On the one hand, you have The Atoner, a person who committed a terrible deed and after a HeelĖFace Turn, resolves to spend their entire life trying to make up for it. On the other hand, you have the person who Apologizes a Lot, someone who apologizes out of habit, even if they know whatever happened was not their fault.
Now, enter Guilt Complex, the bastard child of those two tropes.
A person with a Guilt Complex is someone who routinely puts blame on their own shoulders. It differs from The Atoner in that whatever happened cannot possibly be their fault, and their justification for blaming themselves is usually a stretch, sometimes taken to ridiculous levels. It differs from Apologizes a Lot in that it's not just a Verbal Tic or a way of expressing sympathy for someone else, they truly believe if they had done something different, whatever negative situation they were in would not have ever happened. And they feel this way all the time, in all situations, to the point where it basically becomes one of their main character traits. Often takes the form of "I should have..." or "If I hadn't..."
A Guilt Complex can be born from many different personalities:
- Extreme Doormats who are so used to being blamed for everything that they've started to believe it's really their fault.
- A Martyr Without a Cause who subconsciously tries to shield their True Companions from hurt by taking the blame themselves, like The Heart, Team Moms, Team Dads, and characters who are A Father to His Men.
- Characters with lingering, unresolved guilt stemming from their greatest failure (which is more likely to actually be their fault), when said failure hits them so hard that it pervades every aspect of their life and they begin to believe every failure around them is their fault, as well.
- On rare occasions, it may be a type of Heroic Self-Deprecation from Byronic Heroes who feel they're responsible for everything that happens around them just because they're protagonists.
- "Catholic Guilt" is a stereotypical personality trait of practicing Catholics and former Catholics.
Expect the True Companions to initially try and make this person see how they are not at fault, until it happens again, and again, and again, and again, and in the end induces much eye-rolling, resignation, or even Lampshade Hanging from other characters.
If a character indulges in this a little too much, it's not uncommon for a supporting character to snap them out of it by accusing them of arrogance for the attitude. Expect to see something along the lines of "you think you're the only one [responsible for/saddened by/involved in] this?!"
Often instrumental to the Heroic B.S.O.D.. See also It's All My Fault where the character usually says this to the point it becomes the Guilt Complex trait. Contrast with Never My Fault, the inversion of this trope.
Please note: When you add examples, try to give as much detail as possible. Remember this trope is about a behavioral pattern.
- Miranda Lotto from D.Gray-Man. She has a massive inferiority complex from being bullied by everyone in her hometown and constantly told she's useless. She goes out of her way to be helpful, but feels she can't do anything right, and relentlessly blames herself for pretty much everything that goes wrong. "I'm sorry" and "I should have..." are the things you hear her say the most. Also, she's the team's Barrier Warrior, and often thinks she doesn't do a good enough job of protecting her True Companions. Her powers allow her to heal even the most fatal wounds...but only temporarily, any injuries that she heals returning after she deactivates her Innocence. Thus, you can expect her to try and leave it on for as long as possible, even when it's obviously taking a toll on her, and then apologize profusely when she's finally forced to shut it off..
- Quatre Raberba Winner of Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. Believing that peace is possible without fighting, he nonetheless pilots one of the few Gundam suits in the galaxy, forcing him into wars. He's an Apologetic Attacker who constantly tries to get his enemies to surrender without fighting, which always fails, and carries around the deaths of the people he kills heavy on his mind. Teammate Duo Maxwell once said that if someone were to ask Quatre why there's no air in space, "Quatre would say it's because he didn't work on it hard enough."
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: Shinji Ikari suffers from this, mostly born out of an Extreme Doormat personality clouded with Parental Abandonment on his mom's end (and a serious asshole of a father). It's his fault Touji's sister got hurt because he should've been more careful when fighting the angel that almost killed him, it's his fault Asuka is screwed because he is unable to help her, it's his fault he had to kill Kaworu because he could've chosen to Take a Third Option... He becomes so wrecked with guilt that at End of Evangelion he refuses to make anything for fear of screwing it up... and as a result everything (Misato's death, Asuka's extremely bloody and painful death, The End of the World as We Know It...) becomes HIS fault.
- Rurouni Kenshin:
- Himura Kenshin's Guilt Complex started from when he was a very young boy never quite got over the idea that he doesn't deserve to live— not only is he The Atoner for the numerous people he killed, but he has a ton of Survivor's Guilt over being the only one who lived through the bandit attack in which he met his mentor— and it took a long, long time for him to break out of his Death Seeker ways. His fame as the Hitokiri Battousai means that many of his old enemies come looking for him and many people get hurt in the process. Hence Kenshin blames himself every time someone he cares about gets hurt in these altercations, even if they willingly put themselves on the line. Eventually this prompts him to leave Tokyo, leaving all of his friends and Kaoru) because It's Not You, It's My Enemies. Kenshin also blames himself for the death of his first wife, Tomoe. Granted, she did die by his sword, but as she threw herself in between him and his enemy in a Heroic Sacrifice, it was never Kenshin's intention, and since he was by that point blinded by pain and blood from previous battles, there was no way he could've seen her until it was too late. Tomoe herself certainly did not blame him at all.
- Tomoe's little brother went insane as a product of seeing his sister die. Therefore Kenshin also blames himself for this, and indirectly for every horrible deed Enishi brings about in his quest for revenge— effectively everything that happens in the last eleven volumes of the manga. It isn't until the very end of the series that Kenshin began to forgive himself, and believe himself worthy of finding happiness.
