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Driven to Madness

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"Madness is the emergency exit. You can just step outside, and close the door on all those dreadful things that happened. You can lock them away forever."

A sister trope to Go Mad from the Revelation, Driven to Madness represents a deliberate attack upon a character's sanity and mental stability.

There are many varied reasons for someone to attempt to drive another person to madness. Perhaps they seek to break the character's will in order to make them more pliable, or it may be an attempt to induce a Freak Out or Face–Heel Turn. They may wish to punish the character or torment them by attacking their loved ones in such a fashion. They may try doing so in order to have someone discredited or declared incompetent. Maybe they're just jerks.

Somewhat less evilly, someone may regard sanity as a prison and seek to release a character from its constraints by any means necessary.

The methods can vary, as well, from making them doubt their perceptions, to the aforementioned torture, exposure to a Brown Note, or even straight-up Mind Rape. Some Eldritch Abominations drive men mad with their mere presence. Sometimes it can come just from going really really fast.


Particularly effective if the character has reason to doubt their own sanity, such as if they have recently been discharged from a mental institution or have undergone a nervous breakdown. Indeed, in such a situation, this often takes the form of a Through the Eyes of Madness plot - at least at first.

May be an aspect of the Mind Game Ship if the reasons for the sanity breaking were Foe Yay related.

Can overlap with Break the Cutie.

The subtrope, Gaslighting, is the subtle, insidious form of this.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • What Akito Sohma did to Kana in Fruits Basket. After Akito blinded Hatori for asking for permission to marry Kana, Akito turned against the poor nurse and blamed her so much for Hatori's partial blindness that she went mad. It was so bad that Hatori had to delete Kana's memories of their relationship.
    • Ironically, Akito herself was driven to madness upon years of monstrous psychological abuse coming from her mother Ren. As a little kid, Akito was naive and bad-tempered but not evil; however, she completely SNAPPED and became a massive Yandere with some of the worst issues in the whole cast.
  • Johan of Monster is an expert at driving perfectly sane and normal people to suicide through total More Than Mind Control. From the little that is known of his past, his own sanity was methodically attacked throughout his childhood.
  • In Naruto Tobi's talk with Sasuke about Itachi's true intentions ultimately led to Sasuke becoming Ax-Crazy and joining Tobi's side.
  • Eto's torture and manipulation of Kanae in Tokyo Ghoul was done for the purpose of destroying her sanity to the point of making her devoted to her and using her as a tool.

