Troubled Fetal Position

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/Alice_fetal_position.jpg
Alice is not having a good day.

"Actually, I'm going to lie down in the fetal position and weep."
Fastidiious, Sonic Boom

A common sitting position for an introverted, shy, depressed character or perhaps one that is going through a breakdown or some Sanity Slippage is for them to sit with their knees pulled to their chest perhaps with their arms wrapped around their knees. If the character has gone through something traumatic, expect them to rest their head atop their knees so that their hair falls around their face. Sometimes, they may rock their body back and forth while muttering something incoherent. Someone taking a Shower of Angst is likely to do this.

Different from the Corner of Woe in that this trope is usually done in a dramatic fashion; could also be done as a result of coping with some Paranoia Fuel or Nightmare Fuel.

Truth in Television, this is a natural defensive reflex against physical attack (it protects your belly, throat and eyes) and by extension against many sorts of psychological stress and trauma, in the same manner that both physical and psychological trauma can prompt an adrenaline rush.

Compare Cradle of Loneliness, which may involve a similar position, but are brought on by loneliness rather than trauma, though there can be overlap between the two.

Contrast with Fetal Position Rebirth, where the pose conveys a different symbolic meaning from angst.

Examples

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    Comic Books 
  • Concrete: This is probably one of the most frequent positions Concrete is drawn in, especially after he becomes depressed as the series goes on, though in some instances he is just trying to take up as little space as possible and not in a mood.note 
    • In Mountain with a Steel Heart Violet is mostly seen sitting like this.
    • Michael sits like this and rocks back and forth in Strange Armor.
  • Klara Prast's last appearance in the Runaways regular series shows her curled up in an unhappy little ball (by contrast, the rest of her teammates are sprawled out in exhaustion.) Given all the shit she was put through in the final arc, this is understandable.
  • Supergirl:
  • Superman:
    • Superman of all people does this in storyline Krypton No More when he sits on a mountaintop and reminisces about Krypton's destruction.
    • Kryptonite Nevermore: Superman wants to renounce his powers because he is tired of being a hero but Wonder Woman's mentor talks him out of it. Superman pulls his knees up and covers his face with both hands while he resigns himself to get his powers restored.
  • In Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of The Authority, young Jack Hawksmoor repeatedly ends up in a troubled fetal position after getting repeatedly kidnapped and operated on by aliens.
  • In the first issue of the "Moons of Venus" arc of X-Statix, Venus is left in a fetal position after encountering... something while exploring the parallel dimension Sector H-3-Minor.

