Follow TV Tropes


Freudian Excuse / Live-Action TV

Go To

  • 3rd Rock from the Sun: Parodied, when Sally decides to have a childhood and takes up a child's ballet class, Dick doesn't come to her performance. Harry and Tommy congratulate her on experiencing the neglect and rejection of a normal childhood, and Harry informs her that "if you ever flip out and kill a guy, you can blame it on Dick".
  • In A todo corazón, the reason why Manuel is such a troublemaker is because his father was blamed for a crime he didn't commit and he was Driven to Suicide when nobody believed he was innocent.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Grant Ward was abused by his family growing up, even being forced to abuse his younger brother in turn. When he tried to fight back by burning the house down, he failed, was arrested, and then recruited into HYDRA by John Garrett. He was dumped in the woods for a month with a dog to teach him how to survive, then ordered to shoot the dog after. And then he was sent to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D., take part in the HYDRA uprising, kill one of the last leaders of S.H.I.E.L.D., and dump two of his best friends into the ocean. Overall, Grant Ward is a deconstruction of the Freudian Excuse; all the terrible things that happened to him do not excuse everything he did in return.
    • It is revealed in season 4 that Leo Fitz had an emotionally, and potentially physically, abusive father that abandoned him when Fitz was 10. It certainly gives new insight into his visceral reactions to the various betrayals throughout the series, particularly that of Grant Ward and Dr. Radcliffe. In the Framework, the trope is played straight where Fitz is shown to be a cold-hearted, sadistic doctor having been raised by his father instead of his mother. He even compares himself to Ward when he comes back to himself after escaping the Framework.
  • Angel: Played with.
    • Angel's father wasn't a bad man, not abusive, just stern. The two had a difficult relationship, and he was the last of the family that Angelus killed on being turned. Darla told Angelus that now he'd never be able to beat his father. Angelus does not have a Freudian Excuse. He is a particularly vile vampire who takes the darkest, most screwed up interpretations of the being that was once Liam and magnifies them. Liam might have hated his father, but they were still family. Angelus' first act as a vampire was to kill his family. There is no excuse.
    • Advertisement:
    • Wesley also has a difficult relationship with his father. He just can't seem to live up to the man's expectations.
    • In season 1, the team deals with a telekinetic girl who was molested by her father. Neither crazy nor evil, she does have issues.
    • Lindsey, one of the lawyer's from Wolfram & Hart starts a Motive Rant about how he grew up poor and resolved never to end up like his father, grovelling to the repo men as he was being evicted, but Angel takes the piss by pretending to sleep through it.
    • Wesley, of all people, chastises Angel for hiding behind his gypsy curse so he doesn't have to face having actual relationships with women. Angel actually acknowledges he is completely right.
  • In Arrow, it's eventually revealed that Laurel (from Earth 2) blames herself for her father's death when she was 13. On her birthday, no less. Apparently, Quentin forgot her birthday cake, and she threw a tantrum, so he went back out to get one and got hit by a drunk driver. Complete with Parting Words Regret. Despite taking revenge on the drunk driver after becoming a meta, she has never forgiven herself, and that is in part responsible for her becoming a criminal.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003):
    • The constant physical abuse Kara suffered at the hands of her mother, coupled with her father's abandonment of her, goes a long way towards explaining why she's so dysfunctional as an adult.
    • Cavil. The genocide of the colonies was brought about because he thought his parents loved humans more than him. However, he decides to go so overboard with this that he just comes across as a whiny brat who uses the excuse as a shallow pretext for his own murderous urges instead. In probably his most despicable act, he knowingly raped his Cylon mother, yet still has the gall to blame her for his own actions when she offers her sadistic son a chance at redemption.
  • Beverly Hills, 90210:
    • Valerie is given a succession of increasingly horrifying Freudian Excuses. First, her father committed suicide. Then, it is revealed that she was the one who found him in a pool of blood. Later, we learn that her father had been raping her since she was 11 years old. And for the grand finale, she was the one who murdered him.
    • Liam starts off as bad... so bad he's almost 'evil'. Then it's explained he had a jackass step-father. Dylan from the original series (mum's a hippie, dad's in jail) also works, and for some extent most flaws on most characters (Kelly's mum's a drunk, Steve's adopted, Gina grew up poor, David's the son of a serial cheater and a schizo...).
  • Blackadder II: Parodied, in which Blackadder discovers and exploits a supervillain's Freudian excuse with deadly accuracy:
    Blackadder: One thing, Ludwig, just before you go — were you ever bullied at school?
    Ludwig: [tense] What do you mean?
    Blackadder: Well, all this ranting and raving about power. There must be some reason for it.
    Ludwig: Nonsense, no — at my school, having dirty hair and spots was a sign of maturity.
    Blackadder: I thought so. And I bet your mother made you wear shorts right up till your final year.
    Ludwig: [losing it] Shut up! Shut up! When I am King of England, no one will ever dare call me 'shorty greasy spot-spot' again! [storms out]
    Blackadder: Touched a nerve there, I think.
  • The Boys (2019): Homelander turns out to have been raised without affection in a lab, explaining his psychological issues.
  • Breaking Bad: Nearly all of Walter White's evil deeds ultimately tie back into the fact that he missed out on a chance to run a multi-billion dollar chemical company after a falling-out with one of his old college friends, and has since had to eke out a meager living as a public school teacher while knowing that he could have been wealthy and respected. Though he initially tries to justify his criminal activities by claiming that he needs money to pay for cancer treatments and provide for his family, it ultimately becomes clear that he's just really desperate to feel important.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Subverted. None of the cops are particularly interested in the sad backstories of the perps. In fact, Jake's response to one such excuse has become a meme for when other shows lean too hard on the Freudian Excuse.
    Perp: I did it for love!
    Jake: Cool motive, still murder.