    Comic Books 
  • Happens to Warren White, a white-collar criminal who finds himself in Arkham Asylum in the limited series Arkham Asylum: Living Hell. As the story progresses, Warren is continually tortured, abused and terrorized by the other inmates, until finally, he is locked inside Mr. Freeze's empty cell by an inmate trying to steal his identity, where he loses his nose, his lips, some of his fingers, and his ears to frostbite. Now a "freak" himself, Warren transforms himself into the villain The Great White Shark.
  • Batman: The Killing Joke: In which The Joker attempts to drive Commissioner Gordon insane and fails.
    • Unfortunately, a detective who has the misfortune of overseeing Joker being processed through to jail in Batman Confident is indeed driven to madness, turning into a cop-killing psychopath who ultimately commits suicide when he realizes how Joker turned him into a monster.
      • Subverted with Harley Quinn, who was was insane but functional when she first met the Joker; Joker simply gave her an excuse to give up control to her crazy side. As someone put it elsewhere on the site, "the Joker might have driven her mad, but Harley was willing to car-pool."
    • After having Mad Scientist Hugo Strange beaten to death, 'Boss' Rupert Thorne is visited by Strange's ghost until he eventually goes mad and is sent to Arkham Asylum.
  • In The Boys, Black Noir, the clone of Homelander, drove Homelander insane by mailing him photos of Homelander actually Noir dressed up as Homelander eating babies, eating hearts, and committing violent murder-rapes. Homelander became an insane monster because he thought he was already a monster and just didn't remember it.
  • Used to be part of Diabolik's modus operandi. He stopped doing that, but by that time he had earned himself two formidable enemies in the form of one of these victims and the son of another.
  • The Sheeda in Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers take great pride in their ability to break even the noblest of people and re-form them to suit their twisted desires.
    • Also from Seven Soldiers, after life has had a good hard go at breaking Sally Sonic, Vitaman essentially forces her to debase herself and then exposes her to Doctor Hyde's Evil Serum to finish the job.
    • The Terrible Time Tailor Zor briefly accomplishes this with magic, turning Zatanna into the person she would be if he had raised her instead of her father. Fortunately, mad "Zorina" is enough of a brat to reverse the spell, just to annoy her "daddy".
  • Dr. Eggman in Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) started suffering a massive one following having his greatest victory — defeating Sonic, capturing just about everyone and turning Knothole Kingdom into a crater — swiped from him. He would ultimately snap after one last victory by Sonic pushed him over the edge.
  • Incidentally, Spider-Man is very good at this even if he doesn't entirely mean to do it.
    • Kraven was so confounded by Spider-Man's humiliating defeats that he went nuts and eventually committed suicide.
    • Electro started off as a typical Jerkass criminal but years of verbal and physical torment had enough of a toll that he is now relegated to asking his mutant girlfriend to shapeshift into Spidey during sex so he could feel in control.
    • While Dr. Octopus was driven insane by the accident that turned him into a villain, it has been noted that Spider-Man's constant taunts and beatings drove him farther over the edge. Also, in two separate incidents, he was mentally scarred after pissing Spider-Man off. One of those times involved Spidey ripping his mechanical arms off.
    • The Chameleon was frightened into a coma when he unknowingly built robot duplicates of Peter Parker's dead parents. It ended up being a case of Beware the Nice Ones.
    • Titania of She-Hulk fame first fought Spidey back in Secret Wars (1984) and instantly acquired a deep fear of Spidey and spiders in general due to the beating/embarrassment she received.
    • Norman Osborn, like Dr. Octopus, was also already crazy when he first went up against the wall-crawler but after his first defeat, he essentially dedicated his entire life to ruining Peter's. In fact, since he was behind The Clone Saga, it was an inverted case since it mentally broke Peter Parker for about a year or two.
    • Spidey drove Eddie Brock (aka Venom) insane by exposing the real identity of a killer after Brock had identified a compulsive liar who'd taken credit for the crimes. This was the only case in which Peter drove someone insane without meeting him.
    • Several of Spidey's foes have attempted to pull this on him, including Mysterio, Chameleon, Norman Osborn, and even Captain America's foe Dr. Faustus.
  • Superman:
    • Hank Henshaw, better known as the Cyborg Superman, was once a normal scientist until an accident changed him. He watched his friends die, his body disintegrate and, when he had built a robot body for himself, watched his wife commit suicide. When he escaped using a small rocket, he drove himself mad through the incredible loneliness, reasoning to himself that he didn't leave Earth because he was a threat, he was driven off by Superman because he (Superman) was jealous.
    • In Legion of Super-Heroes story The Great Darkness Saga, Darkseid brainwashed the whole Daxamite population into serving him. Darkseid's mind-control was eventually broken, but Ol-Vir remained fanatically devoted to the Lord of Apokolips even after the rest of his race was restored to sanity.
    • Emperor Joker: This is the Joker's objective towards both Batman and Superman after gaining godlike powers from Mr. Mxyzptlk. He basically succeeded with his arch-foe, torturing Bats to death and reviving him each day to do it over again. Supes is half-way there when the comic starts, hunted down as a dangerous criminal by Bizarro each day when he discovers that the now all-powerful Joker is responsible for turning the world into a dark parody of itself.
  • In V for Vendetta, V kills every Norsefire employee who'd once worked at the concentration camp where he'd been imprisoned. Every employee, that is, except for Lewis Prothero, who as the camp commander had selected him, among other prisoners, to be subjects of medical experimentation. Because said experimentation drove V mad, he drives Prothero mad by kidnapping him, sticking him in a replica of the camp, and cremating his beloved rare doll collection before his eyes.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Deborah "Debbie" Domaine was forced into the role of the second Cheetah by Kobra, and eventually went mad due to their control and manipulations of her life.

