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Driven to Madness
"Madness is the emergency exit. You can just step outside, and close the door on all those dreadful things that happened. You can lock them away forever."

A sister trope to Go Mad from the Revelation, Driven To Madness represents a deliberate attack upon a character's sanity and mental stability.

There are many varied reasons for someone to attempt to drive another person to madness. Perhaps they seek to break the character's will in order to make them more pliable, or it may be an attempt to induce a Freak Out! or Face-Heel Turn. They may wish to punish the character or torment them by attacking their loved ones in such a fashion. They may try doing so in order to have someone discredited or declared incompetent. Maybe they're just jerks.

Somewhat less evilly, someone may regard sanity as a prison and seek to release a character from its constraints by any means necessary.

The methods can vary, as well, from making them doubt their perceptions, to the aforementioned torture, exposure to a Brown Note, or even straight-up Mind Rape. Some Eldritch Abominations drive men mad with their mere presence. Sometimes it can come just from going really really fast.

Particularly effective if the character has reason to doubt their own sanity, such as if they have recently been discharged from a mental institution or have undergone a nervous breakdown. Indeed, in such a situation, this often takes the form of an Through the Eyes of Madness plot - at least at first.

Can overlap with Break the Cutie.

The subtrope, Gaslighting, is the subtle, insidious form of this.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • In Naruto Madara's talk with Sasuke about Itachi's true intentions ultimately led to Sasuke becoming Ax-Crazy and joining Madara's side.
  • What Akito Sohma did to Kana in Fruits Basket. After Akito blinded Hatori for asking for permission to marry Kana, Akito turned against the poor nurse and blamed her so much for Hatori's partial blindness that she went mad. It was so bad that Hatori had to delete Kana's memories of their relationship.
    • Ironically, Akito herself was driven to madness upon years of monstruous psychological abuse coming from her mother Ren. As a little kid, Akito was naive and bad-tempered but not evil; however, she completely SNAPPED and became a massive Yandere with some of the worst issues in the whole cast.
  • Johan of Monster is an expert at driving perfectly sane and normal people to suicide through total Mind Rape. From the little that is known of his past, his own sanity was methodically attacked throughout his childhood.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: The Killing Joke: In which The Joker attempts to drive Commissioner Gordon insane and fails.
    • Unfortunately, a detective who has the misfortune of overseeing Joker being processed through to jail in Batman Confident is indeed driven to madness, turning into a cop-killing psychopath who ultimately commits suicide when he realizes how Joker turned him into a monster.
      • Subverted with Harley Quinn, who was was insane but functional when she first met the Joker; Joker simply gave her an excuse to give up control to her crazy side. As someone put it elsewhere on the site, "the Joker might have driven her mad, but Harley was willing to car-pool."
  • The Sheeda in Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers take great pride in their ability to break even the most noble of people and re-form them to suit their twisted desires.
    • Also from Seven Soldiers, after life has had a good hard go at breaking Sally Sonic, Vitaman essentially forces her to debase herself and then exposes her to Doctor Hyde's Evil Serum to finish the job.
    • The Terrible Time Tailor Zor briefly accomplishes this with magic, turning Zatanna into the person she would be if he had raised her instead of her father. Fortunately, mad "Zorina" is enough of a brat to reverse the spell, just to annoy her "daddy".
  • Happens to Warren White, a white collar criminal who finds himself in Arkham Asylum in the limited series Arkham Asylum: Living Hell. As the story progresses, Warren is continually tortured, abused and terrorized by the other inmates, until finally, he is locked inside Mr Freeze's empty cell by an inmate trying to steal his identity, where he loses his nose, his lips, some of his fingers, and his ears to frostbite. Now a "freak" himself, Warren transforms himself into the villain The Great White Shark.
  • Incidentally, Spider-Man is very good at this even if he doesn't entirely mean to do it.
    • Kraven was so confounded by Spider-Man's humiliating defeats that he went nuts and eventually committed suicide.
    • Electro started off as a typical Jerk Ass criminal but years of verbal and physical torment had enough of a toll that he is now relegated to asking his mutant girlfriend to shapeshift into Spidey during sex so he could feel in control.
    • While Dr. Octopus was driven insane by the accident that turned him into a villain, it has been noted that Spider-Man's constant taunts and beatings drove him farther over the edge. Also, in two separate incidents, he was mentally scarred after pissing Spider-Man off. One of those times involved Spidey ripping his mechanical arms off.
    • The Chameleon was frightened into a coma when he unknowingly built robot duplicates of Peter Parker's dead parents. It ended up being a case of Beware the Nice Ones.
    • Titania of She-Hulk fame first fought Spidey back in Secret Wars and instantly acquired a deep fear of Spidey and spiders in general due to the beating/embarrassment she received.
    • Norman Osborn, like Dr. Octopus, was also already crazy when he first went up against the wall-crawler but after his first defeat, he essentially dedicated his entire life to ruining Peter's. In fact, since he was behind The Clone Saga, it was an inverted case since it mentally broke Peter Parker for about a year or two.
    • Spidey drove Eddie Brock (aka Venom) insane by exposing the real identity of a killer after Brock had identified a compulsive liar who'd taken credit for the crimes. This was the only case in which Peter drove someone insane without meeting him.
  • In The Boys, Black Noir, the clone of Homelander, drove Homelander insane by mailing him photos of Homelander actually Noir dressed up as Homelander eating babies, eating hearts, and committing violent murder-rapes. Homelander became an insane monster because he thought he was already a monster and just didn't remember it.
  • Superman and Green Lantern villain Hank Henshaw, better known as the Cyborg Superman, was once a normal scientist (hell, he was an expy of Reed Richards) until an accident changed him. He watched his friends die, his body disintegrate and, when he built a robot body for himself, watch his wife commit suicide. When he escaped using a small rocket he built from Supes' Birthing Matrix, he drove himself mad through the incredible loneliness, reasoning himself that he didn't leave Earth because he was a threat, he was driven off by Superman because he was jealous.
  • Used to be part of Diabolik's modus operandi. He stopped doing that, but by that time he had earned himself two formidable enemies in the form of one of these victims and the son of another.

