"Now I see that my life's hardships can all be traced back to a single event. Psychoanalysis is so easy when you're an anime character."
In real life psychological issues stem from many sources - some biological, some cognitive, and some related to experiences and memories - and overcoming them often takes lots of time, effort, and sometimes medication. While finding the source of the problem is important to helping a mentally ill patient, it is only part of the process, seeing as it simply allows the psychiatrist to get an understanding of just what is
wrong. Once the source of the problem is found and they understand how the mind has been affected by whatever causes, it makes it easier to work out the proper methods and/or medication necessary to help the patient overcome it.
However, this is a little too complicated for fiction. It's much easier when all a person's problems stem from a single traumatic incident, and working through that single incident will instantly cure them
, so fiction tends to represent psychology this way.
Compare with Cynicism Catalyst
or Freudian Excuse
, when a Dark and Troubled Past
is used to explain why a villain is/became evil, and Idiosyncrazy
, where a villain is obsessed with a single issue around which all their crimes are themed. See also Bored With Insanity
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Anime and Manga
- In Nodame Cantabile, Chiaki is unable to pursue his dream of becoming a world-class conductor because an incident in his childhood (watching a man die while their plane was crashing at the age of 10) gave him a phobia of flying. Partially averted in relation to the cure of the phobia, since Nodame's hypnosis compels him to get on a plane, but he's still terrified, and only after many times traveling without incident does he get used to the experience.
- Rosemarine from Kaze to Ki no Uta would have been more stable if he hadn't been raped by Auguste.
- Great Teacher Onizuka relies heavily on this trope. Nearly all of the students (and several of the other teachers) have incredibly hostile personalities, but once Onizuka finds out about the traumatic event in their pasts, one dramatic example is usually enough to at least tone them down, although many continue to struggle with their old problems throughout the series, or acquire new ones.
- Despite the page quote, the situation with Asuka is a bit more complicated. Most of her mental issues reach back to her mother going insane and subsequently killing herself, fact, but it does seem as if she had problems beyond that. It's mentioned that her mother neglected Asuka even before her illness, and the rest of her childhood was apparently pretty bad too: her relationships with her father and stepmother seem to be horrible (in the flashback to the hanging scene, she mentions that she 'doesn't have a papa') and completely loveless respectively. She lumps them both in as people she hates. Hearing her father and future stepmother going at it at the hospital probably contributed to her unhealthy attitude toward sex as well.
- Right before the most-graphic portrayal of her mother's suicide, we see the little girl running toward Mom shouting It's All About Me in classic-Asuka fashion; presumably, some of her self-absorption dates further back.
- All kids are like that at that age. A lot of memories at that age are not set in stone, as well. One's attitude to and impressions of what happened are important in how one remembers them, perhaps even more important than what really happened. In the end it doesn't matter, though, because she certainly remembers her (early) childhood to be fairly... not conducive to a healthy and balanced personality.
- Half the cast of Naruto fit this trope pretty well. Not so much in the "one trauma" thing- that is there, but they are usually well aware of it. Rather, in the Defeat Means Friendship way, in that their trauma tends to inform their philosophy of life and fighting, which is why Naruto (or whoever they are facing) can't defeat or understand them. Its more like they are shocked that people can have as bad or worse lives than they had, but not be a psychological trainwreck.
- Though the big one, Sasuke, averts it. He's had to confront his issues repeatedly over the course of the series but, while he made progress a few times, they still continued to haunt and drive him, plus each time he looked like he was getting better something came along that screwed it all up; currently he's crazier than ever, and thats after dealing with the source of his troubles (albeit in a fight to the death). In Part 1 Kakashi actually warned him that he wouldn't be able to play this trope straight, since he'd seen too many people like Sasuke who let revenge consume their lives, even after they had achieved it, because their issues by then had grown beyond the initial trauma.
- Naruto, as well, since though he had, as he put it, been "saved" from his depressingly lonely childhood and the neurosis that went with it early on in the story, it was only the worst of it that was over, and he spent much of the rest of the story gradually overcoming them, as well as constantly running into situations that brought back his painful memories.
