Grew a Spine

Bob may have opinions, but he doesn't act on them if someone disagrees. Instead, he will follow their instructions or advice. This someone might be anyone, a single person that he is dependent on, or the prevailing attitudes in society. Then Bob starts to trust and act on his own judgment, and begins to go his own way. Bob earlier had no independent judgment in relation to some external factor, and this is the growth and expression of his own judgment: he's growing a spine.

This is a form of Character Development, and often a defining moment in a Rite of Passage. It's also a staple of a Coming-of-Age Story, where it does not necessarily mean that Bob has more resolve than earlier, but rather that he has learned to follow his own independent judgments. It might be lousy judgment, but at least he has started to develop and act on it.

As a trope, this can take two forms:

  1. A plot arc for a character. This is the long and slow variety.
  2. A single scene, where the character unambiguously chooses their own way in a plot-relevant fashion.

Grew a Spine is normally a big part of a Coming-of-Age Story, and can be assumed to be included as part of that. Please only include such examples if Grew a Spine is the major part of the Coming-of-Age Story.

Some starting points for Grew a Spine is Extreme Doormat or Shrinking Violet, but the character might just be inexperienced and unsure of themselves. After all, this is all part of growing up. May coincide with Took a Level in Badass or Sudden Principled Stand. Has nothing to do with the evolution of vertebrate animals.


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  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Shinji tries to be more self-assertive and confident throughout the series. It backfires horribly until the very end, where his determination to live no matter how much life sucks finally lets him earn a happy ending. note 
    • In Rebuild 2.22, Shinji both grows a spine and takes several levels in Badass during the battle against Zeruel. It doesn't end well for Zeruel, who becomes Unit-01's dinner. The repercussions of Shinji actually growing a spine for once, however, include humanity being reduced to a fraction of that it used to be.
      • In Rebuild 3.33, Shinji has his newly-grown spine broken and grows a new one by the end, as he tries to undo the damage done by Near-Third Impact. However he ends up starting Fourth Impact in the process, and further reduces humanity to what is implied to be the cast of FINAL.
  • Yukiteru of Mirai Nikki. This backfires horribly, until he manages to earn his almost happy ending.
  • Hiroko in AKB49 - Renai Kinshi Jourei opposed her Fantasy-Forbidding Father for the first time in her life after he demanded her to quit her aspirations as an Idol Singer and she refused, which led to her father estranging her and her gaining even more resolve than before to pursue her dreams.

  • In the "Outer Dark" arc of The Authority, Swift, who's normally more gung-ho, decides to oppose one of Jenny Sparks' orders, as following it might lead to the unnecessary deaths of aliens that might be considered civilians. In "The Nativity", she also forces a truce between the Authority and Krigstein that gives the latter control over the Southeast Asian government that the Authority recently overthrew, in order to avoid a long, drawn-out conflict in which Krigstein's forces were more than willing to kill civilians.
  • Klak from Pocket God is a Butt Monkey who gets no respect from the tribe. However when he starts hanging out with the more assertive Moon, he starts to stand up for himself more often.