  • In Brookside, the Simpsons go to family therapy after discovering that their (fully blood-related siblings) children are in an incestuous relationship. The therapist tries to find something from their childhood that would explain it, but the trope is subverted - there really isn't anything. When the therapist refuses to admit defeat and keeps probing, the father becomes dangerously enraged and smashes up the place, thinking he's being accused of having molested his own children.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • This was lampshaded in "Helpless" when a psychotic vampire captured and tortured Buffy's mother and complained to her about his mother "stealing his self respect", before adding "I have mother issues. I'm aware of that."
    • Faith is said to be who Buffy would be if she was never loved. Faith turns evil and works for the Big Bad because he's the first parental figure she had that actually loved her. Aside from her first Watcher, who was brutally murdered in front of her.
    • In "Lies My Parents Told Me", Spike's mother tried to rape him after he murdered her. There's also the idea of how utterly disgusted he is with Angelus, a large part of the reason for their hatred seems to stem from attempts to make Spike just as bad as he is.
    • It's hinted that Principal Snyder had Mommy Issues. Also, there's this:
      Buffy: You never ever got a single date in high school, did you?
      Snyder: Your point being?
  • The Disney Channel movie, Camp Rock:
    • Tess' almost-instantaneous Heel–Face Turn comes as a result of her mother taking a cell phone call during her performance at Final Jam. To Tess' credit, she owns up to being a bitch despite the fact that the girls she's bullied don't actually show her any sympathy or even bring this up, making the application of this surprisingly somewhat less of a Broken Aesop than the previous examples.
    • An earlier scene showed that Tess' mother had made something of a habit of not making enough time for her daughter. (Tess tries to call her and, though we're not privy to the mother's end of the conversation, it's made clear that she blew Tess off because she was busy with her concert.) The phone call thing at Final Jam was apparently just the latest in a long string of these incidents.
  • Cases of the 1st Department: The team suspects that the murderess in "Hatred" was abused as child, possibly even raped, and later disappointed by all males in her life. It probably triggered her pathological hatred of men.
  • Stephen Colbert:
    • His Freudian Excuses are frequently hinted at, and were made explicit during the "Superegomaniac" segment celebrating Freud's 150th birthday:
      Stephen: Yeah, maybe a library shelf fell on me when I was three, but that's not why I hate books.
      Bullet Point: It's Why He Burns Books
    • His book, I Am America (And So Can You!), is pretty explicit about most of his Freudian excuses.
  • Community: Jeff's commitment issues, aloofness and jerkassery can be traced back to his drunken and abusive father, his parents' divorce and an instance of childhood bullying so bad that young Jeff peed his pants and had to change schools as a result.
    • Honestly, every single main character can be a Jerkass so a greater or lesser extent, and they all have these to explain their behaviour. Other notable examples: Pierce is a "Well Done, Son!" Guy to a horribly cruel and bigoted father, Abed's Ambiguous Disorder caused him to be bullied by his peers and misunderstood by her parents, Shirley's rage issues stem from bullying as a teenager and alcoholism caused by marital strife with her now ex-husband...
  • Cracker: Sticking with the serial killers and criminal profilers - it's regularly used and (occasionally) subverted in this show (and I guess probably its US remake as Fitz - I gather 'cracker' has another meaning on that side of the Atlantic...). It's a show about what makes people do terrible things, so it regularly delved into Freudian Excuse territory.
  • Criminal Minds:
    • This made for a particularly intense piece of characterization in one episode. The profilers bust the murderer of the week through their understanding of his crappy childhood, and Agent Hotchner, while interviewing him, says that with an intensely violent, abusive childhood like that, it's not surprising that some people grow up to be killers. As they're dragging him away, the murderer asks what Hotch, meant, that some people grow up to be killers. In his crazy-intense voice, (CSI's Horatio Caine without the sunglasses) Hotchner replies that some people grow up to catch them.
    • A slightly humourous example comes from an episode where Hotch and Reid go to interview a serial killer, Chester, on death row. After a series of events that leave them locked in the room with the killer, Reid saves them both by profiling the shit out of him for thirteen straight minutes, linking all of his violence back to his childhood and saying that Chester "never really had a chance" to be anything but. Cue chuckles when Chester asks if it's true that he never had a chance to escape his sociopathic tendencies, and Reid replies with an offhand, "I dunno, maybe," as he flees the room. It kind of speaks to his genius, that he's able to cook up an elaborate Freudian Excuse in seconds, spiel it for thirteen minutes, and then carelessly discard it.
    • A massive number of killers in the show have terrible childhoods. Often, it's used to explain not just why they kill but why they kill in that particular fashion. One of the major themes of the show is the question of how evil arises, so it's only natural that this trope would come into play a lot. Some of the most extreme:
      • Tobias Hankel was raised by an abusive religious fanatic who went as far as to burn a cross into his forehead with a red-hot poker.
      • Samantha Malcolm was sexually abused by her father, who then gave her repeated electric shocks to shut her up about it.
      • Darrin Call was raised by his abusive father, who was a serial killer himself and who would make him help bury the bodies of his victims.
  • Degrassi Junior High
    • This show is fond of this. To take just some examples:
    • Kathleen becomes a bigger Jerkass every episode. Eventually we see that she has an alcoholic mother and chronically absent father. She remains a Jerkass for the rest of the show, although she does change in the sequel series Degrassi High.
    • Stephanie (Alpha Bitch) has an overprotective, very conservative mother, which makes Stephanie want to be the glamorous, all-powerful vixen at school.
    • Joey, the Small Name, Big Ego, has clueless, weak parents.
    • Liz, a Snark Knight who is eternally negative and repeatedly harassed (but indirectly, via vandalism) a girl who had an abortion, was almost aborted at the insistence of her father against her mother's will. We later learn she was sexually abused for approximately 4 or 5 years before she came to the series by her mother's then-boyfriend.
    • There are decent parents on the show, but they are all subject to strict Parent ex Machina. (This was a conscious decision by the show's creators, who wanted parents to appear as little as possible.)
  • Degrassi: The Next Generation:
    • Liberty, the resident Control Freak, has pushy parents who had impossibly high expectations for her, and no expectations at all for her pesky little brother.
