A character is abandoned, neglected, or thrown to the wolves by someone they love and trust, because said caretaker decided to look after someone else. There are two main variations of this trope:
- Abandonment at a critical point: Alice is in the middle of a battle alongside her mentor, Bob, and Bob's other apprentice, Charlie. Usually, Alice is the more powerful or competent of the apprentices — she gets into much less trouble than Charlie. However, on this single occasion, Alice is unlucky. Not to worry, though — Bob will rescue her! After all, he's always bailing Charlie out of trouble, isn't he? He'd never fail his apprentice! Except...as Alice screams for help, she catches sight of Bob and Charlie — and they're fleeing the battlefield. If Charlie is in any way sympathetic, he will protest leaving Alice to her fate, only for Bob to tell him "Leave her!" Alice blacks out, bewildered and betrayed. If she has been struggling before, the sight of her friends turning their backs on her will break her spirit and she may give up.
- Ongoing Neglect: David and Emily are siblings. David is perfectly healthy, but Emily is an Ill Girl. Their parents are constantly attending to Emily, bundling her up against the cold, making emergency hospital trips, taking time off work to look after her when she's ill, and generally worrying about her. In all the fuss, however, David is practically forgotten — his mother and father expect him to look after himself, since he doesn't technically need as much care as Emily does. However, should he start misbehaving, or worse, voice resentment about Emily's monopoly of his parents' time, expect a massive guilt trip of the "you don't know how lucky you are" variety.
Somehow, Alice escapes her captors and David manages to survive childhood. Unsurprisingly, however, they are less than happy with the person who failed them. If they are The Stoic or The Woobie, they probably won't make a fuss — the Stoic because (s)he sees complaining as a sign of weakness, the Woobie because... well, it's part of that "suffering beautifully" thing. However, other characters may opt for Calling the Old Man Out.
How does the "Old Man" justify himself? "I abandoned you because I knew you could cope." Or "I had faith in your abilities." Or, more bluntly, "Your (insert relevant relation or friend here) needed me more."
This reaction can be perfectly justified. The mentor may have had to make a Sadistic Choice, and chose the course of action most likely to get everyone out alive. It's also inevitable that a sick child is going to demand more attention than a healthy one. This does not make it any more pleasant for the character who was left out in the cold, but it prevents the audience from losing sympathy with the parent/mentor. Other situations are less defensible — for example, Charlie has clearly been Bob's favourite all along, or Emily is not actually sick, just a Spoiled Brat who feigns illness to get attention. (Though the latter case still prevents the loss of audience sympathy if the neglecters were hoodwinked.)
This trope sees more capable or better-natured characters getting the short end of the stick, because they are always expected to look after themselves (and, often, other people as well) while their parent/mentor/friend goes haring after their more vulnerable or stupid associates. If the target of Because You Can Cope can't cope in one particular instance (usually having to rescue themselves or be saved by a third party), others may claim it was because the victim was weak, not because they were let down.
Sometimes the parent/mentor gets away with their act of abandonment with no ill consequences. However, Alice in particular may be prone to a FaceHeel Turn, eventually attacking those who left her to die. Even David might decide to deny help when his parents or sister need it, as payback for years of neglect. This may be an act of Laser-Guided Karma or proof of David/Alice's descent to evil, depending on the lesson the writer is shooting for.
There is a Heroic Sacrifice version of this trope, where a character volunteers to take one for the team because they are better equipped to deal with a bad situation — for example, The Big Guy goads an enemy into attacking them in order to protect The Chick or the Squishy Wizard. Tragically, he usually overestimates his own resilience. The trope can be Played for Laughs, but may end with Dude, Not Funny!. A game of Misery Poker may be involved, especially between siblings. A Family-Unfriendly Aesop usually results — "if you can handle it, you should handle it, no matter how much it hurts you". Occasionally, the mentor/parent will use the "Because you can cope" excuse as an excuse to cover up more sinister motives — or just their own thoughtlessness. Related to Misery Builds Character.
- In Code Geass, this is revealed to be the reason Lelouch and Nunnally's parents justified abandoning them.
- In From the New World, part of why Maria chooses Mamoru over her best friend Saki is because Mamoru has to run away from their village and Maria thinks he'll need her help more than Saki does.