    Fan Works 
  • In Child of the Storm, Gravemoss is driven mad (well, madder) thanks to long term exposure to the Darkhold. Evil Is Not a Toy.
    • In the sequel, Ghosts of the Past, Harry is finally driven to the brink of insanity after a brutal Trauma Conga Line at the hands of the Red Room, who tortured him and turned his Blank Slate body into the new and improved version of the Winter Soldier. The result? He becomes the Dark Phoenix, and is only barely talked down.
  • This is Maya Lottie's modus operandi in the The Loud House fanfic Revival. Granted as an avatar of the Outer God Nyarlathotep who loves driving humanity to insanity, it makes sense.
  • At the beginning of Tales of the Emperasque, Corvus has been driven to gibbering madness by ten thousand years of trying to find his way out of Fulgrim's ever-changing maze designed specifically to break Ravenlord's sanity.
  • In ''Their Midnight Revels While Ariel and Miranda state that Edith and Thomas were mentally ill before they arrived and would have gotten worse if they had not arrived the Downton Duo show signs of being driven there also by their involvement with magic. Both are exhausted from dancing all night and have the urge to continue dancing. They have heightened senses and their brains are overwhelmed by the clairvoyant abilities that they receive. They also have stronger emotions such as rage against their friends and family, and sexuality particularly when Edith attempts to seduce the housemaid, Emily.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion: Genocide, The Emerald Tablet, an malevolent A.I., uses the mental link Asuka has with Unit-02 in an attempt to gradually grind down her sanity by subjecting to constantly low-key mental stress, meant to bring out her Blood Knight urges and her inner fears and insecurities. It eventually starts affecting her by giving her increasingly vivid nightmares, bouts of extreme nausea, and culminates in her viciously attacking Unit-08 and gravely injuring Keiko in the process.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Twelve Tasks of Asterix:
    • The titular hero and his friend are sent to "The Place That Sends You Mad", a building from which they are to receive a certain form - alas, within the building lies a ferociously obstructive bureaucracy. So obstructive, in fact, that it briefly pushes Obelix over the edge. Fortunately, Asterix manages to turn the situation around, driving the bureaucrats mad instead - and allowing him to get the form in the process.
    • Earlier in the film, Asterix also manages to cause a hypnotist to turn his power back onto himself, causing the poor man to believe himself a wild boar. Iris may be a poor man, but it's a funny moment.
      Iris: (eyes glowing) By Osiris and by Apis, look at me...
      Asterix: Can you light those up one at a time?
      Iris: Wha—be quiet! Now, by Osiris and by Apis, look into my eyes...
      Asterix: Can you use them for reading in bed?
  • In Dead Space: Downfall, Hanson finally loses it after being nearly Eaten Alive by a pack of Swarmers and then being attacked by a Lurker not 10 seconds later. He was screaming from stress and fear before the fight, but this is what finally pushes him into giggling psychopath territory, opening him fully to the Marker's Mind Rape.
  • The Penguins are approaching this at the start of Penguins of Madagascar from the rest of the circus playing their Afro Circus/I Like to Move it mashup at the end of Madagascar 3.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • The Book of Lost Things: A common result of the Crooked Man's tortures, usually after being Forced to Watch.
  • This is the final fate of the protagonists in Alexander Pushkin's The Bronze Horseman and The Queen of Spades.
  • In Alexander Dumas’ adventure novel The Count of Monte Cristo Monsieur de Villefort, a corrupt royal prosecutor responsible for the title character’s unjust imprisonment goes mad after his past crimes get publicly revealed and his sociopathic wife poisons herself and the rest of de Villefort’s family, including his young son. What triggers Villefort’s breakdown is the revelation of who stands behind his downfall — a man he sent to rot in prison.
  • All the Outer Gods of the Cthulhu Mythos can drive one insane, but Nyarlathotep is apparently the only one who seeks to do so For the Evulz.
    • Arguable. Outside of his eponymous short story, Nyarlathotep doesn't just randomly harass anybody. In the Haunter of the Dark he seeks to kill his summoner, because he didn't provide an appropriate sacrifice, in The Dreams in the Witch-House he just played a role as a guardian to the secrets beyond human ken who receives sacrificial tribute in return of allowing individuals to cross that veil, and in the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath he is seeking retribution against Randolph Carter for trying to see Earth's god's he had sworn to protect (and dominate) for unknown purposes, and is content to have a nice chat over a cup of tea.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Neville Longbottom's parents, Frank and Alice, were tortured into insanity right after Voldemort's first fall by a group of Death Eaters. They've been institutionalized in St. Mungo's ever since.