- Inverted with Gaara. Defeat Equals Friendship and sanity is in play after his fights with Sasuke and Naruto brought his issue to the fore, but while he's cured surprisingly easily of being a deranged and psychotic Serial Killer, and is now closer to his family and has friends, he is still emotionally withdrawn and obviously has some progress to make.
- For the first fifty or so issues of Justice Society of America, Obsidian was portrayed as a threat to himself and others and as suffering from symptoms superficially akin to schizophrenia. This culminated in his attempt to destroy the world, which was thwarted by his father's The Power of Love speech. Obsidian hasn't been in any need of treatment since then, judging by subsequent apperances: apparently, working through his daddy issues was enough to entirely cure him. In this case, the "voice" he was hearing was, in fact, genuinely another entity, making it less "paranoid schizophrenia" and more "daddy issues and receiving a metric tonne of malicious advice". It would still probably be more complicated than it was portrayed to resolve, but it's not quite as bad as curing schizophrenia. Also, in a recent issue one of his teammates worried aloud if had stopped taking his medication when he began to act strangely, suggesting that when not medicated his problems may return.
- Batman's life, obsession, and psyche hinges on the night his parents were killed in front of him. Later events (the death of the second Robin, nearly shooting Alexander Luthor, being cast through time by a mad god) merely add nuance to his behavior.
- Averted in Batman Begins. The death of Thomas and Martha Wayne were the main reason that lead Bruce to become the dark avenger that he was later, but it was still only one of the many incidents that contributed to it.
- Subverted in Batman: The Killing Joke, where the Joker tries to prove that going through one bad experience can change someone into a maniac like him, in this case Commissioner Gordon by kidnapping him, abusing him, and crippling his daughter. It doesn't work. At the end of the story Batman tells Joker that his "one bad day" theory is bunk, and he is a mentally ill man who needs help and should take it when it's offered- the Joker, saddened by the revelation that he was the one with the problem and there is more to his madness than just a traumatic experience, tells Batman that it's probably too late for him.
- Similar thing happens in The Dark Knight, but the Joker does it to Harvey Dent this time, and this time it works, resulting in Two-Face. However, there are at least hints that Harvey was already on the slippery slope when the Joker pushed him off.
- There's also Two Face in the comics rather than the movie, who originally only had his scarring to contribute to his insanity. Eventually, he was given a severely screwed up mentality including issues due to Abusive Parents and problems with rage, which the scarring only pushed into pure insanity. He was also secretly violently schizophrenic, and actually murdered someone (a Serial Killer who got Off on a Technicality) before the scarring.
- Batman: The Animated Series explored this as well; see the Western Animation section, below.
- Alan Moore (of The Killing Joke, above) actually deeply dislikes this trope, believing instead that characters should be complex enough that their personalities can't easily be encompassed by short blanket summaries. He mocked the concept in Writing for Comics: "I was just standing there, looking at my stamp album and the priceless collection that it had taken me years to build, when all of a sudden I realized that since I had foolishly pasted all of them directly into the album using an industrial-strength adhesive, they were completely worthless. I understood then that the universe was just a cruel joke upon mankind, and that life was pointless. I became completely cynical about human existence and saw the essential stupidity of all effort and human striving. At this point I decided to join the police force."
- Spider-Man's obsession with being Spider-Man stems entirely from his guilt over letting a robber get away who wound up killing Uncle Ben. He consistently reminds himself that the one time he ignored his "responsibility" it cost him his father figure.
- However, the comic and even the live action films show even this as not being enough to keep Peter in the game at times and he leaves crimefighting, or tries to cash in, or tries to have his powers stripped away. Anytime he begins to act selfish, karma slaps him in the face and sets him straight. Of course, it tends to smack him in the face even when he's done nothing wrong at all.
