"Owwww... My Soul! No, seriously, this is actually making my soul hurt. I don't know how it's possible, but apparently it is."
— Necro Critic, Christmas Shoes review
Well said, Pixie, well said.
When a character feels horrid pain in an... abstract way. It can be their soul, heart, spirit, hair, consciousness or the nervous system itself, but it never leaves a physical mark and involves no gore despite it being unimaginably painful.
This trope is most frequently found in "kid-friendly" fantasy and science fiction works in an effort to heighten drama without the use of blood. Most likely, the hero is experiencing a psychological, supernatural, or magical attack that gives him/her ambiguous chest pains or a mind-splitting headache. You can bet that the hero will be doubled over in pain, unable to move.
Scenes with this trope can be pretty frightening anyway if used well, like with trippy spirit monsters chanting and hovering over the hero, or surreal montages of the hero's fears playing before his/her eyes. (See one of the possible causes, Mind Rape.)
Soul Pains usually can't kill a character by themselves. Sometimes Having Soul Pains could bring about the character's death, although it's never obvious exactly when the pain would get bad enough to actually kill him/her. Darker and Edgier works will use this trope to drive characters to suicide, just to make it all stop.
Sometimes used to bring the battle between good and evil to a personal level. In those cases, the true battle between cosmic forces is inside the characters, not out on a physical battlefield.
Possible symptoms include abstract clenching or burning sensations, splitting headache, or the feeling something on the inside will a splode. Causes include Mind Rape, an Agony Beam, the presence of evil, Demonic Possession, Involuntary Shapeshifting, or using abilities that qualify as being Blessed with Suck. In some settings, it may be overcome through Determinator-styleHeroic Willpower. If you suffer from Soul Pains, ask your doctor if treatment through the Power of Friendship is right for you.
Achey Scars is when Soul Pains are connected to a physical scar.
Not to be confused with deaths that are only bloodless due to censorship.
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Anime and Manga
Ichigo in Bleach, after defeating the Menos Grande, sets off his Heroic RROD, after Urahara cuts his soul chain during Training from Hell, and again during the soul chain's encroachment. He says something along the lines of, "What's going on? I - I can't breathe!"
Also during Shirosaki's takeover. Ripping half his face off can't have been a bed of roses.
Once in Dragon Ball Bulma felt a pang in her heart when Vegeta blew himself up in an effort to kill Majin Buu.
In the Kingdom Hearts manga, Riku is shown gasping for breath, growing pale, and having difficulty walking after using the power of darkness so much. At such times, he says he "feels like his heart is about to explode." (It's not referring to his physical heart.)
The eponymous Negi of Mahou Sensei Negima! starts experiencing these once the "encroachment" of his Magia Erebia starts kicking in. It's later clarified as being "similar to acute magical poisoning", and even later revealed to be merely a symptom of turning into a demon.
In Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch, this happens to several characters: Kaito during his imprisonment, Sara when she gets hit by Gaito's attack, and... Michel. Just... Michel.
Possible variant: The Gentle Fist technique used by the Hyuuga clan in Naruto can leave its targets crippled, chakra-wise, without leaving a mark on them.
FLCL has Mamimi who reacts to pain when she says that she's going to "overflow".
Soul Eater has this. Black*Star experiences this when he attempts to use the Nakatsukasa Purpose before getting some sense beaten into him. It's stated that it's killing him, to which he typically pays no attention.
Of course, in Soul Eater souls are actual, tangible objects, and at one point we even get to see an X-ray of Black*Star's damaged soul.
Early in Harukanaru Toki no Naka de - Hachiyou Shou, Akane briefly falls ill, presumably due to her newly-acquired Dragon-God powers that she is still trying to reject. Even though she is in pain and has a fever, it is confirmed that the symptoms don't have any physical cause — it's more of a consequence of her spirit being in disorder. She also has a similar reaction when she meets Ran, her Evil Counterpart, for the first time.
Yasuaki's angst-induced chest pains in Hachiyou Shou episode 23 might also count.*
If he wasn't already The Woobie before that, well...
This happens a few times in Digimon Tamers. When facing the tiger Deva, Takato passes out from feeling Guilmon's pain. Later, when facing the D-Reaper, each of the trio slides back in pain after their Digimon get hit by attacks.
Neon Genesis Evangelion has this at low-level synch. Or, to be exact, the pilots feel everything felt by their Evas but at higher synch levels, it hurts progressively more until they even get physically injured by it; some residual phantom pain might be present for a while. For example, Unit 01 getting it's arm broken in the first battle was rather painful for Shinji; Unit 02 getting speared in the head at 300% synch however had Asuka screaming at the top of her lungs.
