"What is better - to be born good, or to overcome your evil nature through great effort?"The Mad Hatter doesn't suffer from insanity, they enjoy every minute of it. If only the Reluctant Psycho was so well-off. They may or may not understand the details, but they are well aware that something is wrong with their own psychology and are fighting it to the best of their ability, possibly with the help of medication. Success will vary; perhaps they do manage to present a normal façade but are fighting a constant inner battle to maintain it, or maybe they've found an outlet to channel their issues productively, or, in the most tragic cases, they are constantly fighting a losing battle and may only realise they've given in again once it's too late. Whatever the details, they both know that they are mentally unwell, and desire to cancel or curtail the effects of their illness. If they are fortunate, they may have the support of a Friend to Psychos. If they're terribly unfortunate, the plot will conspire to make their already-difficult struggle even harder for them; it may even become necessary for them to give in to get out. This is a very particular subtrope of the Tragic Flaw; examples that are about temptations and tendencies that are not actually insanity go there. Truth in Television for many people with mental illnesses, by the way. However, despite the scary-sounding trope name, most Real Life people in this situation wouldn't be dangerous to anyone except maybe themselves if they lost control of their illness. Being Ax-Crazy is a lot more common in fiction than reality, after all, despite the occasional Real Life urge. There's also the fact that if you're aware enough to be ashamed of it, you're probably doing something (such as psychotherapy or medication) to mediate the symptoms. Contrast The Mad Hatter, which is about the cartoonish kind of insanity, and Fighting from the Inside, in which they are not only trying to keep control but to take it back from someone else.
— Paarthurnax, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
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Anime and Manga
- Monster: Johan Liebert who, despite being committed to carrying out evil acts and appearing to enjoy every moment of his wicked trajectory, seems to find his evil hopelessly banal on some level, to the point that when he re-reads a children's book that disturbingly reminds him of his past, his goals began to markedly shift from world annihilation to self-annihilation. Not that he isn't still an Omnicidal Maniac caught in a hungry ghost cycle, though...
- Soul Eater has Dr. Franken Stein, an unhinged genius with a violent edge to him that loves dissection and even enjoys his own craziness. However, he doesn't want to let it get too far or let himself get too bad, so he basically worships the Shinigami for giving him stability and purpose.
- Ken Hidaka in later parts of Weiß Kreuz. Once he realizes he's started to enjoy killing people, he tries to ride it out, but it just gets worse. He ends up going to prison voluntarily, to have "time to think," until he can get his head on straight and go back to killing people responsibly.
- In Batman: Gotham Adventures #11, the Riddler tries to circumvent his obsession with leaving clues to lead Batman to him by instead leaving clues that lead to other criminals. This works out fine until Batman pieces together hidden riddles in each of the clues that leads him to the Riddler anyway. When the Riddler realizes that he has done this, he is heartbroken.
Riddler: "You don't understand. .. I really didn't want to leave you any clues. I really planned never to go back to Arkham Asylum. But I left you a clue anyway. So I... I have to go back there. Because I might need help. I... I might actually be crazy."
- Batman himself, and other members of the Bat family, are sometimes implied to worry about their own mental health. In an issue of Robin, the titular boy wonder says he's afraid Batman might be going crazy. His girlfriend, also a masked vigilante, just laughs and says, "Well, look at us."
- Harvey Dent is one of the only inmates in Arkham who is actually trying to rehabilitate himself rather than treating Arkham as a second home. Unfortunately, Two-Face isn't open to rehabilitation since he knows it will "kill" him. Harvey's efforts always end in failure and tears.
- The Joker revels in his madness most of the time, but since one symptom of his insanity is his shifting characterization, this isn't always the case. In the end of The Killing Joke, he almost considers Batman's offer to rehabilitate him before regretfully saying it's too late. In Emperor Joker, he decides to use his new cosmic powers to destroy the universe because any universe that would allow someone like him to exist must be fundamentally broken.