- Twisted version in Gravitation: Shuichi demands that Yuki stay in the relationship for him, since, although Yuki is coughing blood due to stress (allegedly due to Shuichi's presence in his life), it won't kill him — but Shuichi claims he will die without Yuki. Could be a What the Hell, Hero? moment for Shuichi, but Yuki's own Jerk Ass tendencies and the fact that his illness isn't actually Shuichi's fault are mitigating factors.
- In Ranma ½ when Ranma, Akane, and Nabiki are all standing on the Tendo house's balcony when it collapsed, Ranma made a point to catch Nabiki, knowing an untrained girl like her would be badly hurt by a full-story fall, while trained karateka Akane would land on her feet without a bruise. This sets off a story arc where Akane angrily transferred their engagement to Nabiki, who starts abusing the hell out of Ranma's Jerk with a Heart of Gold nature.
- Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha has a relatively benign example of Parental Neglect in Nanoha's backstory for this reason — she spent much of her childhood alone despite having a legitimately loving family because her father nearly died when she was young, and his recovery was a painful process that took years. Her mother and older brother had to work in the family cafe to keep the family from going broke, and her older sister spent most of her time taking care of their father, which left Nanoha to see to herself more often than not. Nanoha understands the necessity and knows that her family really does love her, but combined with the fact that Nanoha is nearly ten years younger than her older siblings, it leaves her feeling like something of a third wheel in her own family even after her father is recovered and back on his feet.
- Dick explained his reason for firing Tim as Robin and giving the title to Damian as being because Damian needed it more and Tim was older. This permanently damaged his relationship with Tim due to the callous way it was carried out on the heels of all the other losses and betrayals Tim had recently suffered, and was compounded by Dick not believing Tim's (correct) claims that Bruce wasn't dead and trying to force Tim to remain at the manor and the fact that Damian had tried to murder Tim.
- In Mass Effect's Crucible's companion fic, Inteference, this trope is the general attitude of Alt.Garrus to his and Shepard's son Gaius's distress over his father's constant absence and breaking promises. It's not out of malice, but because of Garrus's bad habit of simply assuming what people thought without much investigation and his misguided wish to preserve Gaius's innocence. It comes back to bite his ass when he realizes Gaius no longer trusts him and even thinks of himself as unloved.
- A romantic version appears in the Lyrical Nanoha fanfic In The Service. Several references are made to something having happened between Nanoha and Yuuno that makes Yuuno awkward around Nanoha, while Nanoha remains oblivious. It is later revealed by Nanoha herself, that she had long ignored Yuuno's attraction to her because Nanoha had chosen to take care of the emotionally-fragile Fate instead. Ultimately, Nanoha's willfull obliviousness had hurt Yuuno, but not as much as it could have hurt Fate.
Nanoha: I made a choice, a long time ago, to save a life. Yuuno was a mature, capable person who could clearly deal with anything life might throw at him. Fate was a timid wreck who shivered when touched and bore incredible guilt over the death of her actual mother Precia and her emotional mother Linith. Someone who could easily be destroyed by a careless crush or an errant friend. I took responsibility. I saved a life. But that did a disservice to Yuuno. I love Fate dearly and do not regret my choice, but I am still aware that it was a choice and that I could have been happy with either of them. Yuuno suffered for this choice, not as badly as Fate might have, but he did. I am not inclined to allow him to suffer further in this manner.
- The fact that Shaw, a sociopath, would be better able to cope with Root's death than Root would be able to cope with Shaw's is one of the arguments Root uses in Holi-daze to justify throwing herself in the path of a car to save Shaw. Shaw isn't having it.
Root: Dont you see? You wouldnt be crippled by the loss, the grief. You are so strong, Sam. Unlike me, you could go on.Shaw: Just because I can doesnt mean Id want to.
- Kuwabara notices in Of Snowballs, Cell Phones and Homicide that Yusuke would never go to the kinds of insane lengths to defend him emotionally that he had done for Kurama thus far. Unknown to him, this is because Kuwabaras the only person in Yusukes group that, in regards to their emotional well-being, has their shit together, and as far Yūsukes concerned, Kuwabara doesnt need his help in that area (Yūsuke notes this situation would be reversed if Kuwabara or Kurama needed physical backup instead).
