped the character into what they became without expecting the audience to feel any more sympathetic toward the character- a sort of psychological HowWeGotHere. And a ''fourth'' subversion is to use the {{Freudian Excuse}} as a justification for a {{Heel Face Turn}}; if the villain gets treatment he no longer has any reason to be evil and may pay the heroes back out of gratitude.

One thing that is almost never done is to explain how far back the abuse goes. For example, if the villain was beaten by his father, was the father beaten by ''his'' father? Most shows don't care.

Many CrimeAndPunishmentSeries (and DarkerAndEdgier {{superhero}} comics) are notorious for WriterOnBoard stories deconstructing the Freudian Excuse. At least once per storyline, there will be a slimy psychiatrist or defense attorney who declares that the [[AxCrazy Neck-Chopping Killer]] is merely a victim of circumstances, and it's the hero who should be locked away. These stories tend to end with said psychiatrist or defense attorney getting murdered by the killer, which is depicted as poetic {{Irony}}.

{{Fandom}}s often have a tendency to create these out of whole cloth for a DracoInLeatherPants.

This can be occasional TruthInTelevision (with exceptions of course), with many cases in criminal psychology finding a link between anti-social behavior and a history of child abuse/neglect, but UsefulNotes/SigmundFreud was mostly RightForTheWrongReasons (he pinned this on hysteria and [[FreudWasRight sexual repression problems]]), and this can actually be explained by modern concepts such as Social Learning Theory. Children are actually more likely to do (and exaggerate) behaviors if other people did them, especially when behavior comes with appealing rewards, and even if said behavior is bad/violent and the very people who are doing it do try to convince them to [[{{Hypocrite}} never do said violent behavior]] (how actions speak louder than words is hence why children are susceptible to DoNotDoThisCoolThing). For example, if someone was abused by their parents, he will be more likely to learn how to abuse his own children.

In behavioral psychology/operant conditioning, the child's bad behavior can be amplified by [[NoGoodDeedGoesUnpunished receiving constant punishment, discouragement, bullying, manipulation and abuse for good, altruistic behavior]] (e.g., TurnTheOtherCheek in childhood only gets [[BreakTheCutie disproven]] as [[WideEyedIdealist wide-eyed idealism]]), and how the child observes [[KarmaHoudini bad people surviving and even getting rewards for arbitrary violence]] (like said abuse). Ergo, it becomes [[TheSocialDarwinist reasonable to dispose altruism and adopt ruthlessness for the sake of survival]], [[AmbitionIsEvil self-improvement]] and other such incentives. This conditioning is particularly devastating in childhood since children, without an inherent moral code, need outside reinforcement and role models to develop ethical behavior and [[NoSocialSkills Social Skills]]. In this case, a Freudian Excuse would have more impact if coupled with AdultsAreUseless which gives the child a jaded perception that [[CrapsackWorld the adult law is useless in general]].

In Psi-Theory, constant abuse in childhood can lead to a persistent feeling of incompetence. Strategies to resolve this feeling, among others, can be the accumulation of political power, or violence towards weaker persons. Sometimes, in more neurologically based cases, the "Freudian Excuse" can be caused by mere brain damage, neglected brain development or a persistent "fight-or-flight" response state which was the result of said abuse. Whatever the reasons, this trope is often brought up in Real Life discussions as a form of {{insanity defense}} and/or a reason to [[ThereShouldBeALaw ban corporal punishment]].

Takes the "It's Nurture" position of the "Nature vs. Nurture" argument. For the Nature position, see InTheBlood.

See also StartOfDarkness, MonsterSobStory, JerkassWoobie, AbusiveParents, ParentalNeglect, ParentalAbandonment, MommyIssues, WellDoneSonGuy, SingleIssuePsychology, TragicBigot, BeingTorturedMakesYouEvil, WoobieDestroyerOfWorlds, and WhosLaughingNow. In cases of {{Complete Monster}}s, the Freudian Excuse fails to justify anything, merely explain and nothing more. Not to be confused with FreudWasRight, AllPsychologyIsFreudian (or any of the other five or so Tropes that UsefulNotes/SigmundFreud was the TropeNamer for, actually.)

* FreudianExcuse/{{Advertising}}
* FreudianExcuse/AnimeAndManga
* FreudianExcuse/ComicBooks
* FreudianExcuse/{{Fanfics}}
* FreudianExcuse/{{Film}}
* FreudianExcuse/{{Literature}}
* FreudianExcuse/LiveActionTV
* FreudianExcuse/NewMedia
* FreudianExcuse/{{Music}}
* FreudianExcuse/{{Radio}}
* FreudianExcuse/StandUpComedy
* FreudianExcuse/{{Theatre}}
* FreudianExcuse/VideoGames
* FreudianExcuse/VisualNovels
* FreudianExcuse/WebComics
* FreudianExcuse/WesternAnimation
* FreudianExcuse/RealLife