"When Rick told me he was having trouble with his wife, I had to laugh. Not because of what he said, but because of a joke I thought of. I told him the joke, but he didn't laugh very much. Some friend he is."
Common sense dictates that it never pays to judge someone too quickly, jump to conclusions, or condemn someone without hearing the whole story. In the world of fiction, however, many characters are not only guilty of all of the above, but feel no remorse for it whatsoever, even when it results in serious emotional damage.
For example, here's a quick quiz: It's your birthday, and you have told your boyfriend/girlfriend/other Loved One exactly what you would like as a present to mark the occasion. You walk into the living room and find your gift... which has been broken/ripped into a million little pieces, although someone has clearly been making a valiant effort to repair it. Moreover, it's the wrong colour. As you're staring at it, your Loved One stumbles in from the kitchen. They have their arm in a sling, their jeans have been ripped by something that clearly has sharp teeth, and they don't seem to have noticed that their hair is on fire. Seeing you, they offer a lopsided smile, and a tired if hopeful "Happy birthday."
a) Ask "what the heck happened to you?" as you reach for the fire extinguisher or fire blanket?
b) Tearfully hug them in an attempt to soothe their distress (trying to avoid being set alight yourself)?
c) Throw a hissy fit at their failure to secure the correct colour of gift, rant and rave at their clumsiness in breaking it, then toss them out of the house before they set off the sprinklers?
Most of us of (relatively) sound mind would choose (a) — the softer hearted (or fireproof) among us would choose (b). For some reason, though, an awful lot of characters in fiction prefer (c), throwing a tantrum or launching into a lecture when there really weren't any grounds for one.
It's as if they've suffered a complete empathy failure. Anyone can tell that The Hero has had a hard time. They've got the scars to prove it. At the very least, any onlooker's sense of curiosity should wake up for long enough to ask "Why is there a piranha attached to your thigh?" Moreover, basic human decency would dictate that we cut them some slack when they're clearly in pain, at least for long enough to figure out the whole story.
More bewildering is when the friend/onlooker knows exactly what the hero's been through, because they were there too. They know that Diabolus ex Machina has been rather busy in the hero's social circle, and that his buddy Deus Angst Machina covered a couple of Diabolus' shifts for him when he had the cold. Yet still they show absolutely no mercy, demanding that the hero "pull himself together" or "get over it!" So much for friendship.
A variant of this trope is a character type who is blind to the suffering of others. Not in the active, thoughtlessly cruel way of Comedic Sociopathy, but just completely unable to appreciate the pain or distress of other people. If anyone "fails" them, there will be hell to pay, no matter how much effort went into fulfilling their orders. Generally, this is a personality trait of more cynical characters, such as The Stoic. Some Tsundere types sport it as well, although in this case they'll probably be called on it. In both cases, the writer usually makes it clear that the "problem" is on the side of the character with No Sympathy, not on the side of whoever is unfortunate enough to cross them.
This is an odd trope; although often seen in comedies, it's not always comedic as far as the audience is concerned, and can be a real sucker punch if the protagonist undergoes tremendous hardship only to have his friends berate him.
A Kafka Komedy often invokes this trope. Comedic Sociopathy is its demented sibling. Sometimes No Sympathy can be justified if the characters are young, since younger people are expected to be more self-centered and less empathic than adults... although, having said that, this may be extremely unfair to young people.
Supertrope of Badly Battered Babysitter. Contrast Ungrateful Bastard. If a character is deliberately stated to be incapable of sympathising with the feelings or viewpoints of others, that's Lack of Empathy. For when nobody seems to find women enacting random violence towards men for non-existent reasons at all unusual see Unprovoked Pervert Payback. "Rashomon"-Style shows frequently have contrasting examples of this: someone who got hurt will usually report callousness and lack of sympathy from the other characters, while each one describes him or herself as the one who acted most effectively and compassionately to the injury.
A character who displays this trope can be and often is turned into The Scrappy, as audiences hate them for being nasty and spiteful pricks to people who've usually suffered enough to become The Woobie.
Examples of plot-related No Sympathy
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
In Eureka Seven, 14-year-old Renton's undying loyalty to the crew of the Gecko State is rewarded with a humiliating fake mission staged for their amusement. Told that it was of 'paramount importance', Renton doesn't even realize he's being mocked. As the 'mission' starts to fall apart, so does he. In tears, berating himself for his uselessness, the crew watches via secret camera as he delivers a lengthy speech about his admiration for them all, his happiness at being given this critical mission, and above all, his trust in them. They stare, wide eyed, at the screen... and burst into laughter at how idiotic he is. Then they make the mission objectives more ridiculous, photograph him at the most humiliating point of his life, and publicize it on the cover of a globally read magazine. The entire mission is recorded. And shown to his girlfriend. It's actually meant to be amusing. It's not.
And, for the record, Holland himself watches the video. The last words of the episode are him muttering to himself "I am so uncool."
Tends to happen in Slayers, usually to anyone who isn't named Lina - she's generally the instigator. The most extreme cases range from Comedic Sociopathy (using the chimeric Zelgadis as a boat anchor to catch a dragon in a lake, where he nearly drowns, gets hurt, and nearly eaten) to Kafka Komedy (using Princess Amelia as a bride for fish bait in order to survive on an island in a radio drama; before that she nearly died in the ocean, and in another drama Lina shows no concern for Amelia when she shoves her in a barrel to hide and forgets that she is drowning in a sewer) to genuinely sad moments (neither Lina or Zelgadis show care when Sylphiel's father is killed or when Amelia's father is thought to have been assassinated). And there is plenty of abuse towards Gourry to go around. It's a wonder that Lina's three companions aren't horribly broken after dealing with her across five TV series.