    • Alex started as an utterly evil gang member, until she was revealed to have no father and a drunken mother who was beaten by her revolving door of boyfriends. Alex eventually went through Badass Decay, but unusually, that wasn't until many episodes later. In the episode where we learn about her parents, it's just an excuse she uses to beat Rick up.
  • Dexter:
    • Dexter himself as well as several supporting characters.
    • Then again, it is pretty traumatic that it may cause insanity. His mother was dismembered with a chainsaw in front of him and then he and his older brother (who went just as insane) were left to soak in their mother's blood (which filled the entire floor of the shipping container they were in and went up an inch high) for days.
    • In the books, Cody and Astor Bennett, Dexter's step-children, were horrifically abused by their father early in their lives. They're growing into a serial killer tag-team, and Dexter has taken it upon himself to teach them the Harry Code in order to channel their murderous impulses into "something productive", just like Dexter's adoptive father did for him.
    • There's also Season 4's Big Bad, the Trinity Killer. He ritualistically kills cycles of four people. First he buries a young boy in concrete, which represents the preservation of his own innocence. Then he murders a young woman, an older woman, and an older man to reenact the deaths of his sister, mother, and father.
  • Doc Martin: Martin himself, whose Lack of Empathy and fear of blood are both the result of the way he was treated as a child by his neglectful and borderline abusive parents. He doesn't even realize it's a problem.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Rose": The Nestene Consciousness' motivation for invading Earth is that it lost its protein planets in the Time War. It also brings up "constitutional rights" to the Doctor.
    • "Boom Town": Margaret Blaine reveals that she was introduced to her family's criminal ways at a young age, mentioning that she first killed someone at the age of 13 on orders from her father, and that she would have been killed herself had she refused.
    • Also, the Master, as "The Sound of Drums" has revealed that at the age of eight, as part of a Time Lord initiation ceremony, he looked into the Time Vortex, which drove him insane. Of course, that episode also revealed that every other Time Lord saw the same vortex, and he was still the only one we know who went supervillainy as a result. "The End of Time" reveals that the root of his villainy is more complicated than just the Time Vortex. During the Time War, Rassilon sent a message as a beacon throughout the Time Vortex. This beacon was the sound of drums or rather the four-sound pattern of a Time Lord's heartbeat. Basically, the Master was used as a pawn so the Time Lords could try and break the Time Lock. After the Doctor Took a Third Option and broke the machine, causing them to go back, the Master protected his friend while unleashing his fury on Rassilon for the mental agony inflicted on him since 8.
      • The Doctor Who Expanded Universe audio drama Master, which predated the new series, gives another origin for the Master's evils that may or may not have affected his Vortex Madnessnote : In his youth, the Doctor was visited by Death, who wanted to make him her disciple. The Doctor avoided her by directing her to the Master, turning him into Death's Champion. He regretted this decision since.
    • "Orphan 55": Bella wants revenge on Kane for abandoning her family when Bella was a child, and being a neglectful parent in general.
  • The Electric Company (1971): Gets a Lampshade Hanging in the Spider-Man clip segments, where the villain always has some pathetic excuse, like the little rich girl who didn't get a pony for her birthday....
  • Everybody Loves Raymond: Discussed Trope where we learn that Deadpan Snarker Frank was indeed beaten by his father. What's interesting however is that they actually do go into depth about how his father being beaten as a child too, and even his father as well... Ray and Robert both were surprised by this fact; because although Frank isn't exactly an 'ideal' father himself, he never actually hit them.
  • The Family: Discussed when Nina interrogates Doug and brings up the theory that pedophilia is caused by an individual's own sexual abuse as a child. He dismisses the implications.
  • Farscape: Scorpius was revealed to have been engineered and brutally raised by the Scarrans, spawning an intense hatred of that species for his treatment as well as for the rape and death of his Sebacean mother. For this reason, he's prepared to do anything he can to take revenge — including the acts committed against John Crichton. However, when Scorpius actually brings up these details close to the end of the third season, he does so not to make Crichton pity him, but to try and convince him that the Scarrans must be stopped before any more innocent people suffer — and given their actions in the fourth season, he's not exactly incorrect.
  • The F.B.I.: In "The Monster", a Serial Killer who strangles women with their own hair was raised by an incredibly strict grandmother who home-schooled him and grew his hair to shoulder length curls—like Gainsborough's Blue Boy—which got him mercilessly bullied by the other boys in the neighbourhood.
  • In The Flash (2014), Zoom's psychopathic tendencies are revealed to be rooted in him witnessing his mother's murder by his father at roughly the same age when Barry lost his mother and then growing up in the foster system.
  • Forever Knight: One episode featured a serial killer who was targeting women because of memories of his horribly abusive mother. They all reminded him of her in some way, but since they're not his actual mother he didn't derive any closure from it and had to keep on killing.
  • Frasier:
    • Played with in the episode "Fool Me Once, Shame on You, Fool Me Twice...". Frasier (being a Freudian psychiatrist, after all) is easily convinced that a Con Man has one of these, no matter how much the man denies it. It's left ambiguous whether the man's simplistic story about falling into crime out of sheer laziness is true or not, because he only keeps Frasier talking long enough to make his escape.
      Frasier: Oh yes, here it comes — the old sob story. "Daddy didn't love me. Mother ignored me. The bully next door stole my baseball glove."
      Phil: No! Dad loved me. Mom spoiled me. And I was the bully next door.
    • After breaking up with a woman who was perfect for him and whom everyone in his family loved, Frasier imagines having a conversation with his ex-wives and the woman who left him at the altar. They eventually bring his mother into the discussion and come to the conclusion that Frasier subconsciously sabotages relationships because he's afraid the woman will leave him, just as mother did.
      Diane: You left him too!
      Hester: Oh, I had no choice. Perhaps you heard? I died.
  • Freaks and Geeks: Lindsey Weir can't stand obnoxious Kim Kelly, until she is invited over to her house for dinner and sees how awful Kim's family life is.
  • Friends: Pretty much the subject of the play Joey stars in, Freud! (Not just Freud, but Freud!)
