What's a villain to do when the hero is [[InvincibleHero invincible]], or too strong to attack head on? Whether because of tactics, defense, ThePowerOfLove, [[TheDeterminator will]], or because he won the SuperpowerLottery, the conventional tactics just aren't going to do the trick. By contrast, perhaps the villain himself is so weak that physical attack is impractical, or stands to gain if his enemies are not merely killed but admit defeat. In such a case, a good alternative strategy is often to attack the hero's resolve, and make him give up the fight.

[[DoomedHometown Blow up his hometown]]. [[AndYourLittleDogToo Kill his loved ones]]. Spout cutting {{Breaking Speech}}es and StrawNihilist diatribes at every opportunity. [[ArsonMurderAndJaywalking Steal his belongings]]. [[NoGoodDeedGoesUnpunished Turn everything good he's done against him]]. The ultimate goal is to drive the goodie past the DespairEventHorizon and make him more an enemy to himself than to the villain.

As with other such plots, it tends to backfire. Messing with the hero on this level [[ItsPersonal makes it personal]], incurring the risk of focusing the hero's attention squarely against the villain, or even triggering an UnstoppableRage. There's also the possibility of [[AwakeningTheSleepingGiant riling a previously neutral party]]. Because the story tends to be on the hero's side, this gambit is more likely to fail in the long run, though it may succeed in evaporating his hope at a critical point.

This is a common tactic of an invading army, the intent being to weaken the defenders by subduing their morale. This is also the basic idea behind terrorism. The HopeCrusher is a villain who is quite fond of this tactic.

See also VillainBall, DrivenToSuicide, DespairEventHorizon and DespairSpeech.

Compare RevengeByProxy, when the indirect loss is done solely for the sake of inflicting loss.