Other adaptations, however, tone all of this down.
Hoo, man, Shitsurakuen. The manga is based around insanely abusive boys with equally insane superiority complexes. It's actually a bit difficult to read, simply because a good amount are Karma Houdinis.
Hey they're learning the meaning of feelings... well at least some of them... sort of.
Played for Drama in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Fate Testarossa, only 9 years old, is told to collect magical artifacts of untold power by her mother, Precia. She throws herself at the task with reckless abandon, exhausting and injuring herself to dangerous levels. Her mother responds by whipping her until she collapses, furious at how slowly Fate's progress has been. It gets worse. When it's found out that Fate is just a clone, Precia says something to the effect of "That's right. You're nothing but a fake. I never loved you once. I despise you." Fate STILL forgives her, and says that even if she's hated, she'll still protect her mother. Her mother smiles, and replies "How stupid."
Then again, some think that Fate's last speech actually did get through to Precia, and that Precia drove Fate away so that Fate wouldn't throw her life away in a futile attempt to save her from the TSAB and the collapsing Garden. Essentially, this means that Precia wanted Fate to be happy, but knew she couldn't be the mom Fate wanted.
Anime boyfriends seem prone to this, accusing their girlfriends of being "stupid" or "reckless" when it's clear that said girlfriend was trying to help them out. Bikky does this to Carol in FAKE, Rei does it to Kira in MARS, and the whole Host Club do it to Haruhi when she tries to rescue someone from bullies. Often, this ties in with the advice to Stay in the Kitchen, and can result in Values Dissonance.
It's somewhat justified in the Host Club's case. They weren't scolding Haruhi because she tried to rescue someone, they were scolding her because she tried to rescue someone by herself, with no regard for her own safety and no-one to help her if she got in trouble, even though they were all just down the beach and could easily have been called in as backup.
And it also happens the other way around, with girlfriends accusing the guys of "perverts" and "the worst" and never letting that go regardless of how many kind moments they have and how much they prove to be nice persons after all. See Unprovoked Pervert Payback.
Rurouni Kenshin: Kenshin gets wounded in battle, and Kaoru yells at him for getting blood on her favorite scarf, which he happened to be wearing (never mind that the reason he was fighting in the first place was to keep his opponent from killing her, and she forced him to take it even though he didn't want to).
For further clarification, during battles she worries very much about Kenshin, even at the risk of her own life. It's only after the battles are over and the dust has begun to settle that she fulfills this trope.
In Sora Wo Kakeru Shoujo, Nami's depressed state of mind is not helped by her family's complete lack of love and sympathy. Her sisters practically kick her around as some scurvy dog and don't even once wonder why she acts the way she does.
Turned by her brainwashed older sister Takane, no less, who actually does care about her—somewhat, anyway. Takane recovers, beats the crap out of Nami and leaves her to die. None of Nami's relatives seem particularly concerned about what happens to her afterward. That's rough treatment for anyone.
Wolfram in Kyo Kara Maoh is always on Yuri's case, accusing Yuri of cheating on him in situations where Yuri was just being polite/trying to avoid death. However, a case could be made that Yuri (among others) is equally insensitive to Wolfram's feelings; Wolfram is often accused of being a brat in scenarios where he was genuinely trying to do something positive.
Ash occasionally gets this in Pokémon, especially when Misty was traveling with him. Examples:
"Ignorance Is Blissey", in which he is the victim of a very clumsy Blissey multiple times, to the point where he needs to be treated by Nurse Joy, and when he comments that he never did get supper, both Misty and Brock jump down his throat.
Another notorious example happens when Ash loses the Indigo Plateau League. Not because he was defeated, but because his final Pokémon, Charizard, was lazy and refused to follow commands, not only that but the only reason he had Charizard on him and was forced to use him was because Team Rocket kidnaped him, made him wear down his team escaping and exhaust his Pidgeotto flying back. When he does arrive the referee demands the match begin immediately not even asking why he's late let alone why he's arriving in such a weird manner giving him no chance to swap out his two useless Pokémon for Kingler, Muk or Tauros. When Ash sinks into depression afterwards everyone berated Ash for feeling sorry for himself when he had every right to be disappointed since he worked so hard to get in the League, only to have it snatched away via Diabolus ex Machina and the ineptitude of the referee.
Evangelion 3.33: After being retrieved from Unit-01's core, Shinji is greeted with distrust and disdain by the members of WILLE, including his former guardian and surrogate mother-figure Misato, who has a Bomb Collar placed on him. The only person who doesn't treat Shinji like a pariah is Sakura Suzuhara, the younger sister of his friend Toji, who stuck up for him before Third Impact for keeping everyone safe even when she was injured in the battle.
Hot Gimmick: Hatsumi gets this a lot from her boyfriend Ryoki. In one scene shortly after she had her heart broken and was almost raped he berates her for crying about it, comes on to her too strong and forcibly kisses her despite her protests.
In Kitchen Princess, the main character, Najika, gets no sympathy from anyone except the two lead males and a cafe owner when she arrives at her new school, the entire student body apparently having their ability to empathise surgically removed. Of course, this is to establish her as a Plucky Girl, but the students' levels of empathy continue to seesaw throughout the series.
