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Psychological Torment Zone

Yoda: That placeÖ is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.
Luke: What's in there?
Yoda: Only what you take with you.

Whether it's The Lost Woods, a swamp, the room at the heart of a Haunted House, or an eldritch Dark World reflection of our own, this place likes messing with your head. It will conjure up phantoms from your past to taunt and torment, force you to face your worst flaws and greatest failures, all while it moves walls and landmarks to keep you lost and trapped until you die... or forever.

The place could be tainted with the Dark Side, beckoning ghosts or causing too-real hallucinations. It might be a malicious Genius Loci that feeds on anguish. Whoever or whatever is behind the emotional onslaught won't outright kill anyone... at least not at first. It usually drives those it torments to suicide, uses Fright Deathtraps, or directly pits you against lethal physical enemies such as the Enemy Without. Sometimes however, it can be stopped the moment the victim says "I'm Not Afraid Of You!" and/or reaches an emotional epiphany.

In fact, the purpose of the place could even be as a center of emotional confrontation and healing. Healing with a high burnout rate, but healing nonetheless. It's also worth noting that individuals may create these places or similar effects. Telepaths and Master of Illusion absolutely love to use it on enemies, and the Artifact of Doom may use it as a defense.

See also Epiphanic Prison and Black Bug Room, which can overlap, and Vision Quest. Contrast Happy Place.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • The Wangst cave Matt and Sora wandered/fell into in Digimon Adventure.
  • The cave Yoh has to pass through in Shaman King. Not actually evil, but as you go through the cave, it starts to steal your senses.

    Comic Books 
  • The Diabloverde jungle in the final mission of the original run of the Suicide Squad. Notable in that it's implied that it's either a malevolent Genius Loci... or a normal jungle which happens to have a free-floating biological agent capable of doing this (Deadshot, who was wearing a mask, and Poison Ivy, who's immune to toxins, were left unaffected).
  • D'Spayre catches Doctor Strange in one of these after Clea returns to her home dimension. Rather creepily the entirety of Stephen Strange's life is shown being taken away by stagehands. Strange is nearly Driven to Suicide and is shaken afterward by how close he came to taking his own life.
  • In the second story-arc of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW) the moon itself is this, as it's tied to the Nightmare Dreamscape, home of the Nightmare forces.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • In 1408, the... whatever is messing with the lead throws an apparition of his deceased daughter and father at him. Though it says it can't kill him since it has to respect free will. It just makes suicide the only sane option. Ironically, bringing up his deceased daughter is what ultimately pushed his Berserk Button and caused him to incinerate the room despite still being trapped inside.
  • The quote is from The Empire Strikes Back, where Luke has to enter a cave on Dagobah and face his fears. It's notably a fear he didn't even know existed ( that he would end up like his father, who he didn't know was Vader at the time), and possible not really an evil place, since it's implied the experience would have been much different if he'd not brought his weapons.
  • The Event Horizon is an evil ship that particularly loves messing with people's heads, most often through hallucinations, as a result of slingshotting through Hell.
  • The oceans of Solaris, a sentient planet that can read the minds of the human astronauts sent to study it. It creates illusions of their dead loved ones, although why exactly it does is uncertain.

    Literature 
  • In the first Kushiel's Legacy trilogy, the cave of the thetalos ritual would seem to qualify. It's not evil — quite the opposite, it's sacred to Mother Earth — and you go there to atone for egregious deeds, but the experience is unpleasant and it's implied that many do not survive.
  • The Chamber of the Ordeal in Tamora Pierce's Tortall Universe books works this way. The idea is to weed out people who aren't tough and morally courageous enough to be knights by "hammering" their weak points. People sometimes die in the chamber, commit suicide when released or Go Mad from the Revelation.
  • 1984: The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.
  • The "island where dreams come true" from The Chronicles of Narnia. Not daydreams, dreams.
  • The Crystal Maze from The Looking-Glass Wars, basically a test of courage and determination for new queens.
  • AesSedai in The Wheel of Time have to go through not one, but two of these at certain points in their training: specialized devices are used to force them to face their fears, weaknesses, and hangups. It's mentioned that some never come out of the tests.
  • In Counselors and Kings, the Unseelie Fairies Mind Rape anyone unfortunate enough to stumble into their world- and said world itself reacts strongly to thoughts and emotions, so you may summon your worst fears by mistake even if the fairies are currently leaving you alone. Tzigone spends most of the third book stuck there, and her friend and fellow protagonist Matteo spends a much briefer time there trying to get her out. Both learn important things about themselves in the process, though.
  • In Galaxy of Fear:
    • This is combined with I Know What You Fear in the Nightmare Machine, a theme park attraction bringing to life visitor's worst fears. A character wonders why anyone would go in to such a thing and is told that some people like being scared. Of course, when they try it out things go wrong and there's a Failsafe Failure, and they have to Win to Exit - experience worse and worse fears until they've survived the one thing they dread most.
    • The Dagobah cave which gave Luke so much trouble shows up, late in the series - it forces some pitiable cannibals to realize that their parents feeding them human bodies was a regrettable thing, not a tradition they should carry on. The experience makes them better people.
  • The story Ghost V by Robert Sheckley provides a semi-hard science example: a planet whose atmosphere contains a hallucinogenic gas causing all-too-real hallucinations and animating long-suppressed fears of those who breathe it.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe:
    • A story in the Junior Jedi Knights series had Anakin Solo, Tahiri Veila, and Uldir Lochett enter the Dagobah cave. Anakin saw himself turning into Darth Vader, based on his fears that he would eventually turn evil like his famous ancestor Anakin Skywalker. Tahiri saw visions of her family. However, since Uldir wasn't Force Sensitive, he only perceived it as an ordinary cave.
    • Luke Skywalker later revisited the Dagobah cave. He was shown an Alternate Timeline where Mara Jade interfered in the battle aboard Jabba the Hutt's barge, resulting in Luke's demise.
  • In Andre Norton's Storm Over Warlock, the Wyverns' test of Shann is his ability to reject "dreams" that are his memories by holding in mind that they are dead. One was of a time when a bully tormented him with an Agony Beam; the other was seeing his beloved pet as if alive, and having to summon to memory its death in order to end it.
    • In Ordeal In Otherwhere, the Wyverns use a stronger one, which they think will keep Shann imprisoned. Charis, with the help of Tsste and Thog, breaks him out. Later, he voluntarily throws himself into it to avoid questioning.
  • The Overlook Hotel in The Shining is a relatively low-grade one of these, tempting Jack Torrance to give in to his predilection for drink and child and spousal abuse.

