How do you subtly break someone's sanity?:

Total posts: [23]
1 eternalNoob23rd Dec 2011 03:42:07 AM from yer mum , Relationship Status: Longing for my OTP
Is it possible to make a stable person slowly but surely loose it, without any huge events that send him/her/it spiralling down as fast as a comet coming down on Jupiter? Slowly breaking him, with out something TOO drastic (Asuka's mindrape comes to mind). Or does there have to be a huge sanity breaking event to make someone loose it?
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There are several works which are all about someone slowly going insane without any major event causing them to snap. Since you seem to like anime, I would recommend "Welcome to the NHK" as an interesting look at how someone becomes detached from society by not interacting with it for a number of years. (Though admittedly it is more about his gradual reintegration and rehabilitation rather than the decent into insanity) There was also an interesting short story by Chinese writer Lu Xun called Diary of a Madman which was very entertaining and interesting.

I am sorry I could not be of more help and I know that there are many examples that I'll be kicking myself for missing, but I hope the current works I have suggested you check out help you.
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Stress and emotionally traumatising events (abuse, death of a loved one, breaking up with your partner, your house being burgled, the list goes on...) could very well do it. Just have it pile up, like on those days when it feels like everything is against you. Physical illness or injury could contribute, especially if it's painful: when you're in persistent pain, even if it's not unbearably strong, you lose the thick skin needed to cope with a stressful life.

I'm not a psychologist, but I suspect a lot of people have mental problems that lie dormant as long as their life is decent, but become stronger when everything goes haywire around them.

edited 23rd Dec '11 6:12:55 AM by DoktorvonEurotrash

It does not matter who I am. What matters is, who will you become? - motto of Omsk Bird
Let's start from the beginning, with a layman's explanation of psychology.

A person's mind is composed of subconscious structures of beleifs. This could be termed as it's operating system, as a person's structures do dictate a way a person thinks. Some of these beliefs include "There is a god", "Justice prevails in the end", and "Miracles cannot happen."

More beliefs will arise out of a person's choices in life, which are in turn influenced by previous beliefs. Things like, "I am a terrible mother" or "I will always have my husband" or "That was a worthwhile choice.".

Challenging and replacing these beliefs is the natural state of mental growth of human beings. But this replacement of ideas is a gradual thing, and if too many structures are being tested too quickly, then a person suffers breakdown.

Some beliefs and idea structures are more important than others, and these form the "skeleton" of a person's idea and belief "body". Damage to these ideas may never be repaired, and if healed, that structure will never work as it once did.

Finally, our physical state also influences our mental structures. When one becomes too stressed or exhausted, one may find that their mental structures are lacking, and may grasp at new ideas to justify or keep them going. Ideas such as "I hate Etheopeans", "I am a worthless sack of figs", or "I won't take this anymore; I don't deserve it."

In conclusion, to subtly break someone's sanity, you must systematically attack what they hold dear, exhaust them mentally and physically, and destroy that which they think to be true.

edited 23rd Dec '11 4:59:11 AM by Kraken

^ That's a great explanation.

I'd watch The Dark Knight. The breakdowns are all over the place in that film, and they're well done. Nearly every character has to come to terms with something different from what they've previously believed true, or take their own ideals too far, which causes their own breakdowns.

Another way is to simply introduce small paradigm shifts; show a character that something they know is not just slightly different, but completely wrong.
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The Shining

(The novel is preferable to the movie.)

edited 23rd Dec '11 2:11:51 PM by MechaJesus

7 NoirGrimoir23rd Dec 2011 06:34:59 PM from San Diego, CA , Relationship Status: Anime is my true love
Rabid Fujoshi
Schizophrenia itself as a syndrome is something that slowly makes you more and more crazy and out of touch with reality without needing any triggers. Also it predominantly shows up in one's 20s or a bit older, so they could have been perfectly fine in younger years and then suddenly start going crazy as an adult for no apparent reason.
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What about, each day, putting trace amounts of LSD or hallucinogenic mushrooms in their food? Not a whole lot at first, but if you slowly increased the amount over time, you could get to the point where everything just seems slightly off to them. That might not be enough on its own, but it would lay a good foundation for breaking their mind.
"It takes an idiot to do cool things, that's why it's cool" - Haruhara Haruko
9 dRoy24th Dec 2011 05:54:22 AM from The Happy Place , Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Perpetually clueless
[up] Brilliant.
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It's easy, mmkay?
How about, every day, sneak into their house and change just enough things that something's off but they don't consciously realize someone is sneaking around and changing things in their house?
At first I didn't realize I needed all this stuff...
11 nrjxll24th Dec 2011 06:25:19 PM , Relationship Status: Not war
...You seem to have a pretty low regard of people's sanity.
12 SharkAttack24th Dec 2011 09:07:09 PM from under and within the sea
Eternal noob: Why? What is the situation? What is the point? Tell us the nature of the character whose mind is breaking, the character who is breaking the mind, the plot relevance of the whole thing. What era is it? What setting? What tools do the characters have or not have? You've failed to provide any details on the situation that would demand this information.
For the rain it raineth every day.
Blackhole for a heart
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne provides an example of subtle Mind Rape, with said psychological torture lasting for several years, I think.

