"Oh, man, Quatre loves to blame himself for everything if you let him. Sooner or later, he'll start saying that there's no air in space because he didn't work on it hard enough."
— Duo Maxwell
about Quatre Raberba Winner, Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz
On the one hand, you have The Atoner
, a person who committed a terrible deed and after a Heel-Face Turn
, resolves to spend his/her entire life trying to make up for it. On the other hand, you have the person who Apologizes a Lot
, someone who apologizes out of habit, even if they know whatever happened was not their fault.
Now, enter Guilt Complex, the bastard child of those two tropes.
A person with a Guilt Complex is someone who routinely
puts blame on his/her own shoulders. It differs from The Atoner
in that whatever happened cannot possibly be
their fault, and their justification for blaming themselves is usually a stretch, sometimes taken to ridiculous levels
. It differs from the Guilt Gambit
and from Apologizes a Lot
in that it's not just a Verbal Tic
or a way of expressing sympathy for someone else, they truly believe
if they had done something
different, whatever negative situation they were in would not have ever happened. And they feel this way all
the time, in all
situations, to the point where it basically becomes one of their main character traits. Often takes the form of "I should have..." or "If I hadn't..."
A Guilt Complex
can be born from many different personalities:
Expect the True Companions
to initially try and make this person see how they are not at fault, until it happens again, and again, and again, and again
, and in the end induces much eye-rolling, resignation, or even Lampshade Hanging
from other characters.
If a character indulges in this a little too
much, it's not uncommon for a supporting character to snap them out of it by accusing them of arrogance
for the attitude. Expect to see something along the lines of "you think you're the only one [responsible for/saddened by/involved in] this?!"
Often instrumental to the Heroic BSOD
. See also It's All My Fault
. Contrast with Never My Fault
, the inversion of this trope.
When you add examples, try to give as much detail as possible. Remember this trope is about a behavioral pattern
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Anime and Manga
- Miranda Lotto from D.Gray-Man. She has a massive inferiority complex from being bullied by everyone in her hometown and constantly told she's useless. She goes out of her way to be helpful, but feels she can't do anything right, and relentlessly blames herself for pretty much everything that goes wrong. "I'm sorry" and "I should have..." are the things you hear her say the most. Also, she's the team's Barrier Warrior, and often thinks she doesn't do a good enough job of protecting her True Companions. Her powers allow her to heal even the most fatal wounds...but only temporarily, any injuries that she heals returning after she deactivates her Innocence. Thus, you can expect her to try and leave it on for as long as possible, even when it's obviously taking a toll on her, and then apologize profusely when she's finally forced to shut it off..
- Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion suffers from this, mostly born out of an Extreme Doormat personality clouded with parental abandonment. It's his fault Touji's sister got hurt because he should've been more careful when fighting the angel that almost killed him, it's his fault Asuka hates him because he can't do anything right, it's his fault he had to kill Kaworu because he could've chosen to Take a Third Option, it's his fault Asuka died because he couldn't get his Eva out of its restraints in order to save her... Ironically that one actually was Shinji's fault, if he hadn't chokednote then Gendo wouldn't have had the excuse to use the dummy plug and Shinji would have been able to stop Unit 01 crushing the plug.
- Rurouni Kenshin:
- Himura Kenshin's Guilt Complex started from when he was a very young boy never quite got over the idea that he doesn't deserve to live— not only is he The Atoner for the numerous people he killed, but he has a ton of Survivors Guilt over being the only one who lived through the bandit attack in which he met his mentor— and it took a long, long time for him to break out of his Death Seeker ways. His fame as the Hitokiri Battousai means that many of his old enemies come looking for him and many people get hurt in the process. Hence Kenshin blames himself every time someone he cares about gets hurt in these altercations, even if they willingly put themselves on the line. Eventually this prompts him to leave Tokyo, leaving all of his friends and Kaoru) because It's Not You, It's My Enemies. Kenshin also blames himself for the death of his first wife, Tomoe. Granted, she did die by his sword, but as she threw herself in between him and his enemy in a Heroic Sacrifice, it was never Kenshin's intention, and since he was by that point blinded by pain and blood from previous battles, there was no way he could've seen her until it was too late. Tomoe herself certainly did not blame him at all.