In Tail of the Moon, Usagi is feeling rather depressed, as she's just learned Hanzo used to be engaged to Sara. Not only that, Sara and Hanzou have just split up over Hanzou's flirtatiousness, and Usagi feels responsible as Hanzou was helping her when he argued with Sara. Hanzo sees that she isn't training, and even though he can see she's got something on her mind, he proceeds to throw her put of the village and lock her out, refusing to let her in even though Sara and several others protest. When he finally does go to let Usagi in, it's started raining and she's heading back to her village. She's still upset when he catches up with her, but he never apologies even when she does return to his village.
This happens disturbingly often in Hell Girl. At least early on in the show, the clients end up sending the target to hell out of sheer desperation since they believe otherwise the target will get away with murder. Why do they believe this? Because for some bizarre reason, the Japanese (as depicted in this show) are very quick to make pariahs out of people and assume the absolute worst about the client, turning on their supposed loved ones, friends, or acquaintances at the drop of a hat.
Episode 1's client got photographed in town with a man? Everyone's first assumption is that she's a slut who deserves to be screamed at without being given a chance to explain herself.
Episode 3's target manages to create the mere suspicion that the client is the one who murdered his friends? Everyone in town, including the client's family, automatically assumes the client is guilty with no more evidence than that, and the client is forced to run away from town in order to avoid being arrested for a crime he didn't commit.
Episode 6's client's mother got raped as part of a blackmail scheme by the target to shut the client's mother up about the adultery the latter witnessed? The client's father's first assumption is that his wife was cheating on him, and he starts screaming at her about it without giving her a chance to explain.
Episode 11's client's father is framed for murder by an editor? The client is punished for his father's supposed mistakes by losing his home and his money and basically everything required to function in society, and his friends treat him as a loser the second he no longer has money. For a show that hammers home the futility of holding grudges and angry feelings in one's heart, the Japanese (as depicted in this show) sure seem quick to point fingers and hold others up as shameful pariahs at the slightest provocation.
Love Hina: This is one of the many things that happens to Keitaro PER EPISODE. Almost everyone refuses to listen to him in favor of believing he's some kind of lecherous asshole. He needs a hug, badly.
Kotoura-san: It's almost comical how fast nearly everybody writes off Haruka as a monster after they find out she has telepathy. Other then the ESP club, people don't even show any curiosity about her powers!
Poor Donald Duck. This trope is a big factor in making him The Chew Toy. Girlfriend Daisy is particularly prone to empathy failure. No matter what catastrophe befalls her beau, Daisy won't bother to staunch the bleeding before she sets in with a vicious rant-a-thon.
After Uncle Scrooge was accidentally pulled through a clothes shop by a hoverbike-thing gone mad, screaming in fear, he was arrested by the police because he got a few pieces of clothes stuck to him and people assumed he stole them.
Peter Parker is often the recipient of this kind of attitude. Of course, from the perspective of the characters who usually demonstrate this attitude towards him, Peter is flaky, unreliable and possesses almost no sense of responsibility; the audience, of course, are more than aware of the real reasons why Peter acts this way, thus making it particularly painful and unfair for him to be condemned for his behavior when he can't actually reveal the real reasons for it in his own defense.
To make matters worse, he also gets it as Spider-Man as well; his motivations and actions are often genuinely noble, but the prevailing All of the Other Reindeer mood of the Marvel Universe (helped, of course, by J. Jonah Jameson's obsessive vendetta against him - and since Jonah owns and publishes a newspaper, it's not exactly difficult for him to get his viewpoint wide distribution) means that he's constantly subject to widespread public criticism, condemnation and fear, and even blatant acts of heroism on his part will usually trigger a loud public outcry accusing him of being a public menace. They get him coming and going.
In the "Homeschooling" arc of Runaways, an accident results in the team's house getting wrecked and Klara and Old Lace getting buried under rubble. Old Lace dies, while Klara lives and is mostly unharmed, but is so terrified that she loses control of her powers and floods the house with hostile plant life, preventing her teammates from leaving. On top of that, the accident has attracted the attention of a paramilitary unit. In spite of the fact that the team's survival actually depends upon getting Klara to calm down, Chase does nothing except yell at and threaten her... because she won't stop crying about the fact that he's yelling and threatening her.
In Decks Fall Everyone Dies, most anyone who is not a main character gets this treatment (at one point, Yami is throwing bottle glass at a down-and-out Rex Raptor for attempted deck theft). Kaiba also falls victim to this trope. Not to mention the fact that everyone's situation (mass economic depression due to the fall of card games) is played for laughs.
The entire story of You Obey occurs because Chrysalis doesn't care if she has to use torture to achieve her ends, nor does she care what it does to her own underlings.
Naruto in some NaruHina fanfictions; his friends and the adults know that his childhood was hell but they're constantly mocking him and calling him dense for not noticing Hinata's feeling when she stutters and faints.
Averted in some fics that have his childhood discussed and his friends discover how crappy he had it. Like in A Growing Affection where Naruto, Hinata, Lee, Tenten, Neji and Ino are undercover at a beach but are allowed to goof off (to keep their cover as teens on a school-trip):
Naruto: (enthusiastically) "Come on guys! Let's build sand castles! It'll be fun!"
Ino: "Ugh. Sand castles, really? What are you, five?"
Naruto: (defensively) NO! (quietly) I never got to be five. (awkward silence)
In Plasma's Folly, Destiny believes that Aurelia's Dark and Troubled Past is nothing but a ploy for attention, and so she tells her to "get over it". The tables are turned when an equally unsympathetic Aurelia tells Destiny to take her own advice when she is breaking down into a fit of denial over Colby's death.