    Film 
  • The main theme of Shock Corridor, where the hero has himself declared insane and sent to the asylum to solve a murder case. But things are going the wrong way.
  • The Screaming Skull: In which a man attempts to drive his wife insane in order to get unrestrained access to her money. It shares very little with the F. Marion Crawford short story of that name besides the title.
  • Let's Scare Jessica to Death
  • In Batman Begins, the Scarecrow uses his fear toxin to drive people insane — and then he gets a dose himself.
    • In the sequel, The Dark Knight, the Joker attempts to turn Harvey Dent insane to prove that no one is incorruptible. He succeeds.
  • The Skeksis render their captives near-mindless servants and steal their living essence by exposing them to The Dark Crystal.
  • In the Roger Corman directed Vincent Price film Pit and the Pendulum (bearing loose resemblance to the Edgar Allan Poe story it is based on), this is the goal of Nicholas Medina's tormentors. It goes horribly right.
  • Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte: Attempted semi-successfully with one part gaslighting, one part drugs, and one part Faking the Dead with a Staged Shooting.
  • The film Sleep, My Love with Claudette Colbert.
  • In Gaslight, Gregory is using all sorts of Gaslighting methods to convince Paula she's going mad.

    Literature 
  • All the Outer Gods of the Cthulhu Mythos can drive one insane, but Nyarlathotep is apparently the only one who seeks to do so For the Evulz.
    • Arguable. In none of Lovecraft's works does Nyarlathotep just randomly harass anybody. In the Haunter of the Dark he seeks to kill his summoner, because he didn't provide an appropriate sacrifice, in The Dreams in the Witch-House he just played a role as a guardian to the secrets beyond human ken who receives sacrifical tribute in return of allowing individuals to cross that veil, and in the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath he is seeking retribution against Randolph Carter for trying to see Earth's god's he had sworn to protect (and dominate) for unknown purposes.
  • In a somewhat unknown Swedish novel, Simon's Family by Marianne Freddriksson, the character Isak is training at a boot camp. His squadron leader tries to break the spirit of him by being his antisemetic self (Jewish Isak had been molested as a child by Nazis- no I'm not making this up). Isak begins to go numb almost to the point of no return.
  • This is the final fate of the protagonists in Alexander Pushkin's The Bronze Horseman and The Queen of Spades.
  • The Book of Lost Things: A common result of the Crooked Man's tortures, usually after being Forced to Watch.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angelus does this to Drusilla before turning her into a vampire.
  • River Tam is driven mad by the government and the knowledge she learns from the officials who come to see her.
    • Not to mention the show's Reavers, who will occasionally keep one victim alive and force said victim to watch their shipmates be raped to death, skinned and eaten. The survivor will ultimately go mad from the experience and will only cope by becoming a Reaver themselves.
  • Averted in the Sci-Fi miniseries Children Of Dune when one of the Cast-out attempts to drive Leto Atreides II insane with too much spice consumption. Rather than going insane, he becomes completely immune to the effects of spice and gains some superpowers into the bargain.
  • In The Prisoner Number 6 goes to work on the Number 2 of the week in "Hammer Into Anvil". (Arguably, breaking Number 6' sanity is the point behind the whole series.)
  • In My Name Is Earl the episode "Crazy Witch Lady" has the titular Lady driven to madness by the citizens of Camden treating her like an evil witch. It is implied she was just a regular quirky Camden resident before this.
