[[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. That's why I'm evil, heheheheheh!"''
-->-- '''Zorak''', ''WesternAnimation/CartoonPlanet''

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 (especially TheSociopath) 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 TheSocialDarwinist 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 [[DisproportionateRetribution 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}}. However, this can in turn be highlighted in-story if the other characters point out that FreudianExcuseIsNoExcuse. In cases of {{Complete Monster}}s, it fails to justify anything, merely explaining their origins and nothing more. It could even be used to make the character ''worse'', since they reject the possibility of ever getting over their trauma and changing their ways.

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 can be played with in many ways. 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 "says the guy who became a hit man to work out his daddy issues." The second way is for the villain to sneer at the hero's pity for them, even exploiting it in a fight. (Further, the villain is protesting far too much.) A third way 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'' way 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.

Many CrimeAndPunishmentSeries (and DarkerAndEdgier {{superhero}} comics) are notorious for WriterOnBoard stories [[FreudianExcuseIsNoExcuse 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}}.

However, not all examples of Freudian Excuses have to involve evil or villainous characters. It can also be used to explain the neurotic behaviors of even heroic or otherwise neutral characters.

See FreudianExcuseIsNoExcuse for deconstructions of this trope. See also DarkAndTroubledPast, StartOfDarkness, MonsterSobStory, JerkassWoobie, AbusiveParents, ParentalNeglect, ParentalAbandonment, WellDoneSonGuy, SingleIssuePsychology, TragicBigot, BeingTorturedMakesYouEvil, WoobieDestroyerOfWorlds, and WhosLaughingNow. Takes the "It's Nurture" position of the "NatureVersusNurture" argument; for the Nature position, see InTheBlood. Contrast UpbringingMakesTheHero.

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