Well, then it got worse for her when she attempted to go Berserk with her Eva-02 to kill her attackers. Then loses her Arm in the Process. Then Devoured Alive. Ow, this is supposed to be a kid friendly trope now?
In the second Rebuild movie, Mari forces Unit-02 into a berserk state with the 'Beast mode'. Control rods literally burst from the Eva's back, and it's heavily implied that Mari herself feels the pain. The only reason she really keeps going is because she is a bit of a masochist and claims that it is 'so much fun'.
A literal version is how the EV As destroy the Angels. The Angels are invulnerable to all damage typically, and if they aren't, they'll eventually regenerate the damage they take. An Angel's soul also resides in an organ referred to in series as a "Core". NERV's solution? Attack Its Weak Point.
In D.N.Angel, Satoshi falls to his knees and clutches at his chest when Krad is trying to take over his body.
Another less-than-kid-friendly variant occurs with the Brand of Sacrifice in Berserk, which inflicts this upon those who bear it in the presence of demons. The more powerful demons can inflict even worse pain on someone with the Brand, with the Godhand being the worst of them all, and intense enough pain inflicted this way can even kill them. Guts could only get within about Dragon Slayer distance from Femto before being almost completely overwhelmed by the pain, and the fact that Casca was even closer than that when she got raped by Femto (and was thus in utterly excruciating agony) was probably a big contributing factor to her loss of sanity following the Eclipse.
Much later, Slan of the Godhand slashed Guts across the chest, cutting into his soul as well as his flesh. While the wound on his body eventually healed, the wound in his soul will never go away. The cursed Berserker armor Guts wears is the only thing that is keeping the damage to his soul in check.
In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Kyubey causes these in Sayaka by pressing on her Soul Gem, demonstrating to her what "real" pain is, while commenting on how fortunate she is that her physical body can no longer feel it.
In Saint Beast, the last episode of the prequel series has Judas and Luca in critical condition due not to physical wounds but being polluted by the miasma of the evil spirits.
Whenever InuYasha is forced to transform into his full demon form, it looks extremely painful; it is implied some of the pain results from his demon blood eating through his human soul.
In New X-Men (the Academy version), Pixie received one of these injuries during their trip to Limbo. It acts up specifically around demons and beings with darkness in them.
In Blackest Night, every living thing in existence suffers Soul Pains when Nekron attacks the Life Entity. Unlike most cases, this would have been fatal if it had gone any further.
Hellfire -which is exactly what it sounds like- is used by some Marvel Universe characters such as Ghost Rider; it causes damage to the soul rather than the body. If used long enough, it can actually render a target literally soulless.
Freder in the Fritz Lang film Metropolis clutches his chest for half the movie.
Charles Xavier in X-Men: First Class gets a pretty nasty dose of this during his mind-link with Shaw. He clutches his head and shouts in pain as Erik slowly pushes a coin through Shaw's skull, which Charles can feel the entire time through the mind-link. Also doubles as a Bad Ass moment for Charles as he holds the link through the pain.
In The Princess Bride, Wesley is tortured to death with a machine that drains years of life out of his body.
Isaac Asimov's novel Second Foundation. Foundation scientists create a device to use against the members of the Second Foundation; it causes intense mental agony in anyone with telepathic ability.
Various entities in Madeline L'Engle's work are so terrible that simply being in their presence can be quite frightening and very painful to the mind and/or soul.
A Wind In The Door: The Ecthroi are beings of nothingness that want to extinguish everything and everyone from existence.
The Wheel of Time introduces "soultraps" late in the series. Once they're set with your blood, just having someone touch them is a queasy thing (although it's possible this is either a full-blown empathic effect and could be used to pleasurable purposes, or just a psychological reaction to danger). If they get ''broken''...
Inheritance Cycle: Eragon throughout most of Eldest suffers pain due to a shade's dying blow against him. It's not the wound that does it, but rather a type of curse.
Also, the literal soul pain (as the soul is a real and specifically defined part of a person in the Potterverse) brought on by Horcruxes. Odd in that the destruction of the soul is not what kills, but the putting it back together again. As paraphrased, the pain of remorse is enough to kill a man.
And the dementors. More of the Mind Rape, worst-experiences-montage variety and generally not lethal, but given time and a free reign, they can drive a victim insane, rob them of their will to live, and, in extreme cases, literally eat their soul.
Let's not forget that whenever Harry and Voldemort come into physical contact, they both experience indescribable pain. Once, Voldemort attempts to use this to his advantage by taking possession of Harry and hoping he commits suicide from the pain.