    Films — Animation 
  • Peter Pan: Return to Neverland: Jane, Wendy's daughter, goes into this position frequently throughout the movie.
  • Coraline: After Coraline figures out that the Other Mother wants her to sew buttons into her eyes Coraline gets scared, runs up to her room, locks the door, and hides under her blankets in this position repeating, "Go to sleep... Go to sleep... Go to sleep..."
  • 5 from 9 drops into this complete with rocking and frantically muttering the first time he, 9, and 7 take cover from the machine, right after 2 is killed.
  • Jessie of Toy Story 2 does this when she tells Woody about how she was abandoned by her original owner Emily.
  • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls:
    • First movie:
      • In the opening, when demonstrating "nervicited" to Twilight, Pinkie Pie assumes this position and rocks back and forth. "You just wanna curl up in a teeny-tiny ball and hide!"
      • Human Fluttershy does this in a flashback after trying to recruit volunteers for the animal shelter and being ignored.
      • Ditto Twilight when she loses hope of getting her Element back before the Celestial Deadline due to the Fall formal being postponed.
    • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks:
      • Sunset Shimmer slumps into one after Principal Celestia mentions the Fall Formal, and every student in the gym (save the Humane Five) start glaring at the former school queen.
      • Twilight Sparkle gets into one too when the Rainbooms are trapped under the stage and start blaming each other, and she begins admitting that the song counterspell would just never have been ready in time.
    • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Friendship Games: Human Twilight Sparkle slumps into this pose in the hallway after Principal Cinch blackmails her (again), this time to spy on the Wondercolts, and Twilight admits she doesn't know what to do.
  • Both Anna and Elsa do this after their parents died at the end of the song "Do you want to build a snowman?" in Frozen.
  • Rapunzel in Tangled does this during the "bipolar scene" after she left her tower against her Mother's, or rather her kidnapper's, orders.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the 1995 version of A Little Princess, Sara goes into the Troubled Fetal Position whenever she's in her new room in the dirty attic. Her dad supposedly died so she's forced to work as a servant.
    • The first time, she curls up in the middle of a "magic circle" she drew on the floor to try to feel safe.
  • In The Princess Diaries, Mia returns home after being humiliated by her supposed "friends" and she cuddles with her mom in a position like this and cries.
    Mia: It was really bad — my foot didn't even pop!
  • Drew Barrymore's character in Ever After does this occasionally, most notably towards the end where she is sitting in the rain, still in her ball gown after being publicly humiliated by Prince Henry.
  • Featured in a poster for Spider-Man 3.
  • Dirty Dancing: Johnny and Baby discover Penny in a Troubled Fetal Position after an encounter with Bobby.
  • Pink Floyd: The Wall is fond of this.
  • Raymond from Rain Man has periods of this.
  • Unsurprisingly occurs at least once in Requiem for a Dream as things go downhill for the main characters. Happens for all of them at the end of the film. One of the ones mid-film was a frame-for-frame recreation of the scene in Perfect Blue.
  • Used a good deal and doubly justified in The Elephant Man. The title character even sleeps like this. If he doesn't, he'll die.
  • Evey in V for Vendetta does this a lot when she is captured, imprisoned and tortured by the fake government which turns out to be V himself.
  • Vesper does this in a Shower of Angst in Casino Royale (2006). Originally she was supposed to be in her underwear in the scene, but she argued that, traumatized from seeing Bond killing several people, she wouldn't have stopped to get undressed.
  • In Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, Beverly does the "rocking back and forth" variation at one point.
  • Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk enters this after a particularly nasty Flashback Echo hits him when he's in the shower.
  • In the spirit of one upmanship and outdoing the rest of this list, A Serbian Film has Milos have one after learning that he was drugged and made to rape and kill people, including his own son, he was raped himself, and all of it was filmed for a snuff director's entertainment after which we get a Shower of Angst shot with him in the fetal position in the shower. Eventually this leads to him killing himself.
  • In Gravity, after making it back to the ISS, Ryan Stone shucks off her space suit and floats in a fetal position as she recovers from the stress of her situation and almost suffocating.
  • In Re-Animator Dan drops to the floor and curls up after their first (and second) attempt at bringing a human back to life goes horribly, horribly wrong.
  • Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away: Mia after she falls into the forest from the sandcliff, right before the Aerialist finds her.

    Literature 
  • Oreg in Dragon Bones a couple of times. He suffers from PTSD, and is magically bound to do as he is ordered by his master, which causes him severe pain if he can't do what he's been told to do. If he feels really bad, he usually curls up on the floor.
  • The standard "panic position" for the Pierson's Puppeteers of Larry Niven's Known Space stories is to tuck their heads (they have two, on really long necks) between their legs, and collapse into what looks like a perfect imitation of a hair-covered footstool..
  • The protagonist of Stephen King's Pet Sematary goes into this after his wife is killed and eaten by their toddler son that he brought back from the dead as a demon-possessed zombie.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • In Graham McNeill's Ultramarines Novel Dead Sky, Black Sun after escaping from a daemonic womb that has been trying to take his genetic material via tendrils through the interface sockets in his body Uriel Ventris does this, screaming and crying in rage and horror.
    • The Night Lords series fields another example with Uzas of First Claw who tends to curl up in his room muttering to Khorne and begging it/him to stop rearranging his mind.
  • In Out of the Silent Planet, Ransom does this while talking to himself during a delusional spell.
  • Bella spends nearly the entire book of New Moon in this state after Edward breaks up with her. According to Word of God, Edward also spent most of this time curled up in a fetal position hating the world, before his suicide attempt.
  • Bail Organa is taken aback and more than a little shocked when confident, self-possessed Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi assumes this position during their journey to Zigoola in Clone Wars Gambit. Obi-Wan has just experienced an extremely vivid Flashback Nightmare about a time when he was a Padawan and was almost eaten alive by carnivorous insects, and come out of it exceedingly rattled. Unfortunately for the two of them, it's only a mild taster of what's to come...
  • The Ice Palace. Unn ends her life deep inside the Ice Palace, sitting like this.
  • In Chapter 25 of The Day of the Locust, protagonist Tod Hackett finds his friend Homer Simpson sleeping tightly curled up into this position after his life in California collapsed around his ears the previous night. He mentally compares the sight to a picture he saw in a textbook on abnormal psychology with the caption "Uterine Flight", and muses on "what a perfect escape the return of the womb" can be.

    Music 
  • The video "Everybody's Fool" by Evanescence features Amy Lee in this position.
  • Suzanne Vega has it in her song "Small Blue Thing."
    "With my knees against my mouth, I am perfectly round..."

