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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 firsthand to someone who absolutely deserves it.
The Man-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, Power Fantasy, an Escapist Character, or a Cathartic Scream.

Compare with Revenge Is Sweet, a likely reason for the catharsis.


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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.
  • In Trash Skill Gacha, Crest Bahurst, the main character has two of these on screen, from what's been translated so far. 1.) He tells his Yandere former fiancé to go screw herself, slapping away the very foot she's shoved in his face as he's chained to the floor, and which she told him to lick, as proof he'd become her Sex Slave in exchange for his life. Sure, he got sent to the [Lower World] the next day, but it was Worth It to tell off that bitch who ruined his academic prospects and made his abusive childhood worse in her attempts to claim him for herself. 2.) Albert, the most abusive of his elder brothers. Crest may have been dragged off the guy as he was trying to straight up kill him, but Crest still found it very gratifying to watch the guy dragged off by goblins to be used as breeding stock against his will, when he foolishly ignored Crest's mercy and attacked from behind with an illegal slave collar.

    Comic Books 
  • Ms. Marvel (1977): At one point Carol punches out her father. It's to stop him charging back to fight a supervillain who had him at gunpoint, and he's refusing to listen to her pointing out this is pure suicide because she's a woman and he hates the idea a woman has saved him, but she also admits that it still feels real good.
  • 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 Ashes of the Past, after watching Ash beat Tobias and win the Sinnoh League Ivysaur admits that even after all the other Leagues Ash has won up till now and all their world-saving achievements in between, this one still feels different. Suicune identifies it as settling unfinished business.
  • In Catarina Claes MUST DIE!, Henrietta Garland recalls her past life of how she enjoyed the ending of Fortune Lover, particularly the bad ends when Catarina Claes is killed gruesomely by either Keith or Geordo, due to being bullied in school. The problem is that, after she transmigrated to the world of Fortune Lover, she wants to see the same thing happen to the present-day Catarina, who has become a kindhearted and cheerful girl after regaining her own Past-Life Memories.
  • In Dragon Ball Z Abridged Gohan gets the chance to pummel his absent and neglectful father when Captain Ginyu takes over his body.
  • In Child of the Storm, both Sirius and Harry identify facing their worst nightmares (Azkaban and Pettigrew, in the main on Sirius' part, and Yelena Belova for Harry) and being able to actually fight back as this.
  • In Hero Chat, Gabriel is Akumatized into the Collector again by Nathalie during the Winter Gala. The moment the rest of Team Miraculous assemble, they all take turns attacking him for being an Abusive Dad and Control Freak to Adrien. Given that Ladybug's Lucky Charm gave her a hockey stick, it even looks like the Kwami like Tikki are in on it.
  • 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 A.I.s 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.
  • This Bites!: Chopper lampshades this after he and Usopp shoot down a mutant stag that was about to attack Nami and Perona, noting that he felt some enjoyment from it since the stag looked like his birth father, who kicked him out of his herd after eating the Human-Human Fruit.
  • Mastermind: Rise of Anarchy deconstructs this with Bakugou: after losing his best friend, Kirishima, and becoming a social pariah, he decides to become a vigilante as a form of stress relief, beating up random criminals he runs across in increasingly violent ways. This culminates in him attacking a group of robbers stealing from an ATM and accidentally killing one of them, partially mistaking him for Kirishima.