    • Chandler has some serious issues with his mother, and describes her as "a Freudian nightmare".
    • Monica started eating because of her stern mother; replacing food for love.
    • Monica's mother Judy was treated the same way by her own mother. While Judy's behavior never improves, it is implied that Monica's knowledge of this will enable her to avoid continuing the cycle with her own daughter.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • The reason why Tywin Lannister is such a hardass is because his father Tytos was a weak man whose forgiving nature was mocked and exploited so frequently that it nearly brought bankruptcy and ruin to their House, leaving Tywin to restore the power and glory of his family by any means necessary. Despite this, he still has very fond memories of the man. Later, his beloved wife died in childbirth and his decades of loyal service as Hand of the King were rewarded with suspicion and derision by his increasingly mad former friend King Aerys II, which are also factors in his cold attitude towards life.
    • Sandor Clegane was mutilated when he was eight-years-old by his psychopathic older brother pushing his face into a fire because he played with one of his toys and grew up watching that brother rewarded for his brutality with praise and eventually a knighthood, leading Sandor to embrace his Blood Knight tendencies and disdain knighthood because he believes nobility and chivalry are absurd constructs and only the strong survive. Sandor openly suggests that the incident marked him psychologically even more than physically when he relates the story to Arya.
      Sandor: My brother gave me this. Pressed me to the fire like I was a nice juicy mutton chop. Thought I stole one of his toys. I didn't steal it. I was just playing with it. The pain was bad. The smell was worse. But the worst thing was that it was my brother who did it. My father, who protected him, told everyone my bedding caught fire. You think you're on your own?
      • Furthermore, his attitude towards Sansa (and to a lesser extent, Arya) could be partially because they remind him of his younger sister who was murdered by Gregor years ago.
    • Petyr Baelish came from the absolute lowest nobility but was fostered by one of the most powerful lords in the realm. Nicknamed "Littlefinger" for his small stature and low birth, Petyr fell unrequitedly in love with Catelyn Tully and challenged her fiancée to a duel, urged on by stories of the plucky underdog, only to lose badly and have Catelyn cut off contact with him. These events helped turn Petyr from a mischievous, romantic boy into a ruthless Machiavellian schemer obsessed with power.
    • Viserys Targaryen lost his family and kingdom when he was no more than a child, leaving him to care for his newborn sister Daenerys (whose birth killed their mother) and carry the fate of the dynasty on his shoulders practically alone. He hints at the reasons behind his behavior in a conversation with Jorah Mormont, expressing the overwhelming pressure of being the "last hope of a dynasty" and his obsession to restore it, as well as bitterness over Dothraki reverence of his sister, not a piece of which he's ever gotten himself. Given the stress of such a situation and the Targaryen tendency for madness (one of Aerys' kids had to have inherited his crazy gene, after all, thanks to the inbreeding), its not really surprising he went nuts.
    • George R.R. Martin himself has confirmed that Ramsay knew from a young age about his true parentage, but was completely disinherited. Therefore, a lot of his behavior is his desire for acknowledgement. Notably, however, it doesn't give him sympathy points in any way or justify anything he's done.
    • Cersei's hatred for Robert stems from him using her as a Replacement Goldfish for Lyanna, to say nothing of his other ugly traits.
    • In "Baelor", it's revealed that when Tyrion was sixteen, Jaime hired a whore to pretend to be rescued from rapists and sleep with him. He fell madly in love and married her, but a fortnight later Tywin found out and cruelly told him the truth, and then forced him to watch as she was paid to have sex with/be raped by his entire garrison. It's not difficult to see how he became a wee bit cynical, particularly regarding his family or why he seems more comfortable hiring sellswords and prostitutes than seeking out real friends and lovers.
    • Is Robert's constant womanising due to being in a state of deep unhappiness after the death of Lyanna Stark, the only woman he truly loved; or simply an excuse he lies to himself with, since he was already well-known for being a ladies man before she died? Robert for his part himself expresses doubts about this.
    • Stannis' aloof no-nonsense nature comes from having his own contributions to the Kingdom neglected by Robert, which, along with leaving him bitter, left him with a strong sense of self-righteousness, and a distaste and hostility towards more superficially charismatic heroes, charmers and people who say more than they do. On the other hand, this also plays a factor in his friendship with Davos; it's hardened him to becoming meritocratic to a fault, perfectly willing to make Davos his Hand to the King despite being a Working-Class Hero in a time of deep class strife.
  • Get Smart: Played for Laughs. After Max captures Sigfried, he asks him why he chose to be evil. Sigfried says it's because his mother never got him a sled for Christmas:
    Sigfried: Why, Smart? Why?
    Max: I don't know, Sigfried.
    Sigfried: Do you think it was because we lived in Florida?
    (Max gives an Eye Take as the episode fades to the credits)
  • Girl Talk: The only sympathetic character in Stacey The Great's clique was shown to be The Unfavorite of her mother, who doted on the girl's other sister to the point of forgetting the very important ice skating even despite being reminded about it 6 times.
  • Glee:
    • Santana Lopez spends the whole of season one as the "beta bitch" to Quinn Fabray, and it isn't until season 2 we find out the reason she's so hostile in because she's afraid of someone finding out about her sexuality. In season 3, it is revealed that she had a abusive childhood in a rough part of town, in which her grandmother attempted to sell her, called her "garbage face" so often she forgot her real name and has at least once threatened to beat her with a chair. This is played for laughs, though.
    • Quinn Fabray was bullied badly before coming to McKinley High, which is elaborated on in "Born this way" as a Freudian Excuse for her cruelty. Of course, every season the writers think up a new Freudian excuse for her to be the way she is (most notably in "Ballad", "Preggers", "Born This Way", "I Kissed a Girl" and "Big Brother")
    • David Karofsky bullies Kurt so badly in season two, because he's gay too and is afraid of his family finding out After his Heel–Face Turn, he admits this doesn't justify his behaviour, and is deeply remorseful.