    Professional Wrestling 
  • A common defensive position taken by pro wrestlers who just took a particularly hard groin shot.
  • Mankind would squeal while rocking in the fetal position before his matches.
  • Kimberly is seen rocking in this position in anticipation of her rematch with Leva Bates at SHINE 6. She's smiling, but that only reinforces the fact she's troubled.

    Video Games 
  • Kingdom Hearts: Kairi in this shot of her.
  • The members of the Beauty and Beast corps that Snake fights in Metal Gear Solid 4 are female soldiers brainwashed into perfect soldiers from an early age so that war is all they know. If Snake manages to defeat them nonlethally with his tranquilizer gun, they curl up into a fetal position on the ground, having been forced to face the horrors of their past.
  • Left 4 Dead: The Witch. She just wants to be left alone. Don't disturb her.
  • Sakura's Game Over animation in Street Fighter IV, although she squats instead of sitting. Also, awww.
  • Saavedro from Myst III: Exile goes into one of these near the end of the game.
  • Touhou:
  • Heavy Rain has Norman Jayden in this position as he dies of an overdose.
  • StarCraft:
    • In the opening cinematic of the Brood Wars expansion, a Goliath unit does this as its operator waits helplessly for the overwhelming Zerg forces to reach his position.
    • In StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, Kerrigan collapses into this after hearing on the news that Raynor was captured by the Dominion and summarily executed.
  • Pressing the secondary action button in Yume Nikki with no effect that uses it makes Madotsuki sit like this. After a few seconds, she lowers her head invoking this trope.
  • In the Superstar expansion pack of the original The Sims, your Sim can do this in Studio Town if their mood is low enough. Watch out, though — the next tabloid might just report that your Sim was spotted in that position and that things might not be looking too good for them.
  • In Ib, Ib does this if she's unable to save Garry after he goes insane. Even Mary is disturbed by this.
  • Up until The King of Fighters 1998, if the player had Yuri Sakazaki in their team and she was defeated, she'd be seen in this position in the background.
  • In The Binding of Isaac, this pose is pretty much Isaac's signature pose. He engages in it on pretty much every piece of cover art, during the "vs. Boss" screens, and on the between-level vignettes that show him thinking about all of the horrible things that happened to him as a child.
  • In the Silver Surfer NES game, a picture of Silver Surfer in this position is shown when you lose a life. As The Angry Video Game Nerd said, "this image will be burnt into your retina".
  • In a rather infamous example from EarthBound, Giygas appears to assume one of these in his final form if you squint hard enough. Maybe. If you know WHY this might be the case, it can be a Tear Jerker.
  • In Fire Emblem Tellius, as Mist and Ike mourn for their dead father Greil, the first is seen like this.

    Visual Novels 
  • Seen twice in Katawa Shoujo. First, in Hanako's cinematic sequence as he route is unlocked; second, in Shizune's bad ending.

    Web Animation 
  • Salad Fingers:
    • The eponymous character does this as well as cry in the cupboard when Roger assaults him with Brown Notes.
    • He also does this during a Freak-Out after a little girl speaks to him.
  • Happy Tree Friends: Flippy in "Double Whammy" after coming out of his Ax-Crazy state and discovering himself to be covered in the intestines of one of his friends.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • One of the scenarios in Play with Me shows the doll grabbing the stuffed monkey and going into the Troubled Fetal Position.
  • The picture accompanying The Onion article "Study: Depression Hits Losers Hardest".
    A depressed loser cowers in a corner. According to a new Stanford University study, there is no hope for such people.
  • We first meet the transformed Stuart in this position in The Jade Box.
  • In Survival of the Fittest: The Program, Marilyn Williams does this in reaction to being thrown into the compound, under a bed, no less.
  • SCP Foundation: What essentially happens to SCP-096 after a 27 hour fight with SCP-682.
  • Putting someone in "Position Latérale de Sécurité" (or "PLS" for short), which means "Recovery Position" is a popular euphemysm on the French parts of the Web, meaning someone was just spectacularly owned and now feels really uncomfortable.
  • In Episode 1 of The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air) Julian the Janitor adopts a miserable fetal posture in the aftermath of his latest failed on-air interruption of the eponymous radio Variety Show he loves, mirroring his Fetal Position Rebirth at the episode's beginning.
    Narrator: Curled in a ball in the janitor's closet in which he lives, lies Julian, janitor at the Eiffel Tower, crying.
    Julian: *while crying* I'm not crying!

Alternative Title(s): Fetal Position Of Troubledness

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TroubledFetalPosition