- Chapter 16 of Secret Sunshine has Ryuuko alluding to this. Feeling hostile towards her sister, she tells Mako that, because, a pregnant Satsuki is rich and has more of a support system, she'll manage, while the former has to worry about Kiko.
Ryuuko: "Not as much as my sunshine needs me. Satsuki, I'll tell you, can manage."
- The Ongoing Neglect version of this trope happens to Chen during Gensokyo 20XXIV, as Satori notes, which is due to Ran's mental state at the time and that Reimu, Maribel, Yume Ni, and Renko being too young to take care of themselves.
- Batman does this to himself in the ending of The Dark Knight, after Harvey Dent goes nuts and becomes Two-Face, kills five cops and mobsters, and dies. If the truth about Harvey Dent ever comes to light, any legitimacy his indictments have also dies, and there's no chance that the charges against the criminals of Gotham city will stick. Batman takes the metaphorical bullet, and pretty much orders Commissioner Gordon to lay the blame for the killings at his feet.
Batman: You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. I can do those things, because I'm not a hero, not like Dent. I killed those people, that's what I can be.
Gordon: No, you can't! You're not!
Batman: I'm whatever Gotham needs me to be. Call it in.
- Katie, the mother in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, pays for her son Neely's education and not her academic daughter Francie's. She justifies this by saying that Francie will fight to achieve her dreams, whereas Neely won't. Francie doesn't buy it, and it cements Neely's position as his mother's favourite (which she made no secret of earlier in the book). Francie sums it up:
"You fix everything for him and tell me I can find a way myself."
- Would be a Moment of Awesome, if Francie wasn't immediately made to feel guilty about asserting herself and promptly apologise to her mother.
- In Dragon Bones, Ward is the Promoted to Parent big brother of his siblings. When he takes his brother Tosten on a journey, Tosten quickly becomes jealous of Oreg, a travel companion, and allegedly distant cousin, about whom Ward acts even more protective than about Tosten. However, when he finds out that Oreg is magically enslaved to Ward, and The Woobie, he pities Oreg, and calls Ward out for not having watched out for him more. It helps that Ward doesn't really neglect anyone — he's always there when needed, and never invokes this trope to excuse his actions.
- Jodi Picoult uses this trope for the Knight Templar mothers in her stories. It's not clear if Picoult herself is agreeing with this, as she shows how destructive this kind of parenting is, since it not only ruins the mother and ill child's life, but destroys their family and everyone who gets too close.
- Amelia of Handle with Care gets lectured about all the things she can do that her fragile little sister, Willow, can't do whenever the girl complains about the restrictions placed on her and the neglect she suffers.
- Anna of My Sister's Keeper gets No Sympathy for all the painful operations she gets put through, because her mum is too busy making sure that her cancer-stricken big sister, Kate, is all right.
- Theo of House Rules is expected to put up with his brother Jacob's abuse, and held to higher standards than his sibling, because Theo is capable of normal social interaction and autistic Jacob is not.
- Kate Cann's Leaving Poppy uses the "sibling who fakes illness" plot — the titular Poppy controls her mother and sister's lives through tantrums and passive-aggression. Her mother claims that Poppy is "fragile" and guilt trips her other daughter, Amber, into bowing to her younger sister's demands. For example, when Amber is due to go on holiday, Poppy throws a fit, and their mother pleads with Amber to cancel, claiming that she'll have plenty of other opportunities to go on holiday while Poppy will not — and that while cancelling her holiday will be tough on Amber, Poppy (and their mother) will be even worse off if she doesn't, so Amber should be the one to make the sacrifice.
- Subverted in the poem "Footprints". A dead man is walking with God, looking at the footprints of his life. There's always two sets, his and God's, except when times get hard; then there's one. Man accuses God of abandoning him at those points but God says he was carrying the man.
- In The Belgariad, there's a point when Garion is telling Ce'Nedra about the girl he grew up with, Zubrette, and says the group couldn't have brought Zubrette along on their adventures because she wouldn't have been able to deal with, for instance, sleeping on the ground. Ce'Nedra is indignant: "You never had any problem asking me to sleep on the ground!" Garion says he supposes that's because Ce'Nedra is braver than Zubrette.