- Captain America: Jack Monroe, the man who became 50s Bucky, started to go insane during the last year of his life as the supersoldier serum in him started to deteriorate. He was well aware that his mind was falling apart and considered his last bouts as a superhero his way of staying sane... except they weren't, because he had become delusional and was beating up random civilians thinking they were gangsters and drug dealers.
- Featured as a running theme in Bird, and played for horror and tragedy from many angles. The stand-out example might be Mimi, who's power messes with her brain chemistry and causes sharp mood swings. Extremely dangerous for someone with Pyrokinesis.
- In two Alternate Universe Fics based on Death Note, Villain Protagonist Light Yagami falls under this trope.
Light: You knew this was a temporary arrangement. It's not like we could talk forever.Beyond: I think we could. And never get bored. You aren't a boring individual Sweetie Jam, despite what you try so hard to show the world. And me, I know I'm not boring.Beyond: How would you know?Light: We all have fantasies. Some are just bloodier than others.
- In Point Of Succession, while talking with Beyond Birthday, Light seems to realize that there might be something fundamentally flawed with his own psychology:
- In Ragnarok, Soichiro (Light's father) catches onto his son's growing mental problems early enough to retrain him out of his Black and White Insanity to follow a different moral code. Light constantly struggles with this, often catching himself thinking of the criminals he pursues as a detective as "Evil" and has to constantly remind himself "Shades of gray, Light. The world exists in shades of gray."
- The protagonist of the Dragon Age fic Middle Of Nowhere posits insanity as a reason he's in Thedas. His method of dealing with the insanity is to accept it and just run with the situation while still acknowledging the crazy.
- In M, the eponymous murderer of children insists that he is this. He uses this to contrast himself against the mob after him. While he may be a child-murderer, he has no control over it and didn't choose it; the criminals who are after him though chose to be criminals.
- John Nash is in this position in A Beautiful Mind, once he figures out that he actually is schizophrenic. By the end of the film he manages to keep himself productive without medication - which interferes with his mathematical genius - by constantly checking to make sure other people can see new people he meets.
- Grosse Pointe Blank:
Dr. Oatman: You didn't tell me what you did for a living for four sessions. Then you told me. And I said, "I don't want to work with you any more." And yet, you come back each week at the same time. That's a difficulty for me. On top of that, if you've committed a crime or you're thinking about committing a crime, I have to tell the authorities.Martin: I know the law, okay? But I don't want to be withholding; I'm very serious about this process. [beat] And I know where you live.
- At one point in Targets, murderer-to-be Bobby Thompson fumblingly tries to alert his wife that something is going horribly wrong with his brain, but she brushes off the discussion and goes to sleep.
- In the Psycho series, Norman Bates really doesn't enjoy being crazy and rightly considers it a mental sickness. He is terrified when he thinks he's relapsing in the sequel, since he's unaware that he's the target of a Gaslighting campaign.
- John Wayne Cleaver in I Am Not a Serial Killer is not, but he is acutely aware of how likely he is to become one. He's not technically a sociopath, but only because until he turns 18 the relevant diagnosis is Conduct Disorder. He has a strict list of rules to adhere to to keep himself functional, barely managing to pass himself off as normal most of the time... and then events conspire to give him every good reason to start breaking his rules to protect himself and his family.
- Deanna Madden, the title character of The Girl in 6E, wishes she didn't have almost constant homicidal fantasies and ideation. But she does, and she's had enough close calls that she finally gave up and locked herself in apartment 6E, which she hasn't left in three years.
- Zane, in the Mistborn trilogy, is fully aware that he is insane (he understands that hearing the voice of "God" tell you to kill everyone you meet obviously isn't normal), but he feels that it isn't an excuse for irrational behaviour and that it is merely a flaw he must overcome. In the end, it turns out that while Zane is an unstable psychopath, the voice he was hearing in his head was quite real- it was the series' Big Bad, and while it wasn't quite God, it was the next step down. So even though he was crazy, he wasn't as crazy as he thought he was, if that makes sense.
- In The Stormlight Archive:
- Nan Balat tortures insects and small animals to relax. He maintains the habit because he is afraid that if he stops, he will start torturing people instead of animals.
