main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
Kickstarter Message
TV Tropes Needs Your Help
Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
View Kickstarter Project
Playing With: Freudianexcuse
Basic Trope: A reason in the backstory of a character (or a villain or otherwise unsympathetic character) that explains why they act the way they do and gives them motivation for their actions.
  • Straight:
    • Bob, a Serial Killer, kills people because he was abused by his parents and bullied by classmates as a child.
    • Bob is a Jerkass, because he lost his parents at age 10 and was bullied until he learned he would be left alone/respected by being a jerk, which has since then become his primary mode of interaction.
  • Exaggerated:
  • Downplayed:
    • While nothing downright traumatizing ever happened to Bob, he grew up in an environment that didn't encourage positive growth. This indirectly affected his attitude growing up.
    • Bob is a Jerk Ass, because his parents were as well.
    • Cynicism Catalyst
  • Justified:
  • Inverted:
    • Bob has no excuse; he kills people simply For the Evulz.
    • Alternatively: Bob kills people because it's In the Blood.
    • Or: Bob has a tragic past, but used it as a motivation to help others as opposed to harming them.
    • Alternatively: Bob had a monstrously horrible childhood, to the point that it would be perfectly understandable if he grew up to be an Ax-Crazy Serial Killer; instead he grows up to be a Pollyanna.
    • Alternatively: Bob's life has been easy and he knows nothing of suffering. In an effort to understand it, he inflicts it on others.
    • Bob's life has been extremely easy - leaving him unequipped to deal with hardships in a mature, constructive, effective way.
    • Bob actually would have grown up to be a horrible, loathsome person, except he suffered a loss, humiliation or something else that got him to change direction onto a virtuous path.
    • Bob was exposed to serial killing as a child, so he bullies others and abuses his kids.
    • Or Bob learnt to love bullying others, so as an adult he's a really unpleasant individual.
    • Bob spends his life helping elderly people, because an old guy saved him from drowning when Bob was a child.
    • Bob has a tragic past, but instead of making him seem more sympathetic, it makes his current actions seem worse.
    • Bob's childhood was wonderful to the point of being downright saccharine. He got tired of it and decided acting horrifically towards others to be great for a change.
    • Bob's childhood has been incredibly happy as a whole and, according to his self-learnt bizarre train of thought, he thinks unhappy people are better off dead.
  • Subverted:
    • Despite having a past that would qualify as a Freudian Excuse, Bob turned out to be a well-adjusted and functioning human being.
    • Alternatively: Bob's story about his Freudian Excuse regularly changes, because he's the goddamn Joker
    • Alternatively: Bob laughs at the idea that he kills people because of his parents or that people should feel sorry for him because of it.
    • Bob's backstory is framed as a cautionary tale, not an excuse.
  • Doubly Subverted:
    • His excuse eventually leads him to commit murder.
    • Alternatively: One of his many excuses is revealed to be the truth.
    • Alternatively: Bob's laughter is unconvincing, and he doth protest too much on the subject; even if he chooses not to acknowledge it, he still has issues with his past that inform his actions.
  • Parodied:
    • Bob routinely engages in mass murder and world conquest as an adult because the expensive bike he got for his fourth birthday was blue and not red as he wanted, or some other similarly trivial, pathetic and laughable excuse.
    • Nick the Big Bad has to constantly shoo away fangirls or boys trying to comfort him and help him come to terms with a Dark and Troubled Past he never said he had in the first place.
  • Zig Zagged: Bob likes to give numerous excuses for his actions, obscuring which one is the true one. Does he just do it For the Evulz? Or is one of them true? Or none of them?
  • Averted:
    • Bob reveals nothing about his past to us; we know nothing one way or the other.
    • Alternatively: Bob's past was basically normal, and he does what he does either to further his agenda or just because he's a sadistic bastard.
    • Bob simply is oblivious or used to his own Jerkass-behavior.
    • Bob's Dark and Troubled Past explains his motivations and methods, perhaps even how his personality and style of relating to others developed and solidified, but everyone (including Bob himself) agrees that it does not excuse his villainy.
  • Enforced: "We can't have our bad guy be evil just for the hell of it. Something should have happened to him to make him this way."
  • Lampshaded: "There must be something really terrible in his past to make him capable of this..."
  • Invoked: "I want to tell in you in detail why I'm doing this to you... I want to make you understand..."
  • Exploited:
    • Bob uses his excuse to make heroes let their guards down.
    • A hero mocks Bob about his excuse, causing the latter to make a mistake in anger.
    • Bob brings up his excuse to gain sympathy and a claim to moral high ground in order to get heroes off his back.
    • Bob brings up an event from his past to shame someone present, who was involved with that same event.
  • Defied:
    • "I cannot be reduced to a simple, trite motivation."
    • "No, Bob. Your excuse is merely a convenient way of fleeing responsibility."
  • Discussed: "These guys always have some excuse..."
  • Conversed: "Do these writers think that having an awful childhood automatically makes you criminal or something?"
  • Deconstructed:
  • Reconstructed:
    • Bob decides to look-up for psychological help to get through his flaws, and eventually learn how to move on.
    • In real life, modern theories like operant conditioning and social learning can still explain the effectiveness of a "Freudian" Excuse, while it is shown that neglect does cause lasting brain damage. Who knows, from Bob's perspective he is simply doing his vile actions out of a perceived necessity that was conditioned via receiving punishment/violence for his altruistic behaviour, and is actually good in the inside.
  • Played For Laughs: Bob brings up his sad past in the most melodramatic way possible. Ben remarks: So that's why you are so emo!
  • Played For Drama: Bob is pushed to the edge by PTSD. He has trouble believing he could get any better and thinks he and nothing else has no hope. He's considering taking an entire universe with him as he self-terminates and our hero needs to convince him, by any means necessary, that it doesn't have to be.

Back to Freudian Excuse

TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from
Privacy Policy