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Traumatic Superpower Awakening
Tattletale: Itís called the trigger event. Researchers theorize that for every person with powers out there, thereís one to five people with the potential for powers, who havenít met the conditions necessary for a trigger event. You need to be pushed to the edge. Fight or flight responses pushed to their limits, further than the limits, even. Then your powers start to emerge.
Regent: Basically, for your powers to manifest, youíre going to have to have something really shitty happen to you.
Worm

When a character has latent powers or potential, there are three standard ways to unlock it: hit puberty, find a mentor to train them, or just have something really, really bad happen. Any form of trauma, physical or mental, can do the trick, but emotional blows are the most prevalent. The death of a loved one is especially common.

Severe trauma tends to release inhibitions that keep hidden potential in check. Strong emotions, most especially rage, work best. As such, the form of the awakening tends to be violent, even, in extreme cases, explosive.

With superpowers, once the bottle is opened, it can't be sealed again. The awakened one will typically need to seek training to control their new powers, so that their every emotional outburst won't trigger a new disaster. A period of How Do I Shot Web? will follow, and learning to control one's emotions or face inner demons is typical.

This tends to coincide with Puberty Superpowers. Puberty is the most likely general time for powers to show themselves, but the specific incidence of the awakening will tend to be a traumatic one. There might be several minor uses of power, resulting from less serious emotional events, before the big push comes that makes the character fully aware of their potential.

Not to be confused with Die or Fly, in which superpowers awaken in response to a life-threatening situation, as a manifestation of a self-preservation instinct. See also Angst Nuke and Came Back Strong, which are very extreme variations on this. If the superpowers attained are related to the cause of the trauma, it's an Adaptive Ability.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • The titular Naruto first gained access to the Kyuubi's chakra after seeing the (apparent) death of his best friends.
    • From the same story arc, Haku discovered the full extent of his powers when his father tried to kill him.
    • This is typical for the Sharingan. While the first form may also activate in Die or Fly situations, the advanced "Mangekyou" version requires severe trauma, so severe in fact, that the most reliable way to awaken was considered to be murdering your best friend.
      • Actually the Sharingan lives totally and entirely by this trope, the stronger the trauma is, the stronger the Sharingan gets.
    • Nagato got his Rinnegan when he saw his parents die when they tried to defend themselves against soldiers who were just looking for supplies. There might be more to it than that, as Tobi (a known liar) says he gave Nagato his Rinnegan. Whether this means he at least partly engineered the situation, implanted the eyes themselves, or if it is just another lie, is still unknown.
      • Recently, it was revealed that Madara Uchiha had awoken the Rinnegan, but due to extreme old age was in no position to use it. While Nagato was still a kid, Madara transplanted his Rinnegan into him without Nagato's knowledge. Later, Tobi made Nagato think that the Rinnegan marked him as the reincarnation of the Sage of the Six Paths while engineering his Start of Darkness. Whether this is all true (or even fits the established timeline of certain key events) is also still up for debate.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, Goku was able to break the Super Saiyan barrier after his friend Krillin was blown up in sadistic fashion by Frieza, who then proceeded to threaten his son. Also, Gohan and Trunks from an alternate future obtained Super Saiyan this way (Gohan when the androids killed Piccolo, Trunks when they killed Gohan).
  • Elfen Lied: Lucy was bullied by children and when they killed her dog, she killed them all with her unseen (until then) power of invisible vector arms.
  • In InuYasha Kagome unwittingly uses the power of the magic Jewel of Four Souls which is inside her body to blast a demon which attacks her. Ultimately subverted, since the Jewel is released from her body almost immediately afterwards, meaning she no longer has that power. (Though this sequence of events does lead to her discovering and being trained in other latent powers.)
  • In Fairy Tail, a flashback shows Erza first using magic after seeing a friend die.
  • In Tiger & Bunny Lunatic's power manifested when he tried to stop his father from beating his mother.
  • Shiki in Tsukihime gains his Mystic Eyes of Death Perception as a result of his near death experience as a child.
  • In Sasami Magical Girls Club, a hidden power within Sasami activates for the first time after their club advisor Washu decides to quit. Everyone, including the witches, are dumbfounded at how she was able to manifest such powers, as even they were unable to do it. It shows up again throughout the show, and later her True Companions are able to use the same ability due to The Power of Friendship with Sasami.
  • In Omamori Himari, Yuuto's secret power, Light Ferry, which turns anything he wields, such as a small wooden branch, into an incredibly powerful weapon on par with the best swords out there, is activated when he attempts to quell Himari's Unstoppable Rage after the latter witnessed him getting mortally wounded by Ageha. He is unable to activate it later when he has a practice match with Shizuku, who had no intentions of truly hurting him, and she tells even points this out to him.
  • Newtype and other similar power in Gundam multiverse are usually triggered the moments the users are put in tight situations or suffering from traumatic experiences. For example, Gundam X's villains at one time intentionally leave their pre-awaken Newtype subordinate behind to fight the heroes alone, knowing that doing so will allow him to reach his inner-power.
  • Rosario + Vampire: A variation occurs during Ruby's introductory arc; when Ruby critically injures Tsukune, Moka is so enraged and grief-stricken at this that Inner Moka actually bypasses the rosary's seal without Tsukune removing the rosary beforehand. Afterwards, together with an equally furious Mizore and Kurumu, she proceeds to kick Ruby's ass.

