Dream: And do you think he is the only one, my sister?
Sometimes the world you find yourself in is so grim or stressful, if not horrific, that the only way to keep from going crazy is to... well, go crazy. You thus end up acting in silly, if not bizarre, ways, just to keep from truly losing it for good due to all the horror and depression and genuine lunacy surrounding you.
Basically, it's when the standard of "sane" is lower in this world.
A common trait of Byronic Heroes. Often a staple of wartime environments and the resultant Black Comedy which often transpires, where the psychological demands of having to deal with death and suffering on a daily basis requires pretty extreme measures to retain one's grip on reality. Compare Bored with Insanity, and Safety in Indifference, which is another popular coping mechanism for the same predicament. Contrast with the so-called "Catch-22" situation, where going crazy is conclusive evidence that you're sane enough to stay on the job.
- Attack on Titan: Eren Yeager. Seriously, if his Unstoppable Rage and Titan Shifter powers weren't extremely useful against the giant man-eating mutants whose existence caused them in the first place, he'd most likely be in a padded cell. Notably, he already had the Unstoppable Rage even as a small child, long before witnessing his mother's murder and long before he had the strength and skill to back it up.
- Berserk: Much of the cast exhibits various expressions of this trope, both whether for good, evil or something grayer. With all the terrible, horrible things and people, most characters need to abandon some part of their sanity just to stay functional. For example, following the Eclipse, Guts abandoned much of his empathy to pursue revenge against the demons, the Godhand and Griffith regardless of civilian casualties (though that brought other problems) and Casca regressed to an infantile state to deal with the horrors she herself suffered during the Eclipse, in particular Femto raping her. The Crapsack World of Midland is just that bad.
- This is the Central Theme of Denpa Teki na Kanojo, to explore the ways in which humans rationalize trauma. The antagonists (and one of the protagonists) had a Dark and Troubled Past, and the only way they found to keep themselves functional in the world after crossing the Despair Event Horizon was to become Crazy Sane. So They Look Just Like Everyone Else! until they have their particular Freak Out
- Naruto has a peculiar example. While nothing concrete has been said in-series, an idea accepted by the general fandom is that many of the ninjas' various quirks (Kakashi's "reading material," for example) are all actually coping mechanisms to deal with living the dangerous and traumatic life of a ninja. Given the amount of very memorable characters based on quirks, there is an understandably large amount of evidence for this fan theory.
- Some interpretations of The Joker depict him as "super-sane" rather than crazy: he sees how ridiculous and mixed-up the world is, and the only way for him to deal with it is by treating it as one big joke. Rare writers even imply that he outright knows he is a villain in a comic book, in which case he is perfectly sane since he is only playing out the role he was literally made for, on top of knowing that nobody he harms is actually a real person.
- Batman himself may also be a prime example. Grant Morrison has said in interviews that this is how he views Batman: "I never really subscribed to the idea that Bruce was insane or unhealthy. Bruce Wayne would have gone mad if he HADN'T dressed as a bat and found a startling way to channel the grief, guilt and helplessness he felt after the death of his parents. Without Batman, Bruce would be truly screwed-up."
- The idea that Bruce would be even more screwed up without Batman is shown in the JLA story "Divided We Fall" that split the two identities into different people. Bruce is reduced to a mass of rage and grief without his outlet as Batman. Batman meanwhile becomes much more personable but barely does anything more than the bare minimum of hero work, since he doesn't have Bruce's issues that make him keep people at arm's length but also has basically no drive without Bruce's anger.
- Len Kaminski's interpretation of The Creeper, as seen in the 1997-98 series: Jack Ryder has to periodically let the Creeper out, otherwise he'll go permanently insane.
- Deadpool may be a case of this. An optional dialogue in Marvel Ultimate Alliance, though not canon to the mainstream comic universe, goes as follows:
- The quote comes from The Sandman, describing Emperor Norton of San Francisco.
- The Comedian from Watchmen dealt with the terrible things he saw and did by seeing the world as a huge joke. He has a total breakdown when he discovers a horrible scheme that even he can't laugh off.
