"But then I met a boy who made me feel not so worthless... like maybe there's hope for me... and it terrifies me."The Despair Event Horizon has its advantages. Your expectations are gone, so no one can disappoint you. Your feelings are dead, so you can't feel any pain. And you have nothing to lose, so you don't need to worry about your future. Your numbness is peaceful; you have passed safely out of reach of anything that could disturb you. But if, in that state, someone inspires you with even a fragment of hope, all of your peace is gone. Now that you've started to feel, you can feel pain again. Now that you have someone or something that you care about, you dread the day when it will be gone. And now that you've let yourself hope again, you risk being disappointed again. Before, you had the bitter comfort of knowing that the worst was over, but now you are afraid that you haven't hit rock bottom yet, and the worst is yet to come... Characters who feel this mood (usually) haven't actually crossed the Despair Event Horizon: they have perhaps just hit a Heroic B.S.O.D. or worn stronger-than-usual Jade-Colored Glasses. This moment, when they start to feel hope again and try to reject it, is usually just a blip on the road to recovery from the despairing state. Common for the Broken Bird to feel it. Compare Safety in Indifference, the emotional state of most characters who feel that Hope is Scary, and Love Hurts.
— Fuchsia, Sinfest
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- In Mobile Suit Gundam AGE, Lord Ezelcant claims that this is the way the entire nation of Vagan feels; it's too painful to love others and have relationships when there's a very good chance that either you or those you care about will die young due to an incurable disease.
- Mazinger Z: In the Shin Mazinger Zero spin-off, Humongous Mecha Fem Bot turned Robot Girl Minerva-X is locked into a Groundhog Peggy Sue loop where she sends to Kouji Kabuto back in time to save the world, he fails and she ends him back again. Until now she has failed 2,798 times into averting the End of the World as We Know It. She does as much as stating all of those times she hoped, and her hope was in vain. However, in the current timeline she is stuck in, she is seeing signs of maybe -maybe- things will finally be different this time around. So she feels a glimmer of hope... and she is afraid of being hopeful only for getting disappointed and heart-broken again.
- A common interpretation of Anthy says that this trope is part of the reason she has such love-hate feelings towards Utena and the attempts to save her in Revolutionary Girl Utena.
- Jeremy struggles with this for much of the latter half of A Cruel God Reigns. After being systematically abused for months, he falls into the life of a Hooker with a Heart of Gold and Functional Addict, but is afraid to go back to living a "normal" life when Ian offers to help him get back on his feet.
- In the beginning, Haruka of Kotoura-san was broken under the belief that her telepathic powers would doom any living being that she cares about. So Manabe got a lot of resistance to convincing her for the last quarter of episode 1 that she should try and make friends with him. This trope also underlies why she vanished temporarily at the end of episode 3, as Manabe, by the time already her boyfriend, was attacked and seriously injured by a plan of Hiyori's, his Childhood Friend-turned-Hopeless Suitor. She regressed to her previous thinking and decided to leave.
- This is presumably the reason why most of the characters in Attack on Titan are content to just sit back behind the walls, or after Wall Maria is breached, to wait for humanity's doom, despite Eren yelling at them. Repeatedly.
- In Berserk, the Skull Knight tells Guts that Casca may be cured of her insanity once and for all if Guts can get her to the land of Elfhelm. Guts is so happy over the possibility that he actually gives a real smile over the revelation. However, Guts is thrown into anxiety once again, not because he is afraid that Casca's condition won't be curable, but because the Skull Knights went on to cryptically tell Guts that being cured might not be what Casca truly wants, something that Guts is still trying to decipher as he and his party approach Elfhelm.
- While he's not quite as bad as other examples, Gray seems to fall victim to this in Fairy Tail as it's implied that his constantly losing people he loves in the past is why he's always so willing to enact a suicide move in his major fights such as with Lyon, Silver, the dragon-spawn, Invel and Zeref. It also seems to be in part why he keeps brushing off his Stalker with a Crush Juvia, as either definitively accepting or rejecting her feelings is going to have emotional consequences for one or both of them that he'd rather avoid; he's fine with being platonic but anything deeper seems to worry him for risk of losing them like he did his teacher and family before her.
