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Gotta Get Your Head Together

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Joshua tries to fight off the power of demon horns.

"I've never before realized that "cacophony" was onomatopoeic: the noise of the Poultry Bldg. is cacophonous and scrotum-tightening and totally horrible. I think it's what insanity must sound like. No wonder madmen clutch their heads and scream."
David Foster Wallace, Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All

The head is where the brain is, and the brain controls all conscious and unconscious functions. So when there's some external, intangible assault on the brain, cranium or ears, it's only natural to seek to protect the head. this is the resulting trope.

If a mind control power is used, or a vicious psychic assault is going down, the character(s) attempting to resist it will clutch their heads, usually in pain.

If a sonic assault has been unleashed, the victims will clutch their heads to protect their ears.

Variations on the head-clutch include huddling into a ball on the floor, falling to the knees, or doubling over as if attempting to shake off the intruding influence.

This pose, often seen in tandem with The Scream, can also be encountered in situations where a powered character is reaching the upper limit of their concentration and ability; which makes this trope a relative of the Pstandard Psychic Pstance. It is also closely related to Psychic Nosebleed, another way of suggesting strain or damage to the head/brain.

In extreme cases, it is followed by Your Head A-Splode.

As mind manipulation technology has not yet been perfected, we cannot ascertain whether or not the psychic variant is Truth in Television. The sonic version is, though.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Dragon Ball Z: Vegeta does this when Babidi is taking over his mind and amplifying the evil within him.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion:
    • Asuka does this when she gets Mind Raped by Arael.
    • In the ending film, Maya does it - complete with screaming - after Lilith's hand passes through her.
  • In Chrono Crusade:
    • Joshua often clutches his head and screams when the power of the horns on his head overwhelms him. (The picture above is just one example of many.)
    • The manga shows Aion clutching his head after discovering horrible secrets about his society, including that Pandaemonium was once a human woman, pregnant with him and Chrono, before she was turned into the Hive Queen of the demons.
  • Elfen Lied:
    • Child!Lucy does this whenever her "killer instinct" is talking to her.
    • Adult Lucy does it when her Split Personality is about to take over.
  • Ranma : Ryouga does this every chance he gets, whether he's succumbing to despair, embarrassment, or simply has gotten lost yet again. It even became his "Lose" pose in the Super Famicom fighting games.
  • Saint Seiya: Siren Sorento is assaulting Siegfried's mind with the melody from his flute. Desperate to ward off the attack, Siegfried first covers his ears, then ruptures his own eardrums... but the sound still reaches directly into his brain, causing him to clutch his head in madness.
  • AKIRA: Constantly happening to and around Tetsuo. Apparently, being psychic really, really hurts. And you know what they say about misery...
  • Bakugan: Dan often clutched his head during the first part of the fourth season due to constant Mind Rape from the Big Bad.
  • Naruto:
    • Gaara did this quite a few times during the chuunin exams because the One-Tailed Demon inside him was rearing its ugly head from the sight of all the fighting and blood being spilled.
    • Another trigger for his extreme mental anguish was anyone acting in resemblance to his late uncle Yashamaru, or anyone who stepped in to protect his opponent; such selflessness—risking your life to protect another, clearly weaker person— makes his consciousness tear at its seams, for he never had anyone to love him or protect him or even play with him when he was a child, save for his uncle.
  • Happens to The Brute of the villain's minions in The Mystery of Mamo. Unlike most examples, his head is literally coming apart, thanks to Goemon's sword.
  • This happens often in Yu-Gi-Oh! most notably Joey/Jonouchi in his fight with Yugi, does this multiple times while trying to resist Mariks control after being brainwashed by him.
  • My Hero Academia: The villain Twice does this sometimes when the voices in his head keep contradicting his thoughts, he needs to wear a mask that completely covers his head in order to "stay whole".

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Universe:
    • Almost anyone being attacked by a psi will do this.
    • And any with psi-based powers hit with psychic backlash. Also happens to anyone attempting to use Cerebro to scan world-wide, from Professor Xavier to the mildest psychic, so often that you wonder why they still trust the thing.
  • Fantastic Four: Susan Storm-Richards tends to do this when she's pushing her force field power to its upper limit.
  • Superman:
    • In a classic issue, an amnesiac Supergirl's clone does this when the titular heroine reveals her true nature.
    • In the last issue of her second solo book Supergirl clutches her head, screaming "Get out of my head!" when a telepathic super-villain attempts to mind-rape her.
    • In Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, Linda Lee accidentally breaks a wall and clutches her head as wondering how she can fix it before someone stumbles upon the mess.
    • War World: Mongul clutches his head when Warworld's control helmet nearly fries his brain.
    • In Krypton No More, Superman does this twice: when Supergirl tells him that they are Earth-born human mutants and later when the light of an orange star blinds him in the middle of a battle.
    • Last Daughter of Krypton: When Supergirl is getting overwhelmed by a sensory overload shortly after arriving on Earth, she clutches her head with both hands, falls on her knees and screams.
    • In Strangers at the Heart's Core, Linda Danvers clutches her head in pain when Lesla-Lar's spirit invades her mind.
    • In The Hunt for Reactron, Supergirl grabs her head with both hands and screams when she is hit by a sonic weapon.
    • Death & the Family: Kara clutches her head with both hands when she is hit by Silver Banshee's ear-shattering wail.
  • The first villain in X-Wing Rogue Squadron: Requiem for a Rogue is confronted by a more powerful villain, who uses his blaster to burn off his own hand, telekinetically uses it to choke the first guy, then makes the first guy's head explode. There's a Gory Discretion Shot, and the first bad guy's silhouette is seen clutching its head before exploding.
  • In Justice League: Cry for Justice, when the heroes seek justice.
  • BIONICLE: In the cover of issue #21 Dreams of Darkness, Vakama, tortured by his nightmare-like visions.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Professor Menace clutches his head with both hands and yells when the Wonder Woman robot he's been controlling mentally is shorted out with electricity by Wonder Woman.
  • In Batgirl story The Attack of the Annihilator, Kenneth Anderson clutches his head in pain when his body is bathed by mutating alien energies.

    Fan Works 
  • Both Ringo and John in With Strings Attached employ this trope.
    • Ringo uses it when he uses his mindsight for the first time, and the power nearly makes his brain explode. He also uses it several times in the Hunter's world when he is caught in a sudden psychic scream.
    • John also uses it in the Hunter's world on the occasions when the shrieking Blackfire is drawn. The last time this happens, his ears start to bleed.
  • In A Prize for Three Empires, Carol Danvers clutches her head when she finds out that a Shi'ar Guardsmen whom she killed during a battle was her friend Raza's brother.
  • In the Ancienverse, most of the army covers their heads at the sound of Yveltal's seals being released.


  • Harry Potter: Harry does this a lot throughout the series because of the scar that connects he and Voldemort. In The Deathly Hallows specifically, he would clutch at his forehead in an attempt to resist the visions that came whenever Voldemort was at his most powerful, so as to stay within the present.
  • The Horse and His Boy: Mr. Tumnus the Faun gets a sudden brilliant idea which might free the party from their current predicament and poses, as a person who didn't know him describes it, "holding his horns as if he was trying to keep his head on by them."

    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Common for anyone under assault from Daemons or other warp-powers. While it's unlikely to do any difference once a Daemons has taken proper hold, it at least signals anyone around to get away as fast as possible. Psykers, who uses the warp as a weapon, are often seen doing this mindlessly, but that's what happens when you use the dimension of nightmares and horror as a tool.
    • The Emperor's Children Traitor Legion has specialized themselves into using sonic weaponry, which inevitably leads to their enemy, and even other friendly squads, to grasp for their ears in pain.

    Video Games 
  • Stock pose in City of Heroes for anyone caught by a psionic Hold power.
  • In Disco Elysium, the Detective and Kim take this stance once Ruby ambushes them with the Pale Compressor, which is basically a device that beams radio signals directly to your head.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, head clutching is a Stock Motion, which also gets used when someone is afflicted with the Fear/Panic/Insanity line of offensive Force abilities.
  • Likewise a stock gesture in Star Wars: The Old Republic, along with a milder variant that basically looks like someone shaking their head to stay awake. Generally this is accompanied by Glowing Eyes or a Battle Aura that is colored depending on the type of Force effect.
  • Cloud from Final Fantasy VII ends up doing this quite a bit...
  • During the first half of Shadow Hearts, Yuri clutches his head every time he uses his Harmonixer powers. He does it because of a severe emotional trauma, that haunts him since the day of his Traumatic Superpower Awakening, that causes transformation mentally hurt him.
  • Persona 5: Most of the Phantom Thieves clutch at their heads when awakening their Personas, except for Joker and Ann, who were restrained at the time. In the sequel, Zenkichi and Sophia do as well.

  • In Gunnerkrigg Court chapter 19, Zimmy—the girl with static in her head and Imaginary Enemies—was seen clutching her head just before Bad Things started happening.
  • In El Goonish Shive, Tedd and Ellen both clutch at their heads after being subject to having their emotions magically amplified by Magus because of the headache that ensues after a successful use of the ability.
  • Unsounded: Roger grabs at his head and hair, digging his fingers into his temples, after he collapses due to Ruck's venom dissolving his mind. He begs Maha to kill Ruck when she's done with him, to prevent the traitorous monster from inflicting the same Fate Worse than Death on her.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Back To The Sewer—The bad guy strikes a Mind Control gong.
  • Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends
    • In "The Fantastic Frump", Doom unleashes a sonic attack that not only causes the clutching of the head and doubling over, but drives Firestar to her knees.
    • In "The X-Men Adventure", a sonic attack causes Sprite to clutch her head and huddle in a fetal position.
  • In Justice League: The New Frontier: The Martian Manhunter does it in response to a telepathic assault.
  • Ma-Ti on Captain Planet frequently suffered from this, too.
  • In the 1990s X-Men: The Animated Series, young Charles exhibited the head clutch when his powers began kicking in.
  • Invader Zim had two of these, although both assaults are tangible:
    • "NanoZim", in which Zim shrinks himself and attacks Dib's brain to make him forget where he hid a disc containing evidence of Zim's otherworldliness.
    • In the Halloween special, magical demon-things living inside Dib's head suck Dib into their world and open a portal in his head to get to the real world and take it over.
  • One episode of South Park shows that simply the concept of altruism causes Cartman to feel mental anguish.
  • Phineas and Ferb: "Ask a Foolish Question" When the supercomputer scans all of the Tri-State area, the laser passing over town gets several reactions, including Norm the robot's. He clutches his head with both hands and cheerfully says, "Get out of my mind!"
  • In Young Justice, when Miss Martian first attempts to communicate telepathically with the Team - not understanding that it is an invasion of privacy as she is not of Earth - they clutch their heads.
    • In "Agendas", Superboy does this again out of surprise when Lex Luthor talks to him at a frequency that only his Kryptonian ears can hear.
    • Again, when M'gann psychically attacks Aqualad he screams and clutches his head in pain, only to fall to the ground limp a moment later.
  • In Batman: Assault on Arkham, when Amanda Waller starts losing patience, Harley clutches her neck (where the team's Explosive Leash is planted) and says "Please don't explode! Please don't explode!"
  • A mundane version occurs in The Simpsons when Homer tries to play off a problem with a Sarcastic Confession (totally explained, but maintaining the same tone so his wife is sorry she asked), and when Lisa says he can't keep this up, sarcastically goes on about the idea that it's really so serious or the idea that he can't even stop until he exaggeratedly holds his head while declaring, "I have serious mental problems!..."

    Real Life 
  • If one has a bad headache, it's a natural response to clutch and rub at the temples—sometimes the more bearable pain of the pressure on the head can override the sharp pain of the headache.
  • 'The head-clutcher' is a stock photo that usually turns up on news articles about depression or other common mental illnesses, because the editor couldn't think of another way to depict it.