- Magneto averts this, despite how most adaptations portray it. The Holocaust was as horrifyingly traumatic for him as you'd expect, but in the mainstream comics it actually took him a couple of decades worth of other horrifying incidents to make him into a supervillain. Principal amongst them is the murder of his daughter by an angry mob (and abandonment by his wife after going berserk with his new-found powers on them); followed by befriending and falling out with Charles Xavier over budding ideological differences after fighting Neo-Nazi's; then working for and being betrayed by a Western Intelligence agency so they could help a Nazi defect, killing his then-girlfriend in the process...and a few other things besides all that. It's only then that he actually becomes Magneto, and even after all that it was suggested his behaviour can be explained by his powers giving him Bi Polar Disorder and driving him insane, assuming he's not just a Jerk Ass because thats who he is.
- Further, a great deal of his current characterization stems from an incident published in 1981 (Uncanny #150), when Magneto nearly kills Kitty Pryde, but stops when he sees her Star of David. One big What Have I Become? moment sets up his Heel-Face Turn, which has mostly stuck.
- Avoided in the Terinu AU fanfics Grace of God and Spin Recovery. The alternate universe version of Rufus did suffer from a major trauma, but he managed to inflict plenty of lesser ones upon himself in subsequent years, which he still has to attend therapy and take plenty of corrective drugs to deal with.
- In the Ranma ½ fic, The Bitter End, Akane's rage disorder is depicted as stemming from Akane's "inability" to fight off Death and save her mother. (Note that Akane was barely older than a toddler when her mother died). An obsession exacerbated by Ranma's seeming ability to overcome any opponent.
- Not quite, they list that as the starting point to her issues, which were built upon by throwing herself into martial arts to make herself stronger (and yet never keeping up with Ranma later), her father emotionally abandoning all his daughters, Kuno's organized attacks souring her on men in general, and everyone supporting her unhealthy abuse of Ranma, who she ends up irrationally seeing as a trigger for her anger issues after thinking he tricked her into thinking he was female.
- Its more than that, Rage disorder, a chemical imbalance that can be as genetic as it is psychological, so maybe she can't help it, which explains why she just gets angrier after the story forces her to confront her issues and false assumptions that only hurt everyone, plus the fact she refuses to get treatment
- Ranma also averts this, his issues stem from the systematic abuse from his father giving him a strict set of what a man should be, and his own morals and honor that his immoral parent didn't stamp out(probably since his wife would kill him and it makes Ranma easier to control), but more specifically in the fanfic, it comes from everyone blaming his foot in mouth coments for Akane's anger, leading even him to blame himself, no matter how far he goes to avoid anger her. Combined with how much he actually loves her, the fact that defending himself, which he is quite capable of, only makes her look at him with hate that finds worse than the injuries, this all leads to him becoming highly submissve depressed and unemotional as he feels that all of it is his fault for failing the one he loves, and feeling a failure as a man for all of this coming from a woman on top of the more emotional failings, never have I HATED Akane more than now.
- Averted in Hunting The Unicorn; Kurt and Blaine's issues stem from a number of factors, ranging from their own faults and insecurities to various events in their lives.
- Used in The Seven Per Cent Solution, where Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis of Sherlock Holmes traces his misogyny, his hatred of the innocent Professor Moriarty, and his constant search for justice, to one event: when Holmes witnessed his father kill his mother and her lover. Moriarty comes to be hated by Holmes either as the bearer of bad news (Freud's version) or because he played some deeper but unknown role in the affair (Watson's version, based on observations of Mycroft Holmes). Subverted slightly: Freud helped Holmes through his cocaine addiction in another way entirely.
- Played straight and subverted in House of Leaves, where one of the several narrators relates to the reader a period of several months where he lived with a kind doctor friend and his loving wife, who helped him get his life back together mostly by prescribing him one medication. The subversion comes at the end of the chapter, where the narrator tells you he made the whole thing up and then laughs at you for believing such a ridiculous story.
- In The Color Purple, the high-spirited Sofia is a broken shell for some time after being released from prison. It takes just one opportunity to make a good joke at the dinner table to snap her out of it, and she's her old self again.
