Purely mental battles are hard to show with special effects. Sure, you can have the characters sweat, strain, or show veins swelling on their forehead. But when a character with Telepathy or other Psychic Powerspushes them to the limit, or when a character is under mentalattack, nothing quite exemplifies the true state of affairs like a thin trickle of blood oozing from their nose.
Exactly how much damage this implies varies from place to place. Exaggerated versions of this include blood from the eyes, or eyes and nose simultaneously. Within nodding distance of Truth in Television, as rupture of the capillaries inside the nasal membranes is a recognized (albeit rare, and usually only seen in people already in poor health) symptom of dangerously high blood pressure, such as that caused by extreme emotional stress, physical strain, or — presumably — intense psychic effort. Sudden nosebleeds under stress have been known to precede strokes.
An early example of the trope was the film adaptation of Stephen King's Firestarter, where it was used in place of the original book's far-less-visible "tiny cerebral hemorrhages". However the first actual depiction can be found in the film Scanners (pictured above), which came out a few years prior.
Bleeding from the eyes or ears instead of or alongside a nosebleed could be considered variations of this trope. Blood from the ears in particular is a more worrying sight than a nosebleed, because it's a highly recognisable sign of head trauma.
Polite Dissent, a comics blog written by a physician, regularly provides examples of Psychic Nosebleed Zen, which the author has dubbed "epistaxis telepathica".
Sometimes overlaps with Deadly Nosebleed if the psychic battle is also doing real, physical damage to the character. Only occasionally related to Blood from the Mouth.
For nasal hemorrhages that are more of sexual than psychic nature, see Nosebleed. And for a psychic trope that may result in such, see Dirty Mind Reading.
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Anime and Manga
In AKIRA, the new, weaker psychics developed and employed by the Big Bad Tetsuo tend to have this. Tetsuo, and the other more powerful psychics, won't get any such ill effects.
Manga example, In Gantz, the psychics Sakata and Sakurai get a slight nosebleed when they use their psychic abilities. This is explained as using these abilities pushes their bodies past limits that just shouldn't be pushed, resulted in wearing out their insides in a process that's exactly like aging: although they always appear to be the same age, their bodies are becoming that of old men by using these abilities. Of course, considering the Old Man character that's the Hero's Right Hand Man, this might not be a BAD thing, per se.
Oh, but it gets better. Later on, when Sakata holds back an enormous alien at the risk of his life to give Sakurai and Reita a chance to escape, he bleeds from the nose, mouth, eyes and ears. Ouch.
In Full Metal Panic, Tessa has a massive nosebleed after melding her mind with Kaname's and helping her assume direct control over the Tuatha de Danann.
In Naruto, after using his Amaterasu Sharingan technique, one of Itachi's eyes begins to bleed profusely and becomes extremely bloodshot. After using Amaterasu and several other similar techniques repeatedly, Sasuke's eye bleed even more and are so bloodshot they look like they're about to explode.
While trying to trap the 9 tailed fox inside his Chibaku Tensei meteor, Pain gets a nosebleed from the strain of the technique.
When Inoichi telepathically communicates to an entire army of 20,000 at once he ends up getting a nosebleed.
In X/1999 Subaru has blood coming from his ears after going within Kamui.
A common occurrence in Psyren. Psychicers commonly have nosebleeds after they either develop or exhaust their abilities.
In Weiss Kreuz Gluhen, Shimojima develops a nasty nosebleed while Berger is using his Psychic Powers to force Shimojima to drive his car out of control. The nosebleed abates when Berger stops.
In Mahou Sensei Negima! when Haruna's artifact is used to defend from a massive attack on all sides, she is knocked unconcscious and recieves a slight head injury from the feedback received from her artifact.
In Gundam X, ex-Newtype Jamil Neet starts bleeding from the ears while attempting to communicate with another Newtype, Tiffa Adil.