- X-Man may or may not have become this after becoming a 'Shaman'. His alternate counterpart, who introduced him to the concept, was definitely this, being perfectly pleasant and coherent while matter-of-factly referring to fits of mad dancing and his mind being broken. While Nate never goes quite so crazy (though at one point, when someone says You're Insane!, his casual reply is, "probably"), his behaviour tends towards that of a Cloudcuckoolander with an eccentric philosophy, a messiah complex, and a rather... permanent solution to people who cross certain lines, as well as a side of Barefoot Loon (which mainly worked because his telekinesis means he doesn't actually have to walk). Combine this with the mind of a Magnificent Bastard capable of giving Norman Osborn and his Dark Avengers the runaround, an edge of desperation, and latterly, Reality Warper levels of power, and you have the recipe for something unsettling, as Age of X-Man proved.
- Child of the Storm: Upon meeting Cowl during the Bloody Hell arc of the sequel, Wanda determines that while he's clearly crazy, he's the kind who can pass for sane, which makes him even more dangerous.
- It's hinted that this trope is applicable to Stephen Strange as well: When you're 500,000 years old, have been battling Eldritch Abominations for millennia, and running up and down the roads of time getting history and all of its players to where you want them to be, you kind of have to go bonkers, at least a bit. How much is Obfuscating Insanity and how much is actually Strange being Strange (in every sense of the phrase) is something that the cast occasionally speculate on, and never quite figure out.
- In Concerning Us the only reason Janine is able to bear living on after losing her brother is because she went insane.
- The Infinite Loops: It is generally accepted canon that every single Looper, due to the Time Abyss "Groundhog Day" Loop nature of the Loops, has become at least somewhat insane in order to deal with the stress. There is also a In-Universe mental condition referred to as "Sakura Syndrome" which details what happens when a Looper has a mental breakdown and goes all the way insane (it's never pretty).
- It is repeatedly stated that the single most important task of an Anchor is to remain mentally stable, and just as repeatedly stated that this is not the same thing as being mentally sane. On occasion, we get to see loopers explaining their mindset to nonloopers, who tend to be at least a little disturbed by how their thought process works.
- In Researcher Twilight after getting a piece of shrapnel in her head after a Magitek reactor explosion Twilight Sparkle starts hearing voices. This saves her life later when an experiment gone wrong causes her to poison herself. Twilight becomes too disoriented by the poison to brew an antidote, but the part where the voices come from doesn't and ends up talking her through it.
- In Boop the Snoot for Critical Damage!, pretty much every character has at least one or two screws loose. Almost every character from RWBY is a different flavor of crazy (barring Jaune, Ironwood, and Ozpin) and everyone from Borderlands is as crazy as you can get. But considering how much of a Death World Pandora and much of the galaxy at large tends to be, being absolutely batshit nuts is really the best way to last as long as you can in a world where everything is trying to kill you in the most hilariously over-the-top of ways.
- The Doom Slayer in Remnant Inferis: DOOM is an aggressive, bloodthirsty, Ax-Crazy Unscrupulous Hero who just wants to kill the entirety of demonkind. Of course, when most of his life has been spent fighting and slaughtering beasts whose sole intent is to destroy everyone and everything but themselves, him being as messed up as he is contributes to his effectiveness against them. It even gets lampshaded by Eleanor in Chapter 22.
Eleanor: You're ruthless. I thought the codex entry on you being around since before the beginning of time was an exaggeration. Now I realize, it's not. Only the most ruthless, most inhumane, could survive for as long as you have.
- Private Handjob gets discharged from the Marines in Full Metal Jacket for compulsive masturbation.
- Applied to the corporate world in Head Office:
- M*A*S*H is an obvious example, with Hawkeye and Trapper being the most prominent in the film version.
- In The Voices, what happened when, at the insistence of his therapist and his crush Fiona's disembodied head hallucination, the hero Jerry eventually took his pills? He dreamed about dark memories of his childhood during his sleep, then brutally awoke in a disgustingly filthy home (in his altered state of mind, the home looks very bright and clean), and the pets stopped talking. Fiona's head stopped talking too, and now looked like a rotting corpse. Needless to say, Jerry is very freaked by this experience and immediately gets rid of his pills. When he awakes the following morning, things are back in their usual state, to his relief.
- In Zombieland, Tallahassee suggests the gang smash everything in a store in order to keep from going crazy.
- In Brain Twister by Randall Garrett and Laurence Janifer, most people with a particular mental condition are catatonic or gibbering wrecks. The one known exception is Miss Thompson, who is not only compos mentis, she's arguably the sanest and most sensible character in the book — except that she's unshakeably convinced that she's a 400-year-old immortal who used to be Queen Elizabeth I.