- Szeth is very well aware that sanity is slipping away from him, and doesn't like this one bit, but he feels like going with the flow is the only option left to him.
- Patrick Bateman in American Psycho fantasies about killing people and often takes drugs to suppress his urges. However he gets worse, and finds himself killing people regularly just for the thrill of it. He mentions this to other people as a cry for help, but they don't even notice it. Because of this, it can be interpreted that nobody seems to mind (after all, he's part of a rich class who could buy themselves out of prison), that no one is actually listening to anything he says (it is a parody of the 80s yuppie culture) or that he's deluded and that he never killed anyone nor mentioned it to anyone.
- Downplayed in A Song of Ice and Fire: Roose Bolton has no empathy and enjoys the suffering of other human beings. Even so, he restrains his impulses enough that he can put on a fairly convincing facade of sanity. (Though anyone who spends enough time around him will be disturbed, even if they can't put their finger on why.) He will do needlessly cruel things for his own amusement, but never if it would damage his goals. So he'll gaslight his aristocratic captives or rape peasant women, but he won't do anything that is counterproductive and in the public eye. Bolton is a monster, but a pragmatic one. This is the main quality that distinguishes him from his son, Ramsay.
- Although Dickarus McChink, protagonist of Tales Of The Space South, begins the story going on nightly rape/murder sprees, he is victim to the endogenous drugs that force him to go on psychotic rampages.
- Rachel from Animorphs. While she starts out as simply a bold, enthusiastic fighter, she slowly comes to realize that her enjoyment of combat and carnage is getting out of hand. It's made worse by the fact that her friends have come to rely on her to do the dirty work. In her final book before the finale, she admits that they need her to be the bad guy, and she needs them to be the good guys, because if they're not the good guys, and she's doing all this brutal killing, well...
Live Action Television
- Dexter is an excellent example of the Reluctant Psycho who uses a productive or at least acceptable outlet to relieve his issues - through vigilante justice, in his case.
- Sherlock Holmes is typically perfectly willing to embrace his sociopathic tendencies, but occasionally shows hints of inner turmoil over whether they are actually more of a strength or a weakness. (John is helping him deal with the aspects that cause him problems; Mycroft is not nearly so conflicted.)
Sherlock: Look at them. They all care so much. Do you ever wonder if there's something wrong with us?Mycroft: All lives end. All hearts are broken. Caring is not an advantage, Sherlock.
- In The Reichenbach Fall, he consciously becomes a full Reluctant Psycho after the police department's perception of him, heavy on the 'psycho' and light on the 'reluctant', goes wrong in the worst possible way.
- Firefly: River Tam early on appears to be simply insane, but as the series progresses it becomes clearer and clearer that she can understand what's happening and recognizes how very screwed up she's become. Whedon pulls no punches in showing just how much this hurts her.
- In the Criminal Minds episode "Friends Like These" the unsub was said to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and insomnia. Once his medications stopped working his hallucinations taunted him into murder since the only way he could sleep was after the adrenaline rush from the kills. Throughout the episode he was begging "his friends" to just go away because he didn't want to kill and just wanted to sleep.
- Lie to Me - there was an episode called "The Core Of It" where the main suspect/witness was a young woman suffering from Dissociative Personality Disorder. When they got around to talking to the original personality she was a wreck because she had no control over the other personalities - a law student and a prostitute. She is trying to fight it - just failing.
- Through the entire first season of Heroes this was the struggle for Nikki Sanders.
- A sort of odd example in Druitt from Sanctuary. He's an abnormal whose power is to teleport, but each time he teleports he becomes susceptible to an energy being who eventually takes up residence in him. This drives him to becoming Jack the Ripper, but once he's not a villain in the series he's struggling to make sure he doesn't go mad again and takes medication to make sure. It's not a possession - the presence of the being just makes him mentally unbalanced in the form of bloodlust and rage, not actually forces him to do anything.
- Hill Street Blues: One episode had a plotline about a murder at a homeless shelter, where the only witness was a man who turned out to have Multiple Personality Disorder... and eventually, he put the pieces together and realised that one of his personalities was the killer, and ended up taking a dive off an apartment building to make sure it could never happen again.