  • Dr. Prospect does this to Daido Katsumi in W Returns: Eternal by slaughtering the entire village he was trying to save and then rubbing salt in the wound by explaining how this happened because NEVER took them out of the village in the first place. Katsumi snaps completely as a result.
  • This is what the main character of The Cube has to contend with for the teleplay's entire duration.
  • In Doctor Who, Rassilon drove the Master to madness by impanting the never ending sound of war drums in his mind when he stared into the Time Vortex as a child. The Master's last words before one apparent Final Death (it didn't stick) to the Doctor was him asking whether the drumming would finally end.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Black Spiral Dancers of Werewolf: The Apocalypse force their captives to walk the Black Spiral and go as mad as they have.

    Theater 
  • In the play Gas Light (and the two film versions of the play) the husband plays tricks on his wife in order to convince her shes going crazy. The term Gaslighting was coined after the film for this kind of action.
  • In Euripides's tragedy, Bacchae, the god Dionysus drives his aunts —and many of the women of Thebes— mad because they dishonored his mother and refused to acknowledge his divinity. The play ends with tragic results.
  • A Streetcar Named Desire: Stanley to Blanche.

     Video Games 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Many Looney Tunes characters end up doing this to their antagonists - of particular note are the mice Hubie and Bertie.
    • Accordingly, the Warner Kids of Animaniacs almost invariably manage to do this to anyone they have adopted as their "Special Friend" (generally someone who is being a jerk to start with).
  • Squidward in SpongeBob SquarePants occasionally becomes insane when the situation becomes simply too much for him. A notable example is in "Club SpongeBob" where, after losing all hope in escaping a forest, worships a toy conch with the rest of his companions.
  • In The Twelve Tasks of Astérix, the titular hero and his friend are sent to "The Place That Sends You Mad", a building from which they are to receive a certain form - alas, within the building lies a ferociously obstructive bureaucracy. So obstructive, in fact, that it briefly pushes Obelix over the edge. Fortunately, Asterix manages to turn the situation around, driving the bureaucrats mad instead - and allowing him to get the form in the process.
    • Earlier in the film, Asterix also manages to cause a hypnotist to turn his power back onto himself, causing the poor man to believe himself a wild boar.
    Iris: (eyes glowing) By Osiris and by Apis, look at me...
    Asterix: Can you light those up one at a time?
    Iris: Wha—be quiet! Now, by Osiris and by Apis, look into my eyes...
    Asterix: Can you light them up one at a time?
  • Sam & Max: Freelance Police: Sam and Max do this to Moral Guardian Kent Standit in "The Glazed MacGuffin Affair". When he banned the titular snack food, Sam and Max went on a crusade to make him lift by getting him to taste one, following him everywhere he went and trying to trick him into eating one. This escalates into a cross-country chase, ending when Kent realizes he's arrived at the factory where Glazed MacGuffins are made and snaps.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic's Discord favors this as a method of Break the Cutie.
  • In the second season of Laff-A-Lympics, Mildew Wolf has shown signs of being driven to madness after enduring and doing commentary on the show's silly Pseudolympics. One episode at the end actually has him in a strait-jacket committed to a mental ward.

Damaged SoulMadness TropesGaslighting
Designated VillainAnti-VillainDriven to Villainy

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