    • Because of her disability, Becky Jackson gets infinite leeway to break things and insult people. The worst consequence she ever suffers is a 1-month suspension for bringing a loaded gun to school, and that's only after Sue attempts to cover for her.
  • The Good Place:
    • Eleanor's parents were an abusively neglectful pair of losers who generally treated her as an inconvenience (her mother used half of Eleanor's college fund to bail out her boyfriend because her ex-husband, Eleanor's dad, had used the other half to frame the guy for a crime he was guilty of anyway; also they forgot her birthday). Eleanor cites them as the reason for her total selfishness, but she later realizes that she's not justified using them as an excuse for every single bad thing she's done.
    • Tahani constantly seeks attention and status because she was The Unfavorite both to her parents and to the world at large. Her sister Kamillah always seemed to do better and win more praise and was blatantly favored in the inheritance, while Tahani's name was misspelled as Tahini.
  • Heroes:
    • Sylar. His father's even played by John Glover, who played Lionel Luthor in Smallville.
    • While it isn't depicted in the show itself, Malcolm McDowell has speculated that his character, Mr. Linderman, must have had "quite an unhappy childhood" to take his plans so far.
      • This is confirmed in Volume 4, where flashbacks show that he was placed in an internment camp simply because he has powers, and given his deduction on what the camp actually was, its likely that he may have spent time in the German Concentration Camps when he was younger.
  • House:
    • Subverted by House. While House's Daddy Issues make up a large part who he is, only one person knows about the real abuse (the ice baths and being made to sleep outside) and that had to be dragged out of him. This was one of his Pet the Dog moments too. He was trying to offer comfort to a rape victim. He was the first to figure out she'd been raped, and maybe this was because he'd been abused (Though not sexually as far as we know) in the past.
    • Parodied by Amber in a Season 4 episode. "Why are you afraid to lose?" "Mommy didn't love me! Daddy expected too much of me! ...Something! What is it you want me to say?"
  • iCarly: Sam Puckett, despite not being the Alpha Bitch (she's more like The Dragon for Carly, who could with some Alternate Character Interpretation be seen as the Alpha Bitch at her school), has several of these: Her mother is horribly ignorant and a terrible parent who pays little attention to her. Her father ran away and never came back. Her family as a whole are hardened criminals.
    • Subverted. Her twin sister Mealanie had the exact same upbringing, and yet, is the complete opposite in personality, being very nice. If Mealanie turned out this way, there is no reason Sam could not have. As a result, her being mean is entirely her own fault and not a result of her upbringing.
  • The Inbetweeners: The reason Jaye acts like such a Jerkass Lothario all the time is due to his father, who constantly insults him and his mother, and derides Jaye's lack of sexual experience.
  • JAG: Angelique's reason for the killings in "Déjà Vu". Her father was a Navy Lieutenant who left her and her mother behind when Saigon fell. The North Vietnamese raped and murdered her mother when they found out she had an American officer for a lover.
  • Law & Order: Mike Logan's temper is attributed to the beatings he received as a kid from his alcoholic mother. Lennie Briscoe's meth-addicted daughter blames all her problems on her former alcoholic dad's absence during her childhood.
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent: Naturally this shows up, most famously with Goren's ex-FBI profiler mentor 's daughter who, having washed out of the FBI several times decided the next best thing was to become one of his subjects. The constant "shop talk" at home and using dad's torture tapes to test potential boyfriends right before making out also had something to do with it... Another example is Stephen Colbert's master forger who was doing his best to discredit a soon-to-be-canonized priest because his mom used the guy's charity to steal his childhood.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • Every other perp, which never holds back on the Lampshade Hanging:
      Dr. Huang: What did your mother do to you?
      Serial Killer: Please... with you people, it's always the mother.

      Detective Tutuola: I don't want to hear how you didn't do it, it wasn't you, you were abused as a child.

      Female Serial Killer: I was raped, more times than I can remember...
      Detective Benson: Right, and your mother died, and your dad beat ya.
    • One episode actually managed to make the perp sympathetic and a bit tragic. An elderly piano teacher and his younger assistant are discovered to be molesting a young boy and evidence is found which indicates this is a pattern that they have repeated multiple times. When the detectives uncover that the assistant himself was molested by the tutor when he was a boy, they confront him about putting other children through the same nightmare. He breaks down crying and agrees to confess and testify against the older man rather than force their young victims to take the stand. As he put it, "I don't know why [my abuser] is the way he is, but I know why I am… [sobbing] I don't want [my victim] to end up a monster like me…"
  • Legend of the Seeker: All of the Mord-Sith were kidnapped as girls, tortured until psychologically broken, and forced to kill their fathers as part of the training they underwent.
  • In Luther Owen Lynch was abused by his father, who instilled in him an obsession with the military and absolute obedience, and pushed him into serving in Afghanistan. The abuse intensified after he was discharged for mental health reasons (guess where those came from), and when his father is imprisoned for shooting a police officer orders his son to start murdering police until he's released, which he does. In interrogation they try to get him to testify to his father's orders, but he just repeats his name, rank, and serial number over and over.
  • Lost:
    • The extent of the pain Ben's father heaped on him isn't quite clear yet, but we do know that he was horrifically verbally abusive. To whit (this is on tenth or so birthday):
      "It's hard to celebrate the day you killed your mother."
    • Sawyer is a perhaps more artful execution of Freudian Excuse. That his father killed his mother, then himself, in front of young James stirs our sympathy. However, it was used more to explain his self-loathing after becoming a con man like the one who destroyed his family.
    • As of Recon, even the damned SMOKE MONSTER is claiming a Freudian Excuse. And in "Across the Sea", it's pretty well confirmed.
    • Given a variation with Locke who was middle-aged when he met his truly monstrous parents who used him and discarded him like trash. A rare case of a hero having a Freudian Excuse for his behavior (In Locke's case, his desperate need to stay on the island and serve a purpose).
  • Mad Men: Peggy Olson doesn't like sports, especially televised or on the radio, in "The Suitcase" she reveals her father died from a heart attack while he was watching a football game in front of her at age 12. What makes it remarkable is that she hardly ever expressed her feelings about sports before.
