Follow TV Tropes


Confidence Sabotage

Go To

A person who is quite confident in their profession is unknowingly sabotaged by outside parties. The saboteur was so covert that the person is unaware that their work has been tampered with, instead believing that the error is their own fault. As a result, the person usually suffers a Heroic BSoD and feels unable to try again for risk of failing again. Often times, the truth comes out, the person's confidence is restored, and they return to their profession with a vengeance — or the person might seek vengeance on the saboteur(s).

The causes for one to sabotage a person's confidence varies, usually for personal gain or a grudge. It may be to win in a challenge, making this trope different from Always Someone Better. It may be to discredit one's work, usually through a Disastrous Demonstration. It can even be utilized by villains to send The Hero into a 10-Minute Retirement, usually through a Frame-Up plan so elaborate, even the hero believes they are responsible for what they're being blamed for.

This trope is Truth in Television. See also Gaslighting. Contrast Confidence Building Scheme which is about bringing a person's confidence up instead of tearing it down.


    open/close all folders 
    Anime & Manga 
  • In the episode of Pokemon: Battle Frontier in which May was going for her fifth Kanto Contest Ribbon, Harley teamed up with Team Rocket to sabotage her by using his Ariados's webbing to throw off her performance. Fortunately, Ash and Brock managed to intervene, allowing May to barely qualify. Afterwards, May was temporarily doubting herself over her apparent nerves nearly ruining her, until Ash and Brock told her it was really Team Rocket that messed with her.

    Comic Books 
  • In Runaways, Nico spends much of the second series doubting her leadership abilities after a string of problems besets the team, unaware that many of these problems are being caused by the New Pride.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Dr. Lana Kurree creates a rather effective cancer treatment called Plasmin. She is then told that the formula is actually deadly, but she doesn't believe it until it kills a patient, and the investigators come to arrest her for murder, causing her to break down. It turns out her boyfriend actually created a deadly fake Plasmin and killed the patient, framed her, and was intending to steal her formula.

    Fan Works 
  • Dragon Ball Z Elsewhere: What C20 does to Yamcha. It is debatable if it was willing sabotage or a matter-of-fact remark. The initial effect on Yamcha is the same, though.
    C20: This is your nature. You excel and you still lose. Nothing is different.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Meet the Robinsons, the first part of the Bowler Hat Guy's plan to destroy Lewis's future is sabotaging his Memory Scanner during the science fair. The resulting Disastrous Demonstration left Lewis doubting in his ability to invent, which was the main drive behind the film's plot.
  • In Rock-A-Doodle, Chanticler the Rooster's job was to bring up the sun with his crow. After being distracted from crowing by a fight with a villainous rooster sent by the Grand Duke of Owls, Chanticler sees the sun coming up on its own, making it seem like he was never the one bringing up the sun, shattering his confidence while turning his barnyard friends against him, thus driving him from the farm to find a new purpose in the city. This turns out to be exactly what the Grand Duke wanted, cause it turns out that while the sun was capable of coming up on its own, it required Chanticler's crow to stay up. As such, after Chanticler leaves, the sun stops shining and dark, stormy rain clouds take its place. The guilt-ridden animals are then required to find Chanticler, apologize, and bring him home so he can raise the sun again.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Car 54, Where Are You? episode "Punch and Judy", a hairdresser wants to become a part-time boxer. His fiancee, feeling it was too violent a profession for a sensitive man like him, turned to Toody and Muldoon and begged them to try and dissuade him. To that end, they have a professional boxer dress as an old man and practice fight with the guy to make him think he's too wimpy to be a boxer if he can't keep up with an old codger. It works, but unfortunately, it turns out that boxing was an outlet for his aggression, and without it, he ended up becoming a foul, ill-tempered jerkass to his salon customers, requiring Toody and Muldoon to tell him about the setup and convince him that he does have what it takes to be a boxer.
  • One episode of Grounded for Life has this inadvertently happen. Lily, having performed at the school talent show, was seemingly booed and hissed off the stage by the audience. She enters a deep funk that she refuses to let her family help her out of and, after talking with Eddie, decides to aim low in life, believing that she wasn't as talented as she thought. Then in the show's typical Once More, with Clarity fashion, Claudia tells Lily the truth: her and her friends' act "Big Spender" was actually pretty good; unfortunately the boys in the audience also thought it was hot, to the point that they were catcalling, much to Claudia's discomfort. When she tried to make them stop, she ended up causing a scene which resulted in the audience yelling and booing that Claudia was ruining the show, which Lily thought had been aimed at her since they were shouting "Finnerty". Needless to say, Lily's upset with her mom for ruining her performance and letting her think she wasn't talented...and ecstatic that the boy students thought she was hot.

    Myth and Religion 
  • In Norse Mythology, Thor is challenged by a giant to several tasks, such as downing a drinking horn, lifting a cat and wrestling an old woman - all of which he fails. Thor's pride is hurt, until the giant tells him the next day that the challenges were more than what they appeared. The horn was the sea, the cat was really the Jormungandr, the giant snake that surrounds the whole world, and the old woman was old age itself. The mere fact that he survived was impressive.