When Makoto gets bodyslammed by a major Humiliation Conga and is on the verge of losing everything, Naru bitterly thinks to herself that she deserves it. Why? Because when she lost her duel with Keitaro, Naru had to apologise for attacking him.
Ryuichi's attempts to help Granny Hina led to him losing his job. When he tells her about this, she bluntly replies that it's not HER problem and to stop bothering her about it.
In the lifetime Movie Home by Christmas, the main character is evicted from her apartment immediately after being mugged, robbed of her savings and hospitalized.
Stories about the in-laws-from-hell usually feature the bride's parents (and many of her other associates, and in some cases the bride herself) having No Sympathy for her husband. The Overprotective Dad in particular is ill-inclined to give his son-in-law an inch. Meet the Parents and The Worst Week Of My Life are two examples.
Meet the Parents plays with this however, since while the protagonist is successfully disgraced by the Overprotective Dad, the bride and her mother call him out for his vindictive treatment, especially since they know he drove her previous fiance' away with the same crap. Both characters are made to clean up their act for the wedding to continue, even if the father is clearly still begrudging about it.
Any villain who says "You Have Failed Me" likely has this... and any villain who suffers those failures to live can be argued to have a bit of empathy (or at least pragmatism at the effects of killing off his own troops, or perhaps standards). Darth Vader has done this at least once and nearly twice on-screen.
In the Disney movie, Go Figure, the heroine is chewed out as a failure by her skating coach for not showing up to practice. The coach never gave her a chance to explain that the Alpha Bitch locked her in a supply closet, despite the fact that she was covered in purple paint and had apparently been through something.
In Because I Said So, the girl accidentally broke a glass that the Romantic False Lead owned (and was his grandmother's as he related after the fact), who immediately insulted her, and gave her a cold shoulder despite her extremely sincere and distressed apologies, including offers to buy a replacement.
The biggest part of Mary Jane's scrappydom in the Spider-Man movies is her performance in the second film. Even though Mary Jane does not know at this point that Peter is Spider-Man, you'd think most people would understand that a full-time college student who struggles to avoid falling back on rent for his studio apartment might not have as much free time as a retiree (Aunt May), a jobless loser (MJ's dad) or a wealthy heir (Harry) would to go and see her play, and yet she treats him very cruelly based on this fact alone and refuses to hear his legitimate reason for missing it (the usher refused to admit him, to say nothing of the fact that his motorscooter was destroyed in an accident that wasn't his fault, as he was dealing with two crooks being chased by police) Yeah, yeah, he promised her he'd see it, but you know what? Sometimes circumstances prevent people from keeping their promises; grown-ups understand that.
It gets even worse in the third film where she accuses Peter of this because he's happy that for the first time his life doesn't completely suck while she has to put up with getting a bad review and has to get another job.
In The Time Traveler's Wife movie, Clare chews Henry out for disappearing for about two weeks. Almost the entire plot is how Henry time travels involuntarily and frequently, and she is aware of this. And he has to go apologize afterwards.
Wonderfully subverted in The Princess and the Frog. Charlotte plans on wooing Prince Naveen using Tiana's delicious food, but while she goes to find him, Tiana is informed that a better offer has been made on the mill she wanted to buy to make a restaurant. Her attempts to get the sellers to stay and hear her out end up with her knocking over the food table, which is right when Charlotte returns. And contrary to all expectations, her only reaction is to worry about whether Tiana's okay, and get her a new dress to wear.
Similarly, at the end of the movie, Charlotte gives up her own dream of marrying a prince so that she can turn Naveen and Tiana human and let them marry each other. By terrible luck, she kisses Naveen a second too late, meaning that the day she's a princess for is over and her kiss won't work. Not only does she try the kiss anyway, in the hopes that the clock was fast, but she is clearly sorry and apologizes to the two for being unable to help.
Lottie does tend to zigzag through this trope. As The Ditz, she does occasionally fail to notice the distress of others. When she does notice though, she's very kind.
In The Color of Money, Eddie teaches Vincent not to show any sympathy for the marks they hustle. When Vincent throws a pool game against a man with a tracheotomy, Eddie sets up a pool hall brawl to teach him a lesson.
Jacqueline Wilson's heroines usually have friends prone to this (and occasionally do it themselves). A blatant example is the Girls series heroine, Ellie. Throughout the series, Ellie has to bail out best friends Nadine and Magda when they pick up the Idiot Ball and run with it... and in gratitude, they're quick to abandon Ellie in favour of whichever boy they're pursuing at the time. However, when Ellie tells them she's thinking about going to her boyfriend's dance rather than to a concert with Nadine and Magda, they get very catty and accuse her of abandoning them, despite the fact that Ellie shows far more regard for their feelings when they do for hers. Occasionally, this can verge on (non-)Comedic Sociopathy, as when they accuse Ellie of overreacting when she finds a drunken Magda lip-locked with Russell, Ellie's boyfriend, at a party.
Bernard Mac Laverty's Father and Son has a pretty breathtaking example of this. A recently bereaved father struggles to care for his son after the mother of the family dies. Said son repays him by running away for two years until he gets ill and has to be rescued by the father, who nurses him back to health. Rather than being grateful for the rescue, and the subsequent sacrifices his father had to make for him, the stupid little twit cuts him no slack, whining constantly about his father's lack of masculinity (since it's now dad who does the housework), drawing violence and illegal activities into his dad's house, and throwing a fit whenever his dad asks him where he's going when he leaves the house. All right, the son was going through his own mucked-up grieving process, and the theme of the short story was the isolation of grief and Poor Communication Kills, but you may be left feeling that the son deserved everything he got, especially when you consider that the father constantly tries to bridge the gap between them.