I'll just make it as spoiler-less as possible in case there are those who want to read the book but would still like to hear the method.

Bob did something bad that resulted in the wronging of Alice. Although Bob knows that he has done an awful thing, he does not know that Alice has anything to do with it. Alice, however, highly suspects Bob of being her wrongdoer. In her plan for revenge, she becomes very close to Bob and integrates herself into his life, living in the same house as him, always hanging over him like a shadow, always playing on his guilt without revealing her identity as a vengeful victim, always disturbing him with her intrusive questions and examinations in the guise of assistance, more manipulation and twisting Bob's guilt, feelings, and consciousness, severely damaging Bob's mental health.

Basically, play upon their guilt and/or consciousness and twist it, twist it, twist it, attack them through subtle questions that mess with their minds, never give them any peace, never release them from your intrusive and disturbing torture, and the such.
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14 TheEarthSheep26th Dec 2011 10:13:17 PM from a Pasture hexagon
Christmas Sheep
[up] You realize that was every bit as spoiler-iffic as actually using the character's names?

Anyway, small changes, steadily increasing in magnitude, to their established constants.

Beyond that, it depends on the character. And the setting. And the plot.
Still Sheepin'
15 YamiiDenryuu27th Dec 2011 09:10:02 AM from You know, that place , Relationship Status: Chocolate!
-pokes head in-

How about, every day, sneak into their house and change just enough things that something's off but they don't consciously realize someone is sneaking around and changing things in their house?

Actually, this won't work because change blindness means they aren't likely to notice any of the changes at all. Just sayin'.
I couldn't conceive a dream so wet; your bongos make me congo.
16 ToasterDust27th Dec 2011 09:13:22 PM from Sacramento, California
What I remember learning in my intro to Psych class was that most people go insane gradually and usually the illness is expressed as a sequence of maladjustments. A maladjustment is a sort of behavior that is destructive or unhealthy in some other way and is a coping mechanism that some one will come up with and then continue doing until it becomes something that has unhealthily altered their entire life.

As an example, someone who hates using the elevator might count their fingers to distract themselves while riding in the elevator. Over time this behavior could be extended to other things that make them uncomfortable, riding in a car or a plane, and eventually the behavior will be necessary to go about some one's daily life.

This is not a very "exciting" example but just know that most people will try to cope with a psychological threat and how they deal with the trauma is where the damage is, in the permanent altering of the victim's behavior.
It's like they always say "Oh God no, please please please, you don't have to do this, please God no I have a..."
18 nrjxll29th Dec 2011 01:30:29 PM , Relationship Status: Not war
Again, thinking that you can really drive someone insane through gaslighting suggests a very low regard for people's sanity.
19 YamiiDenryuu29th Dec 2011 04:02:20 PM from You know, that place , Relationship Status: Chocolate!
Also again, change blindness.
I couldn't conceive a dream so wet; your bongos make me congo.
20 MidnightRambler5th Jan 2012 10:40:17 AM from Germania Inferior
Ich bin nicht schuld! 's ist Gottes Plan!
Prolonged exposure to certain kinds of music, art and/or literature may help (I know this from personal experience - fortunately, the effect was slight and temporary). Lock the poor sod in a room with surrealist paintings on the walls. Have disturbing music (the Doors, the early Velvet Underground, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, some of Rachmaninov's works...) blaring from speakers he can't turn off, only interrupted for the occasional screening of Apocalypse Now or Eraserhead on a giant television. Oh, and give him a sincerely screwed-up book to read.

After a few days, your previously sane character will be a raving lunatic!

Of course, this is the Up to Eleven version. If you want it subtle, just have him gradually become obsessed with any of such works.
21 MidnightRambler5th Jan 2012 12:51:59 PM from Germania Inferior
Ich bin nicht schuld! 's ist Gottes Plan!
Also, strong emotions, especially ones they feel bad for having, such as envy or vengeance. Those can really screw with your sanity (again, personal experience).
22 Noaqiyeum3rd Mar 2012 03:55:00 PM from the October Country , Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
The it-thingy
Again, thinking that you can really drive someone insane through gaslighting suggests a very low regard for people's sanity.
You have to know the subject very well, to tailor the changes to themselves. It requires a great deal of finesse not to do something they will find either inconsequential or obvious. And, again, it's a slow process. If the character collapses into gibbering terror the instant the lights start flickering, that's just poor writing (or a character who only really needed a small push to begin with).
Anyone who looks dangerous is dangerous.

Anyone who doesn't look dangerous is dangerous and sneaky.
Sanity can break slow or sudden.

For slow, anything from an STD like syphilis, rabbies, or constant stress (ex. torture, dead end job, neighbors who keep threatening to lynch you) without release can errode "sanity" or at the very least, influence behaviour over the years.

For quick, just toss in a very unplesant experience that is NOT normal/expected. (ridiculous ex. Having a rouge elephant rampage out of a zoo and brutally raping someone as a child.) Assuming the person is "normal" and able to resonably alter behaviour from learned past experience, the person will now likely have thought/behaviour patterns different from the Norm due to this (as you put it) Single Traumatic Event.
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Total posts: 23