    • Ariana Dumbledore went mad when some Muggle boys attacked her (it's never specified in what way but it's implied to not be pretty) after they caught her doing magic. She was playing outside and couldn't do the trick for them again. Her family kept what happened to her a secret so the Ministry wouldn't institutionalize her because she posed a risk to the International Statue of Secrecy as she couldn't control her magic anymore.
  • Norwegian author Ingeborg Refling Hagen had this as a common trait in her early production. Most of her main characters were either Driven to Madness, Driven to Suicide Or Both!
  • In Emperors of Illusions, this is the goal of the protagonists, as far as The Emperor is concerned. They have nothing against him personally (except for Kay, whose home planet was destroyed at the Emperor's order), but a Corrupt Corporate Executive thinks that the Emperor created this universe and wishes to pay him back for that by destroying humankind, so they decide to get rid of the Emperor. However, since Resurrective Immortality exists in this universe, the Emperor cannot be killed permanently. Their plan is to cause him to lose his mind in a way that is irreversible. It nearly works, but the final trigger phrase fails because the Emperor is not the creator of the world, resulting in an Empire-wide manhunt for the conspirators.
  • In a somewhat unknown Swedish novel, Simon's Family by Marianne Freddriksson, the character Isak is training at a boot camp. His squadron leader tries to break the spirit of him by being his antisemitic self (Jewish Isak had been molested as a child by Nazis- no I'm not making this up). Isak begins to go numb almost to the point of no return.
  • Words of Radiance (second book of The Stormlight Archive): Szeth, the Assassin in White, finally loses his long battle with his own insanity by the end of this book. The realization that his servitude—and the resulting slaughters he created—were completely avoidable sends him screaming over the edge.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angelus does this to Drusilla before turning her into a vampire.
  • Averted in the Sci-Fi miniseries Children of Dune when one of the Cast-out attempts to drive Leto Atreides II insane with too much spice consumption. Rather than going insane, he becomes completely immune to the effects of spice and gains some superpowers into the bargain.
  • This is what the main character of The Cube has to contend with for the teleplay's entire duration.
  • In Doctor Who, Rassilon drove the Master to madness by implanting the never-ending sound of war drums in his mind when he stared into the Time Vortex as a child. The Master's last words before one apparent Final Death (it didn't stick) to the Doctor was him asking whether the drumming would finally end.
    • In the Series 9 finale three-parter, the Twelfth Doctor is driven to madness by a Trauma Conga Line: betrayal and capture by both Ashildr and the Time Lords, his companion Clara being Killed Off for Real, and Cold-Blooded Torture at the hands of the latter betrayer, with absolutely no one around to help him through his agony. The result is that he becomes a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds who almost destroys Time itself in the pursuit of a Tragic Dream. He is ultimately pulled back across the Despair Event Horizon, but must endure the losses of his homeworld and people (for now), possibly his confidante Ohila, Clara and his key personal/emotional memories of her in the process of returning to his best self.
  • River Tam is driven mad by the government and the knowledge she learns from the officials who come to see her.
    • Not to mention the show's Reavers, who will occasionally keep one victim alive and force said victim to watch their shipmates be raped to death, skinned and eaten. The survivor will ultimately go mad from the experience and will only cope by becoming a Reaver themselves.
  • Dr. Prospect does this to Daido Katsumi in W Returns: Eternal by slaughtering the entire village he was trying to save and then rubbing salt in the wound by explaining how this happened because NEVER took them out of the village in the first place. Katsumi snaps completely as a result.
  • In My Name Is Earl the episode "Crazy Witch Lady" has the titular Lady driven to madness by the citizens of Camden treating her like an evil witch. It is implied she was just a regular quirky Camden resident before this.
  • In The Prisoner (1967) Number 6 goes to work on the Number 2 of the week in "Hammer Into Anvil". (Arguably, breaking Number 6' sanity is the point behind the whole series.)
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has this happen to Gul Dukat after he witnesses the death of his daughter, at the climax of a long string of personal and career setbacks. His redeeming features and likable character traits had been submerged by his arrogance and ruthless ambition many episodes previously, but it's hard not to pity him as he cradles her corpse and mumbles to her in a broken monotone. Dukat eventually comes out of his Villainous BSoD, but becomes steadily more unhinged and even more dangerous for it, even before he becomes the Bajoran religious equivalent of a Dark Messiah.

