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Because You Can Cope

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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! 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 Delicate and Sickly. 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 and 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 chosen 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 are hoodwinked.)

This trope has 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 Face–Heel 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 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. 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.

As this is a Betrayal Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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     Anime and Manga 
  • In Code Geass, this is revealed to be the reason Lelouch and Nunnally's parents justified abandoning them. They rationalized that living in a foreign land as little more than political hostages was more sustainable than living right next to a Mad Scientist Evil Uncle who was immortal and had an army of child soldiers with superpowers. Lelouch tells them off because Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You doesn't hold weight when said daddy then declares genocidal war on the specific country that they were abandoned in.
  • 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 Jerkass tendencies and the fact that his illness isn't actually Shuichi's fault are mitigating factors.
  • 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.
  • Ranma ˝: 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.

     Comic Books 
  • Batman: Dick Grayson explained his reason for firing Tim Drake as Robin and giving the title to Damian Wayne as being because Damian needed it more and Tim was older. This 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 the Lucky Luke comics, Ma Dalton reveals that she's so tough on Joe because he's almost exactly like his father, unlike his brothers, and he needs to be tougher so he can look after them.
  • Supergirl storyline "The Super-Steed of Steel": Subverted. Comet chooses to save one woman from an alligator instead of Supergirl, who is sinking into quicksand. After emerging out of the pit, Kara guesses Comet realized she could save herself by her own means, whereas Liz Gaynor was in greater danger. Later she realizes that Comet did not save her because he had lost his memories and did not remember she was his friend.

     Film — Animation 
  • In The Rugrats Movie:
    • Tommy's parents don't pay attention to him because they're taking care of his new baby brother, Dil. Left alone at night, Tommy mournfully sings to himself the lullaby his parents are singing to Dil.
      Baby, please, rest your head. Now it is time for bed. Please stop. Don't you see? I want mom and dad for me...
    • Stu at least notices Tommy's neglect and takes him aside to try to explain to him that Tommy's now the older brother and Dil needs to be looked after and he might see Dil as a bother after they get older it will all be worth it. Tommy doesn't really understand since he's also still a baby but Stu at least was well aware of what was happening since he also grew up with a brother and understood how Tommy felt.

     Film — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • In David's Mother, Sally explains to her older daughter Susan that she neglects her in favor of her autistic brother David because she can care for herself and David can't. Susan is not satisfied with this explanation.
  • Like Normal People: This is the answer Bobby gets as a teenager when he asks why his mentally disabled brother Roger is allowed to play annoyingly repetitive records while Bobby is trying to study, and later as an adult when he asks why his parents are so much more concerned with Roger's career than with his own.
  • In Marathon (2005), Jung-won demands to know why his mother hardly pays attention to anything besides his autistic brother Cho-won. His mother snaps, "You and Cho-won are different!"

     Video Games 
  • 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. An important priority is to make sure he can cope by buffing/healing him to take more pain, and disrupting enemy tactics that would be too powerful for anyone to cope with.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Kreia is clearly working under this philosophy.
  • 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.

     Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • This is the extremely controversial ending of the infamous "Seahorse Seashell Party" episode of Family Guy. The whole Griffin family is trapped indoors during a hurricane, and begin to, as always, gang up on eldest daughter Meg, who has been The Unfavorite and Butt-Monkey for years. Their treatment of her has long passed from gentle joking to full-on physical, psychological, and emotional abuse. Meg, who can't take it any more, finally proceeds to tear them all down in a series of blistering speeches, explaining exactly why and how Chris, Lois, and Peter have mistreated her. They are stunned by her words and begin turning on each other. In the end, though, Meg realizes that the family is so dysfunctional that they need a "lightning rod" to absorb all of their neuroses and problems, or the individual members will ultimately destroy themselves. She resigns herself to being that lightning rod, which Brian praises as a sign of maturity and responsibility. The audience, who saw this as an incredibly Broken Aesop about justifying and even embracing abuse because "you can take it," reacted with utter outrage, and cite that "lesson" as the reason that "Seahorse Seashell Party" is considered the absolute worst episode of the series.
  • Deconstructed in The Owl House with Lilith and Eda's mom, Gwendolyn. Because Eda was afflicted with a dehabilitating curse at a young age and Lilith was very self-sufficient, Gwen poured all her time and resources into trying to cure her, while neglecting Lilith. It's not that she doesn't love her, it's just that she thought she didn't need her as much. But she very much did, especially since she was already bearing the guilt of having cursed Eda in the first place. Meanwhile, being the one who got all the attention wasn't a picnic for Eda, either, since her mother completely refused to listen to her wishes and kept coming to her with phony cures sold by scam artists, not wanting to accept that the curse likely can't be cured; only managed. Gwen's intentions were purely good, but she neglected one daughter and completely isolated the other for over thirty years because she was sure she knew best.
  • The Simpsons featured this 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.
  • One live-action segment of an episode of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! dealt with this. Mario and Luigi meet a little boy who is running away from home, prompting Mario to reminisce about a time when he did the same thing as a child. He explains that he and Luigi were both fighting, but their mother only punished him because, as the older brother, he was supposed to know better.