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Intrinsic Vow

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"Harry's hand halted.
He had a distant sense he was behaving uncharacteristically of himself, somehow. Like there was something he'd forgotten, something important, but he was having trouble remembering what it was, exactly."

A character has something they believe in more than anything; e.g., a person they have sworn to protect, or an ideal they're sworn to uphold. Whether they have spoken that vow in a sacred ceremony or simply made a decision in the silence of their heart, it doesn't matter. What matters is that no matter what, they will not break it.

If they're under More than Mind Control, attempting to make them break it will cause them to break free of the control instead. If they've got Laser-Guided or Easy Amnesia, they'll stop in their tracks without knowing why — or possibly even remember everything. If they're in there somewhere, this will enable them to fight.

Compelling Voice, Charm Person, Grand Theft Me, Brainwashed and Crazy, it doesn't matter — that one unbreakable vow will tear through anything. If the control exerted on them is particularly strong (or the show particularly cynical), they will only manage to retain enough control to commit suicide rather than break their vow — or their body might simply resist to the point where their mind or heart breaks from the stress.

That, essentially, is the core of this trope — a character trait so important to the character that they will break free of outside control or amnesia to keep it. Simply having a vow will not suffice, if it has not been 'tested' in this manner.

Depending on the setting Exact Words may apply, it might act like a Magical Contract that affects the very rules of the world and Loophole Abuse is still possible.

Unnervingly, the one way to get a character to break such a vow is to force them to choose between the lesser of two evils, with the greater being keeping the vow. In this case it becomes a Frequently-Broken Unbreakable Vow. Subtrope to Heroic Willpower. See also Heroic Vow.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In PandoraHearts, one episode sees Gil entrapped by a monster capable of controlling people with strings (like puppets, y'know). While it initially manages to make him smack around Oz, his best friend/master whom he's sworn to protect, Oz correctly reasons that Gil would never be able to kill him, and literally forces Gil's hand — which causes Gil to break free of the strings long enough to gun down the controller.
    • Gilbert's devotion to his master Oz is so great that other characters twist it to their advantage.
    • This gets subverted when Gilbert involuntarily shoots Oz immediately after a Glen-possessed Leo commands him to shoot.
  • Code Geass:
    • Subverted. Euphemia hesitates and resists heroically when given the order to kill the Japanese, but the geass is too powerful for her willpower to break through it. It should be noted that this is one of two times anyone ever resists one of Lelouch's geasses. People will happily commit suicide without a blink, but she managed to resist for a moment.
      • The other was ordering his younger sister, Nunally to hand him the keys to a superweapon. Like the above, the Geass wins in the end.
    • In Code Geass: Akito the Exiled, this is how Lelouch breaks out, though not completely, from the Emperor's geass used to make him think he's the strategist Julius Kingsley. All that matters to Julius is the Emperor's desires, and that couldn't be more contrary to Lelouch's feelings, and his desire to destroy the empire.

    Comic Books 
  • Not so much a "vow", but Wolverine is once snapped out of believing he is timid young James Howlett when a can of beer falls on his head. One can almost hear the "Popeye" power-up theme tune as he stares at the can and his features harden.
  • Superman is once hypnotized by Poison Ivy. Batman's only advantage is that Superman will NOT take a life... and that he will drop EVERYTHING to save Lois Lane, whom Batman has Catwoman throw off a nearby roof.
  • In another example Max Lord is revealed to have mind control powers that he's been using for years to root himself in Superman's mind. He can put Clark under an illusion anytime he wants where he alters his perception to make him do anything he wants... except kill. Superman is incapable of breaking out of Max's control but he will freeze up when ordered to execute anyone, even if he's perceiving them as Doomsday having just murdered Lois.
  • In Exiles, Mimic's body has been snatched by Proteus. He finds himself unable to kill Blink because of Mimic's love for her. Even after leaving Mimic's body, he suffered of the feedback of his feelings and tried several times to get close with her.
  • Doctor Doom has a Hypnoticon device that can put hypnotic commands in the minds of others. If a command goes against the victim's morals they can resist it.
    • Doom himself has a villainous version. Any kind of mind control that attempts to make him follow the orders of another is going to fail, because giving orders is what Doom does.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: When Hypnota brainwashes Steve Trevor the first time he seems like the perfect mark, but the second time the villain makes a miscalculation and orders him to shoot Diana. He raises the gun, then freezes and lowers it, dizzily coming back to himself. Diana trusted this would happen, saying that Steve will never harm her.