- In Trigun Vash the Stampede is a Technical Pacifist who believes that "there are plenty of ways to save everyone"; i.e. no matter how bad the situation looks, there's always a way to resolve it without anyone having to die. So, naturally, whenever anyone does die a violent death, he blames himself for not finding a Third Option in time.
- Syaoran from Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-. He blames himself for pretty much everything that happened, because of his decision to rewind time when he was seven. This includes Sakura being taken away by Fei Wong Reed, Fai's being born a twin and therefore being a cause of misfortune, Kurogane's mother's death, and Watanuki, most of which happened before he was born. Probably. He blames himself because the Big Bad implies that his rewinding time gave him a free rein, but in reality it was his only option, he was pretty much manipulated by Fei Wong Reed and had no control over what Fei Wong did making use of the altered timeline, and there is no way the poor kid could've known all the ramifications that were possible from his one wish, anyway. Heck, even the readers don't quite understand all the ramifications.
- Sango from InuYasha. She blames herself for her undead little brother being Brainwashed and Crazy, for all the deaths he causes and for not being able to hate him and therefore kill him to stop him. She also blames herself every time Miroku is poisoned or injured.
- Jellal in Fairy Tail lets people pretty much beat the crap out of him without complaint out of guilt for his past actions. It holds when he learns he behaved that way due to brainwashing. Despite knowing he wasn't totally in control of himself he still offers to die to make up for what he did. After his offer to kill himself to make up for killing Simon is turned down he then tries his hardest to sink his ship (one of the most teased in the series) so that he won't get to be happy.
- Code Geass: Lelouch Lamperouge. To explain how deep and massive his guilt complex is would spoil the entire show. To say the least, Lelouch does many horrible things that directly or indirectly affect the people he loves that by the end he goes to extremes to atone. Deuteragonist Suzaku also has a rather large and justified guilt complex.
- Soichiro Yagami from Death Note, who blamed himself as well as Kira for the deaths of certain task force members, his daughter's comatose state after being kidnapped and held hostage by Mello, and not being able to kill Mello when given the opportunity. He also blames himself for losing the Death Note to terrorists, although this one was technically his fault.
- Being a Deconstruction Played for Laughs of the Fighting Series, Muteki Kanban Musume shows Megumi, who claims that she is contented with being a Combat Pragmatist trying anything, no matter how low, to defeat Miki. She lies. She has enough self-hatred that she thinks of herself as a Card-Carrying Villain, and being an Hypocrite is so hard for her and pervades every aspect of her life that she believes that Kayahara Sensei is an avenging spirit trying to torment her.
- Because of her past, even now Haruka from Kotoura-san still blames herself for everything bad that is related to her—or to be exact, her telepathy causing herself a Doom Magnet (even clearly it has nothing to do with her). Manabe calls her out for that in episode 10.
- Kyo of Fruits Basket blames himself for pretty much everything bad that happens to himself and those around him (and a lot of bad stuff happens around him). His mother is Driven to Suicide (which his father and many other people blame him for), he wasted an opportunity to save Kyoko Honda from her untimely death, and the Sohmas in general just treat him like dirt because he's the Cat. Eventually, he comes to the conclusion that he "wasn't meant to interact with people", and that being locked up in some corner of the Sohma estate and removed from the lives of his loved ones would be better for them.
- A more obvious example would be Kyo's cousin Ritsu. The poor man got so used to hearing his parents apologizing on his behalf that he started blaming himself for "everything," from imposing on his cousin Shigure to drinking the last bottle of milk in the house. When he goes shopping to atone, he ends up apologizing to a stray cat trying to steal his squid: clearly Ritsu didn't buy "enough" squid for everyone. His nonsensical apologies are actually what clues Tohru in on Ritsu's identity as the Monkey, because he takes after his mother.
- Kenzo Tenma from Monster. First, he blames himself for the death of a construction worker because he mistakenly followed orders from a corrupt director to operate on a famous opera singer who arrived shortly afterward. When the same circumstances occurred again, he opted to operate on the patient that arrived first (a child with a gunshot wound to the head) out of guilt. Said patient would become one of the worst serial killers in fiction. Tenma feels obligated to stop him to atone, even if it means killing him. Never mind that there was no way he could have possibly known that the kid was evil.
- Ai Kaga from Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei is an extreme case, apologizing and taking the blame for anything and everything (including being born,) and constantly worrying about inconveniencing others. In the anime she even hides Behind the Black until the final episode of the first season because she doesn't want to ruin the show.
- Miaka from Fushigi Yuugi has this. She attributes it to seeing her mother sad after she and Miaka's father divorced, when Miaka was very young. It only gets worse when she sees just how much her Seishi are willing to do for her.
- Spider-Man lives and breathes this trope:
- Usually of the type "If only I had gotten there sooner" or "I should've known this would happen" when there was no way he could've gotten there any sooner and there was no way he could've known this would happen. The fact that the media blames him for everything doesn't help matters either; it's a Running Gag in the series that whenever something bad happens, Spidey immediately starts remarking that somehow he'll wind up being blamed for it by the media. His Guilt Complex is also lampshaded many, many times.
- Uncle Ben's death? His fault, he could have stopped the thief earlier. Gwen Stacy's death? His fault, he killed her when he fired a webline to stop her plunging off a bridge. J. Jonah Jameson has a heart attack? His fault, he never should have asked for the back pay the Bugle owed him... You get the point. Sometimes, his guilt is justified (Aunt May getting shot by a sniper, for example), and of course this only adds to the complex as is.
