In fiction, it's dangerous to carry one's head too high. What kind of character is used for this story varies; it can be anyone from a Jerkass to a Corrupt Corporate Executive. Extra points if the character has not only a high opinion of themselves but also a low opinion of everyone else.
But unfortunately for them, they are usually so busy kissing their mirror they don't see that the plot has a very special treat in stock for them that will thoroughly teach them the error of their ways right before our eyes.
The "breakings" usually involve misfortunes increasing in unpleasantness, Mind Rape, killing everyone they love, And I Must Scream, disease, Cold-Blooded Torture, horrible accidents, and so on; the character will fail in the field they pride themselves on, lose all admirers or their power, and they alone will be responsible for their problems. Also, they might get pummeled into the ground or verbally torn apart by a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, anything that knocks them off their high horse. No matter how, they either end up bitter and alone or having to depend on others - either way, eating a good fat slice of Humble Pie. This trope evokes either sympathy or schadenfreude from the public; the high-and-mighty may learn the Aesop or not, but the public gets to learn it either way.
Which is a rather old idea: The Ancient Greeks considered Hubris (overbearing pride) to be one of the greatest and most self-destructive sins. Thus, there are quite a number of stories about how those guilty of it are punished, either by circumstances or by the gods (although circumstances are generally also considered caused by the gods). The Greeks even had a god specifically for the punishment of hubris, the goddess Nemesis. Or, as Brick Top put it, "Do you know what 'nemesis' means? A righteous infliction of retribution manifested by an appropriate agent..." The Greeks loved poetic justice; the proud were always brought down by something... appropriate.
See Pride Before a Fall for a fall that happens at once right at the beginning; Ineffectual Loner and Insufferable Genius for characters who are much at risk of getting this plot line for them; Fallen Princess for a heroine whom The Call itself punishes with a drop in status; Small Name, Big Ego for a character whose overinflated self-image will be shattered; and Royal Brats for characters whom the audience will be begging to see broken. If the setting is High School, the Alpha Bitch and the Jerk Jock will be the victims of such a plot.
Compare Sudden Humility, which may or may not affect a haughty character.
Often seen in a Slobs vs. Snobs conflict or a Backstory. If the Hubris is society-wide, see Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair! and And Man Grew Proud. A harsh instance of this trope can result in Redemption Equals Affliction.
If this is the protagonist's main character development, it's a Jerk-to-Nice-Guy Plot.
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- Lou Reed's Rock Opera Berlin, where a vain woman's insistence on a "real man" ends with her Driven to Suicide.
- Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" is about a spoiled rich girl who runs out of money and ends up on the streets.
- Shania Twain's "That Don't Impress Me Much".
Okay, so what do you think you're Elvis or something?
- Rilliane in all the Vocaloid songs in the Story of Evil by mothy.
- As mentioned before, the Ancient Greeks went so far as creating a goddess who embodied this trope: Nemesis, the goddess of retribution for evil deeds and excessive pride.
- The Bible contains several examples, and most major world religions tend to have moral lessons against the dangers of pride.
- In Exodus, this is applied to the whole of Egypt. Pharaoh defies Yahweh, refusing to free the Hebrew slaves. Yahweh proceeds to turn the Nile to blood, unleash hordes of frogs, lice, and beasts, inflicts a plague on the animals and boils on the humans, rains burning ice on the land, sends a swarm of locusts to attack their fields, covers the land in darkness, and kills every Egyptian firstborn save Pharaoh. Pharaoh gives in, but changes his mind and ends up dying because of it.
- Jesus uses this trope in several parables, most heavily in that of the prodigal son.
- The term is used in the Book of Genesis. Dinah goes out to visit the women of the land, and an unnamed Canaanite prince rapes her. The experience is said to have "humbled" her. (Although she wasn't being arrogant, unless by "being arrogant" you mean "just trying to live a normal life.") In this case, it may mean more that she became a Broken Bird as a result of the rape, not that she was "put in her place." (Although the story has been used as a cautionary tale to women to Stay in the Kitchen where it's relatively safe, and keep your head down and work, rather than trying to enter the public sphere or socialize.)