  • M*A*S*H: It's made pretty clear that a big part of the reason why Frank Burns is such a Jerkass is that his entire childhood was miserable, complete with heaping helpings of Parental Abuse (both physically and mentally).
  • Medium: The pilot does go unusually far back in the cycle of abuse, thanks to Allison's ability to talk to ghosts. When questioning an imprisoned pedophile, she's accompanied by the spirit of the man who molested him as a child, and the spirit of the man who molested him as a child, and the spirit of the man who in turn molested him as a child, and so on.
  • Merlin:
    • Uther is given one of these for all the atrocities he's committed in trying to wipe out magic. His excuse: He hates and fears magic because Nimueh cast a spell, at Uther's request, to give him a child. He asked her to do this even though he knew that in order to give life by magic, a life must be taken. Uther's wife died and Arthur was born.
    • Morgana had magic in a Kingdom that killed magic users, poisoned by Merlin, terrified by her visions of the future, drugged by her physician, and was an orphan (well, thought she was). All of this is in the first two seasons. It gets worse.
  • In the Midnight Caller episode "The Execution of John Saringo," the titular murderer was molested by his father, and his mother was an alcoholic prostitute.
  • Monk:
    • Monk's mother was very uptight and neurotic, which is probably part of why he is. To overcome OCD, it's necessary to resist the compulsions, so Monk being raised by the kind of person who encourages excessive order may have allowed the condition to develop a stranglehold on him in a way it otherwise wouldn't.
    • The fact that his wife was killed in a Car Bomb also made his OCD condition grow even worse, suffering a relapse that caused him to resign from the Police Force, and apparently nearly drown himself.
  • Murder in the First: Dustin Maker's defense attorney tries to use severe abuse he suffered in childhood as a mitigating factor when he's facing the death sentence for eighteen murders.
  • Murphy Brown: Although they're not villains, it's clear that at least three of the characters' traits come as a direct result of lousy parental relationships:
    • Murphy's competitive nature stems from her relationship with her father. In a flashback, we see him tell her point-blank that her B+ paper "should've been an A". On top of that, he worked constantly, and as such it was often very difficult for her to get his full attention. On top of THAT, Murphy reveals in one episode that her father wanted a boy. And as if all of that wasn't enough, her parents had a messy divorce plagued by frequent verbal battles which still continued whenever they encountered each other in the present.
    • Frank's constant need to validate himself stems from his parents, who never really hear the words that come out of his mouth. He's also one of seven children, so he constantly felt lost in the shuffle when he was young.
    • Jim's stuffy exterior can be attributed to his father, who told him that real men don't show their emotions. He was 10 years old at the time.
  • NCIS: Ari Haswari tells Gibbs his is that his father impregnated his mother, raised him badly, and killed his mother just so he could have a mole in Hamas. He gets shot straight after, by his own sister, in what ends up being her Freudian Excuse for having severe trust issues - which really isn't so much an excuse as a valid reason.
    • Gibbs might be displaying this himself—his penchant for redheads might stem from the fact that his mother was one.
  • The New Normal: Jane is bitter because her husband cheated on her with a black man.
  • Nicky, Ricky, Dicky, and Dawn: In "Three Men and a Mae B" this is the ultimate reason given for why the three boys all got crushes on Mae. They missed their mother and unknowingly, Mae was treating them like their mother does.
  • In Nobuta Wo Produce, the much-vilified bully Bando is revealed to have an abusive boyfriend. Luckily, this is quickly followed by some actual, brilliant character development for her.
  • Once Upon a Time: Both Rumplestiltskin and Regina have huge Freudian Excuses. Rumpelstiltskin's low self esteem stems from being branded a coward and having his wife abandon him and his son, and his taking children from parents stems from him losing his own son after he couldn't give up his power. Regina's mother, Cora, was abusive, using magic to control her, she also killed Regina's boyfriend in front of her, and forced her to marry the king. As a result, Regina became obsessed revenge against Snow White (who told Cora about Regina and Daniel, thinking it was for the best).
    • Rumple's story is even worse when you learn about his father. According to a the summary given of a cut scene: When Rumple was a very young child, his father left the house claiming to be going out for water, neglecting to bring the bucket, Rumple follows, and witnesses his father being confronted by men whom he owes a significant debt to, and who he was attempting to escape from. It becomes obvious to the viewer, and the boy, that he had been trying to flee the town to get out of his debts, leaving his young son behind, alone. His father is then beaten to death while the young Rumple watches. For this, his father was branded a coward, and Rumple grew up known as the son of a coward. Makes his later fate hit harder, does it not?
      • Becomes even worse when it's shown what really happened to his father during the the third season. His father, having had a stressed out and work-filled childhood, tried to compensate it with a carefree adulthood. For that, he despised Rumple since the day he was born and when given the chance did not hesitate to give him up for eternal youth. Rumpel's father would then transform, right before Rumple's very eyes, into the boy that would be known as Peter Pan.
      • Rumpel's birth mother chooses power over love.
  • Prison Break: It's suggested T-Bag is only a pedophile because he had been sexually abused by his father.
  • Red Dwarf:
    • Subverted by Arnold Rimmer; he has numerous elements in his back-story that could be used to excuse his actions as an adult - his mother and father despised him, his brothers and schoolmates relentlessly bullied him to the point of homicidal sadism, no one liked and encouraged him and he eventually died a horrible death as a useless, unfulfilled failure - but whilst these elements are sometimes used to promote sympathy for him, they are never used to justify his snide, cowardly and hypocritical actions or utter stupidity and incompetence, much as he would like them to. Despite his constant whining about the subject, no one excuses him because of it, and in fact it's clear to everyone around him that he himself merely uses his past as an excuse not to deal with his failings, even those that can't be brushed away so easily.
    • Further subverted in Red Dwarf Back To Earth: when confronted with The Creator, his reaction is not to blame him for his own character flaws, but to be pissed at the crappy childhood and life he's had.