- It gets to the point that in an early issue of New Avengers, when he finds out that Electro caused a supervillain prison break, he starts blaming himself for the riot since Electro is one of "his" villains. Luke Cage immediately points out how ridiculous that is because if Electro refused, someone else would've been hired to do the job.
- Parodied in I'm a Marvel... and I'm a DC:
Batman: Don't you know, [Spider-Man] blames himself for Marvel losing the Transformers?
Hulk: But why?
Batman: I don't know, he blames himself for everything!
- One particularly ludicrous example comes from the 90s cartoon series, where villain Morbius changed into a vampire due to an accident experimenting with Peter's blood, which he obtained by breaking into Peter's locker. Peter considers this his fault. Okay, yes, a school locker isn't the best place to keep radioactive blood, but seriously Peter, grow a damn spine.
- One I'm a Marvel... and I'm a DC example: Peter manifests two personae, one for the Spider-man Trilogy movies, and the other for the Amazing reboot. They fight with each other, insulting their respective movies, which threatens to harm Peter's consciousness. Batman convinces Professor X to force both personae to blame themselves for their movies' failures. After they take terms comforting each other, they realize their movies' mistakes aren't their fault, they reconcile, saving Peter's consciousness.
- The "No One Dies" arc in Dan Slott's run heavily examined this trait of Spider-Man. After Martha Jameson is killed by the Spider Slayer, Spidey experiences a nightmare where he's tormented by visions of everyone who's ever died on his watch, from famous deaths like Gwen Stacy and Ben Reily to single issue and background characters like the kid from "The Boy Who Collects Spider-Man". Spider-Man blames himself for every death that occurs around him, even if he couldn't possibly have helped and the result is some who is strongly implied to be a borderline mental wreck, wracked with PTSD and self-loathing. Afterwards he promises that nobody will ever die when he's around again; this ends up making his guilt complex even worse, culminating in a near breakdown in "Ends Of The Earth" after the suicidal Rhino deliberately kills himself and Silver Sable just to spite Spidey by breaking his promise for him.
- In one issue of Daredevil, Matt Murdock's friend, Foggy Nelson, was beating himself up for something, and Matt told him, "Foggy, you would blame yourself for the Battle of Bull Run if you could find a way to do it."
- Batman: Dick gets shot? Blames himself, fires Dick to protect him. Babs gets shot? Blames himself, doesn't show his face to her. Jason gets killed? Blames himself, becomes violent and careless. It doesn't help he constantly keeps Jason's memorial case around to constantly remind him of his perceived failure to save him. When Dick took over as Batman, he decides to move the case, and finds out that Bruce put files of the murder of Dick's parents into it. Dick even wonders to himself just how deep Bruce's self-flagellation goes. Bruce has been like this since he was eight. Parents get shot? Blames himself, dedicates the rest of his life to crimefighting and sabotages his own relationships because he genuinely believes he doesn't deserve to be happy.
- Iron Man: Jim Rhodes donned the armor when Tony Stark was driven to the bottle by the manipulations of Obidiah Stane. After Tony regained his sobriety and joined Rhodey and friends in a new venture in California, Rhodey began experiencing debilitating headaches and fits of rage toward Stark while in the armor. When nobody could come up with a medical or scientific explanation for the headaches, Henry Pym referred Rhodey to Shaman, who sent Rhodey on an Interdimensional Vision Quest. Here, Rhodey confronted his own soul, and came to realize that the headaches were caused by his own guilt; he had enjoyed being Iron Man and didn't want to lose it, but deep down he believed he'd stolen the identity from Tony, and this conflicted with his loyalty to his friend. Only by being willing to give up the armor was he freed from the headaches.
- Believe it or not, Bill has this trope in spades in A Triangleinthe Stars. It stems from his past, especially his growing empathy, which causes him to draw negative attention to all his wrongdoings, and especially the meaning of his true name. Alongside his depression, he hides it extremely well and represses it, only letting off hints every once and a while. Until it explodes.
- Steven has a mild case, not as bad as it is in the series proper since this story starts after "Ocean Gem". But he also doesn't talk about it much and tries not to think about it.
- Evangelion 303: After a short-lived time period where she blamed everyone else, Asuka started to blame herself for everything in the second arc: Unit 04 blew up due to circumstances completely out of her control? Her fault because she was responsible for carrying out the mission successfully, even if she hadn't made any mistakes. Her best friend died in the crash? Her fault because she responsible for carrying out the mission successfully, even if it was not her fault and her friend's ghost personally absolved her. the NF-14 disaster? Her fault even though her superiors knew that she was very unstable and should not have been put in that war plane and some of them even hoped that she crashed it down. The program is facing hardships? Her fault for existing.
- HERZ: Even after twelve years Shinji feels guilty about most bad things happened during the Angel War, including events where he had no control or no choice.
- Scar Tissue: Shinji blamed himself for absolutely everything in this fic. The MP-Evas murdered Asuka? His fault because she needed him and he left her to die. The End of the World as We Know It? His fault because he set it off, even if he was a mere pawn into other people's schemes. Asuka is physically scarred and emotionally wrecked? His fault because he allowed it or contributed to her mental state. She got so scared, confused, traumatized, paranoid, unstable and unable to control her anger that she abused him for eight months straight before getting her act together? His fault because he was the one got her so screwed, and not even think of blaming her or judge her because he will go berserker on you.
