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In-Universe Catharsis

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Do you know what? Given the soul-crushing amount of arbitrary deaths decent people die for no reason in this galaxy, it is surprisingly refreshing to see it happen first hand to someone who absolutely deserves it.
The God-Emperor of Mankind, If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device

In Real Life a big part of why we love Media is that it is cathartic. It is fun to blow off steam shooting up Mooks, crying over a Tear Jerker, enjoying a Sadist Show, etc.


There is also a more serious form of catharsis where psychological ills are healed through ceremony or painful experiences. Basically, usually as a major plot point, a character either seeks or inadvertently goes through an experience that normally only a Nightmare Fetishist might seek, and it helps them deal with a medical, psychological, etc. condition. When a story does this for a reader in the real world, it's YMMV. When it occurs In-Universe, it's less subjective. May take the form of Percussive Therapy or a Cathartic Scream.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Karin, gloomy Fumio becomes an energetic optimist after being bitten by Karin. Everyone gets a boost from a bite from her or her brother but with Fumio, it's the most noticeable.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Tale of One Bad Rat, quiet, introverted Helen finally breaks down and screams out her pent-up anguish and frustration about her sexually-abusive father and hateful, uncaring mother to the world, literally shattering the panel in the process.
  • In the Runaways arc "Dead End Kids", after spending weeks second-guessing herself in the wake of Gert's death and the loss of the La Brea Hostel, Nico decides that she'd feel better if she were punished, and thus submits herself to Training from Hell from a brutal ancestor. When she comes out of it, she's much more confident and has gained a boost in power.

    Fan Works 
  • In Dragon Ball Z Abridged Gohan gets the chance to pummel his absent and neglectful father when Captain Ginyu takes over his body.
  • In Hope On A Distant Mountain, Makoto goes back into the Hope's Peak Academy as seen in a sandbox version of the D-7 simulation, a virtual reality program designed to push students past their emotional limits to test their mettle via Deadly Games. He does this in order to better understand the events that happened to him and their effects on his psyche, and fortunately, there are AIs there to explain things to him. Or unfortunately, given they still want to help Makoto "grow".
  • Son of the Sannin: During the Fourth Ninja War, Rin Nohara gets the chance to deliver some payback on two of the Iwa ninjas who kidnapped her years ago, as they were brought back via Edo Tensei. She even comments how great it felt to do so.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Horse Whisperer ends up helping both the horse and its owner this way.
  • In Analyze This, Robert De Niro shooting the couch probably counts, as it was likely extremely cathartic for his character.
  • Defied in American Psycho. The film closes with Bateman, in the middle of a Motive Rant to himself, realizes that even admitting he is a Card-Carrying Villain to himself does not give him any catharsis.
  • The Wall: When Pink trashes his hotel room, it's probably the first time he's genuinely expressed or even felt an emotion after years of stuffing it all down.
  • Office Space features the three leads brutalizing a printer that has plagued them with idiotic, Kafkaesque problems and symbolized everything wrong with corporate America thus far.
  • Thor: Ragnarok: Thor and Hulk are fighting in an arena with Loki looking on. During a quiet moment, Thor attempts one of Black Widow's "lullaby"s on Hulk, only to get yanked off his feet and smashed into the ground repeatedly in the exact same manner Loki was in The Avengers. Loki's reaction?

  • Aaron Allston's X-Wing Series novels are full of this. Most notably, Myn Donos' arc in Wraith Squadron contains at least two, first when he kills Admiral Trigit, who ordered the ambush that destroyed his previous squadron, and later when the good guys receive undeniable evidence that Lara Notsil, Myn's Love Interest and formerly The Mole before her cover was blown, has genuinely become a Reverse Mole on their side.
  • In Kushiel's Dart, Phedre goes to the temple of Kushiel to atone for her role in the death of her master and the things she had to do when a captive of the Skaldi. Kushiel himself is said to be the patron of very harsh mercy, attended by masked priests and priestesses who inflict painful rituals on those who come seeking atonement.
  • In Michael Flynn's Spiral Arm novel Up Jim River, Donovan is given a drug that a native culture uses for vision quests. When he recovers, he is not cured of his multiple personalities but is definitely more integrated.
  • In Mirror Dance, ex-Tyke-Bomb Mark Vorkosigan starts the story a confused, self-sabotaging mess of a man. After being captured and tortured by Baron Ryoval, his mind shatters — with the result that his multiple personalities, finally aware of each other, can start working together, using Power Born of Madness to defeat Ryoval and rebuild his life.