- The Duck Man in the Discworld series has suffered many setbacks in his life, some of which we've seen and some of which remain mysterious, and through it all he's remained intelligent, cultured and a wellspring of good sense — except that he is never seen without a duck on his head, the existence of which he denies if anybody ever asks about it.
- We do see once that from his perspective he is constantly and inexplicably surrounded by people who see ducks where there are none.
- In Elantris this is said to be the case with Aandan who decided he couldn't face his Fate Worse than Death in Elantris sane and chose to go mad instead. He becomes sane again after Raoden defeats him and shows him a better way.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
- In Life, the Universe and Everything, after being stranded for far too long on a primitive planet with nobody to talk to but some trees, Arthur Dent finally announces to the world "I shall go mad!"... just before running into his old friend Ford Prefect, who drags him into chasing a floating Chesterfield sofa across an empty field. (Arthur takes a moment to appreciate the fact that just for once, his day is going exactly to plan.) Ford himself had gone insane to keep from going insane with boredom, convincing himself that he was a lemon and spending some time jumping in and out of a lake that thinks it's a gin and tonic (at least, he thinks it thought it was).
- In So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Wonko the Sane concluded that the whole world had gone mad after finding usage instructions on a package of toothpicks, and made his house an inside-out "Outside the Asylum" (the rest of the world is "Inside the Asylum").
- Gabriel Syme from G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday.
- Moby-Dick: Captain Ahab is a pretty competent The Captain, and seems perfectly normal until he talks about his Animal Nemesis. Pip goes mad from the revelation when he drowned twice and becomes a Talkative Loon with very interesting conversation. After a chapter tells us Perth The Blacksmiths tragic life, Ahab himself asks why Perth averts this trope:
- In The Name of the Wind, this is actually a problem. Early in the book, insanity is mentioned as one of the ways people deal with pain, along with sleep, forgetfulness and death: when the world really is awful, sometimes the only way to end suffering is to escape reality. Later, we discover that the immortal Haliax has spent millennia dealing with horrible grief and loss while unable to sleep, forget, die or go insane. And so he has decided, rationally, that the only way to end his suffering is to end the world.
- One interpretation of the Doctor in Doctor Who, at least according to Matt Smith.
- John from Farscape goes gradually crazy over the seasons. The alternative would have been trying to keep it together, then snapping and destroying the universe with a geometrically growing wormhole.
- M*A*S*H follows directly in the movie's footsteps, practiced by several characters throughout the series' run, most notoriously by Klinger (who wasn't in the film).
- Dr. Sidney Freedman specifically said this about Hawkeye:
- Psych protagonist Shawn Spencer has this to an extent. It's implied some of his quirky behavior and mannerisms are his way of dealing with the truly serious situations of detective work. Most notably in the Yin-Yang trilogy of season finales, as he has to ask his Straight Man and partner Gus to do it because of how the murderer singled Shawn out for the sick game.
- When Mickie James first started feuding with Victoria, it was because Mickie was crazy, crazy enough to keep coming back after defeats, to blindly charge her larger opponent even when Victoria was armed with bat. While Mickie did realize she was crazy and try to reign herself in Victoria was so tired of losing she tried to make herself crazy in hopes it would allow her to beat Mickie again.
- In Jane Wagner's The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Universe (a one-woman show performed by Lily Tomlin):
Trudy: But I don't ever want to sound negative about going crazy. I don't want to overromanticize it either, but frankly, goin' crazy was the best thing that ever happened to me. I don't say it's for everybody; some people couldn't cope.
- Assassin's Creed I: Subject 16 only managed to accomplish the very, very important task set to him by doing things that no sane person would ever do.
- In interpretations where Ocelotte isn't real, Consumed King Oceiros in Dark Souls III is able to keep it together despite mutating into a vicious, insane half-draconic abomination by fixating on the delusion that he is protecting a son. During his boss fight, after a certain amount of damage, he appears to realise that Ocelotte isn't there, and immediately flies into a killing rage, losing the ability to speak coherently as he had done previously and simply lashing out savagely at the player character.
- Genocide Jack of Danganronpa, a Serial Killer and the Superpowered Evil Side of Shrinking Violet Toko Fukawa. In spite of being a Laughing Mad Ax-Crazy psychopath, Jack is a master of Pragmatic Villainy; she manages to go through the series without ever getting herself into any situation that she can't find a way out of, mostly through logic and self-restraint. And considering that the setting is a dystopia where despair and Hope Crushers rein supreme, that's saying something.