- Subverted in one instance of Norse Mythology. Thor is utterly perplexed when he comes across a giant named Skrymir that he can't kill with one hit from Mjolnir. His pride is shaken even further when Skrymir presents him with challenges that leave him only barely able to lift the paw of a cat, unable to outwrestle an old woman, and incapable of finishing a drinking horn. Then it's revealed that all of these challenges were illusions created by Utgard-Loki. In actuality, he had lifted Jormungandr (thus lifting a part of a serpent long enough to wrap around the world), fought with the conceptual embodiment of old age, and lowered the sea level as that horn was connected to the ocean. Skrymir was also an illusion of Utgard-Loki's who was never actually struck, as he was hiding behind a mountain at the time. Thor's angry blows from earlier had actually carved entire valleys through a mountain range through each swing, leaving the giant terrified. Outraged at this trickery, Thor tries to kill Utgard-Loki, only for the illusionist to simply vanish into thin air rather than face the god of thunder's wrath.
- "The Queen of Wrestling" Sara Del Rey defeating Claudio Castagnoli in their 12 Large Summit matchnote at CHIKARA Chikarasaurus Rex: King of Sequel Night II, July 31, 2011, was called "the upset of the year" and portrayed as the "reason" why Claudio left CHIKARA for WWE.
- A recent little storyline came with the breakup of LayCool. Layla, after alienating all the other divas on the roster, got betrayed by her BFF Michelle and was challenged to a loser leaves WWE match. Before the match, Layla apologised for her actions to the rest of the divas.
- Behind the scenes a lot of older wrestlers in the locker room like to invoke this trope against new guys coming in, whether they deserve it or not. Examples include The Miz, who got kicked out of the locker room for getting crumbs on John "Bradshaw" Layfield's bag, and Melina, who got humiliated in front of the entire locker room for being shy and not talking to many people.
- This has something to do with locker room etiquette. New wrestlers are meant to introduce themselves to the locker room and shake everyone's hand. If someone doesn't do this, the wrestlers assume they're full of themselves and the punishment ensues. Either that or they're just jerkasses.
- Professional Wrestling actually has a long-standing tradition stating that rookies and newcomers to the business must be hazed mercilessly. Back in the old days, it was partly to protect kayfabe - it was assumed that anyone who could endure a couple of years' worth of hazing and abject beatings would have the character to "protect the business". Although kayfabe is buried, many promotions still engage in deliberate systemized hazing of newcomers as a way to instill "discipline". The locker room etiquette mentioned above is heavily tied into it. Younger wrestlers are supposed to introduce themselves to everyone, shake hands very gently with all the veterans, and then keep their mouths shut except to volunteer to help people (carry bags, untie boots, etc) and thank their locker room superiors for giving them a chance to work.
- Often a major staple of a HeelFace Turn notably with Randy Orton when he was ousted from Evolution.
- Pili Fantasy: War of Dragons: Tai Huang-Chun is subject to this after badly losing a duel for the Sacred Dragon Bone Sword. Notably foreshadowed earlier when One Page Book notes he presents a facade of humility and wisdom, but secretly held everyone else in contempt and arrogantly thought himself best, which could lead to his downfall.
- This is what Clan Nosferatu in Vampire: The Masquerade likes to do with humans who they deem too proud of themselves. There is even a word in vampire slang, "Cleopatra", which designates a person who once was beautiful, but turned into a horrific monster after being Embraced by Nosferatu.
- In the backstory of Princess: The Hopeful, the various Courts of the Hopeful grew proud, each convinced that their particular vision for an ideal society was the only legitimate one, each forgetting that the other Courts were equally valid expressions of the Light. This strife and discord let the Darkness in, and it destroyed the Kingdoms and trapped the Courts in the Dreamlands. The five Radiant Courts have learned their lesson, at least for the moment, while the three Twilight Courts still have a greater element of pride in their specific ethoses.
- The basis of the "Not as planned!" meme in Warhammer 40,000: Tzeentchians tend towards the Smug Snake characterization (theirs is the god of schemers and backstabbers), so whenever their highly convoluted plans are overturned they don't take it well.◊ In canon, however, they know that their defeat merely means that another of Tzeentch's plans has been set into motion. It's also subverted in the case of the Eldar, who despite bringing about the fall of their Empire thousands of years ago through millennia of increasingly disgusting hedonism, still believe themselves to be better than the Imperium (and given the state the Imperium is in, it's not too hard to believe).