Anemone from Eureka Seven has these, but it's used as an indicator of the abuse her job puts on her mind and body rather than actual psychic powers.
While not due to psychic efforts, near the end of Summer Wars, Kenji's nose starts to bleed at the immense effort of mentally decrypting a two-thousand digit key, entirely in his head, with only a few seconds left until the satellite drops.
In Senkou No Night Raid, Yukina suffers one after working with Shizune and her seer powers to show a strong illusion of an atomic bomb in effect to a crowd of people as a warning.
Max Lord, of the Justice League of America, had a small nosebleed whenever he used his metahuman "push" ability. In Justice League: Generation Lost, Max pushed his powers far enough to erase memories of his existence from everyone on the planet except for Booster Gold, Fire, Ice and Captain Atom. To do so, he had to constantly replenish his blood supply from the massive haemmorhage it gave him.
The Fantastic Four series has quite a few examples cropping up from time to time. Any character that suffers psychic stress seems prone to the Psychic Nosebleed. In recent times it happened in both the movie and the Marvel Civil War. For example we have Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman. Also, Marvel Boy/Justice also got nosebleeds when overusing his psychic powers.
Jean Grey and Rachel Summers. Hardly surprising, since the second is the first's time-travelling daughter from an alternate future.
Cable (Jean's Clone's time-traveling son from this reality) subverted this on one occasion by bringing himself back from the dead without any problems. Usually, though, he suffers psychic nosebleeds when doing things like inadvertently mind-controlling a continent's worth of people, saving airborne continents from crashing after gravity comes back into effect, or beating up the cosmically-powered Silver Surfer in an attempt to burn out his own powers.
In the Marvel Age we have Emma Frost. She constantly gets severe nosebleeds as her abilities are awakening.
In the 80s graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills, a brainwashed Professor X psychically attacked Storm and Cyclops, almost killing them—they were left unconscious, with blood trickling out their noses.
The villain Saturn Queen from the Supergirl comics.
Sophie, one of the Stepford Cuckoos from New X-Men, suffered a psychic nosebleed before her death while using Cerebra (the upgraded version of Cerebro). This was a combination of several factors; she wasn't a strong enough psychic to control Cerebra, and was on the mutant-power-boosting drug "Kick" in order to do so. Combined with her inexperience with the machine, it's somewhat unsurprising that it led to her death.
In an issue of Chuck Dixon's Team 7, a Russian telepath tries to use her Psychic Radar to track them through the Cambodian jungle. It doesn't work, due to a "greater power." She gets a Psychic Nosebleed for her trouble.
The movie The Butterfly Effect has the main character start to get nosebleeds after he has several blackouts. Each blackout (i.e. each use of his power) cause worse and worse damage to the main character's brain.
Minor fridge horror when you realize that's the main character's Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory kicking in and the memories are being physically written into his brain and co-existing with the older sets. After the first couple of times the main character fiddles with the past, he gets an MRI and the doctor notes that his brain has all the age-induced scarring of someone twice as old as him.
The 80s movie version of Dune involved a scene in which several Bene Gesserit (psychic witches) cried blood when Paul drank the Water of Life.
In The Ring, characters experience a nosebleed whenever the Curse's influence grows particularly strong.
Shown to happen to the three guys from Chronicle whenever they overuse their powers.
Also seems to work like a psychic connection between the three when something happens to one of the others.
In the 2005 Fantastic Four, Susan Storm aka Invisible Woman, suffered a nosebleed when she formed a force field around the ensuing "supernova" her brother Johnny Storm aka The Human Torch created to defeat Dr. Doom. It also happened on the Brooklyn Bridge, when she first discovered her force field abilities by containing another (unrelated) fire. In the DVD cast commentary, Jessica Alba mentioned that she liked the idea, since it shows how much she's pushing herself.
Used in The Wizard of Gore to show that Montag had the morgue attendant hypnotized. It's later revealed that the attendant died from the experience.