- The only times where he is not blaming himself is why he is blaming his father, his mother or Ritsuko.
- Many Lord of the Rings fanfics portray Legolas and Aragorn as sufferers of this, to the point where it's even been parodied in some newer fics.
- A Boy, a Girl and a Dog: The Leithian Script, a retelling of the story of Beren and Lúthien, shows Beren as suffering from this. Lampshade Hanging abounds, as well as True Companions with a sense of humor:
"They're trying to cheer me up by proving that I'm responsible for everything that's ever gone wrong in the universe."
- In Origins, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands/Halo Massive Multiplayer Crossover, Samantha Shepard wears the loss of her galaxy around her neck like an albatross. This despite it coming from a borderline Physical God and the Flood, neither of which she could have possibly prepared for. Her therapist even discusses this, but at least for a while Shepard won't hear it, insisting I Should Have Been Better.
- In Broken Heroes, Ventus is extremely regretful of letting Vanitas possess him and destroy the Destiny Islands. From the moment he wakes up, he asks Riku to kill him, takes a massive dose of hatred and abuse from Sora multiple times, and he STILL thinks that everything that happened was his fault and he apologizes frequently for it. His death in chapter 18 could almost be a mercy kill with the shit he goes through. Sadly, even some of his last words are "I'm sorry"!
- Usagi has developed this in A Brief History of Histories after years of Parental Neglect. Having completely convinced herself that the reason her father's so distant is because she's not good enough to have earned his love, she tends to blame herself for just about everything that goes wrong, assuming that everyone finds her disappointing.
- In Final Fantasy X comic Guardian, Lulu's is shown to develop when she's just twelve and blames herself for being unable to save Lady Ginnem, even though Ginnem was a full-fledged summoner and brought her Warrior Monk sister too. She also blames herself for Chappu's death since he made protecting Lulu his motive to join the Crusaders, and in between that, blames herself any time Yuna is physically or emotionally hurt.
- In Dragon Age: Inquisition fanfic Walking in Circles, Solas isnít a stranger to guilt considered his past, but he still holds an enormous one toward Evelyn, considered himself to be the sources of most of her problems instead of saving her like he promised, and that she could have a simpler life without him. Even when she repeatedly telling him to stop doing so and explains that itís her choice to remain with him, he still lapses into this trope here and there.
- Deconstructed when Solasís guilt complex actually causes Evelyn sometimes to have doubts that heís with her out of guilt, not love.
- Mr and Mrs Gold: Belle/Rose feels particularly responsible for Gaston/Gaspard losing his legs (something he insists she shouldnít do).
- In the sixth story of marcus00721's Fairy Tail series, Final Chapters, Lucy is suffering from a severe misplaced case of this. Believing everything that happened in the final arc of the previous story, Dawn of Darkness, was her fault she suffers from bouts of depression. It doesn't matter that others point out that she was a victim and nothing was her fault, the victim blaming placed on her has taken root and it got worse as the story went on.
- Finally a good deal of the guilt was lifted when she sees that no one blamed her for the disbandment of Fairy Tail, nor was that her fault to begin with. She is still deal with guilt over other things (that weren't her fault) but is doing loads better.
- Emilia of The Other Woman blames herself for the death of her daughter and it sabotages her marriage to Jack and her relationship with her stepson, William.
- Harry Dresden from The Dresden Files suffers from this in spades. He has a deep Hero Complex and, being the only practicing Wizard in the Chicago area, he feels responsible for taking care of any supernatural situations that arise in town, and feels guilty whenever he's not able to do so, especially if people he cares about get hurt. This behavior arguably started all the way back when he killed his adoptive father and mentor, something which has plagued him since, even though he knows he did it in self-defense, and it was his only choice. Harry often stretches things very far in order to blame himself for things. In book 3, Grave Peril, Harry feels responsible for taking the Nightmare down, and guilty for whatever other attacks it commits, just because it's his power the creature is using for these attacks, regardless of the fact that it took that power by force and in a setting where Harry had absolutely no control a dream. (He's started to get better about it - it took working with years working with Murphy, leading the Alphas periodically, and teaching Molly for him to finally start to comprehend that other people make their own choices too. Murphy had to take him to task for it a bunch before he shaped up, though.) Bob promptly lampshades his Guilt Complex:
Bob: (Scoffs). Harry, that's irrational.
Harry: (Snaps at him). That doesn't make it any less true.
Bob: (Meek). Okay. We now have left Reason and Sanity Junction. Next stop, Looneyville.
- Harry Potter blames himself a lot, usually born from his Chronic Hero Syndrome. He blames himself for Cedric's death because it was his idea for them both to grab the portkey that led them to Voldemort at the same time, even if neither could have known that object was a portkey. He blames himself for Voldemort coming back to life because it was his blood that was used in the spell, nevermind that it was taken by force. He blames himself for Sirius' death because he should've known he was being tricked even though he had never been properly trained. He blames himself for putting his friends in danger because he should've been strong enough to choose the It's Not You, It's My Enemies way out. He blames himself for every life Voldemort takes because he feels Voldemort only wants him, regardless of the fact that Voldemort is a psychopath who would've killed even more people if Harry hadn't been around. Boy, that's one massive Guilt Complex.
- Interpreter of Maladies has the story "A Temporary Matter". A married couple, Shoba and Shukumar, face extreme guilt after the miscarriage of their baby and sever all real communication with each other. Then, they play a game where as the lights go out in their house, they would reveal their darkest secrets to each other. It seems as though they are getting closer... until it is revealed that the entire time, Shoba was preparing to be separated from him. No amount of petty revelation could hide their personal discontent and guilt from their relationship.