Frodo from Lord of the Rings had a Burning Scar that was inflicted upon him by a Morgul blade during his second encounter with the Nazgul, but also suffered from the evil presence of Sauron himself, especially after he entered Mordor. The book described him to be waving his hand feebly as if trying to ward off a blow. He often collapsed and eventually had to have Sam carry him up to Mount Doom. It might be a case of Giving In To Spirit Pain or Evil Induced Adrenaline when Frodo's actually at Mount Doom and all his energy returns ten-fold in a frenzied attempt to save the ring.
It also could be that the One Ring was sapping him like it did to Gollum, And was trying harder and harder to sap his strength away to keep itself away from Mount Doom. Then, Being there, It decided "hey, This STR-sapping thing just isn't working, let's try full on Dominate Creature effect..."
However, he continued to feel the effects of the wound once a year, on the anniversary of the day he received it, even after the Ring was destroyed. The Ring itself apparently left its mark too, since he left Middle-earth for Valinor in hope of healing his Soul Pain.
The Jedi Academy Trilogy has a character use a superweapon to annihilate an inhabited world. (ooh, this sounds familiar ...) There's a note in the text about this making a "disturbance in the Force" which Jedi and semiJedi feel, and then things got back to the character with the superweapon feeling bad because he just killed his brother. I, Jedi has a very long and horrifying passage about what this felt like to the protagonist, as he experienced a little of the fear and pain and grief of twenty million people all dying at once. It makes the protagonist run outside and vomit, and later think that 'disturbance in the Force' is too mild a term.
Aubry Fitzwillliam in the Laws of Magic series is in a constant struggle to keep his soul attached to his body. It is his fault that the link got severed, though.
Live Action TV
The titular character of Angel experiences something like this when he's about to lose his soul, or has just had it returned. It's at least partly an emotional effect due to extreme guilt; whether real physical pain is involved is difficult to tell. On one occasion, the show fakes viewers out after he has sex with his sire Darla.
A variation of this, in the seventh season of Buffy, the character Spike has a variation of Heroic BSOD that comes from being re-ensouled at the end of the sixth season. He tries clawing it out with his fingernails, to no avail.
Spike: They put the spark in me, and all it does, is burn.
Examples abound in Doctor Who. Take the opening sequences of "The Five Doctors": the Doctor's fifth incarnation experiences this trope at length, complete with ambiguous chest pains. He puts this down to "a twinge of cosmic angst", chunks of his past "detaching themselves like melting icebergs", "being diminished - whittled away piece by piece", and "being sucked into a time vortex". Staggering around, repeatedly fainting, and eighties special effects ensue.
Actually, all the post-regeneration periods (so far in the new series) probably count as well.
The new series episode "Planet of the Ood" pulls this with the Doctor hearing the Ood singing in his head (the pain there was more from the fact that the Ood song of captivity is just that frakking depressing - he lets Donna hear it for a few moments and she almost begs him to take it away again. It's pretty depressing in Real Life too, actually).
Plus one non-power related incident in Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue, when Ryan was cursed with a snake tattoo. Every time he morphed the tattoo would come closer to killing him, making each morphing painful.
Unknown Armies has several examples of these, either in the form of magical attacks that leave few or no marks, or spiritual attacks that leave the target an eventual vegetable. Perhaps the most straightforward example would be the pornomancy spell Psychotrauma, which causes incredible and searing pain with no physical cause. It doesn't do as much damage unless the target is having sex with the pornomancer at the time, but because it has no physical cause it also can't be healed by normal means.
Demon: The Fallen has this with Thralls: By entering into a Pact with a mortal, a Demon is able to strip Faith (the mana of the game line) from the soul of the mortal, giving her horrific nightmares and hallucinations as well as excruciating pains with no source. It stops being this trope when the Demon sucks more Faith than the mortal can spare, leading to stigmata or vomiting blood, etc.
Cloud's Geostigma in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children seemed to be I'm Having Soul Pains as a tic. He would suddenly cringe, run short of breath and flinch as if an invisible force were causing him pain.
Then again, he had black stuff dripping out of his arm, so not so invisible.
The Shadow Priests in World of Warcraft run on causing this trope. Virtually all of their attack spells — Mind Blast, Mind Flay, Shadow Word: Pain, Shadow Word: Death, Vampiric Touch, even the Holy spell Chastise — operate by attacking the soul directly.
Also the Warlock's Curse of Agony. There's an implication that the "shadow" school of magic is elemental pain.
Heather from Silent Hill 3 has what can be best described as "uteral contractions of the soul". She removes them by taking a "demon-god-abortion pill."