- In Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, Jack reveals her calling cards for murder, like how she always uses specially-made scissors to kill her victims, and that she only kills pretty boys that she's attracted to. However, the objective of the Deadly Game that Jack and the other high-school students find themselves in requires someone to literally get away with murder in order to win. Because Jack doesn't want to kill someone except by her usual methods, Jack decides it would be in her best interest to just not kill anyone. The one time it looks like Jack killed someone, Jack mocks the real killer not for killing someone or trying to frame her, but for doing such a sloppy job of imitating her murder modus operandi. She's also the only one of the students who knows that the Tragedy has ruined the outside world, and would rather stay in the relative safety and comfort of Hope's Peak Academy for as long as she could.
- By the time that Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls has come around, Toko is a loosely-accepted member of Future Foundation, because she managed to get Jack under control. One of the conditions for Toko/Jack to be allowed in is that Jack not kill any more humans, which Jack sticks by. She justifies this by saying that her beloved master, Byakuya Togami, is also a Future Foundation member; it's simply more convenient for Jack if she plays by the rules. Having said that, Jack is still a laughing-mad lunatic who gleefully slices up Monokuma robots, threatens Komaru Naegi with getting "cut to pieces and lined up at the meat counter", and is perfectly willing to threaten people with death if they get in her way; it's just that these traits come in handy in the dystopia that is Towa City.
- Johnny Powell from The Darkness II. Ostensibly a babbling lunatic, there happens to be no one else on the planet who knows more about the titular Darkness or a lot of the other supernatural goings-on than Johnny.
- Isaac Clarke spends most of the Dead Space series teetering on the edge of sanity, but managing to persevere and fight through Necromorph infestations. The second game in particular has him constantly being tormented by Marker visions and severe post-traumatic stress disorder, especially when he's forced to once again board the Ishimura.
- The Player Character of Disco Elysium is an alcoholic, substance abusing Defective Detective, yet also a Bunny-Ears Lawyer, being extremely talented at solving the cases thrown at him, as he is good at reading people, noticing small details, and coming at a logical problem from an unexpected angle. The latter especially ties into why the psychological consultant of his squad ultimately suggests he might be this, despite his extremely self-destructive behavior. He is simply too sane for the New Weird-style reality he lives in, and drinking and drugging himself to oblivion is how he copes with the batshit insanity of the world.
- In Dragon Age II, Hawke with a sarcastic personality often comes across as this, having become a Stepford Smiler and Sad Clown in response to all the craziness in Kirkwall and personal tragedies they've suffered over the course of the game.
- In earlier Fate works, the Madness Enhancement trait and the Berserker class represent insanity too severe to speak and be understood. In Fate/Grand Order, many of the new Berserker or Madness Enhanced characters can speak, and seem perfectly rational except on specific topics, either a Berserk Button or a fixation.
- Grand Order also has the Japanese artist Hokusai encounter an Outer God... and avoid becoming its vessel because his all-consuming obsession with art means he can't accept the Outer God's poor aesthetic taste, leaving him with a connection to it that allows him and his daughter Ou'i to be summoned together as a Foreigner-class Servant, albeit with Ou'i as the main body and Hokusai as a floating octopus. Neither he or Ou'i are particularly fussed about that, though.
- In Star Wars: The Old Republic, this is a valid interpretation for a Sith Inquisitor, who is "differently rational" even under the best of circumstances. Doubly so for a Light Side Inquisitor, who is trying not to replicate the Ax-Crazy mentality that counts as "normal" for a Sith.
- Tomb Raider (2013): After learning his motives, Lara speculates to herself that Mathias has gone so far out of his mind that he's "come right back around to some kind of sane."
- The aforementioned Emperor Norton of San Francisco.
- Many people in the Nazi concentration camps would still go through everyday routines (e.g., pretending to shave with their fingers each morning) just to try to maintain some sense of normalcy in their lives.
- Popular poster: "You don't have to be crazy to work here — but it helps."
- There's a euphemism for PTSD among veteran soldiers known as "still sleeping with your boots on", as one of the more common but fairly benign ways the disorder can manifest is in a compulsion to wear shoes to bed, just in case of an unexpected enemy attack in the middle of the night, even months or years after returning from serving in an active warzone.
- As Ursula K. Le Guin says, "What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy?"