    Live-Action TV 

    Video Games 
  • Mass Effect 2:
    • Jack is not what you would call a well-adjusted individual, owing in no small part to the horrific experiments performed on her. Her Loyalty Mission has you guiding her through the abandoned facility where these experiments were performed and dealing with some of the remnants of her past, before setting a Big, Bulky Bomb in her old cell and blowing the lab to smithereens. Afterwards, she becomes... well, slightly less Ax-Crazy. The achievement you get for completing the mission is even called "Catharsis."
    • After taking down the Shadow Broker and saving Feron, Liara is much more like the person she was in the first game.
    • The majority of the loyalty missions in the game revolve around this (depending on player choices): Kasumi finally deals with the loss of her former partner and lover and can move on. Garrus finds some peace after the betrayal and death of his team. Grunt finally finds a place to belong after questioning his existence. Samara ends the centuries-long hunt for Morinth. Zaeed gets revenge on the man who stole everything from him. Tali moves past the loss of her father (and/or possible exile) knowing that Shepard will be there for her.
      • The third game adds some more (again, depending on player choices). The quarians and the geth can finally end their war. Mordin has the opportunity to deal with the guilt he's felt due to his involvement with the krogan genophage. Miranda finally confronts her father and ensures he won't get his hands on her sister. Shepard gets satisfying vengeance on Kai Lang, and at the end willingly sacrifice his/her life knowing that doing so will end the war that's left them psychologically broken.
  • Shaundi's Loyalty Mission in Saints Row IV culminates in this: after taking up the suggestion to get stoned from her Literal Split Personality, the "Classic" Shaundi, the two of them discover that the drug gave them superpowers. The "New" Shaundi also discovers that her old self can have great ideas, while the latter acknowledges that the former is not as stuck-up as she thought, and the two of them finally reconcile. Cue a cathartic superpowered race between the two (and the Boss) and a playful rooftop duel. And then, after the battle against Veteran Child, she defuses a Sadistic Choice situation where VC takes both of her selves hostage and forces the Boss to choose between them—by each of her selves killing his copy holding the other Shaundi: not only does this show their acceptance of each other, but also finally breaks Shaundi's fears of being a permanent Distressed Damsel for life. Really, the whole mission is just one long catharsis for her.
  • Max's monologue in the normal ending of Max Payne 2 (concluding with "I had a dream of my wife. She was dead. But it was all right.") suggested that Max underwent a catharsis after the death of pretty much anyone he ever cared about, including Vlad and Mona, finally breaking away from the self-destructive path that Michelle and Alex's deaths put him onto. Part three says otherwise.
  • At the beginning of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, Nagase is saved from a very embarrassing defeat by Captain Bartlett Taking the Bullet for her. The guilt over this accident follows her throughout the game until the mission "Ice Cage" when she finally completes her almost two months-long crash (while looking for POW Bartlett, no less). She is significantly less troubled after she is rescued, even though Bartlett isn't found until ten missions later.
  • At the beginning of Gears of War, the COG is desperate for qualified soldiers, and so pardons everyone at soon to be abandoned penal facility, including Marcus Fenix on the condition that he return to active duty. Fenix is not happy to find himself shanghaied back into the military and under the command of Colonel Hoffman. However, when his squad comes under fire during a field briefing, he expresses after the ensuing firefight that he found the visceral experience of it to be very satisfying after being cooped up so long.
  • In Touhou, immortal Fujiwara no Mokou constantly kills and is killed by her also immortal rival; Princess Kaguya. She appreciates the brutal and endless stalemate.
  • In Divinity: Original Sin II, Lohse the Spoony Bard will sing for the second time in the entire game when you defeat the demon possessing her (but only if she is a Non-Player Companion, not the main Player Character). The first time she tries to in Act I, said demon cuts it short by making her break her lute. She never so much as tries to sing again for the rest of the game until the demon is dead, because she is so traumatized by the event, so being able to finally sing the song to completion is incredibly cathartic for her.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue: When the Reds and Blues finally get to beat the tar out of Manipulative Bastard Felix, it is ridiculously satisfying, for them and the audience.

    Web Comics 
  • It's something of a running gag in L's Empire that characters find inflicting pain on Geminiman to be cathartic. The Alt Text suggests that it might be the paint that he uses on his armor.
  • In The Order of the Stick Roy finds teammate Elan a real pain in the ass sometimes, so when he finds himself at odds with Elan's evil identical twin (yes), he relishes the chance to beat the tar out of someone who looks like Elan.

    Western Animation 
  • Infinity Train: This is the intended purpose of the train. It appears to isolated individuals who are at the height of their emotional trauma and spirits them away to an alternate dimension where they must travel through various different worlds until they realize their have said emotional issues and work to resolve or come to terms them. A number counts down to how close their are to having that one, final cathartic epiphany about their trauma, at which point a portal opens that returns them to Earth. Well, assuming they last that long.

    Real Life 
  • The dictionary definition is here and here.
  • The Other Wiki defines it here, mentioning that some modern psychiatrists call this closure.
  • A number of ancient societies had some form of ceremony that was intended for this purpose. In Ancient Greece, there were rituals to propitiate the gods and discharge the ritual pollution that had led to your problems — such as insanity. If it failed, you needed to try another god; this was not the offended one. If it succeeded, you had achieved catharsis or cleansing.


Video Example(s):


Warriors (1999)

The peacekeeper protagonists spend the entire runtime of the mini-series witnessing a multitude of increasingly terrifying war crimes in Bosnia, and are powerless to do anything about them.

Near the end, this extremely bleak series grants the characters (and the viewer) a brief moment of catharsis by verbally confronting the perpetrators.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / InUniverseCatharsis

Media sources:

Main / InUniverseCatharsis