- Tomoe's little brother went insane as a product of seeing his sister die. Therefore Kenshin also blames himself for this, and indirectly for every horrible deed Enishi brings about in his quest for revenge— effectively everything that happens in the last eleven volumes of the manga. It isn't until the very end of the series that Kenshin began to forgive himself, and believe himself worthy of finding happiness.
- In Trigun Vash the Stampede is a Technical Pacifist who believes that "there are plenty of ways to save everyone"; i.e. no matter how bad the situation looks, there's always a way to resolve it without anyone having to die. So, naturally, whenever anyone does die a violent death, he blames himself for not finding a Third Option in time.
- Syaoran from Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. He blames himself for pretty much everything that happened, because of his decision to rewind time when he was seven. This includes Sakura being taken away by Fei Wong Reed, Fai's being born a twin and therefore being a cause of misfortune, Kurogane's mother's death, and Watanuki, most of which happened before he was born. Probably. He blames himself because the Big Bad implies that his rewinding time gave him a free rein, but in reality it was his only option, he was pretty much manipulated by Fei Wong Reed and had no control over what Fei Wong did making use of the altered timeline, and there is no way the poor kid could've known all the ramifications that were possible from his one wish, anyway. Heck, even the readers don't quite understand all the ramifications.
- Sango from InuYasha. She blames herself for her undead little brother being Brainwashed and Crazy, for all the deaths he causes and for not being able to hate him and therefore kill him to stop him. She also blames herself every time Miroku is poisoned or injured.
- Jellal in Fairy Tail lets people pretty much beat the crap out of him without complaint out of guilt for his past actions. It holds when he learns he behaved that way due to brainwashing. Despite knowing he wasn't totally in control of himself he still offers to die to make up for what he did. After his offer to kill himself to make up for killing Simon is turned down he then tries his hardest to sink his ship (one of the most teased in the series) so that he won't get to be happy.
- Code Geass: Lelouch Lamperouge. To explain how deep and massive his guilt complex is would spoil the entire show. To say the least, Lelouch does many horrible things that directly or indirectly affect the people he loves that by the end he goes to extremes to atone. Deuteragonist Suzaku also has a rather large and justified guilt complex.
- Soichiro Yagami from Death Note, who blamed himself as well as Kira for the deaths of certain task force members, his daughter's comatose state after being kidnapped and held hostage by Mello, and not being able to kill Mello when given the opportunity. He also blames himself for losing the Death Note to terrorists, although this one was technically his fault.
- Being a Deconstruction Played for Laughs of the Fighting Series, Muteki Kanban Musume shows Megumi, who claims that she is contented with being a Combat Pragmatist trying anything, no matter how low, to defeat Miki. She lies. She has enough self-hatred that she thinks of herself as a Card-Carrying Villain, and being an Hypocrite is so hard for her and pervades every aspect of her life that she believes that Kayahara Sensei is an avenging spirit trying to torment her.
- Because of her past, even now Haruka from Kotoura-san still blames herself for everything bad that is related to her—or to be exact, her telepathy causing herself a Doom Magnet (even clearly it has nothing to do with her). Manabe calls her out for that in episode 10.
- Kyo of Fruits Basket blames himself for pretty much everything bad that happens to himself and those around him (and a lot of bad stuff happens around him). His mother is Driven to Suicide (which his father and many other people blame him for), he wasted an opportunity to save Kyoko Honda from her untimely death, and the Sohmas in general just treat him like dirt because he's the Cat. Eventually, he comes to the conclusion that he "wasn't meant to interact with people", and that being locked up in some corner of the Sohma estate and removed from the lives of his loved ones would be better for them.
- A more obvious example would be Kyo's cousin Ritsu. The poor man got so used to hearing his parents apologizing on his behalf that he started blaming himself for "everything," from imposing on his cousin Shigure to drinking the last bottle of milk in the house. When he goes shopping to atone, he ends up apologizing to a stray cat trying to steal his squid: clearly Ritsu didn't buy "enough" squid for everyone. His nonsensical apologies are actually what clues Tohru in on Ritsu's identity as the Monkey, because he takes after his mother.
- Kenzo Tenma from Monster. First, he blames himself for the death of a construction worker because he mistakenly followed orders from a corrupt director to operate on a famous opera singer who arrived shortly afterward. When the same circumstances occurred again, he opted to operate on the patient that arrived first (a child with a gunshot wound to the head) out of guilt. Said patient would become one of the worst serial killers in fiction. Tenma feels obligated to stop him to atone, even if it means killing him. Never mind that there was no way he could have possibly known that the kid was evil.
- Ai Kaga from Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei is an extreme case, apologizing and taking the blame for anything and everything (including being born,) and constantly worrying about inconveniencing others. In the anime she even hides Behind the Black until the final episode of the first season because she doesn't want to ruin the show.
- Spider-Man lives and breathes this trope:
- In one issue of Daredevil, Matt Murdock's friend, Foggy Nelson, was beating himself up for something, and Matt told him, "Foggy, you would blame yourself for the Battle of Bull Run if you could find a way to do it."
- Batman: Dick gets shot? Blames himself, fires Dick to protect him. Babs gets shot? Blames himself, doesn't show his face to her. Jason gets killed? Blames himself, becomes violent and careless. It doesn't help he constantly keeps Jason's memorial case around to constantly remind him of his perceived failure to save him. When Dick took over as Batman, he decides to move the case, and finds out that Bruce put files of the murder of Dick's parents into it. Dick even wonders to himself just how deep Bruce's self-flagellation goes. Bruce has been like this since he was eight. Parents get shot? Blames himself, dedicates the rest of his life to crimefighting and sabotages his own relationships because he genuinely believes he doesn't deserve to be happy.
- Emilia of The Other Woman blames herself for the death of her daughter and it sabotages her marriage to Jack and her relationship with her stepson, William.
- Daine in The Immortals quartet feels massive amounts of guilt; because of her presence, animals are becoming more human-like, and, in times of conflict, ready to die for human war. At various points in the later books, she claims to have gotten over it, but by the Protector of the Small quartet, she feels guilty again when Tortall is back in a full-scale war.
- Bella of Twilight takes the entirety of available guilt for any mistake she's partly responsible for. In one case, she's on different sides of the issue in different books (a vampire struggling not to bite someone who's been injured), and she blames herself both times. (This seems to be intentional on the author's part, as part of Bella's general tendency to think she's worse than she really is.) This is ironic considering that one of the main aspects of the series that its Hatedom complains about is how she seems obliviously self-centred with regards to all the trouble she causes everyone around her.
- Hurley in LOST seems to think that because he keeps finding his winning lottery numbers everywhere as the plot moves along, it means that the numbers are cursed, and somehow that means every other bad thing that happens on the island is his fault. Before coming to the island, he blamed himself for an accidental deck collapse that killed two people (He is quite overweight). For context, there were at least twice as many people on that deck as there should have been.
- Red Dwarf:
- Played for Laughs with Kryten. He's an android and it's part of his programming. He feels responsible for every failure the ship or crew encounters and he's extremely self-less. Lister tries to break the programme and make him a deceiving bastard so that he could be taking care of himself.
- In the episode "Justice," it's revealed that Rimmer has been harboring a mean one of these; he blames himself for failing to prevent the explosion that killed the entire crew of Red Dwarf, and because of it is put to trial by an automated justice space station. He's freed when the rest of the crew convince the station A. I. that Rimmer was far too incompetent and inconsequential to be entrusted with the sort of repair work that, done poorly, would endanger the entire crew.
- While Torchwood's Jack Harkness is usually seen as a clever, charming, flirtatious and impulsive man who doesn't like dwelling much on the bad stuff, the third series, Children of Earth, shows us that there are many things Jack has been blaming for over the course of his life, which has been long enough to make for a massive Guilt Complex; he just had not spoken his guilt out loud. Most of these things were not his fault at all, but being in a privileged position (not only is he the leader of Torchwood Three, but he also can't die) makes him feel responsible for the lives of those around him. He blames himself for the 12 children that were sacrificed in 1965, even though that was a government decision and he was only chosen for it. He blames himself when the other members of Torchwood are targeted by the government, because they're only wanted due to their involvement with him, to cover up his involvement in 1965. He blames himself for Ianto's death (and everybody else at Thames House), even though the 456 would have likely killed everybody they could even if Jack hadn't stood up to them. He had to sacrifice his own grandson and he blames himself for it, even if it was the only way to save the world from the 456. It's also revealed that he blames himself for earlier events, like Suzie's death (which he couldn't have stopped, as she killed herself the first time, and the second time she was killing Gwen to keep herself alive), his brother's torture (even though he couldn't have done anything to save him, they were just kids) and every action Gray took because of it, such as Tosh's and Owen's death at his hands.
- Josh Lyman on The West Wing, due to a sadistic sequence of events that was never his fault. His sister dies in a fire while baby-sitting him, he leaves his job as campaign manager of friend of his when said friend turns out to be a sorry excuse for a presidential candidate, which he was totally justified in doing but feels guilty about it anyway, his cancer-ridden father dies while Josh is out winning Bartlet the democratic nomination, and he receives a card from the NSA telling him bluntly that because of the job he worked hard to get, he will get access to a safe place in the event of a nuclear blast, but none of his friends will. These events hover in the background of every mistake he makes, driving him to compulsive overwork. His track record makes him constantly paranoid about something happening to one of his friends, which turns him into a Stepford Smiler towards them and leads him into even more trouble — either his fault, like being overly antagonistic or irrational when the staff comes under fire, which makes him even more guilty and frantic; or totally not his fault, like scrambling to reach his coworkers during an assassination attempt, which gets him near-fatally shot. And that's just a few of the things that make him into a giant Woobie.
Donna: He goes through every day worrying someone he likes is going to die and it's gonna be his fault. What do you think makes him walk so fast?
- Agent Mulder of The X-Files feels responsible for his sister Samantha's abduction as a child while under his care, and spent his adult life devoted to finding her. When Scully joins him, it continues. Scully is abducted in season 2, which he blames himself for. She later develops cancer and finds out that she is barren, which he also blames himself for. In season 3, Scully's sister, Melissa, is killed in Scully's apartment by mistake—the shooter was looking for Scully. Mulder blames himself, because if he hadn't dragged Scully with him onto his quest, all these things never would have happened. He also tends to blame himself for other deaths; his informant Deep Throat is shot and killed in season 1, which he blames himself for. He tells Scully she should leave the FBI and be a doctor, before she is killed during his quest. Scully handwaves this and continues on with him. It doesn't help that other characters reinforce his guilt. In season 2, his sister returns and Scully is kidnapped by the Alien Bounty Hunter. He trades his sister (though we find out she's really a clone) for Scully's life, and his "sister" is subsequently "killed". He calls his father to his apartment to tell him, and his father becomes angry with him. When Mulder offers to tell his mother, his father demands to know if Mulder knows how losing Samantha again will devastate her. On top of that, it's implied that his parents blame him for his sister's abduction in the first place. Bill Scully, Jr., too, blames Mulder for things beyond his control. The two meet while Scully is dying from cancer, and Bill rips into Mulder for all the things that have happened to his family that he sees as Mulder's fault. He asks Mulder if his quest was worth it and if he'd found what he was looking for, and when Mulder responds that he hadn't, Bill lables him a "sorry son-of-a-bitch".
- Dean Winchester from Supernatural. If there's anything bad happening, he'll shoulder the blame whether it was related to him or not. This usually doesn't turn out well. Illustrated in "Shut Up Dr. Phil". He says:
"Something happens, I feel responsible, all right? The Lindbergh baby — that's on me. Unemployment — my bad."
- Stefan Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries. If Stefan hurts someone or kills someone, he will carry a huge amount of guilt. This is especially evident during his Ripper phase.
- The Tenth Doctor from Doctor Who has a massive one of these, even if all the other Doctors has a form of this. He constantly blames himself for others failures, and quite a bit of the time, he is almost right for blaming himself, even though the self punishment goes to far. Especially when people die, even though it is the only way to save the universe. Generally Lampshaded by villain characters more than his companions, as they know that it can unbalance him. The Master and Davros are especially good at it.
- He blames himself for ruining the lives of all of his companions: Rose for being trapped in another universe; Martha for being left to wander for a year in a devastated Earth, while her family is held hostage by genocidal megalomaniac, and are routinely tortured; and Donna for symbolically 'killing' her after a 'biological meta-crisis' left her part-Time Lord, and her advanced intelligence threatened to kill her, forcing him to wipe Donna's memories of him. Despite that they were caused by respectively: The Daleks breaching the dimensional walls, The Master becoming Prime Minister after stealing his TARDIS, and Donna herself touching the Doctor's severed hand during the Dalek Earth invasion of 2009. He might even blame himself for Jack's immortality, along with the burden that came with it, even though that was Rose's doing by way of the Heart of the TARDIS. His way of making up for it was to visit them in different points in time during his incarnation's last moments in The End Of Time, and to do charitable events for them. This still carries over to his next incarnation when in "Let's Kill Hitler", his request after being poisoned was to see happy reminders of his companions to soothe him through the pain, but he still declared he held too much guilt over them. The only one he could bear to look at was a visual of Amy Pond..aged seven.
- Delenn has some of this for the Earth-Minbari war. In this case she was much to blame but she was hardly the most to blame, and recognized her failure long before the other Minbari.
- The title character from Angel spends his eternal life repenting for all the people he killed when he was soulless. He often broods, and David Boreanaz's prominent brow comes in handy. He is relieved when Cordelia lets him stay in his office and pretend to read while she goes out on a Friday night.
- Guinevere from Merlin has one, blaming herself for things that aren't even remotely her fault (such as her brother's kidnapping and the blackmail that ensues). Most recently she extracted a promise from Lancelot to protect Arthur, little knowing that he was on a mission to heal a rift in the spirit world by offering himself up as a blood sacrifice. Naturally, Lancelot dies in his place and Gwen feels responsible.
- Harold Finch of Person of Interest feels and takes personal responsibility for all of the numbers that the Machine brought/brings up, for any trouble that has come about because of the Machine, or any bad thing he feels he should have been able to prevent.
- Jesse Pinkman of Breaking Bad. While a number of the things that go wrong in the show ARE his fault and he does some terrible things, he will almost always blame himself even if they are not his fault. This stands in complete contrast to many other characters. Most importantly, it contrasts him to the protagonist and his mentor, Walter White, who almost always claims Never My Fault, no matter how horrific his actions become.
- Henrik Ibsen was fond of dumping this on his characters. Thus, Hallvard Solness in The Master Builder carries a tremendous one, after seemingly taking responsibility for the fire that burnt down the childhood home of his wife Aline. As this was midwinter, she got sick, and their two infant sons caught a fever from her milk and died.
- Also Little Eyolf, where Alfred and Asta Allmers unwittingly crippled their son Eyolf when he was an infant, and later saw him drown (partly because of selfishness).
- Brand puts the nominal character in a position that seems even worse, as he has to carry the guilt for the death of his son, and then his wife, who died on his watch.
- Man-Bot from Freedom Force. His Power Incontinence killed his brother and he's stuck for all eternity inside a suit of Power Armour that keeps him doing the same to everyone else around him. He's a bit 'down' as a result.
- Otacon. Whether it's survivor's guilt, guilt over building REX, guilt linked to his self-esteem issues, or guilt and PTSD due to having an affair with/being sexually abused by his stepmother and his father committing suicide as a result, Hal's got it in spades. The man is a walking catalog of all the ways one can blame oneself.