    Fan Works 
  • Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: Harry is completely under the Dementors' thrall, and not himself. He moves to kill some people, and then...
    He had a distant sense he was behaving uncharacteristically of himself, somehow. Like there was something he'd forgotten, something important, but he was having trouble remembering what it was, exactly.
  • Jaune Arc, Lord of Hunger: The one thing that Cinder Fall will never, ever do is allow herself to be Made a Slave. While under Nihilus' More than Mind Control, just hearing the word "serve" in her thoughts causes her to immediately break free from his mental influence and kill herself with a dagger so she won't have to spend any time as one of his thralls.
  • In Winter War the Hollowfied shinigami show signs of this. Despite most of them being broken into Tortured Monsters, their instincts are still there. Examples include Kira refusing to hurt Hinamori, Hitsugaya turning against Ichimaru's control when he sees Hinamori's bleeding hand, and Renji calling off his attack when his Captain Byakuya orders him to stop.
  • It's mentioned in RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse that mind-control spells have a tendency to fail when used to force someone to act against their most fundamental nature. For example, Antithesis refrains from trying to enchant an Ursa Minor because she suspects that doing so would cause her to lose her hold on its Ursa Major mother. Similarly, even Thrash Metail's mind-control can't make Octavia pass off bad music as good.
  • In Witchy Woman, Aoshi is bound by a cursed ring, forced to serve the crime lord Kanryuu's best interests and obey his commands, and protected from losing his mind. Eventually, he discovers that he can shield his Love Interest, and even disobey direct orders to hurt her, because the ring's magic isn't strong enough to keep him from going mad with grief if anything happened to Misao, and Aoshi is too important a tool to allow himself to be broken.
  • The Arithmancer is a Harry Potter fanfic based on the idea of Hermione being a maths genius. In one chapter, she is able to overcome the Imperius Curse (a form of mind control) when told to write 2+2=5.

    Films - Live-Action 
  • In TRON: Legacy, Rinzler stops attacking Sam as soon as he draws blood, because only users have blood, and because Rinzler is a reformatted Tron, he was originally programmed to defend them.
  • In Ăon Flux, random passersby sometimes completely lose their composure and break down in tears. It's the Power of Love overriding several hundred years of cloning.
  • In Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, this exchange takes place when, under the influence of the T-X's reprogramming, the T-800 is holding John Connor down, ready to kill him.
    John: What is your mission?
    T-800: To ensure the survival of John Connor and Katherine Brewster.
    John: You... are about to fail that mission.
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Khan implants alien creatures in Chekhov and Captain Terrell's brains that allow him to Mind Control them. When Khan orders Captain Terrell to kill Captain Kirk with a phaser, Terrell manages to overcome the Mind Control and performs a Heroic Suicide instead, killing himself with the phaser to save Kirk's life.