- In one issue of Detective Comics, The Joker deliberately invokes this trope when he helps Batman save a child whose abduction the Joker himself orchestrated. If even the Joker doesn't always kill his victims, Batman will be forced to hold out hope in every case and will therefore suffer more for each future victim he fails to save.
- A Crown of Stars:
Asuka refused to meet his eyes. The naked hope in them was too much to look at. After sixteen years of keeping that pain under lock and key the things she’d talked about with Daniel had left her feelings too raw to withstand seeing that. After sixteen years of keeping it suppressed, and four years of living in nightmarish barbarity past the end of the world, hope hurt.
- At the beginning of the fic Asuka had given up on the idea of becoming ever happy, having a loving relationship with someone or being loved. She was so wrecked and disillusioned and felt so unworthy and undeserving that she did not want try anymore and refused to consider that things might be different. And then she met her future self who was Happily Married to Shinji and pregnant with his child, and she met a bunch of people assuring she was not a bad person and she deserved to be happy… and she was incredibly frightened because she did not dare to hope.
- On the other hand, Shinji had come to believe that an empty shell of a loveless relationship was everything what he and Asuka would have. Then he began to see signs that maybe they could have a happy end after all… and he freaked out because he was afraid of hoping in vain or ruining his chance.
- The Child of Love: Shinji had loved Asuka as soon as he met her and alter a while they got together, but he thought he could not protect her and he broke up. Misato asked him if he was afraid of his dreams and hopes becoming real, and replied maybe he was.
Misato:"I know you, Shinji-kun. I know that you wanted Asuka's love from the very beginning of all this. Maybe even before. I'll bet that, from the first time you saw her, you knew that you had to live with her forever. My question is, why are you leaving your hopes and dreams behind when they've come true now? Are you afraid of them?"
- In the Dangerverse, after Luna tells Draco of a vision where he dies at the age of 18, Draco realizes that he is trying to convince himself that it's true. He then lampshades this trope and resolves to keep having hope for the future.
Draco: I am a Marauder, and a Warrior. Maybe I have to die on 5 June 1997 - maybe - but I'm sure as hell not going down without a fight!
- Ghosts of Evangelion: After Misato admits to Asuka that she failed her and swears that she'll atone for her mistakes, Asuka is frightened of trusting Misato again.
- Once More with Feeling: Thanks to Shinji, Asuka is considering that, for first time in one decade, maybe she has met someone she can trust, open up to, and rely on. She thinks maybe she does not need to push Shinji away, and she can lower her walls around him... and the thought scares her more than any Angel.
- Scar Tissue: Due to her severe emotional and psychological trauma caused by the Angel War and the end of the world, Asuka had become tremendously unstable, paranoid and unable to control her temper, and she abused Shinji for several months until she went too far and was so horrified at the result of her actions that she snapped out of it and promised herself that she would change and earn Shinji's forgiveness. However Shinji is so convinced that she loathes him and he deserves her hatred and violence (because he defiled her and abandoned her when she was getting murdered) that when she tries to treat him kindly and gently or looks at him with caring and guilt he is frightened because he does not dare to hope that she does not hate him.
- Thousand Shinji: After she and Shinji got together, Asuka was happy because she had found someone who loved her unconditionally, understood her and took her pain away... but she was frightened because she feared losing him.
- In The Shawshank Redemption, Red is characterized this way (the result of being an aging, cynical con who seems likely to spend the rest of his life in prison), and at one point when his best friend Andy is talking about the importance of hope, Red responds by essentially saying that hope is usually just a case of Yank the Dog's Chain, especially in a Crapsack World like prison. The last lines of the movie are about Red starting to hope again.
Red: Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It's got no use on the inside, you better get used to that idea.Andy: Like Brooks did?