This tends to crop up amongst various characters in the Twilight series. One oft-cited example in Eclipse is when Jacob forcibly kisses Bella, upsetting her enough that she punches him and breaks her hand in the process. She comes home visibly angry and with her injured hand, only for Jacob and Charlie (who was previously characterized as an Overprotective Dad) to basically exchange high-fives. Charlie does later show more sympathy, but it's still less than one would think a guy would have for his assaulted daughter.
Another example would be the treatment of Leah throughout the series. Her first transformation into a wolf accidentally causes the death of her father, her fiance leaves her at the alter for her cousin; as a member of her former fiance's pack, she has to constantly hear his thoughts about how happy he is with her, and her other cousin Jacob is constantly pining over a girl who he clearly has no chance with. Leah is understandably a bit bitter about all of this. The rest of the pack generally treat Leah as a horrible shrew for being upset about these things, up to and including treating her like an idiot for not being able to put Sam behind her, but coddling Jacob for acting even more pathetic.
In A Brother's Price, men are rare and kept protected. When Ren, Eldest Whistler, and Captain Tern along with a company of soldiers come across one who was kidnapped and raped, and then died after his tongue was cut out, Ren is horrified. Whistler covers his body with her coat, furious, and then feels an intense fearful need to get back home and protect her brother. The Captain and the soldiers are largely unmoved. When Ren demands to know how anyone could do something like this, if you got pregnant from the act what would you tell your daughter, Captain Tern shrugs and says it's like how you never describe a visit to the cribs. Ren concludes that a woman needs to have had a loving father to really be horrified by this.
In the second Provost's Dog book, Beka is jumped by a couple of thugs and almost beaten to death in payback for arresting their brother. She wakes up to a very angry Goodwin who promptly tears her a new one for always going out the front door of her lodgings, while the healer tells her to lay off. Beka agrees with Goodwin, since Dogs have to be Properly Paranoid if they want to do their jobs and survive. Tunstall thumps her for it later, but this time Goodwin tells him to back off since Beka's learned well enough.
Live Action TV
House seems to go out of his way to invoke this in other people, just so he can protect his ego. For example, take the Tritter thing; being tripped was humiliating, sure, but the other characters might have had more sympathy for him if he had actually told them about that instead of keeping it to himself. (Of course, he also tends not to show sympathy for others; sometimes it's a Jerkass Façade, and sometimes it's, well, the premise.)
Subverted in 97 Seconds when House asks for sympathy after electrocuting himself and being hospitalized... even though he electrocuted himself deliberately as part of a self-indulgent experiment involving near death experiences.
This does happen a lot to him. He's addicted to Vicodin because he's in chronic pain, but it was established in the first season that House was an addict with a history of drug-seeking behavior already when he had his infarction. Cuddy and Wilson already knew him then. But nobody else seems to think of the pain when they criticize his addiction and tell him what a jerk he is, either.
In season four finale, he had been in an accident and had a head injury, but still Wilson asked him to do a potentially fatal test on himself to save Amber's life, since Wilson was dating her. When House did it anyway, and Amber died anyway, Wilson stopped being friends with him for a while (although this is suggested to be just Wilson dealing with the grief).
JD and Turk both seem to be frequent victims of this on Scrubs. Carla, and most of the girls JD dates, seem ready to pounce on any perceived failure or flaw, regardless of the circumstances.
There was another rather bizarre instance of this in season six, where J.D's friends were getting frustrated at his apparent whininess (although they didn't say this to his face). This felt a little odd given that what they viewed as Wangst was caused by the apparent death of his unborn child, his losing his girlfriend, his lack of an apartment and having to sleep on a deck, his developing an odd medical condition which caused fainting spells, and his getting a DUI (admittedly, the last two took place a bit later). Granted, a lot of his complaints took place offscreen, so it's hard to judge how annoying it would be in real life, and it's possible that a lot of time had passed within the show since what happened with Kim, but considering that Elliot never provoked any hostile reactions from her friends when she was going through similar problems in the earlier seasons, it still seems a tad unfair.
No one seemed to care, either, that when J.D. got the DUI, it was for pushing his scooter down the road (having recognized that he had too much to drink), with the keys in the ignition so he could listen to music as he did it. He was treated by his co-workers the same way he would have been treated if he'd driven an SUV after drinking half of a bottle of vodka.
To be slightly fair to JD's friends, when he told them about his DUI they had all just heard about a patient who was severely injured by a drunk driver. JD's confession made it seem like he had been the drunk driver and his apparently blase attitude didn't help.
In the The X-Files episode "Bad Blood," Mulder comes in late at night, exhausted and covered in dust. Scully shows a reasonable amount of curiosity and sympathy in her version of events, but in Mulder's version she whines about being hungry and tells him not to sit on her bed.
Bernard Black, the bookshop owner in Black Books, has a deep contempt for Manny Bianco, his assistant, and responds to almost anything he does with anger.
Kate from Robin Hood spends a lot of time whining about her dead brother, who was killed by Guy of Gisborne after her botched rescue attempt. She doesn't seem to care that she is surrounded by fellow outlaws who have also suffered at the hands of Gisborne: Little John had his wife and son tortured, Much lost the woman he loved, Allan had to watch his brother get executed, and Robin's own wife was murdered. But, nooo, all Kate can moan is: "E keeled mah bruvvah!"