     Comic Books 
  • This is common, though not universal, in X-Men. Puberty Superpower is more widely applied.
    • Jean Gray first used her powers when her friend got hit by a car and died in her arms.
    • Rogue accidentally first used her powers when she kissed a boy she liked, draining him of his memories and energy and leaving him in a coma.
    • The ultimate example was featured in a issue of Ultimate X-Men, where a poor kid woke up one day to find himself apparently totally alone in his house. He wanders around town looking for anybody but it all seems deserted. It turns out that he had gained the ability to uncontrollably dissolve any living matter within several hundred yards of himself - starting with his parents, ending with his entire town. Wolverine finds him terrified and hiding in a cave, then does what he can for him.

    Fan Works 

     Film 
  • As mentioned above, the X-Men movie franchise has many examples.
    • In X-Men: First Class, Erik is originally only able to use his powers when extremely angry. The first two times, it involves maternal separation.
    • Then there is Logan's awakening in X-Men Origins: Wolverine when he stabs his father's killer to death.
  • In the film version of Matilda, Matilda's telekinesis first displays itself when her father rips up her library books and tries to force her to watch TV with the rest of the family.
  • This happens to the main character in Kung Fu Hustle: after he is beaten to within an inch of his life, his chi flows are unblocked, and his potential to become the Greatest Kung Fu Master the World has Ever Known is suddenly realised.