- Part of the sadistic design of the Pit, the prison from The Dark Knight Rises — it gives its prisoners a small chance of (very dangerous) escape. "There is no despair without hope." This is also what inspires Bane's plans for Gotham: he plans to trap everyone in the city under the threat of nuclear annihilation, then convince the released criminals and poor majority to hold mass executions of the rich, powerful and corrupt to give them and everyone on the outside the impression that he is helping to straighten the crookedness of the city. Then, at the end of this all, he plans to detonate the nuke anyway as a message to the world that everyone in Gotham is too corrupt to be salvaged.
- The wonderful "the past can hurt" scene in The Lion King, where Simba is convinced to go back to face his past.
- John Cleese's endlessly beleaguered character in Clockwise expresses this sentiment at one point: "It's not the despair, Laura. I can stand the despair, it's the hope!"
- President Snow muses about this in the film adaptation of The Hunger Games, saying the Games are an effective way to control the Districts because each game tortures them with hope:
Snow: Hope — it is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is useful — too much is dangerous. A spark is fine... as long as it's contained.
- In the famous scene in Jaws where Quint talks of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, he says that the worst time was not being attacked by sharks, but when the survivors had been located and were waiting to be picked up, terrified that they might be picked off at the last moment.
- Sarah Packard from The Hustler, who has been scorned and rejected so many times that she holds herself back when she starts falling for Eddie.
- In Mad Max: Fury Road, Max haltingly advises Furiosa to abandon hope.
You know, hope is a mistake. If you can't fix what's broken, you'll go insane.
- In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Return of the King, when Éomer asks why Éowyn is not lying in state like Théoden, he's told she's alive — and he feels both hope and fear.
Then hope unlooked-for came so suddenly to Éomer's heart, and with it the bite of care and fear renewed,
- At one point in Labyrinths of Echo, Sir Max remarks that the worst situation of all is not a complete hopelessness (because you have nothing to lose then, anyway) but one where there is only a tiny glimmer of hope, because you are paralyzed with fear of losing it, as well.
- When Marianne's dangerous fever abates in Sense and Sensibility, Elinor tries not to be optimistic in case it gets worse again, but she can't stop herself.
Hope had already entered; and feeling all its anxious flutter, she bent over her sister to watch—she hardly knew for what.
- In Jane Austen's Persuasion, after realizing that Anne might still love him, Wentworth writes to her of his being in hope and pain.
I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.
- In Angie Sage's Septimus Heap book Magyk, Boy 412 tallies up Good things about his situation and Bad ones—and is surprised by the Good things outnumbering the Bad for the first time in his life. But the Bad thing feels much worse because now he has something to lose.
- In Poul Anderson's After Doomsday, the alien Ramri tries to calm Donnan as the plan to escape comes to fruition; he admits that he never understood why humans find hope more terrifying than despair.
- The characters in Chaos Walking can't help but be wary of hope.
Hope may be the thing that pulls you forward, may be the thing that keeps you going, but that it's dangerous, that it's painful and risky, that it's making a dare in the world and when has the world ever let us win a dare?
- In The Dresden Files novel White Night, Marcone tells Harry that he cannot tell Demeter that her daughter is still alive but comatose because giving her hope again would essentially destroy her after what happened to her in the first place.
- Les Misérables: Javert has lived all his life obeying the law, and he feels very strange when he let Jean Valjean go instead of arresting him:
All sorts of interrogation points flashed before his eyes. He put questions to himself, and made replies to himself, and his replies frightened him. He asked himself: "What has that convict done, that desperate fellow, whom I have pursued even to persecution, and who has had me under his foot, and who could have avenged himself, and who owed it both to his rancor and to his safety, in leaving me my life, in showing mercy upon me? His duty? No. Something more. And I in showing mercy upon him in my turn — What Have I Done? My duty? No. Something more. So there is something beyond duty?" Here he took fright; his balance became disjointed; one of the scales fell into the abyss, the other rose heavenward, and Javert was no less terrified by the one which was on high than by the one which was below.
- Importantly, this means that Javert has a somewhat different problem than a lot of the other examples. Rather than being crushed in despair before, Javert is now forced to look at his actions without the leverage of duty and law, recognizing his good for what it is, and his crimes for what they are.