Missing a guess while trying to break psycholocks in Ace Attorney causes your health bar to go down. When it's empty you're forced to stop, lest your 'soul shatter'.
The same 'health bar' is used in court trials (and for logic in Investigations), and the protagonist lawyer reacts as if they've been physically struck when they are penalized. So apparently getting penalties from the judge directly attacks your very soul.
In Hisui's route in Tsukihime SHIKI notices that Shiki is watching him while he dreams and it totally freaks him out. Since he has a pretty high Healing Factor and they're connected, he starts stabbing himself so that Shiki will feel it too. It leaves no physical damage, only pain. Although he bled a lot the first time, he still had no wounds.
In the Chzo Mythos universe, a soul can feel pain if someone or something it relies utterly upon or loves deeply is killed and/or destroyed, but since this permanently cripples the soul, it can only be done once. The pain worshiping cult, the Order of Blessed Agonies, have their potential new members causing this pain to themselves as final test before they are fully accepted into the cult.
A few times in Jade Empire- the vengeful spirit of a drowned orphan enjoys hitting them with ghost-mojo to cause pain, and the reaction of the Water Dragon to Master Li sucking her power out is similar.
In a similar vein to the Manga entry above, Kingdom Hearts Final Mix includes a scene after Riku loses his body/heart over to Ansem where Riku is walking along a dim pathway and almost collapses, clutching at his chest and repeating that he won't disappear, at least not until he's seen Sora and Kairi again.
Earlier in the game, Sora went through this when Ansem!Riku pointed the evil Keyblade at his heart, falling to his knees because Kairi's heart was responding within him. He got better through a combo of Determination and The Power of Friendship.
And once again to Sora during the final fight of KH2, where the Big Bad catches him with Agony Beams.
This happens to Ven in Birth by Sleeptwice. The first being meeting Master Xehanort in the Keyblade Graveyard. He falls to his knees and clutches his head in pain when he starts to recall what he is before screaming in pain and lying facefirst on the ground. The second being coming across Vanitas on the Islands, where we're given a nice flashback of Vanitas' creation.
In early parts of Sluggy Freelance, Gwynn toys with a voodoo doll of Riff. This gives Riff various uncomfortable symptoms, including "it feels like someone is stuffing M&Ms in my ear!" and Riff mysteriously jumping into a desk drawer and going all the way to "I think I'm coming down with a fever... I'm hot all over and my head feels ready to explode!" (The doll was in the microwave.)*
Anyone care to hunt down the strips and the correct quotes?
Something to this effect is used in Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name. Although it's hard to determine the nature of Hanna's condition, he gets very weak and appears to be in pain when a ghost passes through him.
In Homestuck, this is implied to be the extension of Dirk's powers as the Prince of Heart.
In Megatokyo Meimi drops a tray of dishes when Miho is killed.
Meimi: Just something... very sad, dear.
The Necro Critic's catchphrase when a particularly awful movie offends his sensibilities most definitely qualifies.
"Owwwww, my SOUL!"
When roused to anger, Spoony often threatens to inflict this upon others.
"I WILL PUNCH YOU IN THE SOUL!"
Here's a thought: What would happen if Spoony punched Necro Critic in the soul?
Zuko in Avatar The Last Airbender falls under this trope. Up until the episode Lake Laogai, he was sure that his destiny was to capture the Avatar. His uncle, however, confronted him and convinced him his destiny was his to decide. Soon after, Zuko fell dreadfully sick and lost consciousness. After waking up the first time, his uncle told him that he was suffering from a spiritual illness, that he was so conflicted within that he was physically ill.
It showed up earlier than that. During the first season finale, when Zhao threatens the Moon Spirit, Yue, who was originally stillborn but given life by the Moon Spirit, says that she feels faint. Aang, being the bridge between the human and spirit worlds, says he feels it too.
Megatron's preferred method of controlling the Ax CrazyRampage in Beast Wars was to jam pure energon into half of his spark. As Rampage is all but immortal, he can survive it, but it inflicts him with indescribable pain until he agrees to follow orders.
Pain with no physical source can be a symptom of Clinical Depression, or a host of other psychosomatic disorders.
Precordial Catch Syndrome can cause harmless but really excruciating chest pains via nerve crimps at more or less random times. It's fun.
Can also be caused by zillions of things that are physically real, but hard to diagnose, for example, autoimmune diseases.
Oh my god, psychotic episodes. So... many... times... over...
It's no surprise then that the Malay term for such episodes is literally soul pain (sakit jiwa)
Panic attacks. It's a little like having a nonlocalized heart attack.
Under stress the muscles in your chest expand and contract creating the feeling of a pain over your heart/soul area. Commonly known as Heartache.