    Fan Works 
  • A Crown Of Stars: Several characters -including Asuka- remark to Shinji several times that he needs to learn to push back and stand his ground if he wants to have a relationship with Asuka. Slowly he starts to gain one through the history. After liberating Buenos Aires he is determined to try to be a hero and a good person.
  • Advice And Trust:
    • Shinji, with the help of Asuka's influence. Fully demonstrated in the fight with Bardiel, where he and Asuka convince Rei to disobey Gendo and attempt to rescue Hikari.
    • And thanks to Shinji and Asuka's influence, Rei develops one as well...covertly, so as not to cue Gendo in to the fact.
  • Evangelion 303: Due to being older, Shinji Ikari is less wimpy in this fic that his canon counterpart, but he is still somewhat of a wuss with no motivation or drive to live on. During pillow talk Asuka said him that he could not keep that attitude when people like herself depended on him to live. And in fact, in the second story arc Asuka went through a downward spiral and Shinji needed growing a spine to help her and save her from herself.
  • Hail To The King: Zone Fighter helps Shinji to grow one through the history. Shinji is still quiet and calm, but he becomes more confident and assertive.
  • Once More with Feeling: The premise of this story is Shinji returning to the past with a steel rod inserted into his back to manage to make up for his complete lack of a spine in the original series, and thus saving the world.
  • The One I Love Is: Shinji forces himself to grow a spine AND keeping it intact to protect Asuka and Rei.
  • RE-TAKE: Beset by Bad Dreams of a horrible future Shinji forces himself to grow up and become a Badass to avert it. In the process he gets hurt, despairs, loses Asuka and then he gets her back... and he finally and trully becomes a hero and selflessly saves the world.
  • Scar Tissue: The events of the Angel War and Instrumentality had removed any fragment of backbone that Shinji grew during the War, and he was wimpier than ever in the post-Impact world. However, throughout the fic Shinji forces to himself to regrow a spine to confront his inner intense self-hatred and protect his surrogate family, as seen when he saved Asuka after they got shot by a sniper.
  • The Second Try: After Third Impact Shinji needs to man up in order to survive, help Asuka and later raise their daughter together. And he manages it, maturing and becoming a better and stronger person who'll defend his family at all costs. Threaten Asuka or Aki at your own risk.
  • Shinji And Warhammer 40 K: Possibly The Most Triumphant Example in Evangelion fanfiction, this fic is the tale of a wuss becoming God Emperor of Humankind. At the start of the story Shinji is his wimpy canon self, but after finding a suitcase full with Warhammer 40,000 figurines and books he gradually grows a gigantic spine, becoming an utterly fearless Badass that earns the reverence of his people for his heroism and the love of women for his gentleness.
  • Thousand Shinji: A darker example. After being abandoned by his father, Shinji found a mentor who raised him and forced him to grow a spine. However his teacher was an amoral trickster, and Shinji grew into a trickster, violent, mostly uncaring asshole. He STILL fights to protect humanity and he only targets people who is worse than him or has tried to make him harm, and he still cares for other people (such like Asuka, Rei and Misato. May Heaven help you if you hurt them), but he is a Manipulative Bastard and a Jerkass.

  • Luke leaving Yoda's training in The Empire Strikes Back to save Han and Leia.
  • This is a big part of Raven's character development in X-Men: First Class. The downside is she joins the wrong side in doing so, foresaking the only family she's ever known.
  • Todd in Dead Poets Society goes from extremely shy and incapable of speaking up for himself to the first student to stand on his desk in support of Mr Keating when the latter is fired.
  • Near the end of School of Rock, Ned the perpetual pushover is getting chewed out by his girlfriend for his spinelessness. Right when she asks if he's ever going to get around to standing up for himself, he interrupts her by heading off to the concert that she didn't want him to go to. Many of the kids also grow spines in a more gradual way, by learning to defy their overly strict parents.
  • At the end of The Hangover, Stu finally stands up to his overbearing girlfriend Melissa, even going so far as to dump her.
  • In Separate Tables, this is the conclusion of the character arc for Sybil, the Shrinking Violet dominated by her bitchy My Beloved Smother. Her hesitant romance with Major Pollock, a fellow guest at the hotel, is wrecked when her mother humiliates Pollock, exposing him as a Phony Veteran and a Covert Pervert who was caught hitting on women in darkened theaters. After Major Pollock comes down for breakfast, Sibyl's mom makes a show of leaving the hotel dining room, and demands Sibyl leave with heróbut for the first time Sibyl defies "Mummy", remaining at her seat and insisting on welcoming Major Pollock for breakfast.