- In the Rizzoli & Isles book series, the titular character's mother has spent years blatantly favoring her son Frankie while ignoring her daughter Jane. Her Character Development turns this into her mother always knowing that Jane was the strong and capable one who didn't need her mother's constant attention while Frank was the weakling who needed coddling. A later book takes this even further — when her husband leaves her for another woman and her son takes his side, she finally realizes the error she made with her bias.
- The mentorship version shows up in the Gaunt's Ghosts novel Straight Silver. Two members of the newly-inducted Verghast portion of the regiment are vying for induction into the prestigious (and so far all-Tanith) Scout company: Muril and Jajjo. Scout-master Mkoll picks both of them to accompany him and his squad on an expedition into the backwoods, but chooses Jajjo to spend the whole time on point with him, practicing his scouting talents. When Muril calls him on it, he responds that Jajjo needed the extra coaching, but he'd seen her talents right from the start, and offers her a scout position on the spot. Tragically, they are separated during a Chaos attack, and Lijah Cuu, who's grown paranoid about people knowing that he killed Bragg, kills her during the confusion, before the promotion can go through.
- Millie from Warrior Cats did this to two of her children, Blossomfall and Bumblestripe, when the third, Briarlight, broke her back. This was one of the deciding factors in bringing Blossomfall to the Dark Forest.
- In Flip-Flop Girl, after Mason's father dies, he becomes completely mute. As a result, his mother and grandmother spend all of their time spoiling him and trying to get him to talk again, while completely neglecting Vinnie, his older sister. Vinnie is bitter because she thinks he's faking it for attention, but it's not made clear either way.
- In The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign, this trope is one of the reasons that Kyousuke and Mary aren't together anymore. Logically, he knew that she was just reacting to the shitty stuff his family did to her...but emotionally, he needed some sort of scapegoat for all his negative feelings about Operation March Hare, and he will always side with humans over her because they're weak and his species and he believes that being good means supporting the "underdog" in any situation regardless of their actual choices.
- A variant in This is Not a Werewolf Story: Mary Anne is angry when Raul seemingly tells an embarrassing secret about Vincent to the school. She admits that she judges Vincent more favorably for his constant lying because he has serious self-confidence issues, while she considers Raul to be a far stronger person who shouldn't need to cut him down. In this case Raul is innocent, however, and Mary Anne's opinion of Vincent seemingly changes during the months that Vincent gets Raul Shapeshifter Mode Locked.
- In Malcolm in the Middle, Malcolm spends an episode teaching Reese the value of hard work and studying and helps him write a passing paper for a class. When the paper gets an "F", the boys, who do not see how they can get Reese to perform any better, cheat and have Malcolm take one of Reese's tests for him. This one gets an "F" as well, and this is when they realize that Reese's teacher really IS deliberately failing him out of spite. When Lois threatens to use this information to force the teacher to pass Reese, he points out this will get Malcolm in trouble. Lois justifies her plan using this very trope, to Malcolm's own shock:
"You don't think I'd sacrifice this one? Let me explain something to you. I would sell Malcolm down the river in a heartbeat to save Reese. Malcolm's gonna be fine no matter what happens. Maybe he'll have to go to junior college or start off blue-collar, but he'll work his way up to management eventually. Reese is the one who needs saving."
- Just to emphasize the point, as the teacher protests that she'd never do it, Francis conveniently shows up outside begging to be let back home after suffering off on his own throughout the episode. She gives the teacher a smug "is-that-good-enough-proof-for-you?" look that has him promptly caving.
- In the series finale, it's revealed that this is Lois' overall motivation for her treatment of Malcolm, on the grounds that this will make him a great president someday.
- In the last episode of Stargate SG-1, "Unending", after being trapped in a time freeze for 60 years, Teal'c stays to press the Reset Button, thus being the only one not to get those years back. He does this because he has a much longer lifespan than the rest, so the loss of six decades is less drastic for him. He is also the only one to retain the memories of what happened, which is shown to be much more difficult than the getting older.
- It was also brought up that he's the only one still in good enough physical shape to actually perform the necessary tasks quickly enough once he's back in the past.
- Appears in Firefly when Zoe can either rescue her husband or her captain and good friend. She chooses her husband without an instant's hesitation, probably because he couldn't survive the torture. Mal didn't seem to mind.