  • In one of the later Artemis Fowl books, Butler is put under the Mesmer by an enemy. When she orders him to kill his friend/comrade-in-arms Holly Short, he resists enormously, and she eventually settles for having him render her helpless, rather than risk this. Later, she orders him to kill Artemis, whom he has protected with his life literally since birth. Butler promptly goes into cardiac arrest rather than obey. (Fortunately, Artemis is, like, RIGHT THERE, and of course he's got a plan.)
  • Dune
    • In Dune Messiah, it's revealed that gholas — who are basically resurrected corpses who possess the skills, but not memories, of their original life — can regain their memories if put in a situation like this. The original case involved Duncan Idaho, an extremely loyal follower of the Atreides, being ordered to assassinate Paul, the then-head of the House Atreides.
    • God-Emperor of Dune. Later, with more advanced technology, it becomes possible to clone gholas from tissue-samples. Same rules apply, and it eventually becomes standard procedure to put the gholas through simulated 'no-way' scenarios in order to force their latent memories to the surface.
  • The Dark Elf Trilogy reveals that Drizzt Do'Urden's father was, like himself, a rare 'Good' Drow Elf. After Drizzt turns his back on his people and escapes from Menzoberranzon, vengeful High Priestesses of Lolth brings his father back from the dead as a sort of semi-zombie — undead, but still possessing the skills of his former life. The reason being, of course, that Drizzt has proven too fearsome a fighter for all their assassins so far, so they figure that bringing back the man who taught him to fight might be their only shot. During the final confrontation between Drizzt and his zombified dad, Pops managed to break free of the priestesses' control for just long enough to give a final farewell to his son, and then jump into a pool of acid so he wouldn't be able to hurt him.
  • Subverted in High Deryni, when Wencit of Torenth has physically and mentally tortured Derry, he tells Derry that he'll make him do anything he wants, then proceeds to demonstrate this by making Derry stab himself nearly to death. Wencit also assures Derry that he can make him betray his liege lord and friend Alaric Morgan. Wencit even leaves the dagger with Derry, asserting that his control is so complete he cannot kill himself unless he Wencit wills it. After Wencit leaves his cell Derry does try to kill himself to avoid betraying Morgan, but finds he cannot do so and weeps in despair.
  • Hollow Kingdom Trilogy: Kate tells her enchanted husband that she is pregnant, thereby stopping him from killing her, since the Heir is the most important thing to the Kingdom. Also, all the other enchanted goblins can't kill Kate because no goblin could ever think of harming the King's Wife.
  • In Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy stories, anyone who becomes a King's Messenger takes a vow (and is given a mind-control treatment to back it up) so that they not only cannot reveal a message they have been given in their official capacity, they don't even know what it is. Trying to force a King's Messenger to reveal a message in any way (via magic, drugs, torture, whatever) results in his immediate death.
  • This is the only way aside from Po's grace to overcome Leck's lying grace in Graceling Realm. Queen Ashen is able to resist for her daughter Bitterblue, and Katsa kills Leck because he was going to reveal the secret of Po's grace. She didn't even remember what the secret was, just that it was Po's and it would hurt him for it to be revealed.
  • In Animorphs Mr. and Mrs. Chapman willingly became Yeerk hosts on the condition that their daughter be spared. When the Yeerks mention planning to infest their daughter anyway, the Chapmans immediately start fighting back against their control with greater strength than any character had ever displayed in the series. This confuses and frightens the Yeerks so much that they leave the girl alone just so it won't happen again.
  • In Temeraire, in the eighth book Laurence gets total amnesia of the last eight years. While this does reset a good portion of his character development until he gets his memory back, including the strength of his bond with Temeraire, he still knows, in his heart of hearts, that dragons aren't the mindless beasts he'd been taught to believe.
  • Discworld:
    • In Thud!, Watch Commander Sam Vimes ends up getting possessed by the Summoning Dark, a quasi-demonic thing of pure vengeance, which was called into the world to avenge the deaths of four dwarfs that had been killed by dwarf grags. We're explicitly told that anyone that's been possessed by the Summoning Dark in the past dies or goes insane, becoming berserkers that will stop at nothing to carry out their vengeance. Vimes seems about to go the same route— until he stands before the terrified and helpless grags themselves, at which point he stops himself, because the one thing Sam Vimes will not allow himself to do is commit murder. The strain of stopping himself nearly tore him apart before another Watchman brought him down.