The use of this trope is often detrimental to the characters of NCIS (making them occasionally come off as unlikeable sociopaths) because of the way the show shifts between comedy and drama, the tone determining whether there will be sympathy or not and the audience disagreeing with the writers' sense of humor.
Psych has a similar problem to NCIS. There are a few very dramatic episodes were everything is taking completely seriously (the yin-yang trilogy stands out). It's more comedy than drama though, so laughing at bullet wounds/kidnapping/near death escapes is pretty common. In short, the characters seem to mysteriously know whether the danger is real or not.
On The Dick Van Dyke Show, Laura gets called out for this in the Whole Episode Flashback "The Attempted Marriage." Rob is waylaid on the way to their wedding and goes through hell to get there. When he finally arrives late, all Laura can do is bawl him out his supposed utter insensitivity. Rob takes a surprisingly large amount of abuse before announcing that he's decided not to marry a woman who — when her fiance' arrives disheveled, covered in mud, and hopping around on one foot from a sprained ankle — can't be bothered to even ask what happened before piling on. After piling on, she tries to leave, but he physically prevents her from doing so in order to explain himself. By the time he's finished, she is a bit more forgiving.
In Being Human, this was one of the signs that Tully was having a bad influence on George. George came home to find Annie scared and quiet and Mitchell furiously kicking Tully out (both of which were drastically out of character for the two, and should have tipped him off that something really upset them) and instead of asking what happened, declares that he won't let Tully be sent away. Mitchell eventually outright tells George why Tully is being sent off - because he sexually harassed and frightened Annie. George still sides with Tully, much to the shock of Annie and Mitchell. (George later comes around, thankfully, and apologizes)
Frasier: Daphne tries to defy this one in "Daphne Does Dinner"; after trying to throw a normal dinner party without the Cranes screwing it up as usual, she of course manages to screw it up, but when the offended guests start to collect their coats, she gives an impassioned speech about trying to salvage a nice, civilised dinner despite all the hijinks. Just as she's talked them round, a bed falls through the ceiling.
In the Book of Job of The Bible, this is the treatment that the eponymous character receives from his friends. They claim that him sinning must be the reason why all these bad things have happened, although in actuality, it was God who had taken away Job's wealth and children and putting boils on him to test his faith after accepting Satan's bet earlier. Despite this, Job protests to his friends that he has been upstanding for all of his life and during his suffering, he remains faithful to God.
Early in Final Fantasy IV, the kingdom of Damcyan is attacked. The king and queen die, as does Anna, Tellah's daughter and Prince Edward's love, and numerous Red Shirts. When the party finds Edward, he's flattened with grief because everyone he loves is dead... so Tellah attacks him.note which he was probably going to do anyway since he didn't approve of Edward and Anna getting engaged in the first place When Anna gives her last words and dies, Edward is even more devastated. Rydia and Cecil immediately lay into him for being a selfish weakling, moping over the deaths of everyone he's ever loved when there are some strangers here who want a favour! While it's ture that Edward is the ruler of Damcyan, thus needs to be strong to lead the country, Rydia's reaction is a tad hypocritical- her reaction to the same circumstances was to summon Titan to whoop Cecil and Kain's backsides, but apparently it is wrong for a man to be temporarily paralyzed by the deaths of everyone he's ever loved. Understandable, since she is Just a Kid afterall.
This is, of course, the point. After that page was posted, the writer received an e-mail from his mother claiming the page wasn't sad enough, and Warbot should have gotten a bill for repairing the damage he did to the street by landing on it headfirst.
Boxbot only wants to help, but is hampered by the fact that he's a badly programed box with arms. He is consequently terrible, a fact that the characters and author are extremely willing to share.
King of the Hill: In the Grand Finale, Bobby joins a meat grading team. He is initially regarded as a prodigy. At the team's state qualifying tournament, he answers almost every question and single-handedly pulls his school into second place, thus qualifying for the state championship. He answers the last question of the tournament incorrectly, thus dropping his team into fourth place, which is still high enough to qualify for state. His teammates and coach immediately turn on him, declaring him an incompetent choke artist who will drag the school into the gutter. When a rival team hijacks their bus, Bobby is the only member of the team at the finals and performs flawlessly, but when the rest of the team shows up they shove Bobby aside and tell him to sit out before he ruins their chances. It isn't until Bobby asserts himself and keeps the rest of the team from making a tourney-losing mistake that they accept him again.
The woman in front of Stan in line to the doctor in American Dad! refused to let Stan cut in front of her, despite the fact that he was clearly heavily wounded and bleeding to death because "Her elbow felt funny."
In the Futurama episode "I Second That Emotion", the crew became so annoyed with Bender's lack of sympathy for anyone, that they installed an emotion chip to his head, which made him feel everything Leela (whose pet, Nibbler he flushed down the toilet) felt. Also applied to Leela herself that very same episode, as she showed no concern for the fact that Nibbler had eaten the cake Bender had made (which may not seem like much, but Bender had spent ages making it, and Nibbler ate it before anyone else had seen it), which partly led to the aforementioned flushing.
Given the kind of show it is, the characters tend to show little to no sympathy for each other, depending on the situation. One can usually tell if a line has seriously been crossed, because one or more characters will feel sorry for another.
Lucien from The Cramp Twins suffers an allergic reaction from the vest he's wearing while in class, and takes it off to reveal a huge red rash covering his torso. Miss Hissy, Lucien's teacher, responds by giving him a detention for removing his top.