- Daine in The Immortals quartet feels massive amounts of guilt; because of her presence, animals are becoming more human-like, and, in times of conflict, ready to die for human war. At various points in the later books, she claims to have gotten over it, but by the Protector of the Small quartet, she feels guilty again when Tortall is back in a full-scale war.
- Bella of Twilight takes the entirety of available guilt for any mistake she's partly responsible for. In one case, she's on different sides of the issue in different books (a vampire struggling not to bite someone who's been injured), and she blames herself both times.
- This is Thomas' greatest flaw in The Maze Runner Trilogy. Everything that happens to his friends, even when he couldn't do anything about it, is his fault as far as he's concerned.
- In the Malazan Book of the Fallen, Mappo Runt develops a guilt complex after he and his friend Icarium get attacked and separated, which with Icarium's Trauma-Induced Amnesia means he forgets Mappo. Mappo crosses half the world to find Icarium, all the while descending into blaming himself for the attack, the subsequent separation, for being such a shoddy guardian that the Nameless Ones had to replace him, for lying to Icarium about his true purpose for centuries, for believing the Nameless Ones in the first place, for loving his friend too much to leave him for eternal imprisonment despite his Tyke-Bomb status, for looking noble despite being selfish, and eventually for every unrelated little thing that happens along the way, like several of the caravan guards he paid to accomplany him dying of occupational hazards.
- Lauchlan from Mix Beer With Liquor And You Will Get Sicker has an extreme guilt complex, his most common phrase being "I'm sorry" and him spending a great deal of time fretting over having perhaps hurt or offended someone with pretty much anything he did. He manages to get hit over the head and think that's his fault, too.
- Josh Lyman in The West Wing, who is the subject of the page quote. While bad things do seem to disproportionately happen to the people he loves, in almost every case it is in no way his fault.note
Donna: His sister died in a fire while she was baby-sitting him. She tried to put it out, he ran outside. He went off campaigning, his father died. He wakes up in a hospital and discovers the President's been shot. He goes through every day worried that somebody he likes is going to die, and it's going to be his fault. What do you think makes him walk so fast?
- Hurley in Lost seems to think that because he keeps finding his winning lottery numbers everywhere as the plot moves along, it means that the numbers are cursed, and somehow that means every other bad thing that happens on the island is his fault. Before coming to the island, he blamed himself for an accidental deck collapse that killed two people (He is quite overweight). For context, there were at least twice as many people on that deck as there should have been.
- Red Dwarf:
- Played for Laughs with Kryten. He's an android and it's part of his programming. He feels responsible for every failure the ship or crew encounters and he's extremely self-less. Lister tries to break the programme and make him a deceiving bastard so that he could be taking care of himself.
- In the episode "Justice," it's revealed that Rimmer has been harboring a mean one of these; he blames himself for failing to prevent the explosion that killed the entire crew of Red Dwarf, and because of it is put to trial by an automated justice space station. He's freed when the rest of the crew convince the station A. I. that Rimmer was far too incompetent and inconsequential to be entrusted with the sort of repair work that, done poorly, would endanger the entire crew.
- While Torchwood's Jack Harkness is usually seen as a clever, charming, flirtatious and impulsive man who doesn't like dwelling much on the bad stuff, the third series, Children of Earth, shows us that there are many things Jack has been blaming for over the course of his life, which has been long enough to make for a massive Guilt Complex; he just had not spoken his guilt out loud. Most of these things were not his fault at all, but being in a privileged position (not only is he the leader of Torchwood Three, but he also can't die) makes him feel responsible for the lives of those around him. He blames himself for the 12 children that were sacrificed in 1965, even though that was a government decision and he was only chosen for it. He blames himself when the other members of Torchwood are targeted by the government, because they're only wanted due to their involvement with him, to cover up his involvement in 1965. He blames himself for Ianto's death (and everybody else at Thames House), even though the 456 would have likely killed everybody they could even if Jack hadn't stood up to them. He had to sacrifice his own grandson and he blames himself for it, even if it was the only way to save the world from the 456. It's also revealed that he blames himself for earlier events, like Suzie's death (which he couldn't have stopped, as she killed herself the first time, and the second time she was killing Gwen to keep herself alive), his brother's torture (even though he couldn't have done anything to save him, they were just kids) and every action Gray took because of it, such as Tosh's and Owen's death at his hands.
- The X-Files: Mulder has this in spades. It starts in childhood, with the abduction of his sister while he was babysitting, which he considers My Greatest Failure. He is then hit repeatedly during the series with it; he considers the death and/or personal injury of anyone helping him in his quest to be his fault, no matter if they were helping of their own free will (Scully) or were involved in the conspiracy long before he came on the scene (Deep Throat).
- It doesn't help that others also place blame on him. When a clone claiming to be Samantha appears and then is kidnapped, Mulder's father blames him explicitly. Mulder offers to tell his mother, and his father tells him the news will devastate her. Bill Scully (Dana's brother) meets Mulder while she is undergoing treatment for cancer; Bill rips into Mulder for all that has happened to his family—mainly Scully's cancer and Melissa's death, which he perceives as Mulder's fault. And proceeds to hate Mulder for the rest of the series.