Used in Chronicle. The main characters get psychic powers, but they'll get nosebleeds if they exert themselves. It's also used to determine when one of them is in trouble.
Used in Valentine; whatever was killing the victims left all of them with nosebleeds after they died.
Not a nosebleed, but the same principle applies in The Incredibles. When Violet's force field gets overloaded (for example, by a several-ton killer robot), she get's knocked unconscious, and takes her several minutes to get back into the battle.
Despite the frequent use of Psychic Powers in Fingerprints, only one psychic nosebleed ever occurs: when a character attempts to use their power on a group of guards who are psychic-blocked. All of the psychics suffer other varying side-effects from overuse of their powers, though.
In Simon R. Green's Deathstalker series, Espers and the Maze People have this happen rather often, when pulling off big time abilities.
In the Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Death Star, a marginally Force-Sensitive stormtrooper called Nova Stihl is hit hard by the destruction of the prison planet Despayre, the Death Star's first test. Nova woke up screaming and felt like he had heard a million people cry out, all at once, as they were killed. Shortly afterwards the Death Star destroys Alderaan. For that, Nova was awake, but he was knocked unconscious and woke up with a nosebleed and intense muscle tremors. Poor conflicted bastard.
In King Of The Water Roads this is often the first price exacted for spells. It starts with the thin trickle, but the more magic is used, it can expand to a steady pour, then to coughing blood along with the nosebleeds.
Happens to John Taylor when he pushes his gift too hard, either by using it too many times in quick succession or by forcing his perceptions past some kind of mystical/psychic barrier.
In a subversion of the trope, in The Merchant Princes Series by Charles Stross the Psychic Nosebleed is a common side effect of the dimension hopping powers of said princes. The subversion comes from the fact that it is a side affect of malignant hypertension and can be treated with beta blockers and other medication.
In Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War Malingo suffers from this when Carion is interfereing with his control over the glyph.
An odd case occurs in Darkness Visible: Though venturing is not a purely psychic talent, there is a lot of mental strain involved, particularly the way that Lewis does it. When he pushes himself too far, the first outward sign is a nosebleed.
Christine Feehan's Ghost Walkers series has this happen as well as cerebral hemorrhages. But it's also said that the high numbers of hemorrhages and strokes in Shadow Game are anomalous.
In Perdido Street Station, the activation of Isaac's moth-baiting apparatus sends out such a powerful psychic blast across New Crobuzon that sensitives all over the city develop nosebleeds, two of them fatal.
In The Bible, Jesus is praying at the mount of Olives just before his arrest, and his sweat appears like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). As mentioned in the Real Life section below, this is likely due to the stress brought on by his knowledge of what's about to go down.
Live Action TV
In Smallville, when Chloe telepathically connects with the crystal of knowledgeusing her Brainiac abilities to save Clark, she gets a nosebleed before collapsing.
Angela Petrelli in the second season, when she (unsuccessfully) resisted Matt's mental assault.
Peter Petrelli in the second season finale.
And Hiro Nakamura, plus a psychic ear bleed, a burst vein in his eye, and fainting. And now a brain tumor!
Just about everyone who had been Touched by Vorlons in the miniseries Taken did this. In fact the series ended with the super psychic girl giving all her fellow abductees nosebleeds to push out the small transistors that the aliens had placed in their brains, to prevent future re-abductions.
Babylon 5, the obvious source of Touched by Vorlons, has Lyta Alexander, who winds up with bleeding eyes. Bleeding, black-socketed, empty eyes.
A variant: when Lyta forces Bester out of her mind in the fourth season, he reacts as if punched in the jaw.
In another confrontation Bester hypothesises that Lyta can't take his entire team at once since she is sweating after pushing back two. She replies that if she pushes too hard she might pop someone's blood vessel and cause them brain damage. Posturing ensues.
Similarly, various psychic characters in The 4400 have had nosebleeds when using their powers.