    • His alternate-universe double, Ace Rimmer (what a guy!), a brave hero that causes women (and a good few men) to crush on him simply by being himself, had an equally poor childhood and is only different in that he was held back a year, letting him realize that life wasn't fair and he had to work with what he had.
    • Losing his Freudian Excuse actually appears to be one of Rimmer's greatest fears, as demonstrated in "Back to Reality", in which he believes his lack of success can be blamed on his negligent parents, only to discover that Lister (believed to be his half-brother at this point) shared his upbringing — implied to be much better here — and became a rich, successful and famous member of the government. The realization that, in this reality, he no longer had this crutch to fall back upon was enough to drive him to attempted suicide. Which is strange because his brothers already also shared his horrible upbringing and they went on to be successful (at least until a deleted scene in "Rimmerworld" implied they all had mental breakdowns in the middle of missions resulting in large body counts).
      • Rimmer's brothers shared his parents, yes, but Rimmer's brothers are also consistently shown to be among his most abusive tormentors in the rest of the series, doing things like burying him alive in their sandpit with only his face showing and smearing his face with jam for the ants, and tying him upside down from a tree and abandoning him. Because he doesn't have any memory of Lister having engaged in similar cruelty in that reality, it's possible that that was a contributing factor, along with the realization that in that reality, he was even more of a failure than he was in the game, and he'd also missed several opportunities to be awesomely badass in the game. He doesn't remember who he is, he shares an upbringing he doesn't remember with a man who's greater and more successful than him, and he's wasted four years of his life playing a video game in which he was playing the wrong version of Rimmer the entire time. Being told that not only is everything you thought you were a lie, but a lie many times over is quite a good reason for suicide. It is also worth noting that his reason for suicide was the most complex of the four, as befits his status as easily the most complex character on the show — Cat was no longer cool, Kryten took a single human life, and Lister believed himself to be a fundamentally evil man responsible for genocide, but Rimmer has a multilayered reason for suicide.
    • In "The Inquisitor", Rimmer successfully uses this Freudian Excuse to justify his pathetic and worthless life and avoid being completely erased from history. "Yes, I admit I'm nothing. But from what I started with, nothing is up."
    • Remember, Rimmer was the result of his mother's brief affair with the gardener. Failure was inevitable
    • Played for laughs in "Holoship", when Rimmer is told that in the 25th century, mankind abolished the concept of parents after finally realizing that everyone's hang-ups and neuroses were caused by parents. Rimmer is naturally chuffed to learn he was right.
  • Revenge: Victoria Grayson grew up with a mother, Marion, who belittled and undermined her, manipulated her into taking the blame for Marion killing her boyfriend, and threw her out of the house for being molested. Explains the cold and calculating Hamptonite Victoria eventually becomes, this cunning which she uses to humiliate and exact her vengeance on Marion during a Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Revolution:
    • In episode 5, Ken 'Hutch' Hutchinson. He lost his wife to the militia, and that's why he is so obsessed with killing militia officers, even if it results in civilian casualties.
    • Episode 10 reveals that Sebastian Monroe lost his entire family years before the blackout when they got killed in a car accident on the way to see a Harry Potter movie. That was only the start of a number of traumatizing events that turned him into a Woobie Destroyer Of Worlds.
    • Episode 13 has Tom Neville essentially claiming to his son Jason that he wanted Jason to not be a weakling, like Tom was as a child. It's ambiguous as to whether Tom Neville's childhood is really like that. Regardless, Jason declares that he doesn't believe him, because he knows that his father can be such a consummate liar.
  • Robin Hood: In this BBC show, Alan A'Dale gives one of these to Robin Hood when Robin finds out about Alan being The Mole:
    Alan: That's easy for you to say though, isn't it? Yeah? You get the glory, you get the girl, everyone loves you. Then when the King comes back, you'll have lands, property, a wife - everything. What will I have? You're always in the sun, Robin and I'm always in the shade.
    Robin: Is that meant to be an excuse?
  • Libby on Sabrina the Teenage Witch: In the Chained Heat episode, Sabrina learns Libby's mother is a distracted snob who doesn't pay any attention to her.
  • Scrubs:
    • Parodied and subverted in one episode where Jordan declared several times that "My parents were mean to me" when she was bugged for the hateful things she did, and eventually admitted that they were actually very nice and supportive.
    • But played straighter with Dr. Cox's family, as his father was a violent, abusive alcoholic while his mother just didn't do anything to stop his father.
    • Later subverted again with the manipulative intern Katie who justifies her actions to Carla; she had a Disappeared Dad and an alcoholic mom, thereby forcing her to look out for herself her whole life. Carla retorts by listing some of the medical staff that had similar issues as her; telling Katie to leave the past in the past and let the hospital help her now that she is a part of it.
      Carla: Me? Dead mom. JD? Dead dad. Elliot? Emotionally abusive parents. Dr Cox? Emotionally and physically abusive dead parents which he may have killed; no one's sure.
    • Though Carla and J.D. lost their supportive parents when they were well into adulthood, giving them little claim to this trope. J.D. at least does have the excuse of coming from a broken home and being a child of divorce, which doesn't excuse any immoral behavior on his part but does explain his emotional neediness and desire for support and family.
  • Selfie Eliza Dooley is shallow, vain, obsessed with herself, and doesn't have real friendships, with her romantic relationships usually being built around sex. This is because when she was young, she was called butt ugly, no one wanted to be her friend, and so she distracted herself from her feelings-which is why she's so active on the internet as an adult, where she's seen as sexy and well-liked.
  • Sherlock: "The Final Problem" gives some revelations on Sherlock and Mycroft's childhood that explains a lot about Sherlock's personality. As it turns out, they actually had a sister named Eurus, who was...troubled. Sherlock also wasn't as friendless as we thought, because he had a best friend named Victor Trevor. Eurus caused Victor to go missing out of jealousy and refused to tell anyone where he was (turns out she trapped him in a well and left him to die) beyond a confusing riddle that no one could solve, despite Sherlock trying endlessly. After Eurus was committed, and later had her death faked, a heavily traumatized Sherlock dealt with it by writing both his sister and his best friend out of his memory entirely, forgetting either existed. It's implied this is the reason for both Sherlock's unwillingness to get close to people at the start of the series, and his pathological need to solve the unsolvable.