- Dean Winchester from Supernatural. If there's anything bad happening, he'll shoulder the blame whether it was related to him or not. This usually doesn't turn out well. Illustrated in "Shut Up Dr. Phil". He says:
"Something happens, I feel responsible, all right? The Lindbergh baby — that's on me. Unemployment — my bad."
- Sam even more so, partially because everyone around him keeps blaming things for things that weren't his fault at all. He blamed himself for Jess's death, even though he had no way of knowing that Azazel would have her killed. He blamed himself for having demon's blood in him, even though he had been an infant when that had occured. He blamed himself for Dean going to hell. He blamed himself for freeing Lucifer, despite the fact that it was Dean that broke the first seal, which was far more morally wrong than killing Lilith and breaking the last.
- Stefan Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries. If Stefan hurts someone or kills someone, he will carry a huge amount of guilt. This is especially evident during his Ripper phase.
- The Tenth Doctor from Doctor Who has a massive one of these, even if all the other Doctors have some form of it. He constantly blames himself for others' failures, and quite a bit of the time, he is almost right for blaming himself, even though the self-punishment goes too far. Especially when people die, even though it is the only way to save the universe. Generally Lampshaded by villain characters more than his companions, as they know that it can unbalance him. The Master and Davros are especially good at it.
- He blames himself for ruining the lives of all of his companions: Rose for being trapped in another universe; Martha for being left to wander for a year in a devastated Earth, while her family is held hostage by genocidal megalomaniac, and are routinely tortured; and Donna for symbolically 'killing' her after a 'biological meta-crisis' left her part-Time Lord, and her advanced intelligence threatened to kill her, forcing him to wipe Donna's memories of him. Despite that they were caused by respectively: The Daleks breaching the dimensional walls, The Master becoming Prime Minister after stealing his TARDIS, and Donna herself touching the Doctor's severed hand during the Dalek Earth invasion of 2009. He might even blame himself for Jack's immortality, along with the burden that came with it, even though that was Rose's doing by way of the Heart of the TARDIS. His way of making up for it was to visit them in different points in time during his incarnation's last moments in The End Of Time, and to do charitable events for them.
- This carries over to his Eleven; in "Let's Kill Hitler", his request after being poisoned was to see happy reminders of his companions to soothe him through the pain, but he still declared he held too much guilt over them. The only one he could bear to look at was a visual of Amy Pond..aged seven.
- The Twelfth Doctor regrets his mistakes of both past and present lives and is trying to be a better man by way of atoning. Over the course of Series 9, however, this trope rears its ugly head again. When he aborts a rescue of a young boy on a Skaro battlefield upon realizing he is Davros, future creator of the Daleks, Twelve comes to believe he is directly responsible for the Daleks' existence and is willing to die to atone for it (in the end, he realizes he is the one who saves the boy after all and has nothing to be ashamed of). When the brave Viking girl Ashildr accidentally dies in helping him defeat the alien Mire waging war on her village, he is so grief-and-guilt-ridden that he revives her with alien tech that makes her functionally immortal — which only leads to more guilt as she comes to resent him for "trapping" her in a lonely existence; she becomes a Wild Card. And he believes himself to be only a negative influence on his companion Clara Oswald, which culminates in "Face the Raven": Clara attempting to save a friend from an unjust execution leads to her unjust death instead; to make matters worse, Ashildr had a hand in the plot that led to this, though she meant Clara no harm. The Doctor blames himself as well as his enemies, and between that and being imprisoned in a giant torture chamber immediately afterwards, he undergoes a Sanity Slippage and becomes a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds who will risk the universe's existence just to save Clara...whether she wants that or not. Even when he's assured that Clara's fate was the result of her choices and not his fault at all, it takes Clara herself to convince him to give up the Tragic Dream born of his anguish.
- Delenn has some of this for the Earth-Minbari war. In this case she was much to blame but she was hardly the most to blame, and recognized her failure long before the other Minbari.
- The title character from Angel spends his eternal life repenting for all the people he killed when he was soulless. To unpack this, he blames himself for the acts of the demon that possessed his body after he died and until his human soul was shoved back in. The Buffy mythos is very clear that the vampire is not in any way, shape or form the person whose body it inhabits, even though it inherits memories and personality traits from that person. He often broods, and David Boreanaz's prominent brow comes in handy. He is relieved when Cordelia lets him stay in his office and pretend to read while she goes out on a Friday night.
- Guinevere from Merlin has one, blaming herself for things that aren't even remotely her fault (such as her brother's kidnapping and the blackmail that ensues). Most recently she extracted a promise from Lancelot to protect Arthur, little knowing that he was on a mission to heal a rift in the spirit world by offering himself up as a blood sacrifice. Naturally, Lancelot dies in his place and Gwen feels responsible.
- Harold Finch of Person of Interest feels and takes personal responsibility for all of the numbers that the Machine brought/brings up, for any trouble that has come about because of the Machine, or any bad thing he feels he should have been able to prevent.
- Jesse Pinkman of Breaking Bad. While a number of the things that go wrong in the show ARE his fault and he does some terrible things, he will almost always blame himself even if they are not his fault. This stands in complete contrast to many other characters. Most importantly, it contrasts him to the protagonist and his mentor, Walter White, who almost always claims Never My Fault, no matter how horrific his actions become, until the last three episodes.
- "Clunk" by Yo La Tengo, from New Wave Hot Dogs; repeated ad infinitum:
If there is a way, she'll admit she's wrong
- Henrik Ibsen was fond of dumping this on his characters. Thus, Hallvard Solness in The Master Builder carries a tremendous one, after seemingly taking responsibility for the fire that burnt down the childhood home of his wife Aline. As this was midwinter, she got sick, and their two infant sons caught a fever from her milk and died.