- Also, the Imperium, and Mankind itself. It is said that "men once rearranged stars to better suit themselves." Look at the Imperium now.
- Athena, helped along by Ajax himself, does a stellar job of turning Ajax from the best warrior on the Greek side to a madman held in complete ridicule and anger by the army. When the madness is removed and he realizes all this, he kills himself.
- Angels in America: Roy Marcus Cohn is introduced as a man who can get anything he wants, and will happily flaunt it. By halfway through part two, he is wasting away in a hospital bed from AIDS, alone and friendless.
- In Antigone, Creon suffers this fate when after he has the title character executed, his son and wife both commit suicide, leaving him alone and wishing for death. Practically a requirement for any Greek tragedy, really. Pride, as noted above, was their favorite sin to attack.
- Elder Kevin Price in The Book of Mormon. He starts off convinced he has a great destiny in the Mormon Church and has very little interest in being friends with his mission brother Arnold Cunningham. However, he later suffers a Crisis of Faith as a result of his inability to convert the local Ugandan villagers.
- In Hamilton, the titular historical figure, Alexander Hamilton, begins Act II proud, cocky, and selfish, flaunting his power in the brand-new government. Throughout the act, he cheats on his wife, humiliates himself (and her, and his family) by revealing the fact to save his own skin, loses his son to a duel for his father's honor, isolates himself from the people he still has in his life, and dies at the hand of one of his first friends. He's much less haughty by the end.
- Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 has a wonderful example of this in the form of Anatole Kuragin who has a complete breakdown after his confrontation of Pierre after the failed abduction, and ends up fleeing to Petersburg.
- Oedipus Rex: Oedipus.
- A Streetcar Named Desire is a deconstruction of this type of story, questioning why Stanley needs to see Blanche brought down. It's because he's a bully who can't stand the fact that, after all that's already happened to her, she's still an idealist.
- This is the Villain Protagonist by the third act of any Christopher Marlowe play. (Tamburlaine, The Jew of Malta, Doctor Faustus, etc.)
- William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew is, more or less, the story of a violent rich woman getting everything she threw at others thrown back at her face. By the end, she learns what a Jerkass she'd been and treats her Arranged Marriage husband with decency and respect. Unfortunately, there's a fair amount of over-the-top chauvinism going on.
- William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night also has a good example of this, where the arrogant and obnoxious steward Malvolio is tricked into thinking his employer Olivia is in love with him. He is persuaded to behave and dress in entirely inappropriate ways, all the while thinking this is exactly what she wants, and ends up being locked in a dungeon for lunacy before being released for a final dose of verbal humiliation at the end of the play.
- Ace Attorney:
- Edgeworth is the most important main character to undergo this, starting with the first game. For Edgeworth confronting the truth of not only his father's death but the true nature of his beloved mentor changes his personality for later appearances.
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations had a field day with this trope: Winston Payne's rapid hair loss and Dahlia's exorcism/Humiliation Conga are just two examples throughout the game. There's also Luke Atmey, an "Ace Detective" with an overinflated ego who claims to be the infamous thief Mask*De Masque, turns out to be a blackmailer and a killer and his whole reputation comes crashing down.
- Dual Destinies breaks Yuri Cosmos in this way. Unfortunately, this is not the kind of haughty you enjoy seen broken down, as the man really does care about everyone else, he just thinks he's a shoo-in for the history books himself. However, there's also Florent L'belle, and that one is the kind of arrogant bastard you like to see taken down a peg or five. And that's just what we get to see, complete with Humiliation Conga.
- Spirit of Justice is no more kind to Gaspen Payne than Trials and Tribulations was to his brother. Thought traveling to a foreign country where lawyers are considered taboo to build up a new perfect record from scratch could heal your Humiliation Conga from the previous game? Nope! The guy responsible for embarrassing Payne in Dual Destinies comes back for Round 2 and completely destroys the scumbag prosecutor again! Just like his brother, Gaspen Payne also suffers from rapid hair loss.
- Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc has Byakuya Togami. From the very beginning of the game, he talked about how he didn't care about the others and how he could kill any of them if he wanted, going so far as to string up Chihiro's dead body to frame Toko (aka the real Genocider Syo, her Split Personality), revealing her deepest secret and thereby causing her horrible emotional anguish and subjecting her to the others calling her a monster to her face - all to 'make the case more interesting' and to find out who would be the people to watch out for in the Class Trial when he decided to kill someone. After learning that Sakura's death was actually a suicide, his attitude gets knocked down a few pegs, since he was definitely one of the reasons she felt like she had to kill herself - she did it to unite them all, and he was the loudest champion of never trusting anyone else (he never ate with the others, saying he didn't trust them; he refused to socialize with anyone, and most damning, he said to Sakura's face that he hopes she dies, since she could still be working for the mastermind.) He's still kind of a dick afterwards, but he's less malicious, and obviously much more on his fellow classmates' side. Come Dangan Ronpa 2 Goodbye Despair, he puts his position in the Future Foundation on the line, along with Kirigiri, to secretly help Naegi rehabilitate the Remnants of Despair. When it comes time to defeat Junko during the finale, he goes into the simulation along with Naegi and Kirigiri to help the students not lose hope when they figure out that they willingly went into the simulation and helped Junko cause the apocalypse. When all's said and done, he tries to keep up a veneer of superiority, but it's obvious that he's very much warmed to his friends and is willing to take huge risks to help them.
- A cruel version is done to Kirigiri in the Bad Ending. She went through the game calm and collected and always looking ahead in a fearless manner. So Monokuma puts her in a slowly moving conveyor belt but facing away from a very loud, constantly moving crusher. She at first appears her usual self but as she gets closer and closer to the crusher and she can't turn around to see it, her expression changes to worried to terrified and finally quiet acceptance as she closes her eyes. The point of this execution is to break her composure.
- In Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, Chapter 2 is this for Fuyuhiko Kuzuryu. At the beginning of the game, he's one of the most abrasive characters, refusing to join in with the party, threatening to have Mikan sold into prostitution, and generally being a bit of a dick. Then he finds out that his sister was murdered, thanks to Monokuma's minigame, and his right-hand woman Peko Pekoyama gets executed for killing Mahiru — who helped cover for his sister's murderer — on his behalf. She claims that he was the real murderer and she was merely acting as his tool (to Kuzuryu's horror), but Monokuma isn't having any of it and executes her. To add insult to injury, Peko accidentally slashes Kuzuryu's eye during her execution beyond repair, and cradles him as she's killed. After losing the person he cares about more than anyone else, he realizes how dickish he's been, and tries to commit Seppuku to apologize to Saionji, who cared for Mahiru immensely, and blamed Kuzuryuu for her death. He survives and progressively becomes more of a team-player, slowly but surely showing that he does care for his remaining classmates, and finally helps defeat Junko during the finale through the power of hope.
- Sakuya in Hatoful Boyfriend undergoes this in the Bad Boys Love route where he learns that he isn't a true pureblood and that the bird he thought was his father was actually the one who ordered his egg to be abandoned and he would have been left to die had it not been for Yuuya — the brother he has constantly disdained for his half-breed upbringing in the belief that he was only his less pure half-brother — deciding to save him. And then Yuuya dies in front of him after saving his life once again.
- In his otome route he gets a much slower, gentler breaking down of his bratty racist starting point, showing increasing physical and emotional vulnerability. It leaves him a better person, and happier, but it's a lot less dramatic and doesn't go as far.
- The fifth arc of Umineko: When They Cry has an extreme, downright cruel example: Yes, we know by now that Eva is a Rich Bitch. But was it really necessary to kill both her son George and her husband Hideyoshi!?
- The above arc is also one huge Break The Haughty moment for Eva's proud and honour-obsessed sister-in-law, Natsuhi. The Man from 19 Years Ago plagues her with threatening phone calls, threatening to kill her husband if she doesn't do what he says. By the end of it, both her husband and daughter are dead, and she's being blamed for Hideyoshi's murder as she was in the closet in the room where he was killed. Eva beats the living daylights out of her, and no-one tries to defend her. Only Battler knows Natsuhi is innocent, and he's unable to help her.