  • In the Vorkosigan Saga:
    • In Shards of Honor, this is combined with Sudden Principled Stand when Sergeant Bothari refuses to rape Cordelia as per Admiral Vorrutyer's orders.
    "She's Commodore Vorkosigan's prisoner. Sir."
    • Ekaterin in Komarr and A Civil Campaign, though it is probably better to say that she found and nurtured the spine, rather than grew it.
  • William de Worde Grew a Spine relative his father in The Truth. An example of the Coming-of-Age Story variant.
  • In Chronicles of the Kencyrath:
    • Donkerri ordering the Caineron troops to their posts in the end-battle in Dark of the Moon, countermanding his grandfather's orders.
    • A plot arc for Torisen in his relation to Adric Lord Ardeth in the same book.
  • Peter Pays Tribute has the main character, Matt, and his counter-part Peter, both learn how to stand up to their father-figure.
  • Ella Enchanted is a concrete-metaphor version of this, where the protagonist has been magically compelled to be a pushover.
  • In On Basilisk Station, the first Honor Harrington novel, Alistair McKeon has a strange variety. He proposes a moral course which is promptly discarded as wrong, but the very act of making an independent proposal against The Captain and arguing for it was a key in developing the dynamic between the characters.
  • This is the main character development arc for the protagonist of Doc Sidhe.
  • A minor plot point (and one of many) in The Wheel of Time. Nynaeve is infuriated that the Kin are helplessly deferential to the Aes Sedai despite being technically independent and in many ways more learned. She endeavours considerably to get them to collectively "grow some backbone" and stand up for themselves, and they gradually do... to her, which is not remotely what she intended.
  • A Mage's Power The premise of the story is Tasio trying to invoke this on Eric, the Extreme Doormat. Being a Trickster Archetype, he does this by promising Eric help, then dropping Eric in mercenary company and (seemingly) abandoning him. The unsaid message is "grow a spine or lose your head." The definitive moment of growth is when he refuses to be bribed by an orc attempting to rape a friend of his, and instead, kills said orc. Tasio arranged for this scene.
  • In Don't Call Me Ishmael!, this is a big part of Ishmael's Character Development. It takes a long time for him to become more self-confident and stand up for himself. At the beginning of the first book he lets bullies walk all over him, but this slowly changes when he joins the debate team.
  • In The Belgariad, moments that demonstrate this make up half of Belgarion's Coming-of-Age Story. Most frequently in the form of rebellion against his aunt Polgara, until he gains enough maturity and perspective to realize that she really is acting in his best interest.

     Live-Action TV 
  • In one episode of Head of the Class Jawarhalal (an Indian student) is suddenly well known for agreeing with everyone about everything. Then the class goes to see Mr. Moore's off-off-off-Broadway post-post-Modern production of Hamlet. Everybody hates it except Jawarhalal, who defends it to everyone. They're so caught up in trying to prove him wrong that until the end of the episode they never ask him why he likes it and don't notice that he's disagreeing with them, counter to his personality.
  • A major part of Fabian's development in House of Anubis season 2. Just calling out Joy for her Jerkass traits took a lot of backbone he didn't have before, considering how earlier he was mainly working to just not upset her or Nina.


     Video Games 

     Visual Novels 
  • In Katawa Shoujo, this happens to Hisao in Shizune and Lilly's routes. In Shizune's route, while attempting to stand up to Shizune's father in an argument over the Student Council, he reflects on how much he has changed, wondering why he was so resistant to joining the Student Council at first despite his general apathy about life. In Lilly's route, he realizes in the Good Ending that he has relied on her for everything, and so decides to confront her one last time before her departure for Scotland in order to apologize for not being there when she needed him.
    • Also happens for Hanako in her route: slowly through awkward relationship-building in the Good path, and abruptly in the Bad one. In the latter, Hisao gets excessively pushy, so she furiously tells him how much she hates it when people treat her like she's helpless...and how much she hates Hisao and Lilly for failing to understand that. Some people think her "Neutral" ending is the worst one, because it's the only version where she doesn't grow a spine.
  • Little Busters! is largely the story of how Riki—a rather nervous, passive, and feminine boy totally content to live in the shadow of his friends—manages to, over the routes, grow into a more independent and strong person. In fact, it's the very basis of the story—Kyousuke created this world specifically so he and Rin could become strong enough to live on without him after he and the others died in a bus crash.

     Web Comics 
  • Tavros Nitram from Homestuck finally stands up to Vriska and actually goes to fight her when he learns she created Bec Noir. Too bad it gets him killed.

    Web Original 
  • Taylor in Worm becomes a lot more able to assert herself after she begins kicking large amounts of ass in her supervillain identity, Skitter.

     Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s):

Growing A Spine