- Justified in the Everworld series, with Jalil's OCD. One of the few things he likes about Everworld that there, his OCD goes away. Partially subverted in that it literally is like an on-off switch: he continues to experience it in the "real world" as he alternates between the two. Played with in a mental torture scene.
- The patients of Brazilian character O Analista de Bagé (The Bagé Analyst) are usually this. And solved through his unorthodox methods, which usually involve violence/fear for males and sex for females ("we can only hit women to relax!").
- Averted in The Regeneration Trilogy, with the characters being based on real people and being set in a mental health institution. Although traumatic events are described, they are likened to the straw which breaks the camels back and it is the long gruelling state of the war in the trenches that is the cause for the patients breakdowns. Also, lots of focus is given to the patients' history prior to the war.
- Subverted in Trainspotting. Mark Renton (a drug addict) has several different psychiatrists trying to tell him that everything wrong with him is the result of a single issue, though they disagree on what the issue is. The fact that he doesn't believe them is confirmation that, despite being addled by heroin, he is by no means stupid.
Live Action TV
- In Everybody Loves Raymond, before Ray was born, Mamma used to play the old "airplane" game when feeding Robert, invariably touching his chin before she put the spoon in his mouth. When Ray came along and became the eternal centre of attention, Robert was left to fend for himself and subconsciously began touching his food to his chin the way Mom used to do. This never gets resolved. They just found out why he does it, but he didn't stop (though the audience now had one more reason to like him). His doing it then just fell into Running Gag status.
- The patient-of-the-week in any M*A*S*H episode that includes Dr. Sidney Freedman. And that Single Issue is almost always The War. There is at least one exception: the patient was Hawkeye, and the problem was rooted in a childhood experience in which his cousin pushed him off a boat. It was still a single issue, though. Possibly justified in the cases of most 'victims of the week', since Sidney was mostly just charged with getting a diagnosis so they could get a handle on what to do with the kid in question. Usually the diagnosis was "Send him home, he needs a lot more therapy than we can give him in the middle of a war zone."
- Parodied in 3rd Rock from the Sun when it is discovered that Evil Dick is the way he is because of an unloving father. This is unearthed during a scene played as a mock tabloid talk show.
- Subverted in Red Dwarf. We meet Ace Rimmer, a parallel universe's version of Arnold Rimmer. Ace lives up to his name, while our Rimmer is a cowardly, neurotic, bullying, officious, psychological train wreck. We learn that the difference between them is that one Rimmer undeservingly passed a grade in school, while the other was held back. The subversion is that it's the loser-Rimmer who got the lucky break; Ace got left down a year and learned to stand up for himself as a result. Rimmer's the mess he is today for lack of a single traumatic event.
- Subverted and played straight in The 10th Kingdom: Wolf's issues with food, love, and his animal urges are hilariously sent up in scenes with a New York Jewish psychiatrist, and after only one session (which he later describes to Virginia as "extensive therapy") he suddenly pronounces himself a changed man and produces "the books to prove it," consisting of several titles of real, well-known self-help books. These books make the journey with the heroes and, seemingly after one read-through, manage to correct character flaws and induce positive developments in all the protagonists. On the other hand, the source of the Evil Queen's wicked nature seems to stem from one event: once it is revealed that she is actually Virginia's missing mother, Tony then reveals that she attempted to drown Virginia as a little girl because she was 'sick and getting worse and worse', a rather vague statement of mental illness. And it was this instability that made her easy prey for Snow White's Wicked Stepmother.
- To be fair, Wolf as a character acts as Plucky Comic Relief most of the time, and even after enthusiastically devouring (pardon the pun) the self-help books with all their cliched phrases and pop-psychology he's still half-werewolf and can't entirely control his urges (such as during full moon).
- The Evil Queen was also a could-have-been starlet with an unplanned-for daughter and a husband who went from business tycoon to janitor thanks to a lousy investment.