- Also Little Eyolf, where Alfred and Asta Allmers unwittingly crippled their son Eyolf when he was an infant, and later saw him drown (partly because of selfishness).
- Brand puts the nominal character in a position that seems even worse, as he has to carry the guilt for the death of his son, and then his wife, who died on his watch.
- Man-Bot from Freedom Force. His Power Incontinence killed his brother and he's stuck for all eternity inside a suit of Power Armour that keeps him doing the same to everyone else around him. He's a bit 'down' as a result.
- Otacon. Whether it's survivor's guilt, guilt over building REX, guilt linked to his self-esteem issues, or guilt and PTSD due to having an affair with/being sexually abused by his stepmother and his father committing suicide as a result, Hal's got it in spades. The man is a walking catalog of all the ways one can blame oneself.
- Max Payne has a big-time case of this. Apart from his failure to save his wife and baby girl, he also has to deal with the deaths of most of the people around him, most of them by his hand. And judging by his situation in the third game, the Golden Ending of the previous game, the one where Mona Sax lives, has been shot out of canon. Poor guy.
- Litchi Faye-Ling has a huge one. It's her fault that Lotte got corrupted into Arakune, it's her fault that she was the only one surviving from the corruption. It's also her fault that she can't come up with a cure fast enough. Anyone trying to tell her it's not her fault? She won't accept it. And people think she's just merely obsessed over a slime for this... Tragically for her, this trait led her into desperation and joining NOL.
- Throw Trinity Glassfield onto the fire as well. Even though she's one of the Six Heroes, she also had a love interest in Kazuma Kval, to the point she released a potent geas on him at his request. Unfortunately, it wasn't Kazuma who asked her to do this, but Terumi Yuuki, who inhabited Kazuma's body, and he swiftly repays her by shanking her and Nine, tossing them both into the nearest cauldron and proceeding to widen the world's asshole. Predictably, she has hated herself ever since.
- In Final Fantasy VII, we get Cloud Strife. This probably developed due to the fact that from a very early age, he really was blamed by everyone in his town for an accident involving Tifa that mostly wasn't his fault. However, he blamed himself for the incident and thus never told anyone the details, which probably would have helped lift a good portion of the blame from his shoulders. Later on, he blames himself for not achieving his dream and making it into SOLDIER, then blames himself for not waking up from a vegetative state (brought on by four years of experimentation and torture) fast enough to save what was at that point his only friend from being gunned down on a cliff. Skip ahead one or two Mind Rapes, and he blames himself for "lying" to them all about who/what he was (even apologising to Rufus Shinra, Scarlet, and Heidegger, of all people, who had nothing to do directly with the incident). He then takes on the guilt for handing the Black Materia to Sephiroth, and when he finishes with that, he picks up the habit again two years later in Advent Children Complete, blaming himself for not being able to find a cure for geostigma, contracting the disease himself, and for failing to save a bunch of children with the disease from a group of Remnants. He does get somewhat better, eventually.
- Depending on how you play, Commander Shepard from Mass Effect can have one. By 3, s/he has developed a pretty severe case of this, taking just about every death that s/he hears about in the war as his/her responsibility, which only serves to drive him/her closer to the Despair Event Horizon.
- Tales Series:
- Luke from Tales of the Abyss becomes susceptible to this kind of thinking after the game's first Big Twist a third of the way through the story. The rest of the party have to keep a close eye on him so he doesn't go over the edge.
- Asbel Lhant from Tales of Graces is in the same boat. It actually gets Lampshaded, Deconstructed and Reconstructed by the end of the story. Asbel learns that while it's alright for him to take charge of things and be responsible, blaming himself for everything and trying to suffer so that others may live only ends up making people around him miserable. This lets him earn his happy ending in which Everybody Lives.
- Fate/stay night:
- Saber suffers from severe guilt over failing to prevent her kingdom's collapse, believing that it was solely due to her own fault. Her reason for seeking the Holy Grail and making a deal with Alaya is to reverse her decision to rule in the belief that there must have been someone better suited to lead. Shirou helps her overcome this guilt so she can acknowledge that it was as much the fault of the kingdom which rejected her rule as hers.
- Shirou has one as well, becoming a mixture of a Martyr Without a Cause and Chronic Hero Syndrome due to his guilt over being the only one who survived the massive fire caused by the results of the previous Holy Grail War.
- Iris from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials & Tribulations. Whenever something bad happens around her she'll find a way to blame herself. Sometimes it's fairly legit ( Failing to get the necklace from Phoenix) sometimes it's blown out of proportions ( it's true that she was lying to Phoenix during their relationship, but the only thing she really lied about was her name. Phoenix himself doesn't feel cheated at all when he finds out the truth) sometimes it's clearly not her fault but she'll feel sorry anyway ( when she wasn't present on the second day of her trial, because she was locked up in a freezing cavern against her will).
- The "greatest failure" type appears in the BDSM webcomic Sunstone after a traumatizing accident involving Marion, rope work and self bondage that Ally saved her from. Ally is determined to blame herself for what happened, because she feels that she showed Marion "too much too fast" during Harper's class on shibari, and that this led to Marion's later obsession with BDSM in general and 24/7 submission in particular which resulted in what ultimately happened to her. Lisa points out that Ally is fully aware she wasn't responsible, but this knowledge doesn't make her feel any better. She is still pretty shook up about the accident and as a result she's not visited the club where her friend Alan first met Marion or used her rope skills since. Though we see that she gets over the rope aversion in time.