- Which makes it not really a betrayal. Mal could cope better than Wash, and they all knew it. Zoe unapologetically (and understandably) cared more about Wash than Mal, and everybody but Wash knew it. Then there's the fact that they did come back and get Mal as soon as they could get a rescue party together. She probably acted exactly as they all expected, and Mal didn't seem to have the least problem with her decisions.
- Also, Wash is their Ace Pilot, the only one with the skills to get them back inside the space station to rescue Mal (which he does by pulling off an insanely awesome maneuver that gets them past the defenses). Picking him was the only way both of the men in Zoe's life could be saved.
- One episode of Everwood has Andy treating a boy for various injuries. It turns out these are being caused by his severely autistic younger brother, which the older brother has been trying to keep secret from their mother. Andy gives their mother information on a special boarding school for disabled children, and is surprised when she instead sends her other son away so that he can be safe while she continues to care for her autistic son. Given that the older son seemed even more self-sacrificing than she was, the traditional angst of this trope would hopefully be avoided.
- One episode of Family Matters has Laura go out on a pity date with Village Idiot Waldo Faldo, in favor of going on one with Urkel. When Steve confronts her about this, she basically outlines this trope: Steve's been rejected by her so much that he's used to it, but Waldo wouldn't be able to take it. Steve doesn't take this news very well, however.
- Multiple times to Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but most notably and gratuitously when Giles departs for England in season 6. Giles outright says that she needs to learn to cope on her own, rather than leaning on him. This leaves her (1) parenting her 15-year-old sister alone, as their mother died recently and their father hasn't bothered to get in touch, (2) trying to find a job that will support both of them as a 20-year-old college dropout, (3) severely depressed (bordering on suicidal) after having been ripped out of heaven (by her two best friends and their partners — and Willow's version of helping her deal with it takes the form of gratuitous memory wipes, which itself constitutes a major betrayal), and (4) dealing with the constant battle which is life on the Hellmouth. Any one or two of these, she'd cope with, but all of them together? Just barely, and it was a lot worse for her than it needed to be.
- Probably still justified; Giles' point was that Buffy was just sitting back and letting him take care of everything. She was totally withdrawn, which had to stop or she'd sink deeper into her depression. YMMV on whether he could have stayed and forced her to step up while still offering at least a little help.
- A self-enforced Ongoing Neglect in one episode of House with a girl whose brother was in a wheelchair. She didn't want to give her parents anything more to worry about, so for months she hid the fact that she had been feeling ill until her body hit its breaking point.
- This is the reasoning behind Kyra's severe Middle Child Syndrome on Reba. She's trapped in between the teenage newlyweds Van and Cheyenne and younger brother Jake and Van and Cheyenne's infant daughter Elizabeth. Once, she had been saving for a field trip to England, but was unable to go because the money saved had to go to Cheyenne (she had dropped so many classes in college that if she didn't enroll in summer school, she'd lose Elizabeth's spot in the school's daycare center). At this point, she decides she's had enough of it and asks to live with her father. When all of this is brought up to Reba, she mentioned she has no choice; Jake and Elizabeth are so young they can't take care of themselves, and Van and Cheyenne are such screw-ups, they can't take care of themselves either. Reba flat-out says she does it because "she's the only other adult in the house" (she was about 14 at the time).
- In Dragon Age: Origins, the Heroic Sacrifice variation appears in Leliana's Song. Tug pulls a "Because I can cope", getting himself tortured rather than Sketch. Tragically, he overestimates his own toughness.
- Meta example: The role of a "Tank" in most RPG games. He's built to take damage, so the player just lets the enemies beat him up while focusing on protecting the Squishy Wizard and Glass Cannon characters.
- The Sentinel role in Final Fantasy XIII is this trope invoked intentionally. The designated tank provokes the enemies to attack him so that the other characters can attack or heal; as a bonus, the Sentinel gets abilities that allow him to guard, guard and heal, guard and counterattack... the ideal Sentinel not only can cope, but becomes much better at coping when in the role. The Sentinel also grants a bonus to everyone else's defense while active.
- In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Kreia is clearly working under this philosophy.