- Averted on The Colbert Report. While the character Colbert is clearly very screwed up, the writers introduce new reasons for him to be that way about as often as they introduce new screwups. One fan theory is that the character is exhibiting symptoms of PTSD: again, from a whole bucket of different traumas, ranging from his abusive parents to his repressed homosexuality. Either way, he's clearly not going to be 'fixed' any time soon.
- On 30 Rock:
- Jack gets Tracy an appointment with the staff therapist to deal with Tracy's combative attitude. Over the therapist's objection, the two start up a role-playing session with Jack playing Tracy's dad, mom, the upstairs neighbor, Tracy himself, the man his mom ran off with (in a rapid-fire stream of comical impersonations)...and within a minute Tracy is weeping and cured...of his compulsion to transgress, anyway. He's still a complete madman otherwise.
- Jack helps Liz realize that her sexual issues stem from a childhood trauma involving rollerblades and a Tom Jones poster. While the trope is specifically defied in that he assures her she'll still need years of therapy, they do realize that she can function much better if she avoids Tom Jones posters.
- Subverted in Slings and Arrows. The main character goes crazy for a while after his fiancee cheats on him with his director, but years later (after that specific trauma has been dealt with) he is still experiencing unpredictable mood swings and the like.
- Deconstructed by Mulder in The X-Files episode "Oubliette". When Scully suggests that Mulder's willingness to protect the potential suspect was due to the fact that she was a kidnapping victim (like Mulder's own sister), he argues that not everything he does goes back to his sister and states that "sometimes motivations for behavior can be more complex and mysterious than tracing them back to one single childhood experience". Despite that, though, it is beyond doubt that Mulder's obvious Big Brother Instinct is a consequence of his sister's abduction.
- It's played straight in the episode "Fire". Mulder has to face his fear of fire, which goes back to a single traumatic event in his childhood when his best friend's house burned down. He overcomes it — he saves two children from flames, and it's never mentioned again.
- In Monk, while the title character has had his OCD and phobias since he was born, when he met his wife Trudy he began to suppress them and live a fairly normal life. When she was killed by a car bomb, they came back worse than ever, rendering Monk unable to leave his apartment for three years and barely able to function on his own even after he did. He's implied to get better again when he finally solves Trudy's murder and meet her daughter Molly in the series finale.
- The title character of the rock opera Tommy is thrown into a borderline catatonic state by the childhood trauma of watching in a mirror as his biological father kills his mother's second husband. After years of unsuccessful attempts to treat his condition, his mother loses her temper and smashes the mirror he's staring into — and he's instantly cured.
- Averted in Equus. Adam's problems are a result of various issues that were building up over his entire life, and he would probably have continued to be a fairly normal (if withdrawn) boy if they had been spotted earlier, or if there hadn't been a fairly specific series of triggers. The psychiatrist uses the metaphor of a group of metal pins lying scattered with no shape or structure, until a magnet is applied to one part and then suddenly all these previously harmless experiences and thoughts snap together and form links to various outcomes.
- Die Anstalt is a Flash game based entirely on this trope; every toy so far has one, singular psychological issue and once you get them to face it and accept it, they are cured. The process of treating each of the insane plush toys is incredibly complex and risky, though, and a mis-treatment can cause them to completely revert to their original state, so at least the game subverts Epiphany Therapy. That said, the Ridiculously Cute Critter and Kick the Dog factor alone makes the headaches worth it.
- The Big Bad and some of the asylum patients in Psychonauts can be cured through finding out what their specific issue is and then defeating the level boss in order to cure them. To be fair, this battle is going on inside their minds rather than outside their heads and much of the cure seems to be sorting out their problems on a very deep level in a metaphorical fashion.
- Also averted in that you also help relieve emotional baggage, remove the clutter of figments, clean up the mental cobwebs, and unlock mental vaults to further cement their sanity. Though any major problems can probably be fixed with a boss battle.