  • Smallville:
    • Lionel Luthor's refusal to show his son any affection, or leave his sense of self-worth intact is a major part of Lex's slide into villainy. However, as the show frequently points out, people are defined, not by what happened to them, but by the choices they make. Emotional abuse left Lex damaged, but he still could have pulled back. Lionel is himself the product of abuse, having received severe physical abuse at the hands of his own father, Lachlan. Both cases end with the son ultimately murdering the father.
    • Father Issues were also a reason some of the Freaks of the Week turned bad when most other teenagers just would've been like "Wicked cool, I got super powers!" In particular, the kid from "Leech."
    • A Villain of the Week devoted his life into killing meteor freaks because one of them killed his father. It's been implied (if not outright stated) since then that the Kryptonite may actually be conducive to violent behavior.
    • Painfully lampshaded in Beast:
      Jimmy: Why did you do it? Come on. Every killer's got a sob story. You know, I hear that an unhappy childhood, that's...that's pretty popular.
  • The Sopranos: To put it mildly, Tony's got mommy issues. Livia Soprano had a serious personality disorder, likely borderline or narcissism, and when Tony thinks about it, his father was kind of a shit too.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Played with in one episode where it's an Invoked Trope, dismissed, and averted all in the span of a moment when Data is held captive by a collector:
    Data: You are a fine debater, sir. It is a pity you have used your verbal skills for mere hucksterism and the advancement of your own greed.
    Fajo: (sullen) Perhaps... Perhaps you would not judge me so harshly if you knew of my desperate youth. (as a tear rolls down his cheek) Wasted, wasted, on the streets of Zimbala.
    Data: Your past does not excuse unethical or immoral behavior, sir.
    Fajo: (suddenly chipper) Eh, doesn't matter, isn't true anyway. My father was quite wealthy, actually. He was a thief.
  • Superhjältejul: Inverted completely; no villain were traumatized in their childhood by jerks, they were traumatized by jerky children in adulthood.
  • Supernatural:
    • Bela was sexually abused by her father and this gave her the motivation to make her Deal with the Devil. But as she tried to make the boys' life a misery instead of going to them for help like she should have done (which she realizes now), she gets torn apart by the hellhounds instead of being redeemed. Which has the oddly powerful effect of making viewers who hated her before feel sorry for her instead.
    • Subverted in that when Dean finds out about the deal and calls her on it, she just smirks and says that her parents were nice, loving people, and she killed them anyway. Evidently, Bela wasn't one for sympathy.
  • In Switched, Umine repeatedly explains that ugly people are mistreated because of their looks. Eventually, we see that Umine's mother says the same thing to Ayumi-as-Umine, revealing where Umine got the idea from in the first place.
  • Terra Nova: Lucas Taylor is working with a group of Corrupt Corporate Executives to make the portal go both ways so that they can destroy Terra Nova and rape the alternate past earth where the colony is located. Why? Because he wants to get back at his father for failing to save his mother in Somalia when he was a kid.
  • Veronica Mars: Does this with several characters:
    • Logan isn't exactly a villain, but he does have a home life worthy of one: his famous father sleeps around and is physically abusive, his mother commits suicide, and his sister is an emotionally void, aspiring (and failing) actress whose primary motivation in life is to improve her career without working at all.
    • For that matter, Logan's father—a murderer himself—claims that it was his father's abuse which made him who he is.
    • Even more blatantly, Cassidy Casablancas is a psychotic mass-murdering teenager due largely to the physical and emotional abuse of his father and older brother.
      • Not to mention being molested by Woody.
    • The show also has a Lampshade Hanging. In the first-season episode "Drinking the Kool-Aid," a boy joins a cult, and his rich parents ask Mr. Mars why he'd go when he was provided for. Mr. Mars says that it's often rich kids who leave, and the boy's father sighs (paraphrasing): "Yes, I know what you're thinking. Spoiled rich kid, no material need denied, no spiritual need fulfilled. That's not us."
    • Subverted Trope by Meg, whose parents are crazy fundies, but is still a very nice person.
    • In the same episodes where we find out about Meg's parents, Sheriff Lamb also indicates his dad abused him, and combines it with a Pet the Dog moment.
  • Victorious: Jade has the excuse that her father doesn't approve of her choice of potential career and is a staid businessman.
  • The West Wing: President Jed Bartlet had a terrible relationship with his father, to the point where he is accused of still trying to please his father (or, as Toby puts it, "to get him to stop hitting [you]") even as leader of the free world.
  • Wings: Joe blames his mother abandoning him as a child for him growing up to be a tightass. In another episode Brian discovers the letters he wrote to Captain Kangaroo that he wrote when they were kids and that Joe was supposed to send and then expounds an elaborate theory about how believing he had been ignored by his hero eventually led to all his failures in life as an adult. Joe is skeptical.
  • The X-Files: Subverted Trope in the episode, "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose". The FBI is tracking a serial killer with a penchant for purported psychics. It turns out the killer was actually trying to discover the Freudian Excuse behind his violent tendencies and killed the psychics when they failed to divine a satisfactory answer. Ultimately, he crosses paths with the titular Mr. Bruckman who is genuinely clairvoyant and we get the following exchange:
    Killer: So there's something I've been wanting to ask you for some time now. You've seen the things I do in the past as well as in the future?
    Clyde Bruckman: They're terrible things.
    Killer: I know they are! ...So, tell me, please, why have I done them?
    Clyde Bruckman: Don't you understand yet, son? Don't you get it?
    (the killer shakes his head and shrugs)
    Clyde Bruckman: (sighs) You do the things you do because you're a homicidal maniac.
    (the killer thinks about it for a moment and smiles)
    Killer: That... that does explain a lot, doesn't it? It's all starting to make sense now.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: