This trope is a standard Deconstruction of the Freudian Excuse. Sometimes, characters that have gone through something horrible believe that they have the moral high ground or that they are in the right for their actions, no matter how evil they are or who the targets are. This trope comes into play when a character (possibly even the character with the excuse themselves, if they're going through Character Development) acknowledges that their actions are wrong; no matter what they have been put through one bad action won't justify another. In essence, this is the sum of two Stock Aesops: "take responsibility for your actions" and "two wrongs don't make a right".
This trope only happens when there's an In-Universe acknowledgment of this. A character has to receive a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, a Kirk Summation, see that someone's Disappointed by the Motive, or some other kind of speech on why they're wrong. Whoever gives the rebuke, there needs to be a voiced acknowledgment that the character's past doesn't justify their current actions. At the very least, an explicit statement must be made by the omniscient Narrator. One way to accomplish this is a small round of Misery Poker, specifically by pointing out others who have suffered just the same, if not more, and still chose not to commit the same misdeeds as the accused. (Bonus points if that very suffering is caused, directly or otherwise, of the accused's wrongdoings.)
It's important here to differentiate "explanation" from "justification" in this trope: If a Freudian Excuse is used as an "explanation", then it's meant to give a reason why a character acts this way. If it's a "justification," it means that the narration is giving the character the right to act that way. This trope never accepts Freudian Excuses as justifications.
Note: This trope does not necessarily prevent Forgiveness and redemption, just that evil acts are not justified, in many cases both in Real Life and in fiction, what's actually needed is a HeelFace Turn and atonement, and for the villain to stop hiding behind their Dark and Troubled Past.
Related to Freudian Excuse and Dark and Troubled Past. Often present if a character is He Who Fights Monsters, a Troubled Abuser or another link in The Chain of Harm. Typically on the "Firm Hand" side of Gentle Touch vs. Firm Hand. Compare Kirk Summation, Playing the Victim Card, and Shut Up, Hannibal!. For similar fan reactions, see Unintentionally Unsympathetic.
Compare Freudian Excuse Denial, when the character themselves disputes that their past is what motivates them in the present.
- Christopher Titus injects this mindset into all of his work, especially his stand-up comedy routines. Despite having a Hilariously Abusive Childhood with a mentally ill mother and functionally-alcoholic father, plus an adult life that wasn't much better, Titus has chosen to "be an anti-depressant" instead of dwelling on his past or whining about it. As such, his personal Berserk Button is people who refuse to make their own lives better, regularly tearing into them and deconstructing their mindsets as pointlessly self-destructive.
"Here, let me flip this around for you. There! See? Now your past is behind you. Why don't you climb down off the cross, use the wood to build a bridge, and get over it!?"
- The Frozen novel A Frozen Heart shows Hans' homeland as a terrible place of Might Makes Right with his family outright abusing him to the point that he is heavily implied to Self-Harm, thinking to himself that he can deal with "physical pain" as he catches splinters from a table. He comes to think it's perfectly normal and it seems that he suffers from depression and a massive inferiority complex as a result from it. Despite his initial unwillingness to hurt anyone, he starts to use violence against the Southern Isles population as a means to get respect from his father. And once he gets a taste of power from controlling Arendelle in Elsa's absence, it slowly poisons his mind and he eventually adopts his family's way of thinking. However, at the end of the novel, Anna outright rebukes it, stating that no matter how much his claims of his brothers' treatment of him might be true, he's still a grown man who needs to take responsibility for his own actions.
- This is an unspoken yet clear element of A Christmas Carol and its many retellings. While the Spirit of Christmas Past reveals that it took a lot of undue loneliness and pain to warp Ebeneezer into the greedy miser he is today, the Spirit of Christmas Present makes it clear that his selfish ways end up inflicting a similarly unnecessary sorrow on those even less fortunate, and the Spirit of Christmas Future shows him the legacy of misery he will leave behind unless he changes his ways.
- In The Dresden Files, Knight in Sour Armor Sanya used to be a demon host to a Fallen Angel due to his past growing up as a minority in Russia and being treated like a freak (in his own words, "I was a minority the way Bigfoot is a minority"). This was what caused him to initially join with the Denarians, especially since Rosanna, his recruiter, didn't care he was black at all. He is also throughly of the mind that this does not justify anything he did while working for them, and that's why he's serving as one of the Knights of the Cross, despite knowing that the main way long-term Knights leave the Knights of the Cross is dying in the battle with the forces of evil.
- Harry Potter:
- While Lord Voldemort has a Freudian Excuse that grants him in-universe sympathy, the point is made that Harry Potter didn't fall to villainy despite his even worse background.
- Voldemort's mother Merope Gaunt had a horrible childhood as well. She grew up in squalor, is one of three British kids in the series who's confirmed to not have gone to Hogwarts (one of the others being her brother), and was the target of an abusive father and brother. However, Harry and Dumbledore both agree that this doesn't excuse magically roofie-ing his father Tom Riddle Sr., forcing him to marry her, and then raping him for over a year. The two of them agree that Riddle Sr. had absolutely every right to get the hell away from her as soon as the drugs wore off and not find out what happened to her.
- In Nackles, Susie tries to justify her husband's behavior by saying that it's the stress of having to be an insurance salesman when he'd really rather be back on the football field. The narrator observes to the reader that he sells cars and would like to be president, but he doesn't hit women because of it.
- In the thriller One By One by Ruth Ware, the killer gets a posthumous one of these. Erin, the main viewpoint character, does feel sorry for the killer, as now she has the full picture she can see this character was put in an impossible situation, having been abused and manipulated in a truly horribly way by people this character should have been able to count on as friends—but that doesn't make the murders any less monstrous, particularly the last two (which were committed solely to cover the killer's ass, with only the thinnest of self-serving justifications). Erin acknowledges that it's possible for a person to be both genuinely a victim and just as genuinely a predator, as uncomfortable as that is.
- In Anton Chekhov's story "A Problem", regardless of how often Ivan Markovitch mentions the poor circumstances of Sasha's childhood or the temptations of youth, the Colonel insists he needs to face the courts. Admittedly, he does advance the further argument that Sasha shows no signs of reformation.
- Red Dragon: The titular character had an appalling childhood, being bullied by other children for his cleft palate and abused in pretty much every way by his grandmother. Doesnt change the fact that he killed entire families.
Will Graham: As a child, my heart goes out to him. As an adult, he's irredeemable.
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Lisbeth dismisses Mikael's sympathy towards Martin Vanger, a Serial Rapist and Killer, saying that even though Martin was also raped by his father, he had every opportunity to choose a different path, and did what he did because he enjoyed it. She compares this to her own background: she was abused by her father as well, and is raped by her court-appointed guardian in the book, but she fought back against her abusersnote instead of lashing out at innocent bystanders.
"Gottfried isn't the only kid who was ever mistreated. That doesn't give him the right to murder women. He made that choice himself. And the same is true of Martin."
- In the second Wings of Fire series, Darkstalker essentially says that having an abusive father entitles him to become king of the continent and brainwash everyone who gets in his way. Qibli, who was sold into slavery as a child, feels briefly tempted to join Darkstalker in his spiral of narcissism and self-justification, but quickly remembers that Darkstalker has murdered everyone who loved him, and is trying to murder Qibli too.
- Deconstructed in Les Misérables. Javert himself defied a Dark and Troubled Past, becoming a successful police officer. However, this attitude means he has very little mercy or restraint toward criminals, even toward ex-con Jean Valjean, a man who did turn his life around.
- Christopher Durang's play Baby with the Bathwater is a Black Comedy to the extreme, centering on a young man named Daisy who had a Hilariously Abusive Childhood (for starters, he's called "Daisy" because his parents couldn't bother figuring out if he was a boy or a girl). This has naturally left him with a metric truckload of issues, which are symbolized by an inability to finish his freshman college essay on Gulliver's Travels, despite being a freshman for five years. Eventually, his therapist tells Daisy point blank that, while what he went through is extremely traumatic, he can't let it define him forever—"Why don't you just do the stupid essay?" Daisy is initially hurt, but eventually realizes the therapist is right. He completes the assignment with a "The Reason You Suck" Speech to his parents and storms out of their lives; the ending of the play, which shows Daisy with his new wife and baby, suggests that they're going to break the cycle of abuse.
- A recurring theme in Discworld:
- This is 71-Hour Ahmed's stance in Jingo, which he highlights when telling Sam Vimes about a murderer he tracked down. Ahmed states he couldn't give a damn if the murderer had an unhappy childhood or suffered from "compulsive well-poisoning disorder"; in the latter case, he merely snarks that "I have a compulsion to behead cowardly murderers."
- In The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, Dangerous Beans is legitimately horrified by how Spider the Rat King came to be, but says this doesn't justify his plans and that ultimately, despite claims of good intentions for his brethren, he's just lashing out at the world in a way that's pointlessly destructive.
- This crops up twice in I Shall Wear Midnight. The first case, with Mr Petty, highlights Mr Petty's own abusive childhood and how it left him unable to confront any complex problem without trying to hit something; however Tiffany and her father both agree it doesn't excuse his beating his daughter, Amber, and causing her to miscarry her child, and Tiffany ultimately saves him only because she doesn't want someone tarnishing their soul by killing him. The second case involves the Cunning Man, the Big Bad; Eskarina Smith acknowledges he was badly injured when a witch tried to burn him, but still describes him as a hateful monster afterwards.
- Moonraker: After being cornered by Hugo Drax, 007 gives a "Reason You Suck" Speech to recount Drax's life, specifically noting how being bullied because he sucked his thumb as a child, on top of growing up in Nazi Germany, drove him to develop delusions of jealousy and revenge. Bond concludes his speech with how it made Drax a paranoid nutcase.
James Bond: It's a remarkable case-history. Galloping paranoia. Delusions of jealousy and persecution. Megalomaniac hatred and desire for revenge. Curiously enough, it may have something to do with your teeth. Diastema, they call it. Comes from sucking your thumb when you're a child. Yes. I expect that's what the psychologists will say when they get you into the lunatic asylum. "Ogre's teeth." Being bullied at school and so on. Extraordinary the effect it has on a child. Then Nazism helped to fan the flames and then came the crack on your ugly head. The crack you engineered yourself. I expect that settled it. From then on you were really mad. Same sort of thing as people who think they're God. Extraordinary what tenacity they have. Absolute fanatics. You're almost a genius. Lombroso would have been delighted with you. As it is you're just a mad dog that'll have to be shot. Or else you'll commit suicide. Paranoiacs generally do. Too bad. Sad business. And now let's get on with this farce, you great hairy-faced lunatic.
- In City of Stone and Silence, the second volume of the Wells of Sorcery trilogy, when Isoka finally confronts the book's Arc Villain Prime face-to-face and has him at her mercy, Prime starts to regale her with the tragic tale of how he became what he is. Isoka has no sympathy and cuts him off. "Everyone has sob-stories. Most of us don't try to destroy the world."
- In Market of Monsters, Fabricio repays Nita for risking her own life to save his by selling her to unnatural human traffickers. He later insists he only did it because he had no other way to the money he needed to escape an unbearable home life (refusing to say why) and he believed her mother would be able to protect her from whomever came after her anyway. He gets zero sympathy from Nita.
- This sentiment forms part of the Title Drop of In Cold Blood. At the trial of the killers, one journalist expresses sympathy towards Smith for his terrible childhood (neglectful father, little education, a rash of familial suicides). Reporter Richard Parr, however, has none of it; Smith still killed a family, after all.
Journalist: Perry Smith. My God. He's had such a rotten life-
Parr: Many a man can match sob stories with that little bastard. Me included. Maybe I drink too much, but I sure as hell never killed four people in cold blood.
- The main plot of To Kill a Mockingbird is about Atticus Finch defending Tom Robinson, a black man who is accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell. In the course of the trial, it is revealed that Mayella's father was abusive toward her, and that she had tried to kiss Tom, who felt sorry for her but didn't reciprocate her feelings. Since relationships between white women and black men were taboo, Mayella lied about Tom raping her to save herself. When Atticus delivers his closing speech, he acknowledges Mayella's circumstances, but they don't justify her falsely accusing Tom of rape, an accusation that results in Tom being sentenced to death and killed during an attempted escape.
- This trope is explored to hell and back in Worm, where virtually villain has a Freudian Excuse since every power in this universe requires a Traumatic Superpower Awakening to manifest. Generally speaking, most villains are treated as having this trope in effect, since everyone had it rough to gain powers, but several interludes make it clear that some of these villains had it worse than the "heroes" of the setting, some of whom mostly seem to be hiding their own traumas.
- "Angels" by Within Temptation sums up this trope nicely, telling the subject of the song that he's responsible for his own choices.
The world may have failed you, it doesn't give you reason why
You could have chosen a different path in life
- The Eagles want you to just "Get Over It":
I turn on the tube, and what do I see? A whole lot of people crying "Don't blame me."They point their crooked little fingers at everybody else, spend all their time feeling sorry for themselves.A victim of this, a victim of that, your mama's too thin and your daddy's too fat?Get over it!
- "My Brother Jake" by Free! is about the titular character choosing to dwell on his own problems than addressing them and turning his life around. The singer is trying to help him before realising they have to be cruel to be kind in order to get Jake to fully understand the weight of his actions in "Pissing [his] life away".
I said Jake, Jake, Jake, won't you waitWhat's got into you - ohYour candle is burning, the wheels of time are turningWhat you gonna do?Listen, I'm gonna break you JakeBecause you got what it takesTo give a whole lotta people some soul
- Sick Sad World:
- The hosts of this podcast have no sympathy for serial killer Ed Kemper when he claims his mom was awful towards him. They point out even if she was abusive, he didn't need to kill multiple women.
- They have somewhat more sympathy for school shooter Andrew Lanza, due to his pre-established mental illness, but theyre horrified that he decided to kill kids.
- Ravenloft: More than a few of the Darklords have messed-up histories: Meredoth, for example, was raised by Abusive Parents and flesh golems in that order, meaning that he tends to kill any living creature that comes near him because he's convinced that anything he doesn't have absolute control over is a threat. However, sob stories don't work on the Dark Powers. They don't care if your trip over the Moral Event Horizon was fueled by a tragic backstory or just you being an asshole. You're getting your Ironic Hell either way.
- Heathers: J.D.'s life has sucked, no bones about it, with an abusive drunk for a father and a loving-but-dead mother. Veronica has deep empathy for him, and acknowledges that it's not his fault he had such a cruddy childhood or that he's a bit messed up... but it still doesn't excuse him becoming a Serial Killer.
- Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier: When Aladdin is arrested, the Princess tries to stand up for him, saying he deserves leniency he's lost his parents. The Captain of the Guard has none of it, however, and points out that he needs to be punished because he got people killed, including the twin brother of one of his subordinates. Then it turns out that Aladdin doesn't actually need to steal, he just does it because he's too lazy to work and thinks stealing is fun. Moreover, when he finds out that his parents were killed by an alternate personality of his, he's fine with it after very little persuasion, and admits that he actually wanted them to die deep down because they were going to kick him out of their house and make him get a job, even thanking his other personality for killing them.
- Ace Attorney: A recurring thing is that a crime is a crime; no matter what the victim has done to the killer or how much of an Asshole Victim they are, nothing justifies murdering someone else, and you'll be arrested for it. The Big Bad of the AAI2 game is a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds, who had met nothing but misery in his life, trying to take revenge on the people whom they blamed it for (which they believe all to have deserved their fate). While Edgeworth acknowledges their woobieness from their inability to get psychological help, it's still no "Get out of Jail Free" Card (especially after framing a child for his father's murder) and he gets arrested at the end of the game nonetheless, though one can argue this was good for him, as he gets to live with his Parental Substitute Doghen. During their confrontation, he mentions that his actions have made them no different from the people they were trying to get revenge on.
- The culprit of the third case in Justice For All accidentally killed his benefactor and mentor while aiming to kill the man's daughter, who'd been responsible for pulling a Deadly Prank that resulted in him being confined to a wheelchair and his brother going into a coma, while not understanding what she'd done. The judge asks if the killer is actually a victim, at which point Acro tearfully says that he's just a murderer.
- Although some people such as Oldbag sympathize with Jack Hammer over their years of blackmail by Vasquez, effectively ruining their career, even Oldbag had to admit that they went too far in drugging Will Powers and trying to frame them for murder.
- Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony: The chapter 3 killer, Korekiyo Shinguji, tries to justify their murderous actions by saying that all they want is to send friends to his sister that has already died. It does not work, as even Monokuma finds him and his incestuous love for his sister to be disgusting.
- In the original Dangan Ronpa Trigger Happy Havoc, this is also done twice by the same character. First, Leon's claim of self-defense in murdering Sayaka is shot down by Celeste, who points out that he disarmed her and got her to lock herself in a bathroom only to then go back to his room, get a toolkit to unlock the bathroom door, go back and murder her. Later, Celeste invokes the trope again on herself, about to confess to a more sympathetic angle to her murder of two people after previously insisting on it having been done out of pure greed and selfishness, only to stop and say that it's not important, as revealing this factor wouldn't absolve or justify her crimes in any way.
- In Shinrai: Broken Beyond Despair, "Raiko's Diary," a post-game optional scene, involves Raiko and Nobara learning a little more about Hiro after his death. His arrogance and desire to be the center of attention is said to be the result of how, after years of "pretty average to almost abysmal grades," he once got the highest grade in the class, and the attention went to his head. As for his poor treatment of the women in his life, it's revealed that his mother left his father when Hiro was five, and his father kept bringing other women home- either Hiro thought it was okay to treat women as objects, or simply hated women. Raiko then comes to this conclusion:
"Anyway, I'm no psychologist, so all I can do here is speculate. But paired with his self-centered personality, it certainly would explain a lot. Even if it does by no means excuse anything he's done."
- Red vs. Blue: The Director was basically destroyed mentally by the death of his beloved wife during the Great War, motivating him to start Project Freelancer to both develop a way to beat the Covenant and find a way to revive his wife, resulting in him committing war crimes and ruining and indirectly taking the lives of countless people. Church, one of the countless people who was screwed over by him, and Genkins, a monster in his own right, point out that his actions are utterly inexcusable, dead wife or not, and that the majority of the people he screwed over trusted and depended on him.
- Weiss's attitude towards Faunus plays with this trope. Her seeming racism towards Sun causes an argument with Blake, during which Weiss reveals that as a Schnee (owners of Schnee Dust Corporation, a major exploiter of Faunus and target of the Faunus activist/terrorist group, the White Fang) meant that she had to constantly fear attacks by Faunus angry at her family. Blake counters that the White Fang were just responding to the Schnees' horrible treatment of them- inadvertently revealing herself as a Faunus and former White Fang member in the process. After the dust is settled and Character Development is had by all, it becomes clear that Weiss despises her family's cruel actions, and she decided to become a Huntswoman to redeem the Schnee legacy. Her animosity towards Faunus is mostly directed at the White Fang, and justified because, well, they're terrorists (in fact, Blake left the group when Adam wanted her to stand by while he killed civilians). Her upbringing has resulted in more subtle, unconscious racism towards Faunus as a whole, but she never uses it as an excuse to hurt Faunus (be an absolute ice queen, yes, hurt them, no) and is willing to change.
- Played straight with Blake as a Faunus, she's witnessed tons of racism against Faunus, so she's entitled to her beliefs right? That does not excuse her becoming a Jerkass Woobie (especially to Sun) and saying doing other things is a waste of time (she does come to the dance but the point still stands). However, the biggest defender of this is: her behavior towards Sun in Volume 4 (heck even when she WAS right it came off more Jerkass Has a Point than anything), so much that she gets the most You Are Better Than You Think You Are version of a "The Reason You Suck" Speech ever, saying yes this needs to be stopped but she needs to stop keeping the rest of them out, it's doing more harm than good (don't worry she gets better).
- In the past, Ilia Amitola posed as a human and made human friends at an Atlas prep school, but all that came to an end when her parents were killed in the Mantle Dust mine collapse and her human "friends" laughed and made jokes at the Faunus workers' expense. Having already seen plenty of anti-Faunus rhetoric from them, this led Ilia to snap, break her former friends' teeth, and join the White Fang, viewing their terrorism as justified and acceptable because humans either actively hate Faunus or stand back and let the hate happen. While Blake is sympathetic to what happened to her, she makes it clear that Ilia's past does not justify her actions and there are always other options besides violence; it's only when Blake points out Ilia's parents would not approve of what she's doing or would have wanted her to go down such a path that Ilia comes around.
- Volume 6 reveals a significant chunk of Salem's motives. She lived in imprisonment due to a cruel father until rescued by the hero Ozma, with whom she fell in love. After losing him to sickness, she began her descent into evil after warring with the gods for refusing to resurrect him. As bad as her life was, it's made clear that this does not justify her vendetta against Ozpin or her attempts to destroy humanity. Yang tells Salem to her face that nobody gets a fairy tale ending and having something bad happen to them doesn't justify the endless death she's causing to the whole world, comparing her to a child throwing a temper tantrum.
- Volume 8 reveals that Cinder Fall was shaped into the person she is by a horrific Dark and Troubled Past An orphan that lived on a farm, she was bullied and mistreated by the other children until she was eventually adopted by a cruel hotelier who forced her to perform all the chores for no reward and even minimal food; she had to scrounge the discarded trays from room service for both food and drinks, leaving her malnourished enough to collapse. Her step-sisters would regularly degrade and mock her for their own pleasure, and her step-mother controlled her through the use of a Shock Collar, eventually leading her to snap and murder her adoptive family; as a result, Cinder has become a cruel sociopath who arrogantly believes she's entitled to power and justified in taking whatever she wants. Watts eventually tears her excuse apart, telling Cinder point-blank that the world owes her nothing just because she's suffered in the past, and if she wants to obtain the power she seeks, she needs to actually earn it.
- In Khaos Komix, Jamie says in the introduction to his story that while he did have a Dark and Troubled Past, he's not going to use it as an excuse for having acted like a homophobic Jerkass to his friends and others.
I don't really know what to say about my life. I suppose people are expecting a shit childhood with abusive parents and a daddy that never loved me. None of that would be wrong, but I don't think people should use their pasts as an excuse for their actions. I'm an asshole because I choose to be. And maybe if I do this I'll figure out how not to be an asshole. I'm getting there, but it's easy to fuck up. And I've got a lot riding on this whole repentance shit.
- I'm the Grim Reaper: While Scarlet feels sorry for Ana, the woman who claimed to kill her terminally ill son as a mercy kill due to her sad backstory, Chase feels no such sympathy. His response is to claim that she made her own choices and there were still a vast amount of other options she could have taken to take care of him before resorting to murder.
- Heaven and Hell: Allison "Alice" Witzenberg had a terrible childhood filled with abuse and neglect, growing a desire to become stronger as a result. However, Mint points out that Alice's love of hurting people is completely unrelated to what they went through, as well as the fact that Mint went through some of the same problems Alice did and dealt with them in a far healthier way.
- Nights In Lonesome Arkham : Nyarlathotep was denied attention and respect from his Almighty Idiot father Azathoth after all the things he's done for him. This caused him to despise the Outer Gods. After Aleviel defeated him the first time and gave him hope of a better life, he began stalking her for reasons he himself couldn't realize, growing to believe in her until her death made him despise her. No longer content with being the Outer Gods' pawn and utterly hateful of his mindless father, Nyarlathotep's true plan to use Aleviel's power to break the lock on creation and devour the Outer Gods to reign supreme over all existence. He's flatly called out on his freudian excuse, as it doesn't excuse his sadism, cruelty and love for toying with humans' fears and emotions. However, when Hardestadt tries to call him out on this earlier, Nyarlathotep shuts him up by stating that "Gods do not justify themselves to their inferior".