In one episode, Doug was goaded into throwing a rock at a house scheduled for demolition and this small rock ends up collapsing the entire house. Patti comes by and when Doug brags to her about the good shot she tells him he's "terrible" and walks off angry. For most of the episode Patti avoids Doug like the plague without giving an explanation and Doug is left wondering why she would be angry at him for wrecking a house that was going to be torn down soon anyway, even Bebe won't answer him when he asked her to find out why Patti is mad at him. He doesn't find out why until Skeeter off-handedly mentions that it was the house Patti lived in when her mother was alive, something which Doug would not have known since everybody knows he'd just moved to Bluffington. Subverted in that Patti actually apologists after Doug gives his side of the story.
Batman's non-stop trash talking of Superman after the fact later comes back to bite him in the ass.
Henry often got this problem following his increasing illness in the first season of Thomas the Tank Engine, other engines usually ignoring his moaning until he starts effecting their own work schedule (Thomas in particular chewed out Henry for making him late, and only saw his ill bout as an opportunity to pull his train in his place). Only his crew and Sir Topham Hatt shown concern for his health and took measures to repair him, leading him to get the last laugh on some of the apathetic engines from before when he starts to outclass them. Subverted in later seasons after his sickness reappears, where the others are usually shown to be very concerned about him.
Reused and reasoned in "What's The Matter With Henry?". When Henry moans he is sick again, Thomas and Percy mock him and even give him their own workload as a prank. Emily is concerned about Henry however, and upon investigating, discovers he has broken down. When Thomas and Percy realize this, they are remorseful, explaining they thought it was just Henry being his usual self. The engines learning to treat Henry's wavering health more seriously is among the few Aesops that have stuck since then.
This pretty much happens almost every time in the series. Whenever there's an engine who laments about their unpleasant situations to others, they will always make belittling and smug insults to them about it. However, this mistreatment on the engine depends either if the engine brought it upon themselves due to their misbehavior or that the unsympathetic engine is just rude for its own sake, in which case something will likely lead them to get A Taste Of Their Own Medicine shortly afterwards.
In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "The Clock King", Temple Fugate arrives late to his hearing and the judge failed against him for being late. Even when Fugate’s clothes were soaked and torn and he was obviously distressed and disheveled. When Fugate looked at his lawyer, he simply shrugs it off and retires.
Fugate:No, you can't, I'll be ruined! Judge: Then perhaps this will teach you to be on time for a change.
Every Animaniacs "Buttons and Mindy" short ends this way. After practically killing himself to save the life of the world's most annoying little girl, Buttons' reward was a verbal dressing-down for some minor fault incurred along the way. It didn't work as comedy and it was often the only thing resembling a comedy beat in the short. Shortly thereafter, Mindy would usually lavish a bit of toddlerish affection on Buttons, which seemed to comfort him at least a little. The earliest shorts didn't even have that silver lining but luckily, in the movie he was rewarded handsomely with a big 'ol plate of steak.
Relatedly, a lot of the Warner Bros. animation stable relies heavily on our Karmic Trickster lead(s) having no real boundary when it comes to revenge or just being jerks.
In the Family Guy episode "Herpe, the Love Sore", Peter and friends run away from the guys who bullied them out of their booth. This earns them the scorn of the town and their families. Their attempt to take it back fails with them getting beat up. Even when they get the booth back, it's only because the guys who bullied them reveal themselves to be soldiers who are shipping back to duty the next day. Said guys are hailed as heroes, while Peter and the gang still get no respect.
Donald Knuth discusses a TeX error in The TeXbook:
Interwoven alignment preambles are not allowed.
If you have been so devious as to get this message, you will understand it, and you will deserve no sympathy.
It should be noted that this can be interpreted to mean all of "to get this error, you're probably intentionally trying to get Te X to crash or output impossible objects", "further description would require several pages, and because the error is so arcane, we'll just save space by not describing it", and "figuring out how to get this error, and why it is an error, is a sign of your mastery of Te X".
The F*ck My Life website is part catharsis, part concrete proof of No Sympathy. There are two buttons beneath each post - "I agree, your life sucks" and "You deserved it." Sometimes even the softest hearted reader has to admit they kind of did it to themselves, but even if the original poster was mugged, attacked, humiliated, heartbroken or injured, there will always be a few hundred people who click the "You Deserved It" button. Especially if the poster has let slip that they are an Acceptable Target in some way.
In Real Life, telling someone suffering from depression to "buck up" or "get over it already" are examples of this trope. In practice it's just as absurd as telling them to "just get over" a broken arm, although provided you've taken the right steps early on the broken arm will usually sort itself out in time, while the depression will probably be something they have to deal with their entire lives.
It's especially bad for people who are constantly told their life could be worse, as if that's supposed to make them feel better. If you're truly depressed, you are mentally incapable of seeing any hope in your situation.
Examples of No Sympathy as a character trait
Anime and Manga
Klaus of From Eroica with Love has no mercy for his alphabets...not even with regard to basic human needs like eating and sleeping. He can stay awake for two days straight, so he expects his team to do the same. Because Klaus' life is entirely based around his job, he's equally ruthless with their private lives, thinking nothing of exiling them to Alaska without taking into account the small matter that many of them have families...
It's hard to tell if Kalos of Kaleido Star is a fairly cruel example of No Sympathy as a character trait or if he just exemplifies the ethos of Kaleido Stage. Sora gets injured and becomes nervous about performing stunts? Tough luck - he'll fire her if she doesn't get over it, fast. Her confidence and self-belief are knocked after deeing the devious nature of the International Circus Festival? He terminates her contract. Harsh.
Count D of Pet Shop of Horrors probably had a certain amount of Blue and Orange Morality as an excuse, but in certain stories he comes across as having the No Sympathy trait instead. T-chan is a straighter example, having no time for weakness.