[[folder: Anime and Manga ]]
* This is the Anti-Spiral ''modus operandi'' in ''Anime/TengenToppaGurrenLagann'', arranging [[ManchurianAgent Manchurian Agents]], [[ColonyDrop Colony Drops]] and [[HopeSpot Hope Spots]] because the Power of the Spiral can't be defeated through main force. [[WellIntentionedExtremist All to save the world, of course.]] Although this is effective on some characters, [[HoistByHisOwnPetard it ultimately backfires,]] leading Team Gurren to the Anti-Spirals' home dimension and giving them a plethora of Lagann-type mechs with which to take them down.
* Similarly to the Anti-Spirals, [[spoiler: the Incubators]] from ''Anime/PuellaMagiMadokaMagica'' drive teenage girls to despair by [[spoiler: making [[DealWithTheDevil contracts]] with them and encouraging them to MakeAWish [[JackassGenie that they know will backfire,]] [[YouDidntAsk leaving out important details of the Magical Girl contract]] such as the required [[OurLichesAreDifferent lichification]], and eventually driving the girl to the DespairEventHorizon wherein they will become a [[EldritchAbomination Witch,]] which will then be killed by other magical girls for it's energy. The witches will also drive people to suicide, ensuring more despair.]] The point of this is to [[spoiler: [[WellIntentionedExtremist use that energy to save the universe from heat death.]]]] Also like the Anti-Spirals, it backfires: [[spoiler: [[IncorruptiblePurePureness Madoka]] uses her wish to [[AbstractApotheosis become a god]] and erase the whole witch system from existence, and when the Kyubeys try to bring it back in TheMovie, Madoka defeats them again- [[KarmaHoudiniWarranty for good this time.]]]]
* This is Knives' instruction to his minions in ''Manga/{{Trigun}}'', in the hopes that it will make Vash give up his stewardship of humans and [[FaceHeelTurn join the other side]]. In the anime, [[spoiler: it works, and Vash breaks down, becoming almost catatonic, at least until a [[HeartwarmingMoment moment of redemption]] redoubles his resolve]].
* In ''Anime/GunXSword'', Woo not only defeats Van in battle but also forces Van to recognize his own terror and confront the possibility of dying. It nearly works: Van is so shaken by his new fear of death that he is prepared to give up his revenge quest and run away. Fortunately, his sidekick calls him on his cowardice and challenges him to man up. ThePowerOfLove does the rest.
* In ''Manga/{{Monster}}'', Johan seemed to be attempting this with Doctor Tenma.
* The "Revenge Arc" of ''Manga/RurouniKenshin'' deals with Enishi's attempt to reduce Kenshin to a pathetic homeless wreck by destroying everything Kenshin holds dear, in revenge for Kenshin's (accidental) killing of Enishi's sister and Kenshin's first love, Tomoe. [[spoiler: It actually works for a while, after Enishi convinces Kenshin that he (Enishi) had murdered Kaoru; in realiti Enihi ''couldn't'' kill her because [[ReplacementGoldfish she reminded him of Tomoe]], so he took her prisoner instead. When Aoshi found out that the "Kaoru" who died was a puppet ''and'' Kenshin rescued Yahiko from one of Enishi's cronies, he recovered and decided to go rescue her.]]
* In ''Anime/DotHackSign'' the plot of the main villain involves a whole lot of this.
* [[spoiler:Madara]] of ''Manga/{{Naruto}}'' successfully pulled one on [[spoiler:Obito]] by maintaining PlausibleDeniability. He mind-controlled various shinobi, including [[spoiler:[[TheLostLenore Rin]]]], to create a situation where [[spoiler:Obito]] would witness the death of the one person who made his life worth living. The ensuing despair made him the perfect accomplice for [[spoiler:Madara]]'s plan.
** [[spoiler: It's later mentioned that Madara taught this tactic to Obito. In the anime there's a flashback showing Obito (successfully) pulling this on Nagato. He later tries it on Naruto, who manages to resist.]]
* ''LightNovel/ACertainMagicalIndex'': [[spoiler:One-Eyed Othinus tries to do this to Touma]] by attempting to make him feel worthless and a villain, by replacing him with someone else, who although different in large ways, has no effect on history, and how a simple change of perspective, without the assumption that he is a hero, turns his actions into that of a villain.
* In ''Manga/InuYasha'', [[CreepyChild the Baby]] tried this on [[{{tsundere}} Kagome]] by giving her very cruel {{breaking lecture}}s that hit her where it hurts the most for her: [[BelligerentSexualTension her love for Inuyasha]], [[AlwaysSomeoneBetter her insecurities towards Kikyou]], ''and'' her fear of becoming Inuyasha's UnrequitedTragicMaiden. [[spoiler: It almost works, but Kagome decides that even if her thoughts on Inuyasha and Kikyou are muddled, they're ''hers'' and the Baby has nothing to do with them, leading to a mix of AnguishedDeclarationOfLove and ShutUpHannibal.]]

[[folder: Comics ]]
* ComicBook/LexLuthor defeats Franchise/{{Superman}} in ''ComicBook/SupermanRedSon'' in this way: after every attempt to take out Superman by brute force fails, he attacks Superman's psyche instead with an ArmorPiercingQuestion.
** This sort of thing is done more than once. In ''Neverending Battle'' [[{{Expy}} Manchester]] [[ComicBook/TheAuthority Black]] throws all of Superman's available nemeses at him then finishes up by killing Lois [[spoiler: turns out the killing is a telepathic illusion]]. The point in this case is to try to get Superman to sink to his level via tragedy. Superman's allows the telepath into his mind to reveal there's a part of him that really wants to do that, but he doesn't succumb.
** Discussed in ''Comicbook/{{Justice}}''. Superman says he's only as invulnerable as his most vulnerable friend or ally.
* ComicBook/TheJoker has done this several times, such as in ''ComicBook/TheKillingJoke'' and the film partially based on it, ''Film/TheDarkKnight''. He does it either [[MotivelessMalignity because that's the way he is]] or because he secretly, desperately wants to prove that everyone else is really as hopeless as he is.
* This is the entire reason Batman wears a mask. The safety of anonymity means that villains can't harm the loved ones who they don't even know about.
** Not only that, but its the reason most superheroes have a SecretIdentity in the first place.
* [[spoiler: [[ItWasHisSled Ozymandias]]]] convinces Doctor Manhattan that he's giving his acquaintances cancer in ''ComicBook/{{Watchmen}}'', basically for this purpose.
* Following the death of his brother, the villain Kraven, ''ComicBook/SpiderMan'' villain Chameleon became increasingly crazy and devoted himself to putting Spider-Man through one of these, and along the way, he confirmed/learned Spider-Man's identity. This included convincing Peter he was in a CuckoosNest scenario and was actually an unhinged and depressed writer, as well as trying to attack Peter's family and friends.
* ''Comicbook/{{Daredevil}}''
** [[spoiler: Mysterio]] finds out he's dying, crosses the DespairEventHorizon himself, and decides he wants a TakingYouWithMe "swan song" where he can drive Daredevil insane. [[spoiler: It ultimately backfires, as Daredevil keeps a grip on his sanity, and after finding out who his enemy is and listening to his MotiveRant, turns the tables with a KirkSummation that convinces the self-proclaimed "artist" that he's never had an original thought or spark of creativity in his life, and that he's "a human xerox at best". Mysterio ends up surrendering and committing suicide.]]
** Kingpin tries to do the very same thing, and much like the above example, it backfires ''horribly''. With everything taken away from him, Daredevil [[RoaringRampageOfRevenge no longer has anything holding him back]], thus truly becoming a "man without fear."

[[folder:Fan Works]]
* In the MagicalGirl CrisisCrossover ''FanFic/ShatteredSkies'', [[Anime/SmilePrettyCure Joker]] wants to pull this on everyone, everywhere, in every universe... [[spoiler:[[OmnicidalManiac before he negates everyone and everything in existence, that is.]]]]

[[folder: Film ]]
* In ''Film/ThePatriot'' the British colonel burns a church with its town inhabitants still inside and pillages towns. When the patriot militia descends upon one of the villages it prompts one of the soldiers who just lost his family to shoot himself in the head.
* ComicBook/{{Bane}} in ''Film/TheDarkKnightRises'' is all about these. He even explicitly says so.
** ComicBook/TheJoker in ''Film/TheDarkKnight'' also uses this tactic, but by simply killing innocent people and cops until it's the people of Gotham who despair and turn on Batman for not giving up and turning himself in.

[[folder: Literature ]]
* In ''Literature/HarryPotter'', the Death Eaters use this at least as a supplemental strategy, striking randomly at civilian targets to foster fear among the populace. Their targets are meant to be the impure and blood traitors, but by their standards that includes everyone who isn't a Death Eater or supporter.
* Once [[Literature/TheLordOfTheRings Sauron]] loses his body, this becomes one of his main tactics. In addition to the more overt MindRape of the Nazgûl and the intimidation tactics used at Pelennor (such as catapulting Gondorian soldiers' heads into the city), he twists the Palantíri so that his enemies gradually lose all hope of vanquishing him. This prompts Saruman to commit a FaceHeelTurn and start collaborating with him, and Denethor to send his own son off to die and commit suicide in the midst of the decisive battle. In the film, Denethor's condition is even worse, such that he refuses even to send for help and even orders his soldiers to abandon their posts.
* It eventually becomes clear that this is one of the Dark One's main goals in ''Literature/TheWheelOfTime'': hurt the Dragon personally until he [[FaceHeelTurn turns]] or [[DrivenToSuicide takes himself out]]. In ''The Gathering Storm'', [[spoiler: he succeeds, and Rand almost tries to unmake the world before he snaps out of it]].
* In the novel ''Literature/MiracleMonday'', TheDevil's agent on Earth tries this on Superman (by trying to trick him into killing an innocent person) hoping to break his spirit (and in turn, the inspiration he provides humanity.) It fails because Superman [[TookAThirdOption just won't do it]].
* Frankly, the elaborate revenge undertaken by ''Literature/TheCountOfMonteCristo'' consists of his putting his enemies through one of these.
* In ''Literature/TheDresdenFiles'', [[spoiler: a fallen angel did this to Harry, convincing him to kill himself.]]
* This is [[BigBad Lord]] [[GodOfEvil Foul's]] stock-in-trade in the ''Literature/ChroniclesOfThomasCovenant''. Unlike many users of this tactic, Foul is actually ''successful'' more often than not; a full list of the characters he has driven or nearly driven past their personal DespairEventHorizon would be far to expansive for this page, but the most notable would be High Lord Kevin in the backstory, whom Foul drove to despair and then convinced to use [[FantasticNuke the Ritual of Desecration]], which ''might'' defeat Foul, but would also wipe out almost all other life in the Land. As it turned out, it ''didn't'' defeat Foul or even really inconvenience him that much, but the bit about "wiping out almost all life in the Land" was entirely accurate, and Kevin died knowing that in his despair he'd destroyed everything he'd loved or fought for- just as Foul planned.
* In ''{{Literature/Worm}}'' [[spoiler:Skitter]] realizes that since [[spoiler:OmnicidalManiac Scion]] has only just begun to feel human emotions he has no way to cope with his grief. So she throws reminders of what he's lost in his face until he's so bewildered and hurt they're able to take him down.