     Literature 
  • Garion of the Belgariad comes into his power this way. Though he is sensitive to sorcery for a while, and his first use of it is actually, unconsciously, to heal a brain-addled man, he first uses it intentionally against a man who has just slapped his Aunt Pol, and kills him when he learns the same man killed his parents. In the same way.
    Aldur invoked this for Belgarath by telling him to move a large boulder. When Belgarath became so frustrated that he shouted at the boulder to move, it did. Upon meeting another sorcerer in the Malloreon who gained his powers similarly, the main characters suppose this is the typical way for it to happen, and that it also explains why there are fewer and fewer sorcerers around, as the will of the universe prevents objects from being unmade: if someone, in a fit of anger, tries to unmake something, he will be himself unmade.
  • In one of the short stories in The Witcher book The Last Wish, a queen hires Geralt to kill a monster (actually a cursed prince) to stop him from marrying her daughter. When she nearly succeeds, it turns out that the princess is really in love and is an untrained source - and so everyone must forget their differences and fight together to get her powers under control.
  • Harry Potter initially used his unfocused, underage magic in times of distress. This seems to be a common way for magic to appear in the setting, but not universal: contrast Voldemort, whose powers manifested as ways to manipulate and hurt people.
  • In The Wheel of Time, those who have the "spark", the more powerful manifestation of the ability to "channel", and who haven't been trained in channelling by someone who already can, will typically begin channelling unconsciously in their mid-to-late teens, and it will usually manifest itself during either a traumatic situation or when they wish to do something suitable for one who is angsty in general. For many, this takes the form of an eavesdropping weave or something similar. For one of the main characters, Nynaeve, it is an extreme sickness of a friend that leads to her unconsciously forming a healing weave.
  • In Sergey Lukyanenko's Labyrinth of Reflections, Divers most commonly acquire their rare gift under extremely stressful circumstances, such as when your friend is dying in Real Life and you have to exit Cyber Space right now without using any common devices.
    • The short-story Transparent Stained Glass Windows reveals that the Russian government is working on a secret project aimed at creating Divers using a virtual prison as a cover. Their goal is to induce traumatic experiences in the inmates which mirror the reason for their imprisonment. The project is a failure, though.
  • In Mistborn, allomantic powers only manifest themselves following an intense trauma, which is usually a near-death experience (not always, though, as Kelsier, one of the main characters, came into his powers after watching his wife get beaten to death). Noble houses often severely beat their children to try and force "snapping".
    • In later books, Snapping is caused automatically by "mist-sickness", which by design only affects unSnapped Allomancers, and just badly enough to Snap them.
  • Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar The Last Herald-Mage has this. The protagonist, Vanyel, has his gifts triggered when his lover/soulmate commits suicide.
    • In Brightly Burning, Lavan's Firestarter gift was starting to come through as a normal Puberty Superpower, but being tortured by the older students snapped it on full-power.
  • In the original novel of Matilda her telekinesis first appears when she grows uncontrollably angry over being (loudly and violently) accused of something she did not do.
  • Legacy of the Dragokin: This is how Benji activates his dragokin powers at the very end of the story when he leaps to his mom's defense.
  • Dune: A ghola's memories can be restored by inflicting psychological trauma.
    • In Heretics of Dune, Miles Teg gets Spider-Sense and Super Speed after being tortured.
    • In the prequels, Norma Cenva's latent Mind over Matter powers are awakened while she's being tortured by the Cymeks. The resulting mental blast is several orders more powerful than that utilized by the other Sorceresses of Rossak and literally disintegrates her body. Fortunately, she uses her new powers to create a better body for herself atom-by-atom.
    • Technically, any Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother becomes this way by ingesting poison and hoping that her body will metabolize it into a substance that will transform her.
  • In StarCraft: Ghost: Nova, the titular character is unaware of her enormous Psychic Power potential, and her wealthy father goes to great lengths to keep it a secret, lest his daughter be taken away to the Ghost Academy. She knows that she is somehow able to sense what other people are feeling but can't explain it. However, when a group of rebels infiltrates her parents' penthouse mansion and kills them in front of her, her Mind over Matter powers manifest in a rather spectacular manner. The transparent dome over the penthouse is completely shattered by her mental blast that also kills anyone in the vicinity but her. That dome is, apparently, rated to withstand a direct nuclear strike. However, she never uses her power to that extent again. It's heavily implied that Nova is much more powerful than even Kerrigan, at least until Kerrigan becomes the Queen of Blades.
  • In the Wearing the Cape series, physical trauma is the standard way of getting powers.
  • While a rather softer version then most, The Boy who was as hard as Stone has Joe undergoing this after taking a beating from bullies.

     Live-Action TV 
  • Angel, "Untouched". Bethany, the girl with telekenesis, had it awakened when she was abused physically and sexually by her father. It also flared up when someone threatened her in an alley early in the ep.
  • On The Finder, Walter's powers of deduction are purportedly because of a few bumps to the head that occurred during military service.
  • Haven: "Troubles" usually emerge after traumatic events.

     Tabletop Games 
  • In the lore of Magic: The Gathering, one in every million sentient beings in the Multiverse is born with a "spark", or the potential to become a Planeswalker. Igniting that spark and actually becoming a Planeswalker usually happens as a result of some kind of trauma or epiphany.
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 Gaiden Game Dark Heresy, this is the result of choosing the "Nascent Psyker" background package. The player has psychic powers building up, locked away in the back of their brain, waiting to spill out in an uncontrolled fashion in a moment of high stress. Given that this is 40k, this tends to be a Bad Thing.