Most women in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time are afflicted with this. Main hero Rand al'Thor is their typical Butt Monkey: He has a never-healing wound that causes him pain every waking moment, he is in danger of going mad from the tainted magic he uses (and in fact may have already done so), and, oh yeah, he has the responsibility of Saving the World. But most women around him for some reason feel that the most sensible way to help him save the world is by making his life as miserable as possible, and doing such things as criticizing him for being rude while trying to stop everyone else from being idiots and prepare for the last battle already. Being a total pussy, Rand just accepts it. Possibly because practically all his male friends and allies give him shit if he does something like, for example, not kowtowing immediately to Aes Sedai demands for the very good reason that they are a bunch of manipulative Jerkasses in the midst of their own civil war, so it isn't as if he should know which ones advice to follow even were he so inclined.
Rand's friend Mat Cauthon gets it even worse: his distress at being repeatedly raped at knifepoint is laughed off by the female characters as his just desserts because he can be a bit of a womanizer. One who would never dream of forcing himself on a woman and who never continues to pursue one who gives him a firm "no." Deserves rape. Apparently.
Lisbeth Salander subscribes to the "Pay Evil unto Evil" school of Black and White Morality and is such a Determinator that other characters call her The Terminator. As such, she's unsympathetic towards those who don't take matters into their own hands. In the first book, after the discovery that Harriet Vanger faked her own death to escape a life of sexual abuse from her Serial Killer father and brother, which left the latter free to keep killing women, Mikael is very sympathetic, while Lisbeth is totally contemptuous, since she would simply have dealt with her abusers herself. (And has.) Though she gets slightly better over the course of the books, Lisbeth generally remains intolerant of any weakness, and it takes a lot to get her to pity someone.
Many readers felt this way over Tris Prior's harsh dismissal of Al in Divergent, which led to his suicide, while others sympathize with her because he had participated in an attempt to kill her, even though he only did it out of peer pressure and personal desperation (at that point, he was pretty much destined to fail Initiation and become homeless).
In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, there is a side quest in which the player character, who is pretending to be a Sith student, is captured by an insane former Sith teacher who puts them through a sadistic test of Sith philosophy with pain and eventually death as the price for wrong answers. This being Sith philosophy, the right answer can always be found by choosing the most evil and cruel option, which the teacher will then rationalise as somehow being the most rational one in terms of maintaining your power. Hence, when one question is something like "You have a loyal and capable subordinate who hasn't failed you once before, but now does due to bad luck, what do you do?" the right answer is in the lines of "Kill them right away, because we mustn't allow any weakness." In general, the Sith philosophy works like this elsewhere in the game and at least some parts of the Expanded Universe as well.
Paradoxically and by contrast, Darth Bane in his own novels that tie in with the game and whose writer was involved in writing them bears no grudge over a failed attempt to assassinate him, since that's what Sith are supposed to do.
Medoute of Blaze Union is usually a nice enough person... until she gets into pushy mentor mode. She believes very firmly that there is only one Right Way to handle life—and that is to be detached and to deal with things rationally, stifling any emotional or knee-jerk reactions in order to be objective. This stems from her own coping mechanism of avoidance. Sometimes her input is helpful to the other characters, but other times it's markedly less so. Oh, so your subconscious is trying to block out the fact that your best friend since toddlerhood needs a Mercy Kill, since you might not be able to handle the idea just yet? Stop crying and man up to the truth! What are you, a baby?! In the A route, where Medoute's own objectivity is compromised by Fantastic Racism, this devolves into puppy soccer against Gulcasa—who is grieving, sick, and can only lean on someone who's taking advantage of his inability to think straight. Medoute, unwilling to empathize with or condone his emotional distress, chooses to interpret his behavioral changes as Jumping Off the Slippery Slopeand tries to kill him. Poor Communication Kills applies heavily.
Collin Sri'Vastra and Fox Maharassa of Friendly Hostility are an odd case of both sides of No Sympathy. Fox was the sweeter natured partner, but was empathically useless, needing to have a person's problems spelled out for him before he realised there was a problem. After being made aware of a situation, he was quick to offer support - but if no-one bothered to explain things to him, he was cheerfully oblivious and steamrolllered their feelings. Collin, on the other hand, was more sensitive, but also crueller - appealing to his emotions was a lost cause if you weren't his nearest and dearest, and occasionally he actively targeted someone's weak spot to demoralise them, as he did to Kitty in the "Pirates!" storyline. The endgame of the story is brought about when these two sides of the same problem clash - Collin becomes unhappy, and Fox moves from being the one person he opens up to, to just about the only person he refuses to voice his problems to, preferring to bitch to his friend, Arath, and flirt with newcomer Leon rather than do something sensible like talk to Fox. Fox carries on oblivious, until even he can't deny something has gone badly wrong.
Max Goof on Goof TroopZig-Zags this in regard to his best friend, PJ, the kind but maltreated son of Pete. In the pilot episode, he explicitly shows him sympathy and goes out of his way to give him a chance to be happy and have fun. Later episodes have a mix of that, seeming obliviousness to his feelings—that is, not noticing why (or even that) PJ might be upset at being treated inconsiderately, nervous about a plan (especially one involving his dad), or annoyed that Max complains about his (much nicer)dad in front of him—and actively accusing him of being a bad friend based on circumstantial evidence when PJ is either obviously contrite or actively denying the betrayal. When the last one shows up, Goofy tries to get him to be more sympathetic.