[[folder: Live Action TV ]]
* This was Azazel's plan throughout Sam Winchester's entire ''life'' in ''Series/{{Supernatural}}'', in an attempt to get him to agree to become Lucifer's vessel.
** Death brings back Bobby's wife as a zombie so he'll be forced to kill her a second time. Again, this is to break down Sam's support network.

[[folder: Tabletop Games ]]
* ''TabletopGame/{{Warhammer}}'' and ''TabletopGame/{{Warhammer 40000}}'' both feature Nurgle, the [[UltimateEvil Chaos God]] [[PlagueMaster of Pestilence and Despair]]. When mortals watch their loved ones wither from disease, or despair as their bodies bloat and decay from a hideous plague, they turn to Nurgle to escape the terror of their imminent death. Rather than cure them, Nurgle's blessings allow his followers to [[BeneficialDisease survive his disgusting attentions]] [[FeelNoPain free of pain or fear]], [[DealWithTheDevil trading their immortal souls to preserve]] [[BodyHorror their disfigured and corrupted flesh]]. The process leaves Nurgle's followers with a morbid sense of good humor and eager to lead others into "[[AffablyEvil Grandfather Nurgle's]]" scabrous embrace.

[[folder: Video Games ]]
* In ''VideoGame/KnightsOfTheOldRepublicIITheSithLords'', the ''protagonist'' actually uses this to defeat [[TheDragon Darth Sion.]] His connection to the Force basically makes him invincible, so in order to kill him for good, the player has to convince him to give up that connection willingly and die.
* In ''VideoGame/DiabloIII'', several bosses try this on for size. Azmodan is hilariously ineffective at it. Diablo does better, though.
* In ''VideoGame/ShinMegamiTenseiIV'', the OmnicidalManiac race known as the White ''dearly'' wish they could just wreck the Yamato Perpetual Reactor and just return Creation to the Nothing it was before to escape God's plans, but they have no real existence to do so; they need a physical proxy to do it. Thus, they pull a massive DespairGambit involving three {{Alternate Timeline}}s, the forces of Law and Chaos, and four Samurai, hoping that at least once, they will get the champion they need.
* In ''VideoGame/BaldursGateII'', Bodhi tries to pull this on the PlayerCharacter by attempting to kidnap their love interest if they had completed a romance. [[spoiler: The attack fails if you romanced an NPC from the Enhanced Edition, but succeeds with all original four love interests.]] The gambit fails, at least partly because [[spoiler: Charname goes in for a RoaringRampageOfRevenge instead.]]

[[folder: Web Animation]]
* ''WebAnimation/{{RWBY}}'': Salem's ImageSong and her Volume 3 finale speech suggest that her plan is to destroy humanity by turning them against each other and sinking them into despair. Her goal appears to be to ruin Ozpin. She strongly implies that the only way to truly destroy humanity is to destroy Ozpin's faith in them and their future, but that Ozpin's faith will not be shattered until she has managed to destroy the hope and optimism his "simple soul" represents. The "simple soul" is implied to be the resolutely optimistic Ruby.

[[folder: Web Comics ]]
* A pair of pages of ''Webcomic/SuperStupor'' [[http://www.superstupor.com/sust12282010.shtml lampshades the danger of this:]] The villain apparently didn't anticipate that "proving" to a superhero that killing is A-OK ''by killing his girlfriend'' is only a good idea when you're ready to sacrifice your own life in the name of your political statement.