- Dave in Homestuck likely due to his time powers practically forcing him to keep Save Scumming in order to make sure his friends don't end up in a doomed timeline,slated for failure and eventual nonexistence. In short, this means Dave has to continually watch his friends die and be erased from existence in order to manage minute details that will prevent it. Although given the nature of SBURB and how it manages time, he also has to know and accept that no matter what some of his friends may have to die simply because destiny said so. Of course, instead of believing there is nothing to do and accept it, Dave feels heavy inferiority, thinking that there should be a way to change the timeline and save everyone, and that he's simply not good enough to do that. This may have been even further reinforced by John's RetCanon powers but we have yet to see his reaction.
- Carmilla the Series:
- Laura Hollis, the protagonist, for reasons yet unknown, always finds a way to blame herself for whatever havoc is going on at Silas. Lafontaine being taken by the Dean's vampire cult? Her fault, they wouldn't have been taken if Laura hadn't been snooping around. The school newspaper murders? Her fault, because she and her friends left campus at the first sign of trouble. Mattie's death and Carmilla's ensuing rampage? Her fault for telling Danny about the locket. Almost all except the last would have happened anyway with or without her involvement, and even the latter she isn't directly responsible for.
- Perry seems to have a bit of this too, though not to the same extent. In the first two examples, she also is willing to immediately shoulder the blame along with Laura, despite them not having been able to do anything to prevent it.
- In Funny Business, thanks to a traumatic childhood event that actually was her fault, Jeannette blames herself for everything bad that ever happens to anybody, even when it is obvious to all onlookers that she is in no way responsible. Having godlike power can do that to you.
- Wildwing from The Mighty Ducks after his friend (and former leader) Canard, allowed himself to be trapped in dimensinal limbo. Wilding carried a great deal of gulit about it for the rest of the series.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- Twilight Sparkle has responsibility OCD (detailed in Real Life below) in spades, seeing any innocent action she takes that ends up hurting others as justifiable reason to hate her forever and blaming herself for allowing the Big Bad(s) to get away with their various actions. This is part of her realistic portrayal of OCD, as opposed to it simply being a harmless quirk for comedy's sake.
- In the episode "Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep?" it is revealed that Luna has one over her actions as Nightmare Moon that nearly destroyed Equestria 1000 years prior. Normally this would be a completely justified example if it weren't for the fact that she went so far to be The Atoner that she created another magical entity as a punishment for herself that led to more citizens being put in danger, thus giving her even more to be guilty over until the Mane Six snapped her out of it by noting how Nightmare Moon would not be trying to save Equestria like she is now, and thus she has nothing to feel guilty over since she's proven that she is a changed mare.
- Aang in Avatar: The Last Airbender goes through this, since he was frozen in an iceberg for 100 years and unable to help the world when the Fire Nation was expanding its empire and taking over. He feels responsible for all the suffering that happened during that time.
- The title character from Steven Universe regularly takes more responsibility for things than he should, blaming himself for everything from the ocean being stolen by Lapis Lazuli in the episode "Ocean Gem" ("I was the one who let Lapis out of the mirror. It's my fault the ocean's gone.") to Ruby and Sapphire having relationship issues in "Keystone Motel" ("I don't understand, is it... Is it me?"). However, this is most present regarding his belief that he has to shoulder the blame and responsibility for all of Rose Quartz's (the former leader of the Crystal Gems, and Steven's mother) many, many actions during the Gem War, with him spending several seasons believing that she gave birth to him for that precise purpose; his father eventually manages to convince him the latter isn't true in "Lion 4: Alternate Ending", while Amethyst outright states that his mother's failures aren't something he or anyone else is obligated to fix in "What's Your Problem?"
- Responsibility OCD, also known as hyperscrupulosity, is this trope in spades applied to anxiety disorders. Basically, the individual suffering from it fears not protecting others from harm and lives with constant feelings of guilt or anxiety.
- Overblown feelings of guilt are a common symptom of depression, and are partly the reason a) the condition is so hard to overcome and b) depressed people are so bloody annoying to family and friends. Accepting that it's not your fault is a big step to recovery.
- It's also a frequent result of emotional abuse. One of an emotional abuser's most common tactics is blaming their victim for everything that goes wrong in order to guilt the victim into staying and trying to atone for everything. It's infinite indentured servitude on a purely emotional level.
- People with Aspergers Syndrome and other forms of Autism can be like this, often due to some kind of combination of the above three points; anxiety, OCD and depression are common co-morbid conditions and autistic people are very often victims of bullying or abuse. A fair number of autistic people end up being blamed for their poor social skills and any problems that arise from it, made worse when people assume they're doing it on purpose or should otherwise know better. Noted in the book Aspergirls (which was written by and contributed to by autistic women), which has an entire chapter called On Blame and Internalising Guilt:
There is always going to be some internalization of blame. Most of us, whether we care to admit it or not, have a considerable amount of embarrassment and shame to contend with - for not being able to handle the little day-to-day, ordinary experiences that other women seem to handle just fine.
- And true to the trope, all of those factors mentioned above can lead to Heroic Self-Deprecation, Apologizes a Lot, and oddly, acting like The Atoner. This is odd because the people suffering from the above normally haven't done anything all that wrong, and unless suffering from the aforementioned horrible emotional abuse, have no reason to think they have.