    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, realizing 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 The 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.
  • Harry Dresden gets this every so often, but it's never without consequence.
    • In Grave Peril, after being pushed to the breaking point by a sadistic vampire queen that has finally engineered a situation that Harry can't actually talk or clever his way out of, and after kidnapping his girlfriend and partially turning her into a vampire, Harry decides that enough is enough.
      Harry: Fuego! Pyrofuego! Burn, you bat-faced greasy fucks, BURN!
      • Which then ignites a war between the wizards and the vampires that lasts for nine books.
    • In Death Masks, after an enemy surrenders and then gloats about the fact that the Knights of the Cross can't touch him anymore, even though they know the enemy is surrendering falsely and intends to continue doing evil, Harry turns a baseball bat on him.
      • Which comes back to bite him in Dead Beat, when said enemy captures and tortures Harry for the beating (among other reasons).
    • In White Night, Harry flashes back to a training camp he was running for new Wardens. When two of the kid-Wardens end up kidnapped, tortured, and eaten by ghouls, Harry is not satisfied with killing the ghouls, and instead makes them suffer, for a long time, to the point ghouls encountered later in the series are terrified of Harry's mere presence.
      • But the problem is that a) Harry doesn't feel any better about it after the fact, and b) everyone else is also terrified of Harry, worrying that he's just a single bad day away from becoming a monster. Including Harry.
  • One that can count as genuine Catharsis Factor in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, when Dumbledore explains the situation about the Defense Against the Dark Arts position being vacant to Horace Slughorn, namely about what happened last year, Slughorn isn't the least surprised, having no sympathy to what happened to Umbridge. Harry (and the audience) can't help but agree wholeheartedly.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Veronica once shot a pillow in her office (using a silenced gun) on Better Off Ted.
  • The Star Trek franchise has touched on overcoming psychological issues through cathartic experiences on multiple occasions.
    • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: Sybok uses his unique ability to share with and help conquer a person's greatest emotional trauma to gain the trust of most of the crew.
  • Babylon 5:
  • The Boys (2019): After titular the boys' mission to Russia, Mother's Milk watches the recordings of Russian scientists experimenting on the supe Soldier Boy. Given that Soldier Boy murdered M.M.'s grandfather, he doesn't even blink watching the horrific pain Soldier Boy is put through.
  • The Dark Truth on Eli Stone can be used for this. However, it's usually used for other things.
  • The Ninth Doctor's regeneration in Doctor Who is the first truly happy regeneration of the entire series.
  • In The Flash (2014), after Barry defeats Tony Woodward/Girder, his old tormentor back in school, he locks him up in the particle accelerator and gives him a good "The Reason You Suck" Speech. Once he's out of sight, Barry pumps his fists in triumph.
    Cisco: Duuuude, that had to feel great!
    Barry: You have no idea.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Ensigns of Command". Thanks to a treaty with the Federation, an alien race called the Sheliak has the legal right to wipe a human colony off of one of their planets. Picard spends a lot of time and effort trying to get the Sheliak to give them three weeks to evacuate the colony, but the aliens won't budge. Finally, Picard finds a loophole in the treaty and invokes his right to a six-month delay. As the Sheliak start to agree to the three weeks instead, Picard cuts the transmission. The Sheliak immediately call back, but Picard calmly "lets the phone ring" for a while before answering.
    Riker: You enjoyed that.
    Picard: You're damned right.
  • Played with on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with a Fantastic Racist Vulcan who had tormented Sisko with his self-proclaimed superiority since their academy days. The crew was determined to put him in his place once and for all by beating him at a baseball game, which is Sisko's favourite pastime. It didn't work because Vulcans are three times as strong as humans on average, but after managing to score a single run, they started celebrating as if they had won the entire game. It turns out, the best way to get under a petty Vulcan's skin is to be happy for no logical reason.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): In "Flight of the Phoenix", Sharon Valerii turns a virus back on the Cylons that leaves a squadron floating helplessly in space. The Colonial Viper pilots seize on the opportunity to get some revenge after months of being pursued by the Cylons by opening fire on the disabled ships.
    Apollo: This is payback!
  • Cobra Kai: In the Season 5 finale, when Demetri gets to kick Kyler's ass (thus becoming the latest of his bullying victims to do so), he can't help but revel in how good it feels:
    Demetri: Man, that felt good! (to Kyler on the ground) Bitch!