  • Enzo in SMG4's Mario Bloopers "Birthday Freakout", after Mario ruins his party by making the castle explode. Ever since then, he has been planning to assassinate Mario. This has been pushed to higher limits when a Policeman arrests him, causing him to plan Revenge.
  • In Red vs. Blue Season 11, Lopez Dos Point Oh becomes so stunned at how outrageously stupid and inept the Reds are that he hijacks a giant robot and goes on a destructive spree.
    Dos.0: (Spanish Subtitles) [...He's insane. They're all insane.]

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, the mere presence of a demon lord can drive nearby creatures mad. What form that madness takes depends on the demon lord in question: the two-headed Demogorgon might drive people into violent paranoia, for instance, while the vicious Yeenoghu might instill cannibalistic urges into his victims.
  • The Black Spiral Dancers of Werewolf: The Apocalypse force their captives to walk the Black Spiral and go as mad as they have.

  • In Euripides's tragedy, Bacchae, the god Dionysus drives his aunts — and many of the women of Thebes — mad because they dishonored his mother and refused to acknowledge his divinity. The play ends with tragic results.
  • In the play Gaslight (and the two film versions of the play) the husband plays tricks on his wife in order to convince her she's going crazy. It became a Trope Namer.
  • A Streetcar Named Desire: Stanley to Blanche.