    Western Animation 
  • Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers:
    • In one episode, Gadget once fell apart emotionally after one of her inventions, the Gyro-Mobile, literally fell apart and the Rangers were almost killed as a result. She quits the Rangers as a result and joins the Cola Cult, which the Rangers were investigating. After the other Rangers try to rescue her, the episode's villain, the cult's second-in-command, reveals he had sabotaged the Gyro-Mobile, which ends up restoring her confidence and enabling her to defeat him.
    • In another episode, a downtrodden inventor felt like he was having a bad luck streak due to being unable to get any of his recent inventions to work. It turns out that the inventor's cat, who was acting as his good luck charm, had been sabotaging the inventions in order to keep her livelihood. Gadget points out the impracticality of this, as at some point, the inventor's boss would get fed up with his failures and give him the pink slip, and she'd be out on the street with him.
  • In He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) episode "The Problem With Power", He-Man believes that he killed someone, and as a result, gives up his sword of power. Turns out that it was actually a trick by Skeletor, who wanted He-Man to do exactly that. Upon learning the truth, He-Man reclaims his sword and defeats Skeletor.
  • In one episode of Justice League, Green Lantern John Stewart believed he was responsible for the destruction of an entire planet thanks to an elaborate Frame-Up engineered by the Manhunters. He was so convinced that not only did he do nothing to defend himself at the trial, but when the Flash got caught up in his sentence to death, he actually told him not to protest and accept it. When the rest of the League saved him from his near execution and brought to light he was innocent, he was enraged that he nearly allowed himself to be executed for nothing.
  • In one episode of Rugrats (1991), when Susie develops a skill for repairing broken toys, Angelica becomes jealous over how it makes her look to the babies and so breaks the toys again when they're out of the room to make Susie think she's a failure as a "doctor". It comes back to bite her when Dil tears apart her doll Cynthia, forcing Angelica to tell the truth so that Susie will be able to fix her.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Pickles", SpongeBob loses confidence in his abilities as a fry cook when he serves Bubblebass a Krabby Patty and he claims that he forgot the pickles. It gets so bad that SpongeBob is unable to do anything in the correct order, even speak!. With help from Mr. Krabs, he learns to make a Krabby Patty correctly again and is soon back to normal. Also, it turns out Bubblebass was hiding the pickles under his tongue the whole time, likely to get a meal and then a refund.
  • Steven Universe: after the events of "Ocean Gem", Greg accidentally does this to Steven, whose healing spit did mend Greg's broken leg. Greg didn't intend to sabotage Steven; he only pretended he was still injured to have more time with his son. But Steven's confidence took a big hit and his healing spit didn't work for several episodes afterwards.
  • Employed in SWAT Kats episode "Razor's Edge". While chasing Dark Kat, one of Razor's missiles accidentally hits a shack, causing it to explode. He then hears about how an elderly couple who was walking past the shack was injured. This makes Razor lose confidence in his shooting ability, and when he and T-Bone encounter Dark Kat again, Dark Kat takes advantage of Razor's hesitation and nearly kills the SWAT Kats. Later on, T-Bone discovers that the building had actually been rigged to blow by Dark Kat, while Razor learns that the elderly couple was actually a couple of thugs in disguise that Dark Kat had hired. Once Razor realizes he didn't hurt anybody, he regains his edge and joins T-Bone in taking down Dark Kat's giant Black Widow robot.
  • A variation occurred in The Transformers episode "Heavy Metal War", where Optimus Prime faced Megatron in one-on-one combat and was soundly defeated. Initially, Optimus thought the fault was his own due to underestimating how powerful Megatron truly was and reluctantly planned to follow through with the deal that the loser and his army would self-exile to deep space. However, he soon learned the truth: that Megatron had cheated by using the powers of all the other Decepticons. This prompted the Autobots to disregard the deal and retaliate against the Decepticons by knocking them into a pit of lava.
  • In the Xiaolin Showdown episode "The Crystal Glasses", Villain of the Week Vlad does this to Omi by making the latter anticipate a Bad Future with himself as a tyrant from viewing the titular future foreseeing Shen Gong Wu by sneaking in front of him with the "Reverse Mirror". Vlad blows his side's advantage by blabbing the scheme in Omi's presence. Omi swiftly comes out of his funk and delivers a smackdown in the shortly oncoming showdown.

    Real Life 
  • An inadvertent example occurred at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. In the women's gymnastics individual all-around final, the vaulting horse was accidentally set 5 cm too low, an error that went undetected until after half of the gymnasts had already gone through the vault rotation. Without knowing about the equipment problem, many of them believed their poor performance on vault was due to an error they had made, which affected their confidence and caused them to make mistakes in subsequent events. The error was discovered and the gymnasts affected were offered a chance to re-attempt the vault, but in some cases, it was too late: the loss of confidence had caused other mistakes they couldn't come back from.
    • Most notably, Russian gymnast Svetlana Khorkina, who had had the high score in qualification, under-rotated her vault, landing on her knees, and subsequently fell from the uneven bars on a release move, an error which many put down to the mental effects of the earlier fall. Khorkina ended up declining to redo her vault because her low uneven bars score meant she was too far behind to get a medal, even if she got a perfect score on the do-over vault.