     Video Games 
  • Psycho Mantis of Metal Gear Solid had his powers fully awaken after he accidentally read his father's mind and thought his father would kill him, resulting in the destruction of his entire village.
  • Ryu in Breath of Fire IV gains the ability to transform into a dragon early on in the game, but for the first half of the game he only has access to his weakest form, Aura. It takes him seeing Captain Rasso massacre a village full of innocents (and forcing him to duel with a monster shortly afterwards) for him to unlock the much more powerful Kaiser transformation.
  • Rydia in Final Fantasy IV is an inversion; she has an innate talent for magic, but the trauma of watching her village being burned to the ground makes it difficult for her to use fire spells.
  • The premise of summoning a Persona in Persona 3 was that apparently, something traumatic has to have happened to you in order to summon it. MC was attacked by shadows. Junpei got the potential in a fetal position hiding from shadows. Fuuka's friend had to almost be eaten by shadows before she got hers. Mitsuru waas desperately trying to protect her father after seeing one of Kirijo's scientist turn into a shadow. It is unclear when Akihiko, Ken, and Yukari were found with the potential, but it might have had something to do with Akihiko's sister dying, Ken's parents dying, and Yukari's dad being in an exploding laboratory.
    • Before that, the Araya Shrine incident in Persona 2, in which two kids (Maya Amano and Tatsuya Suou) were left inside a burning shrine by an insane arsonist, wound up being the catalyst for the awakening of both their Personae and indirectly led to the awakening of another three (Lisa Silverman, Eikichi Mishina and Jun Kurosu).
  • Lang in Legaia II: Duel Saga only awakens his origin, Galea, after being beaten to the point of near-death by a monster living at the top of Mt. Gabel
  • In Dragon Age: Origins it seems mages can awaken their power if they are faced with strong emotions. For example, Wynne set one of her bullies on fire.
  • Kevin from Seiken Densetsu 3 unlocks the ability to shapeshift into a werewolf when he's attacked by his pet wolf cub, Karl, and he's forced to kill him in self-defence.

     Webcomics 
  • In El Goonish Shive this is known as an Angst-Induced Awakening.
  • In Girl Genius this is typically how Sparks awaken. Most Sparks end up killed by their own breakthrough devices or burned on stake as witches by angry mob. Many simply go mad and destroy everything in their nearest vicinity. It's also suggested that a breakthrough can be triggered by stong emotions, like being upset over death of a loved one. Gil notes that Agathaís breakthrough was very peaceful compared to other Sparks.
  • Becka in Shadowgirls.
  • In FreakAngels it turns out that "near-death" experiences amplify the Freak Angels' powers and unlock new ones. For example, Arkady is capable of teleporting because of that drug overdose in her teens.
  • In The Order of the Stick Prequel, Start of Darkness, Xykon's talent for sorcery first manifests itself when, as a four-year-old child, he finds the corpse of his dog, Barky. His grief causes him to accidently cast an animate dead spell, which resurrects Barky as a zombie, much to his delight.

     Web Originals 
  • Most capes in the superhero web serial Worm acquire(d) their powers in traumatic situations. As a result, cape demographics are skewed toward females and people from bad parts of town/the world. However, it gets easier for second-generation capes to gain their powers; whereas a first-generation cape needs to experience a life-or-death situation, i.e. their entire village being wiped out by soldiers who then use the children for mine-clearing, second-generation capes can get their powers by, say, getting fouled while playing basketball.
    • Additionally, those who already have powers can experience a second awakening that improves them or removes some of their limitations. These require far worse trauma of a similar nature to the first trigger, and usually leave the person in question a complete wreck.
  • This is the case in Brennus, mixed with Puberty Superpower. Manifestation is in response to a traumatic event, and often manifestation itself is just as if not more traumatic than the triggering event.

     Western Animation 
  • Parodied on South Park, when Cartman wakes up from coma due to a head injury, he fakes psychic powers in "Cartman's Incredible Gift".
    • Played with at the end of the episode, when Kyle, after waking up from a similar injury, gets fed up with all the fake psychics and screams for them to stop... causing a light bulb to explode.
  • A fairly mild example occurs in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Young Twilight Sparkle has to take an entrance examination to get into the School for Gifted Unicorns. She repeatedly fails the magic test which has been set up for her, leading her to become increasingly nervous, tense, and embarrassed. Then a large explosion occurs in the distance. Getting startled by the sudden noise when she is already strung tight as a wire triggers an enormous burst of random magic to burst from her horn.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender Aang is forced into the Avatar State when he is either in mortal danger or experiencing emotional trauma. A major focus of the story is him learning to control that power and to only use it when he wants to.
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