    Video Games 
  • Darkest Dungeon: This is one of two ways that the enemies can kill your party (the other being relentless murder). The entire dungeon is one big stress-fest, with critical hits that crush morale and enemy attacks solely dedicated to freaking your party out. If they reach the breaking point, they go insane. If they reach the breaking point twice, they literally die from stress.
    • Good news is, there is a tiny chance that their insanity will be of the positive type, effectively making them even better than in normal mode.
  • In The Elder Scrolls series, finding inventive ways to drive people to complete madness is within the realm of Sheogorath, the Daedric Prince of Madness. He even considers it a blessing:
    Sheogorath: "Madness is a bitter mercy, perhaps, but a mercy nonetheless. It is better to be seen as mad than hopelessly despondent."
  • In Ib the blue dolls are capable of driving people insane. Late in the game they attempt to do this to Garry and if they succeed the damage may be temporary..or permament, all depending on your previous actions.
  • In Middle-earth: Shadow of War, players can actually do this to their enemies with the use of their "shaming" ability which makes orcs drop in level and if used enough times, it will make them permanently deranged. When used against Brûz the Chopper in the story mode, he becomes a sobbing wreck that repeats his Madness Mantra endlessly, while other orcs are only capable of saying a few broken words between screaming and snarling.
  • Overwatch character Sigma was the victim of a Freak Lab Accident when attempting to learn to control the power of a black hole. The exposure to the intense gravity altered him, granting him power over gravity itself, but fractured his mind to the point where he's barely cognizant of the world around him.
  • In Super Paper Mario, King Croacus in Chapter 5 was driven to madness because of the trash the Cragnons threw in the water the Floro Sapiens had to drink. That caused him to abduct and brainwash the Cragnons for the sake of his people and to build a palace filled with gems. Mario and Co stopped and defeated him, prompting the Floro Sapiens to scold them by explaining what was going on. The Cragnons promised to keep the water clean, putting an end to King Croacus' madness and tyranny.
  • The Wedding: Jack begins to become insane and mentally unstable, the longer the portal in his basement is open. Lack of sleep was part of the reason why the demons and monsters roaming his house made it easier for him to go insane. His notes also indicate that his wife apparently summoned some extra demons, specifically to terrify him, but exactly how accurate that is, given Jack's mental state when writing that part...

    Web Comics 
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: The Plague Zombie monsters are trapped in an And I Must Scream combination of Body Horror, drive to attack any non-infected living beings and a very long lifespan. Unsurprisingly, when the reader gets access to whatever is left of the post-infection individual, said individual tends to have gone insane in one way or another.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Stan Smith of American Dad! is such an idiot he repeatedly forgets his anniversary despite how terrifying his wife Francine gets when he does. In "American Fung" he hastily gets Francine committed to a mental hospital for a few days so he can have more time to plan. Again, Stan's such an idiot he keeps forgetting the reason Francine was locked up and by the day she's released he has nothing prepared. When Stan greets Francine with a bucket of fried chicken and offers an incredibly half-assed explanation of how he did everything "for love," Francine not only states she genuinely hates Stan she goes insane for real and gets committed indefinitely.
  • Accordingly, the Warner Kids of Animaniacs almost invariably manage to do this to anyone they have adopted as their "Special Friend" (generally someone who is being a jerk to start with).
  • In The Batman, Joker does this to Detective Bennett in a situation clearly inspired by The Killing Joke. Unlike his comic counterpart, this Joker actually succeeds and turn Bennett into a supervillain.
  • Kaeloo: A Running Gag on the show is to have this happen to Kaeloo (the culprits usually being Stumpy and Mr. Cat), and for the Reset Button to make sure that her sanity is back by the next episode.
  • The Fog of Lost Souls from The Legend of Korra is a prison within the Spirit World for humans. The fog bombards its occupants with images of their greatest fears and failures, slowly driving them mad over the course of decades if not centuries. Zhao has been reduced to a Talkative Loon, and Tenzin and his siblings begin to fall to the Fog's effects after only a few minutes of wandering.
    • The prequel series does this to Princess Azula, who in the span of one summer loses the fear (and love, in her own way) of her best friends, learns her father will never love her no matter what she does, loses the Fire Lord title to Zuko in an Agni Kai, and has her philosophies proven completely wrong to her. Too many blows to the psyche send Azula into a frothing madness in which she's actually developed Split Personalities between the manipulative and the lunatic.
  • Many Looney Tunes characters end up doing this to their antagonists — of particular note are the mice Hubie and Bertie.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic's Discord favors this as a method of Break the Cutie.
  • Sam & Max: Freelance Police: Sam and Max do this to Moral Guardian Kent Standit in "The Glazed MacGuffin Affair". When he banned the titular snack food, Sam and Max went on a crusade to make him lift by getting him to taste one, following him everywhere he went and trying to trick him into eating one. This escalates into a cross-country chase, ending when Kent realizes he's arrived at the factory where Glazed MacGuffins are made and snaps.


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