- Also averted in that the slide-shows reveal in pictures nuances to the character's issues, without bogging narrative with exposition and explanation, without slowing down gameplay, and without going over the heads of the intended audience.
- Even further averted in relation to people like Big Bad who are capable of hiding some issues from even the deepest mental probing, the only reason you can cure Olieander is because his mind becomes tangled with the main character's less crazy mind. Not to mention the security guard whose mind was so twisted that Raz made him even worse after the boss fight.
- The last may be a minor moment of character development for Raz as well; he didn't go in with the intention of making Boyd better. He just wanted to find the Milkman, who had the keys to get past a door. He succeeded far too well, and when you get down to it, Plot Armor is the only reason a lot of people didn't die that night as a result (and that's the only reason Boyd ends up at all better). Raz's attitude towards the minds he enters gets a bit more altruistic after that point.
- Averted as much as logistically possible with Jack in Mass Effect 2. She's a big bundle of crazy, caused by the fact that she grew up tortured and experimented on. Blowing up the facility she grew up in is a big step, but talking to her before and after is what really helps her get a hold of her sanity.
- Averted in Persona 4. While the party members does realize and accept their inner flaws after meeting their shadows they still need help from the main character, through their social links, to fully embraze them and work them out.
- The same can also be said about the non-party member social links.
- It's explored further in Persona 4 Arena, as the heroes doubt doubt themselves and continue to wrestle with their old issues. This is the basis of the Malevolent Entity's plan to steal their personas. They ultimately decide that they will likely never be able to resolve their issues completely, but they'll continue to work against them with the help of their friends.
- In Megatokyo, Piro and particularly Kimiko are subject to a whole host of deep and troublesome issues (Kimiko's boss directly identifies Kimiko as the 'neurotic, messed up kind of actor') but none of them have any real source or solution. Largo and Erika on the other hand tie many of their issues to a single event, one which both of them prove extremely melodramatic about. Largo hangs all the neuroses that he cares about on the Endgames incident. He was probably still an obsessive, hard-drinking, and generally unstable guy before that, because he seems to think that's fine and normal. Erika, on the other hand, sees her big incident not as the cause of all her problems, but as the moment of her epiphany, when she realised just how screwed up her life had become. It proceeded to get even more screwed up from there, of course.
- Parodied in these two Sluggy Freelance strips.
- Averted and lampshaded in The Class Menagerie. "And you're always bugging everyone to work hard so you'll fit in, right?" "No, I'm just a perfectionist. This doesn't define all my traits, you know."
- Either neatly subverted or simply averted in Sailor Nothing. At first, it looks like Himei is the way she is because she has to fight monsters. Then she goes on to explain she's been doing this for five years. The war has gone nowhere, all that happens is that innocents get hurt, and it even gives examples of some of the worse fights, highlights of which include getting boiling fat poured on you, being attacked by a fireman (complete with axe) and being at the tender mercies of an evil ten year-old with a sharp pencil.
- Flashbacks in Awkward. reveal Alex's stalkerish tendencies are rooted in a series of bad dates and harsh rejections. Possibly justified in that the straw that broke the camel's back was him being rejected for not being enough like Edward Cullen.
- Some of Freud's early formulations suggested that once you unearthed someone's big ol' trauma, they were cured. However, he became dissatisfied with this idea once he noticed some of his patients relapsing. Unfortunately, between his more dogmatic followers and those who only bothered to read his early writings, this trope got well-lodged into the zeitgeist and has been extensively mined (and even called "real psychology" even decades after Freud's death).
- Additionally, Freud and others eventually wrote that there is still a kernel of truth in this idea, but the effect of the 'one big trauma' tends to be more of the 'taking out the keystone of the arch of the coping mechanism' variety. All the other traumas and various other psychological issues were being dealt with healthily right up until this one trauma came along and, well, if you've ever seen what happens to an arch when the keystone is removed...Which, of course, ties back into the main complaint about this trope's misuse. Sure you can fix/rebuild/etc. a person's 'emotional keystone', but that won't rebuild the entire arch by itself.