  • A frequent lyrical trope for Eminem is to point out how writing and performing songs about horrible, disgusting shit is therapeutic for him — and for the audience. He also frequently references how listening to hip-hop let him escape his miserable, abusive childhood and develop confidence.
    • In "Kill You", a song about killing and raping his mother (Played for Laughs), he briefly steps out of character to point out that writing songs like this is cheaper than getting the therapy he needs.
    • "Sing For The Moment" imagines a young man living in a broken home who escapes by listening to Eminem's music, and telling his critics that his child fans look up to him as a hero.
    • In "Believe", Eminem tries to assure the audience (and himself) of who he is:
      I was there consolin' you when no one knew it
      When your situation showed no improvement
      I was that door, you walked over to it
      I'm the light at the end of the tunnel
      So people are always lookin' to me as they're goin' through it

    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 sacrifices 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 Damsel in Distress 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 makes it clear that while he's forgiven himself for their deaths, he still can't actually live with it.
  • 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.
  • In Crusader Kings III, characters suffer stress and may develop coping mechanisms to deal with it, ideally before they hit a mental breaking point. These coping mechanisms, aside from passively making stress easier to manage, may also be actively indulged from time to time, such as a particularly vigorous self-flagellation session or a particularly large shopping spree to burn off a lump sum of stress.
  • In The Great Ace Attorney, the first times Gina Lestrade is testifying in court are when she's committing perjury under the threat of Magnus McGilded and as the defendant for a murder. When she's vindicated of all charges and made as an inspector under Tobias Gregson, the next time she's testifying in court is as a mere witness for a different case. She comments on how much of a relief it is for her to take the stand with low stakes for once. Unfortunately, the next case has Tobias Gregson as the victim, and under suspicion of being part of the Reaper conspiracy (he is), making Gina's testimony in this case personal for her again.
  • In The Excavation of Hob's Barrow, Thomasina, the Player Character, encounters the long suffering servant, Ms. Thompkins, who has worked at the local Lord's manor under the cruel housekeeper, Ms. Fenwyck, for years. Poor Ms. Thompkins is clearly a Nervous Wreck, and when Thomasina interrogates her a bit, she openly admits that Ms. Fenwyck is so extremely difficult to even remotely please that sometimes, her only options is picking the one that will make her slightly less cross. When, thanks to some help from Thomasina, Ms. Thompkins is reunited with her boyfriend, Eddie, and the couple can put their plans to run away together into action, Ms. Thompkins immediately takes revenge by casually picking Ms. Fenwyck's beloved Hippeastrum flowers right in front of her face. When Ms. Fenwyck protests, Ms. Thompkins proceeds to gleefully call her an "old sow" as she tells her to stick her complaints up where the sun don't shine, before she and Eddie happily walk away together.

    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.
  • If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device: The Emperor's comment on a Drukhari/Dark Eldar being utterly curbstomped by one of the Primarchs:
    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 firsthand to someone who absolutely deserves it.

    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 
  • The main conflict of the Dinosaur Train episode "Great Big Stomping Dinosaur Feet!" is that Tiny lost Shiny's favourite shell, and stomps in frustration on the beach. Daphne hears this and teaches her that she can turn her stomping into dancing to relieve stress.
  • 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 they have said emotional issues and work to resolve or come to terms with them. A number counts down to how close they 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.
  • The Owl House:
    • "For the Future" sees Luz undergo a massive case of this with Camila telling her how much she loves, appreciates and understands her, while also affirming to Luz that it's okay to stumble and fail citing how she thought that moving to Gravesfield would increase Luz's father Manny's chances of survival, but especially how she failed Luz by encouraging her not to be true to herself out of fear that Luz would have to endure all of the same hardships that Camila did. Camila reaffirming to her daughter that it's okay to be weird and nerdy and not to fear failure prompts Tears of Joy from her just before she finally realizes what she always wanted. To be understood by the mother she loves so very much. This then causes a second example of this with Luz's Palisman awakening to her clear joy and delight.
    • The Grand Finale, 'Watching and Dreaming', sees Belos reduced to a puddle of sludge and stomped to death by Eda, King and Raine. Given that he was a genocidal False Prophet tyrant and these three characters were deeply affected by his actions, Raine (who Belos had possessed for a good portion of this episode and the last, leaving them with permanent scars) lampshades it.
      Raine: That was...extremely satisfying.

    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 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / InUniverseCatharsis

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