- Three Days Grace has the song Animal I Have Become, from the Reluctant Psycho's perspective.
- Similarly, Skillet's Monster.
- Dark Angel's "The Death of Innocence" is about a self-loathing pedophile who knows he's a menace who destroys lives and desperately begs for someone to kill him before he reoffends.
- Dismember's song "Bleed For Me" describes a psycho putting someone through Cold-Blooded Torture. The very last lyric is a plea of "please make me stop".
- Members of the Wayward creed in Hunter: The Reckoning have a vision for the world's supernaturals: their complete destruction by any means necessary, no matter who gets in the Waywards' way. Whatever creates Waywards rewrites their minds, makes it so that they see planning and committing mass murder and destruction as the best way of dealing with supernaturals - but while most Waywards accept this, not all do. Some struggle with their newfound genocidal urges, try to restrain themselves for a while, lead normal lives, but the urges never go away, not permanently.
- American McGee's Alice, especially in Madness Returns, when she's consciously aware that she's been in an insane asylum.
- Subject 16/Clay Kaczmarek from the Assassin's Creed series is fully aware of the fact that his psyche is irreparably shattered, but desperately fights through it to get his message across to Desmond.
- Muggy from Fallout: New Vegas is a miniature Securitron designed to be crazily obsessed with coffee mugs, all part of his creator Dr. 0's mocking jealousy towards robotics baron Mr. House. The worst part is that Muggy is aware of all this, and bitterly hates his creator for it even as he compulsively stockpiles coffee mugs.
Of course I'm obsessed, they made me this way. You think I don't KNOW how crazy I sound!? Of course I do! THEY PROGRAMMED ME TO KNOW THAT TOO!
- Borderlands 2 has Krieg, one of the DLC player characters. His background is left intentionally vague, and the only real fleshing out he gets in a promotional video that shows how he met Maya, as he fights a losing battle with his own psyche to avoid killing an innocent person. While most of his spoken lines are incoherent word salads screamed at the top of his lungs, occasionally you can hear a much calmer voice that says things like "That's right, help 'em. Just like old times," when reviving a teammate in co-op.
- The player character of Cube Escape: Seasons is clearly aware that they're dangerously mentally ill. They take Prozac daily, went to Rusty Lake because it was advertised as a place for patients, and one of the notes they leave on their bulletin board is "I'm afraid I will do something terrible." Additionally, when it looks like they really did do something terrible (murdering a woman who turns out to be themselves - it's that kind of game), they seek to change the past to prevent this from happening. They also double as a Tragic Monster after you learn in The Mill how they came to be what they are.
- Kirei Kotomine of Fate/stay night is an especially interesting example, in that he acknowledged intellectually that his particular brand of sociopathy (only taking joy in other people's suffering) was both harmful and immoral—without being told, and without anyone noticing. He then spent twenty years trying to correct himself, establishing himself as a heroic figure within his organization, without anyone ever suspecting his true nature. He only gave up trying after his wife, whom he had married as a last-ditch effort to teach himself to love others, committed suicide in front of him in order to prove that Kotomine COULD care about others. Unfortunately, Kotomine instead realized that his only emotion afterwards was regretting that he didn't kill her himself. His later philosophical defense of Angra Mainyu is simultaneously an overt attempt to justify his own existence. There is also his interest in Shirou Emiya, the adopted son of his enemy from the 4th Grail War, Kiritsugu Emiya. Shirou, unlike Kiritsugu (who was Kotomine's Foil in every respect), is Not So Different from Kotomine.
- Shiki of Tsukihime. The story starts with him expertly murdering a woman he happens to meet; overcome by guilt, he either goes into denial or attempts suicide. She doesn't stay dead, but Shiki's attempts to understand and control his problem in the face of supernatural evil make up a large part of the story.
- The Beast/The Swordsman/Yukimasa from The House In Fata Morgana is extremely violent and cruel but is brought back to sanity by The White Haired Girl and tries to restrain his violent urges while with her.