- The Big Bad of Broken Saints is all as proud and self-righteous until Our Heroes ruin his grand plan. Most of the villains in this series start off arrogant and end up humbled. Or dead.
- Dreamscape: When Melissa finds out Melinda is still alive, she completely flips out! It takes a "The Reason You Suck" Speech from Betty to snap her out of it and get her to cooperate with her allies in coming up with a plan to defeat Melinda. Even then, she still mostly believes Failure Is the Only Option.
- In Dimension Heroes, neither good nor evil are safe from this trope, most noticeably Wyn and Clonar.
- In Doubt Academy, both Misaki Watanabe and Akari Kagome have been subjected to this. Neither one was really a jerk, but both girls do carry a sense of entitlement. As of the most recent updates, Both of Misaki's love interests have been murdered, and Akari was wrongly executed after a mental breakdown.
- In The Gamer's Alliance, Captain Amano and various other arrogant Yamatians suffer this fate when the rebels they thought of as "weak" end up beating their asses.
- The War Comms:
- Alpha Bitch Trisha has had this happen to her more than once, and Esmeralda is a walking magnet for it. Unfortunately, neither of them seem to learn a damn thing from their experiences.
- This tends to happen to Cassie whenever she gets on her high horse, usually by forcing some of her issues into the spotlight.
- Whateley Universe:
- Trevor James Goodkind, scion of the wealthiest family on the planet, and one of a long line of mutant haters. Manifests as a mutant, gets kicked out of the family, gets horribly experimented on by his parent's Mad Scientist friend, gets treated like a dangerous criminal / animal, has to go live in the basement of a disgraced family member, loses his identity and most of his sexual characteristics, but gets Character Development out of it all. He's now Phase, a mutant who is building a name for himself, building his own business empire, and generally proving himself as being a capable person and not just riding his parents' coat-tails.
- This is rather more pronounced with Tansy Walcutt, a gal who started off as head of the highest clique and managed - eventually - to wind up imprisoned for nearly beating a fellow student to death.
- In Worm, Regent does this to Shadow Stalker as revenge for what the latter did to his teammate Skitter.
- Jacques in Yu-Gi-Oh! East Academy is incredibly arrogant in his early appearances, but this soon changes following an absolutely crippling defeat at the hands of Peter. To make matters worse, he then finds himself a target for Gretel's bullying, who precedes to degrade and humiliate him even further. And to add to that, he becomes the first duellist to lose to a cultist and is nearly crippled as a result.
- In Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Captain Hammer is sent packing by his own arrogance when he pulls the trigger on Dr. Horrible's Death Ray despite the latter's attempt to warn him that it is malfunctioning. The explosion injures him for the first time in his life, revealing him as a Miles Gloriosus who flees upon feeling pain. He's later seen in therapy.
Captain Hammer: Ohhhh, I'm in pain! I think this is what pain feels like! Mama... someone maternal! GET OUT OF MY WAY!
- Sir Ron Lionheart has always been quite the hammy Boisterous Bruiser, FANTASTICALLY so, but after Palom and Parom sacrifice themselves in Final Fantasy IV, he realizes just how deep he's dug himself.
- In The Guild, Tink gets Bladezz to buy her more than he can afford by promising him sex. When she explains this to him, he gets revenge by deleting her character.
- This is basically Pedro's arc in Nothing Much To Do; he starts out as "All Round Great Guy Pedro Donaldson," but after helping Claudio publicly humiliate Hero — and having been set up to do so by his own brother — he pretty much loses all confidence in his own greatness. The effects of that transformation are still visible in the sequel, Lovely Little Losers.
- That Guy with the Glasses:
- Whenever The Nostalgia Critic starts thinking too much of himself, he's usually pretty quickly broken down. In Kickassia, he manages to avoid it for a while but the world's order is restored in the last episode.
- In an interesting contrast, this was subverted by The Nostalgia Chick. The quasi-demonic forces of evil tried so very hard to break her down, but unlike her Spear Counterpart who falls almost instantly, she was too oblivious to even notice.
- Santa Christ in the Critic/Snob crossover The Passion of the Christ, as he gets tortured for the whole episode due to Critic's betrayal, and Critic only betrayed him because Santa Christ has treated him so badly (including Victim Blaming in regards to Hyper).