- Marche in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is a great example of Ongoing Neglect: His younger brother, Doned, has an unnamed illness that requires he go to the hospital occasionally, and he is confined to a wheelchair. This becomes a plot point later in the game, as Doned is revealed to have gained the ability to walk in Ivalice, and is a streetear who gives out information about Marche's location, so bounty hunters can attempt to collect the reward on Marche's head. Marche and Doned eventually have a heart-to-heart, where Marche convinces his brother that he was not left behind, and Doned accepts that Marche is given the shaft when it comes to parental care.
- In Mass Effect 2, if you don't have enough Paragon/Renegade points to use Charm or Intimidate to resolve Miranda and Jack's argument, you will have to choose to support one of them and later pass another Charm or Intimidate check if you want to regain the loyalty of the other. If you chose to support Jack, both your options to regain Miranda's loyalty consist of telling her that she's more reasonable than Jack. A similar principle comes into play with the Renegade option to restore Legion's loyalty. The same applies in Dummied Out dialogue for a Grunt vs. Mordin argument, except for the Renegade means of regaining Mordin's loyalty.
- On American Dad!, Francine is hurt when she discovers that her parents are leaving all their money to her sister. At first she assumes that it's because she was adopted, when really it's because her sister is a ditzy (and unmarried) Asian Airhead whom they believe needs the money a lot more than Francine does.
- As seen below in the Real Life section, in Daria, Quinn gets a cash reward from her father for getting an A on an essay. Daria, the much smarter of the two, immediately calls him out on it for it being a Double Standard, even implying that it would demotivate her since her consistent high grades garner no such rewards. In this case, though, it's to milk him for money (which works).
- If one reads between the lines, this may be why Helen's mother showers Rita with money and gifts — she's never held down a job for long and has an unstable love life, while Helen and their other sister, Amy, are both financially successful. It's clear that Helen, at least, gets lots of praise from Mom, so it's not a clear-cut case of Parental Favoritism. (Rita even seems to think that she's the favorite.)
- The immediately above situation also played out on The Simpsons with Bart getting his first-ever A grade on any school test — after genuinely studying ("It was like a whole different kind of cheating.") — and the restaurant treating it like a birthday; for Lisa, of course, this is a standard occurrence.
- On The Cleveland Show, Robert neglects his own son, Rollo, to spend time with Junior and help him become cool. At the end of the episode, he justifies this by noting that, being his son, Rollo is born cool, while Junior needs a lot of help.
- Can happen with real siblings, though more commonly in a less vicious version. For example, if one kid is worse at school, they'll get rewarded for accomplishing what the other sibling accomplishes all the time.
- Most anyone who has a physically and/or mentally handicapped sibling has experienced the "ongoing neglect" version of this trope.
- Sadly, this mindset can and does hide instances of child abuse, at the hands of a relative or close friend. If one can cope, then one should, so there's no need to make a fuss about those bruises or that stream of insults and profanity; bruises happen all the time! — and you know what they say about "sticks and stones..." Because peer pressure etc., can make it so hard to step outside this attitude, a common result would be for a child to be traumatized well past any sane human tolerances without considering their situation to be unjust in any manner.
- Friends can do this to each other, sometimes. Friendships devolve all the time. More in the key moments of life, but also ongoing neglect. Most people who have friends have had it happen at least once. We all remember that one nightmare year when friends stopped returning calls/stopped listening so hard.
- It's a common tactic in some after-abuse care shelters.
- This can happen in relationships where one partner has been raped or sexually abused, and can cope, but their partner cannot cope with the knowledge, so they have to comfort their partner over the thing that happened to them. It is advisable for people who cannot cope with what happened to their beloved to join a self-help group to avoid this.
- Anyone who really, really likes to read books knows how unfair it feels when kids who don't want to read books are given books at every occasion, and are rewarded for reading them ... and those who really like books get them as birthday presents and that's it. Rewards for reading a book? Forget it.
- Progressive tax works on this basis: People with greater income are to pay a greater share of it in tax, because they're less impacted by it; while at the poorest extreme, those who need to spend all of their money on basic life expenses aren't subject to income tax at all. But in practice, the richest can afford lawyers with perfect knowledge of tax loopholes, or rely on Screw the Rules, I Have Money!.