- A Miracle of Science - A known issue for those recovering from Science-Related Memetic Disorder.
Djaya Sumatera: When you're a recovering mad scientist, you're always afraid you'll lose control and wake up some morning with a half-built time machine in the living room and a plan to go back in time to pants Hitler.
- Jack Delitt from Newheimburg has a major problem controlling his paranoia.
- Vriska Serket, to oversimplify grossly, cycles between 'I know exactly what I'm doing, and anyone who 8urns themselves on all the irons I've got in the fire totally deserved it 8ecause I'm JUST TH8 AWESOME!!!!!!!!' and 'I'm a horri8le person, what the hell is wrong with me, why doesn't everyone h8 me????????' which then tends to lead back into the former by way of 'You SHOULD h8 me! I'll MAKE SURE that you h8 me!'. She starts out in a fairly low-key phase two, but the phases intensify and she spends increasingly more time in the first category as the series progresses, since SGRUB is tailored to feeding her megalomania.
- Mituna Captor has significant brain damage, and tends to constantly alternate between screaming awful things at people and saying "1M 50RRY" immediately afterward.
- Belkar from The Order of the Stick doesn't seem like one of these for most of the story. But here, he freely admits that his kill-happy tendencies nearly screwed him over badly since he didn't have Roy to keep him on a leash at the time. His last line in this strip hints that he is starting to hate what he is.
Isn't that why you losers keep me around? Hurting people is the only thing I'm good at.
- Calvin McMurray of Lackadaisy is normally quiet, shy, and subdued to the extreme, but when faced with the threat of or the opportunity for violence goes utterly Axe-Crazy and Laughing Mad. He was thrown out of the police academy for being too "enthusiastic" during firearms training, and is very depressed about failing to achieve his dream of becoming an officer... His cousin Rocky, wanting to help him recover and find work, drags him into being a bodyguard/enforcer for the Lackadaisy speakeasy, and doesn't quite understand why Calvin gets so distraught after a job well done.
- The Nostalgia Critic. He regrets his psychotic episodes, doesn't want them to happen, and tries to tell people that he's down to earth and logical instead.
- Inverted in his other character, Ask That Guy with the Glasses; he's creepy, undeniably psychotic, perverted, obsessed with human sacrifices (and onions)... Then in one episode his medicine wears off. Turns out in his lucid moments, he's actually completely aware that he's being drugged into being so awful, and now's his chance to escape and - nope, gets drugged again and it's business as usual.
- The AI protagonist of The Last Angel is a weird hybrid of this and The Mad Hatter. Nemesis is fully aware she isn't mentally stable, but she only cares because it interferes with her ability to perform her self-appointed mission: revenge on the alien empire that enslaved humanity despite her best efforts. She absolutely loves playing up her madness to terrorize her enemies and exploit their fear of AI.
- Worm has Regent, resident Token Evil Teammate of the Undersiders due to his high-functioning sociopathy...and doesn't actually like it all, since said sociopathy was a defense mechanism against Heartbreaker's Mind Rape Emotion Bomb powers. He really does want to experience unselfish love and a full emotional spectrum, but he himself admits he's so dead inside he can't even work up enough emotion to be truly upset by the way he acts.
- Ice King (AKA Simon Petrikov) of Adventure Time knows that something is wrong with him, but doesn't know what. His last video log before being driven completely insane has him hoping that one day he might find his way back to sanity. In later episodes, it's mentioned that he knew that he wanted to stop using the crown because he knew what it was doing to him, but he needed its power to be able to save Marceline.
- Lemongrab. When he's not busy being an ass, he's a very sad man who's confused as to why he doesn't understand people, and why other people don't understand him. He's a failed experiment and is all too aware of his abnormality.
- Truth in Television. Charles Whitman, before barricading himself in a belltower and killing 14 people, wrote a suicide note explaining that he knew something was very, very wrong with him and to use any money left over from his life insurance to pay for research to prevent it from happening again. (Turns out he had a brain tumor pressing on his amygdala that was the size of a pecan and necrotic. That means he had a tumor that was rotting inside his own brain.)