- Exploited in The Art of War, where Sun Tzu encourages generals to always give their enemies a path to retreat. The reasoning behind this is that soldiers with no hope of escape will fight much harder. In essence, he says, No Hope Is Scarier—at least, from the attacker's point of view.
- Bree Pym's initial reaction to the news of her great-grand aunts' actual existence at the end of Aunt Dimity Down Under is best summed up this way. She is a Broken Bird after years living with her abusive alcoholic father and recently losing her beloved grandfather, as well as feeling rejected by her mother (who had remarried and started another family after her own sufferings at Ed Pym's hands). She learns from the aunts' attorney that they have revised their will and she will inherit everything they own, including the trust fund set up by their black sheep brother nearly a century before. She is reluctant at first to go along with the idea, but Lori and Cameron convince her to go to England and meet Ruth and Louise.
- During Galaxy of Fear, Tash Arranda meets a Jedi ghost who was killed by Darth Vader, who then burned the library he was guarding. In the time since, someone else has put up a new library, booby trapped to suck away Life Energy, and he can't warn anyone because he is Invisible to Normals. After years of this, the ghost is willing to help Tash a little when he thinks he can scare her away from the danger but backs down when she wants his help to put a stop to the whole scheme and is cornered. She does manage to talk him around.
- In John Milton's Paradise Lost, Satan alludes to this, reversing it: "So farwel Hope, and with Hope farwel Fear,"
- In Seanan McGuire's October Daye novel Rosemary and Rue, Toby thinks that hope is not easy in Faerie, but still wishes it for Manuel.
- The Way of Kings (first book of The Stormlight Archive): Kaladin feels this way, as he keeps trying to save people and they all wind up dead. He becomes increasingly reluctant to involve himself with others, but his heroic nature drags him back into it.
- Several characters note that the fear of hope can lead people to cling to despair in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, especially if they have already embarked on a self-destructive course for vengeance.
- Used extensively in Anne Bishop's Ephemera series. A large portion of the second book is devoted to the main character puzzling over why places of darkness always have a sliver of light in them. Then it's brutally exploited when Belladonna decides to use this trope to torture the World Eater relentlessly.
- In Cameron Dokey's The World Above, when they meet the outlaws, Steel sees something of Gen and demands more light. Robin demands to know what he's afraid of; Steel says he has abandoned fear but is now troubled by hope. (Gen closely resembles her mother, the long vanished Duchess.)
- In Edgar Rice Burroughs's A Princess of Mars, Sola tells John Carter that because of this, and Love Hurts, she has wished to be like the other women of her race, without hope or love.
- In The Master Mind of Mars, Ulysses tries urge hope of regaining her body on Valla Dia. She rejects it; she can be happy in an old woman's body without hope, but hoping, she would always be unhappy.
- The residents of the Fortress of the Damned in Of Fear and Faith believe in this and they at first refuse to try and escape from the fortress when the party offers to help them. This being the Stray Dogs though, they don't give up that easily.
- In Search the Seven Hills Marcus feels it would be a relief to give way to despair over his kidnapped love interest as 'hope is exhausting'.
- Amber Brown feels this way for a while in Amber Brown Wants Extra Credit. She's hopeful about the possibility of her mother's boyfriend Max becoming part of their family, but worried that he's just going to leave them in a few months like her father did.
- The Riddle Master Trilogy: Morgon thinks this way for awhile.
Aloil: You do not promise hope.Morgon: No. Truth, if I can find it.
- In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, when Harry first wakes on the morning of his birthday after being told by Hagrid that he's a wizard, he mentally insists to himself that it was just a dream and that when he opens his eyes he'll be in his cupboard. He's so used to his awful life that he's too scared to hope that this new reality could actually be true, so it's easier to pretend that it's not. At least, until he actually does open his eyes.
Live Action TV
- How I Met Your Mother had Ted admit that he wasn't into that "Fall in love" feeling again. He had lost a certain amount of faith and was losing more every day and he resorted to scientifically figuring out what the right woman was instead of following his heart. This was after he witnessed most of his friends getting into marriages, having babies and progressing in their lives.
- One episode of Criminal Minds has a bit where the brother of a disappeared girl is angry with the agents for telling his mother that her daughter might still be alive, because even though grief is terrible, you can get past it and move on, but hope keeps you paralyzed.
- Season 1 of Prison Break has shades of this, as death row inmate Lincoln Burrows (initially) repeatedly tells his would-be saviours that he's accepted his fate. Giving him false hope of release/escape is, to him, more cruel than letting him die.
- This is one of the reasons Mitsuzane goes evil in Kamen Rider Gaim. After being told an Awful Truth and seeing how it effects others, he gets upset that Kouta is telling people these awful truths and trying the more idealistic approaches instead of conforming to his brother's more cynical options that he is convinced that all he's doing is ruining everything. It isn't until he talks with Mai after he's full on convinced that there's no hope for humanity that he finds out that the reason he hates Kouta is this trope and it becomes the theme to his Motive Rant when it finally comes time to reveal his True Colors to him.
- House, M.D. simply believes there is no way he can be an effective doctor without being a miserable Jerk Ass; he will deliberately sabotage any good thing in his life because he cannot stand the possibility of being happy.
- Firefly: This is the lesson that Serenity Valley taught Mal Reynolds. He claims to have no desires beyond "keep flying", and that hope is for fools. However, Miranda is more than enough to bring back the idealist he once was.
- In a flashback scene in the final episode of The Casual Vacancy, while at Krystal Weedon's place, Barry asks her to come and stay at his and wife's house for the night. She rejects the offer, noting "I'd just have to come back here."
- "The bravest thing of all is hope" - Arc Words throughout Reese Roper's Brave Saint Saturn album trilogy.
- Showbread's "Precursor" ends with the stanza:
Believing in love, believing in hope
surrendering all of my will.
Believing in nothing is scary.
Believing in something is scarier still.
- The idea is touched upon in Within Temptation's song 'Lost':
Hope plays a wicked
Game with the mind.
Mythology and Religion
- Greek Mythology: Some versions of the myth of Pandora's Box have Hope as the last and worst of all the evils in the box, since it causes people to live in suffering where they would otherwise give up and end their pain.
- This was how C. S. Lewis read Jesus's suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane before being crucified—with the idea that the hope of his being spared was in fact a part of his passion.
It is clear from many of His sayings that Our Lord had long foreseen His death. ... But it is clear that this knowledge must somehow have been withdrawn from Him before He prayed in Gethsemane. He could not, with whatever reservation about the Father’s will, have prayed that the cup might pass and simultaneously known that it would not. That is both a logical and a psychological impossibility. You see what this involves? Lest any trial incident to humanity should be lacking, the torments of hope - of suspense, anxiety - were at the last moment loosed upon Him - the supposed possibility that, after all, He might, He just conceivably might, be spared the supreme horror. There was precedent. Isaac had been spared: he too at the last moment, he also against all apparent probability. It was not quite impossible … But for this last (and erroneous) hope against hope, and the consequent tumult of the soul, the sweat of blood, perhaps He would not have been very Man. To live in a fully predictable world is not to be a man. (Letters to Malcom)
- From both Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 you have Tzeentch, Chaos God of, amongst other things, Change and Hope. It's more accurate to say he's the god of ambition, and he's one of the Chief antagonists of both series, and he is certainly the strangest god in both settings.
- This is a major part of the Prodigy's psychology in Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine. There's a reason she starts with a default -1 Connection to the hope-embodying Child of the Sun.
- In Legacy of Kain: Defiance, Kain ends the game by expressing this very sentiment: "The first, bitter, taste of that terrible illusion: hope."
- In Mass Effect 2, if Shepard romances Thane, the scene before the Omega-4 Relay begins with him coming to see her and talking about how ashamed he is that he is no longer resigned to his inevitable death, because now he has someone to live for.
- This is how Squall Leonhart feels throughout a good portion of Final Fantasy VIII.
Squall: Everything doesn't work out the way you want it to. That's why... As long as you don’t get your hopes up, you can take anything... You feel less pain.
- In Final Fantasy XIII, the incredibly ironically-named Hope Estheim was glad to throw himself into a nigh-pointless revenge vendetta he called "Operation Nora" so that he wouldn't have to process the horrors he'd seen, including his mother's death. He didn't take Lightning's urges to abandon this slow suicide for something more hopeful well.
Hope: When I was fighting, there... there was no time to think about it. It felt good just to give in. But now... you start talking about hope!
- Judging from her narration, this is Lightning's state in Final Fantasy XIII-2.
Lightning: Each reunion is a twist of the knife. The joy is ephemeral; it leaves fear in its wake. A fear that all too soon the time will come when you must bid farewell again. Yet you cannot help but long for the next encounter.
- In Fate/stay night, this trope effectively kicks the "Heaven's Feel" scenario into gear. Having Shirou pay attention to Sakura means she begins wondering if it's possible they might end up together, even after she's consigned herself to her one-sided unrequited love. The ensuing Hope Is Scary moment allows Zouken to open her up to possession, something he had been unable to do earlier (or in the other two scenarios).
- Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star's final chapter has this showing with Ryouta. He's afraid that his best friend since childhood is growing apart from him, to the point where the stasis offered in the titular Holiday Star is very tempting. Yuuya comes to him, realizes that he's in love with that best friend, and outlines how change is inevitable. The future may mean growing apart from her, or living with and having a family with her. The future is always uncertain and painful but it must be lived, and this is very hard for Ryouta to accept.
- Super Dangan Ronpa 2 features this as a major theme, in contrast to the more straightforward hope vs. despair struggle in the first game (especially since the second game largely serves as a Deconstruction of the first.)
- Katawa Shoujo has Emi Ibarazaki, who is scared to let Hisao get closer to her due to the fact that she lost her father in the same accident that cost her her legs, and she can't bear the thought of developing feelings for someone, only to lose that person.
- Sinfest: Fuchsia, on how Criminy makes her feel.
- In Shortpacked!, Mike is eventually faced with his feelings for Amber in this way. He responds by trying to chase her away.
- In Doc Rat, Lyall tells Doc that it doesn't hurt to live in hope. Doc grabs him by the neck and shouts that it does hurt, but they live in it anyway.
- In Worm, Weaver invokes this trope when talking to Phir Sē, a cynical old Indian supervillain who admits that he has lost his faith in humanity long ago, in order to convince him to give her a chance to salvage the defense against Behemoth long enough for Phir Sē to hit him with his Godzilla Threshold attack.
- Phir Sē: You are asking me to have faith.
Weaver: Let me go, Phir Sē. You said you have to stake something that matters on a gamble. Stake your doubt.
Phir Sē: I do not understand this. My English—
Weaver: It's not your English; what I'm saying doesn't make a lot of sense. But your doubt, your lack of faith, it's something safe. No disappointments, no fear things won't work out. Risk that. Risk losing that. I did, when I became a hero.
- The Nostalgia Chick finds having emotions uncomfortable, and tries her best to push away anyone that would care and try to help her.
- This happens to trauma survivors, and it is one of the reasons why PTSD exists: someone has been living with very little hope in a dangerous environment, like on a battlefield, as a captive, or with an abuser. They've learned to live in a world where constant danger is a given and one doesn't dare hope because disappointment is so painful. When they are finally safe, and the danger is gone, many people still can't deal with the frightening reality of hope realized.
- Discussed explicitly in the works of French philosopher Gabriel Marcel, suggesting that the very act of hoping (and the power it carries) is precisely dangerous if only because it runs the risk of being disappointed. Nevertheless, Marcel suggests that to carry on hoping anyway, despite the true (and possibly fatal) costs of hoping, is the only good way to live.
- Chronic depression can work this way, which makes it difficult for someone suffering from it to seek treatment.