    Live Action TV 
  • Angel has a few of these, including the suburban prison Wolfram & Hart sends wayward employees to late in the show's run.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer has Buffy willingly entering one in Helpless to save Joyce's life. While depowered.
  • In The Avengers, Mrs Peel is imprisoned in a house that is specifically designed to drive her insane as part of a revenge plot.
  • Heroes:
    • Matt's father Maury uses his telepathy to turn people's minds into this. Matt eventually deals with him the same way, trapping Maury in an empty replica of their house on the day he abandoned Matt and Matt's mother.
    • He does it again to Sylar in Volume Five.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The God Complex" is all about this trope.
    • Amy falls into one in "Amy's Choice" and again in "The Doctor's Wife".
  • This is much of the premise of Ashes to Ashes, where Alex Drake is tormented constantly by her parent's death, The Clown of Death and by her thinning grasp of reality (including other torments) whiles she is in purgatory.
  • To a lesser extent, Sam Tyler in Life On Mars also undergoes Psychological Torment.
  • The Dark Tower from Merlin. As Queen Mab puts it, "You must beware, Emrys. The Tower is not a real place. It is the heartís rest, the mindís deepest fear, the stillness in the hummingbirdís eye."

    Video Games 
  • The main setting of the Luna Games.
  • Carnate Island from The Suffering involves personifications of a person's flaws or worst nightmares that definitely can kill you.
  • The TV World in Persona 4 involves personifications of a person's flaws or worst nightmares that definitely can kill you.
  • Tolna's rift from the "A Soul's Bane" quest and Iban's lair from "Underground Pass" in RuneScape.
  • This is the premise behind Silent Hill. As evident in all the games except maybe Shattered Memories, Silent Hill in general seems to be fond of doing this to almost everyone who ends up trapped there. And it tends to draw...troubled people, creating twisted monsters out of the deepest corners of their psyches.
  • Alan Wake finds himself trapped in one after the events of the first game. Every time he tries to find a way out, he loses his mental stability and goes crazy. The DLC ends with him focusing his escape on something else: his writing...which he uses to escape in American Nightmare.
  • The Punga trip sequence of the Fallout 3 add-on, Point Lookout, qualifies. The Lone Wanderer stumbles through the Sacred Bog, seeing hallucinations of corpses of people he's met, fake bobbleheads, and a skeleton labelled "Mom." This culminates with a bobblehead proclaiming "Dead mother, life in a post-nuclear Wasteland and not a friend in it. Yeah, you arenít exactly blessed" before a hallucinated Megaton bomb explodes.
  • Sector Grus in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey is transformed into this by Mother Maya, which answers the eternal question - what happens when a master of Mind Rape designs one of these? In physical appearance, it's made up of pieces of the first four Sectors, which, appropriately enough, mark probably the single worst moments of the Investigation Team.
  • During the sequel, Starkiller from The Force Unleashed visits the same cave on Dagobah as Luke Skywalker did in The Empire Strikes Back. He is assaulted by clones moaning in pain before receiving a vision of Juno Eclipse being captured. He also enters an area on Kamino where he is repeatedly attacked by a silent Darth Vader and tormented by voices of his friends calling him a freak.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic 2, there is the Tomb of Ludo Kressh, where the Exile is forced to relive some of his/her traumatic memories from the Mandalorian Wars, as well as having to face the conflicting loyalties of his/her teammates.
  • In World of Warcraft Old Gods and their spawn tend to create these wherever they appear. This is most prevalent in Northrend and Pandaria; Yogg-Saron's presence has driven many of his watchers and unwary mortals insane, while the Sha feed on darker emotions and cause them to overwhelm their victims.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • The Foggy Swamp in Avatar: The Last Airbender shows those who visit it images of people who meant something to them, or who will be important in their future. This can be horribly upsetting when the person you see just so happens to have died.
    • The Fog Of Lost Souls from the Sequel Series The Legend of Korra; essentially the Spirit World's prison for humans, it's a giant cloud of fog that plays upon the insecurities and past failures of those wandering around in it, slowly driving them insane. From the condition Zhao is in when Tenzin and his siblings find him, it's likely that the Fog keeps its prisoners alive for a very long time.
  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) has The Valley of Echoes. Unlucky travelers can get lost in it forever following false sounds and voices that prey on their inner fears.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
  • South Park parodies the The Empire Strikes Back example above with the Tree of Insight. The relatively well-adjusted (in this episode, anyway) Ms. Choksondik sees nothing, but the closeted Mr. Garrison is tormented by his gay side until he gives and admits to being gay.


Primordial ChaosMetaphysical PlaceSelf-Inflicted Hell
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alternative title(s): Epiphanic Purgatory
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