- Max Payne has a big-time case of this. Apart from his failure to save his wife and baby girl, he also has to deal with the deaths of most of the people around him, most of them by his hand. And judging by his situation in the third game, the Golden Ending of the previous game, the one where Mona Sax lives, has been shot out of canon. Poor guy.
- Litchi Faye-Ling from BlazBlue has a huge one. It's her fault that Lotte got corrupted into Arakune, it's her fault that she was the only one surviving from the corruption. It's also her fault that she can't come up with a cure fast enough. Anyone trying to tell her it's not her fault? She won't accept it. And people think she's just merely obsessed over a slime for this... Tragically for her, this trait led her into desperation and joining NOL.
- Throw Trinity Glassfield onto the fire as well. Even though she's one of the Six Heroes, she also had a love interest in Kazuma Kval, to the point she released a potent geas on him at his request. Unfortunately, it wasn't Kazuma who asked her to do this, but Terumi Yuuki, who inhabited Kazuma's body, and he swiftly repays her by shanking her and Nine, tossing them both into the nearest cauldron and proceeding to widen the world's asshole. Predictably, she has hated herself ever since.
- In Final Fantasy VII, we get Cloud Strife. This probably developed due to the fact that from a very early age, he really was blamed by everyone in his town for an accident involving Tifa that mostly wasn't his fault. However, he blamed himself for the incident and thus never told anyone the details, which probably would have helped lift a good portion of the blame from his shoulders. Later on, he blames himself for not achieving his dream and making it into SOLDIER, then blames himself for not waking up from a vegetative state (brought on by four years of experimentation and torture) fast enough to save what was at that point his only friend from being gunned down on a cliff. Skip ahead one or two Mind Rapes, and he blames himself for "lying" to them all about who/what he was (even apologising to Rufus Shinra, Scarlet, and Heidegger, of all people, who had nothing to do directly with the incident). He then takes on the guilt for handing the Black Materia to Sephiroth, and when he finishes with that, he picks up the habit again two years later in Advent Children Complete, blaming himself for not being able to find a cure for geostigma, contracting the disease himself, and for failing to save a bunch of children with the disease from a group of Remnants. He does get somewhat better, eventually.
- Depending on how you play, Commander Shepard from Mass Effect can have one. By 3, s/he has developed a pretty severe case of this, taking just about every death that s/he hears about in the war as his/her responsibility, which only serves to drive him/her closer to the Despair Event Horizon.
- Luke from Tales of the Abyss becomes susceptible to this kind of thinking after the game's first Big Twist a third of the way through the story. The rest of the party have to keep a close eye on him so he doesn't go over the edge.
- The "greatest failure" type appears in the BDSM webcomic Sunstone after a traumatizing accident involving Marion, rope work and self bondage that Ally saved her from. Ally is determined to blame herself for what happened, because she feels that she showed Marion "too much too fast" during Harper's class on shibari, and that this led to Marion's later obsession with BDSM in general and 24/7 submission in particular which resulted in what ultimately happened to her. Lisa points out that Ally is fully aware she wasn't responsible, but this knowledge doesn't make her feel any better. She is still pretty shook up about the accident and as a result she's not visited the club where her friend Alan first met Marion or used her rope skills since. Though we see that she gets over the rope aversion in time.
- In Funny Business, thanks to a traumatic childhood event that actually was her fault, Jeannette blames herself for everything bad that ever happens to anybody, even when it is obvious to all onlookers that she is in no way responsible. Having godlike power can do that to you.
- Responsibility OCD, also known as hyperscrupulosity, is this trope in spades applied to anxiety disorders. Basically, the individual suffering from it fears not protecting others from harm and lives with constant feelings of guilt or anxiety.
- Overblown feelings of guilt are a common symptom of depression, and are partly the reason a) the condition is so hard to overcome and b) depressed people are so bloody annoying to family and friends. Accepting that it's not your fault is a big step to recovery.
- It's also a frequent result of emotional abuse. One of an emotional abuser's most common tactics is blaming their victim for everything that goes wrong in order to guilt the victim into staying and trying to atone for everything. It's infinite indentured servitude on a purely emotional level.