Sci-fi show Threshold has Carla Gugino's character getting nosebleeds every time she even remotely hears the alien signal - EVEN when she's talking on a phone to a friend on a quiet private plane, and neither the friend nor the audience can hear the signal being played on the plane.
In the episode "The Muse", Jake experiences a Psychic Nosebleed (twice) because an alien creature is stimulating his creativity in order to feed off his mental energy.
In Global Frequency, the man causing the radiation outbursts is shown bleeding from his eye in his first scene.
An example from the comic had people whose minds were being taken over by an alien meme-virus bleeding from the eyes, and possibly from the nose as well.
In LOST, this occurs whenever a consciousness becomes "unstuck in time" and is forcibly moved between the past and the future without a constant. Those suffering the effects of temporal displacement experience headaches, confusion, memory loss, nosebleeds, and eventually death by cerebral hemorrhage. A major character has died because of this.
Other examples abound on the show when characters willingly or unwittingly screw with the forces literally surrounding the island.
Kyle XY did this when he overused his powers. Happened more often to Jessie than it did to Kyle.
When D'Anna uses the machine on the Algae Planet in the third season of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, she experiences a psychic vision while her body has a nosebleed and then dies.
Parodied in an episode of Late Night With Conan O'Brien, where a psychic guest loses copious amounts of blood while using telepathy. The psychic's spoon is indeed nudged, although he is now wearing a wet red shirt for it.
Happens to Sam on Supernatural when he uses his Psychic Powers to exorcise demons, first when he was learning how and later when he gets rid of an especially tough demon.
In the season premiere of Scrubs season 8, Dr. Cox gets one of these while trying to resist an infectious smile. It's more a battle of wills than psychic, but still qualifies.
Carnivàle: Ben Hawkins got one after he used some form of astral projection.
It was never made clear whether the nosebleed was due to Psychic Powers or something else, but the "Two by two, hands of blue" assassins in Firefly had a device which caused a progression of symptoms like this: your nose bleeds a little, your nose bleeds a lot, your mouth bleeds, youreyes bleed, you die.
More like "Your nose bleeds a little, your nose bleeds a lot, every orifice you have and a few that aren't considered orifices, like your nailbeds, bleed, you die. Screaming."
In Stargate SG-1 Jonas Quinn gets a few of these while using precognitive abilities gained by the Goa'uld Nirrti experimenting with his DNA.
In Dollhouse a device called the Disrupter gives this and a headache to anyone with the brain structure of a Doll. which comes in handy for The Reveal of Senator Perrin's origin.
Subverted in Cleopatra 2525 when a telepath spends six months deliberately inducing a nosebleed as part of her escape plan.
Anna of the rebooted V gets psychic eyebleeds when she uses her bliss on a human.
In Warhammer 40000 nosebleeds are a 'secondary indicative symptom of proximal psychic activity'.
Much of the fiction features serious psychic nosebleeds, taken to typical WH40K extremes. Dan Abnett's Ravenor trilogy, for example, has the loser of a high-level psyker duel get turned inside out, a language that causes considerable bodily harm and the speaker's mouth to shred, and a Blank whose nose bleeds continuously when a psyker keeps trying to get in his head.
Cadian Blood has the Sanctioned Psyker Seth who is hit especially hard by this sort of thing; one devastating attack he was said to have launched and melted an enemy tank to slag, but shattered his teeth and left him in a coma for a week. When in a trance, he is only peripherally aware that his body is convulsing, bleeding, vomiting... This sort of thing is common for nearly all human psykers, save those of the Astartes and most of the Inquisition.
Very popular trope with spellcasting characters in the Fantasy meets Cyber Punkroleplaying gameShadowrun, especially common with hermetic mages. Or, more precisely, not popular at all with player characters as such, but rather with their players. Considering that the use of one's magical abilities, psychic battles with spirits or astral combat between astral bodies can result in fatigue and even physical injuries, a magically active character can easily overexert himself into unconsciousness or death.
Psionics in most versions of Dungeons & Dragons has the possibility of nosebleeds (and much, much worse) when psionic attacks are attempted with low wis or against psionically strong opponents.
In the demo for Bio Shock Infinite, your partner character Elizabeth can actually get a nosebleed from using too much of her psychokinetic powers as seen here.◊ In the final game, Booker experiences nosebleeds as a result of traveling through rifts in space/time.
Not quite a nosebleed, but in Mass Effect, biotics with lower-grade implants can suffer things like mental disorders and frequent headaches. Doctor Chakwas says that Kaidan's early-model implant port means he regularly has to deal with blinding migraines.
Played straight in the LeviathanDLC for Mass Effect 3. During Shepard's conversation with Leviathan, we see their nose begin to bleed, due to the strain of resisting Leviathan's attempts to control them.
In Errant Story, garden-variety telepathic communication may or may not cause a nosebleed — hard to tell from what we've seen of it — but possession by a ghod, and the communication that ensues, definitely will do the trick.
Immense concentrations of evil can cause paladins to suffer from these in Goblins, along with near-crippling headaches.
In Homestuck, noses aren't normally drawn, but Sollux starts bleeding profusely from his eyes and mouth from the immense exertion necessary to push a meteor quite a long distance away to the Green Sun that had recently been created. The stress is so bad that some of the veins beneath his skin burst as well.
Krillin: My turn my turn MY TURN!!! Nappa: [stops] Vegeta: Wh—... Nappa, what are you doing? Nappa: It's his turn, Vegeta. I have to wait for him. Vegeta: Uhh... uh... uhh!" (nose starts to bleed). Nappa: You OK, Vegeta? Vegeta: Yes, just... just an aneurysm out of sheer stupidity. Nappa: "Wow! Didn't think you were that stupid, Vegeta." Vegeta: "WAAAARGHHHHHH!!!"
Dangerous Lunatics has this happen when Tyler gets electrocuted to the point of coma by Dr. Beatrix and Thurston, at the same time as he tries to use his power to leap out of his body. He partially succeeds, though.
SF Debris points out in his review of the Star Trek: Voyager episode, "Warlord," that massive mental powers often result in a nosebleed from either those using them or their victim. Most of the people on the receiving end of a possessed Kes' telepathic attack are Rubber Forehead Aliens with six nostrils going up their forehead, so they have even more noses to bleed from. Yuck.
Happens to Jenkins in the Starship Troopers Invasion cartoon, hours after he's overexerted himself by making a brain bug ''explode''. It's used while he's alone to illustrate that he did more to himself than he let on to his squadmates.
Happens to Homer from The Simpsons. While undergoing lucid dream therapy, Bart and Lisa (or, rather, Homer's representation of their memory) start attacking the scenery to jar the blocked memory. Back outside, Homer receives a nosebleed.
Dr. Killinger in The Venture Brothers manages to induce this upon Dr. Orpheus by merely casually resisting his psychic assault until Orpheus overexerts himself.
Dr. Killinger: Your powers vill not vurk on me, you silly-billy.
While not bloody, Niko in Galaxy Rangers has, on several occasions, exerted herself to the point of collapse. The first example was "New Frontier." While attempting to detect Eliza's location, the Queen intrudes into the vision and rather violently pushes back.
Nosebleeds can be caused by high blood pressure. If your BP gets high enough capillaries will burst in your body, which not only causes nosebleeds but can also cause other problems in the body. Cases of people sweating or crying blood have also been reported, and stem from the same cause. Physical exertion can also do this, it's quite common among new army recruits who have never worked out so hard before.
This is especially common in people who suffer from nasal inflammation, like people who have hay fever.
Dehydration can make someone more prone to nosebleeds also, as the nasal membranes turn brittle when their mucus coating dries out.
While figurative, this Filipino slang often mentions this at times when someone tries to understand a difficult subject, or when someone speaks amazingly badass English, or an attempt to.