    • Note that Vimes' berserker state specifically was brought on by an Intrinsic Vow possibly even more binding than Thou Shalt Not Kill (the Defenseless), one that is demonstrated at the beginning of the book and where the entire Watch will join in to ensure that vow is upheld for fear of the consequences: Every night at 6 PM sharp, Sam Vimes reads Where's My Cow? to Young Sam. Period. No mere Eldritch Abomination or miles of earth and rock will prevent Young Sam from hearing his father's voice imitating animals, no sir.
  • In The Silmarillion the Oath of Fëanor operates this way, for the Sons of Fëanor. Except, tragically, it subverts the last part of this trope. They will stop at nothing to reclaim the Silmarils. Not even assaulting a refugee camp and slaughtering other Noldor elves which is pretty much the worst atrocity committed by elves, ever. Maglor only finally gives his up after it burns him, because of all the evil he committed to reclaim it. Maedhros however, kills himself instead of giving his up. The third one was taken to Valinor by Eärendil and Elwing.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the episode "Closing Time," the sound of his baby crying is the only thing that breaks Craig free from Cyberman mind control. In fact, the feedback is powerful enough to destroy the ship.
      Craig: I blew them up! I blew them up with love!
      The Doctor: Well, actually, the instinctive mammalian drive to protect your offspring created a feedback effect so powerful that... all right, yes, you blew them up with love.
    • Another Cyberman example: in "Doomsday", the former head of Torchwood is able to rebel against the Cybermen due to her Undying Loyalty to the nation of England.
    • The Cybermen seem very bad at dealing with this: in "Death In Heaven", Danny Pink is able to remain free-willed even after his emotions are removed due to his love for his girlfriend. As the Doctor puts it: "Love isn't an emotion; it's a promise."
  • Supernatural
    Castiel: This isn't right.
    Naomi: Do you realize what that tablet can do for us?
    Castiel: I won't hurt Dean.
    Naomi: Yes. You will. You are.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Nobilis
    • Having a Virtue is basically this; someone with the "Vegetarian" virtue can't be tricked into eating meat, someone with "Egocentric" can't forget who they are, etc.
    • In third edition, any belief you choose as an Affliction is this; it is an immutable rule of who you are.
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Spells
      • In Basic D&D, a Charm Person spell could not make the target act against their basic nature (Character Alignment and personality).
      • The target of a Domination or Dominate Person spell is granted a second saving throw at a bonus if it is given orders against its nature.
      • 2nd Edition supplement Shaman. The spell Animal Spy can't make an animal act against its basic nature, and the Charm Spirit spell can't make a spirit act against its Character Alignment.
      • This continues into later editions as well: in 5th Edition, pretty much every spell or ability with a mind-control effect allows the target some opportunity to break out of it if they are commanded to do something deadly to themselves or their allies, or at least if they take damage.
    • 1st Edition psionic abilities
      • The Hypnosis ability allows giving reasonable orders only. The victim can't be ordered to kill their friends or associates.
      • Creatures under the effect of the Mass Domination ability will not do anything which is obviously against their basic nature.
    • 2nd Edition AD&D The Complete Psionics Handbook. The psionic ability Post-Hypnotic Suggestion can't make the victim violate their Character Alignment or Character Class restrictions.
    • Magic items
      • Anyone affected by a Rod of Beguiling will not obey commands that go against their nature or Character Alignment.
      • If a creature is under the effect of a Rod of Rulership, giving them an order that is absolutely contrary to their nature will void the magical control.
    • The Unseelie Nymph in the 2nd Edition supplement Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume 4. Its Charm effect causes other creatures to fall in love with it. They will do anything it asks except directly violate a basic tenet of their ethics.
    • Module UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave. All of the inhabitants of Porpherio's Garden are completely immune to any Mind Control effect that would cause them to betray Orlando or Juliana, because they believe them to be the reincarnated forms of their beloved Porpherio and Caerwynn.
    • White Dwarf magazine #79 article "All in the Mind - Alternative Rules for Psionics". The psionic abilities Influence and Possession can modify the target's behavior unless the change goes against the target's basic nature (such as their Character Alignment).
    • Polyhedron magazine #27 article "Dominion: An Unofficial New Spell Category for Magic-Users". The spells Empathic Control and Empathic Link cannot make the target act against its basic nature. If the spell Domination is used to make a creature act against its nature, the creature is allowed a saving throw with a bonus of up to +4 to throw off the spell's effect.
  • There are many variations of Mind Control and one or two versions of Grand Theft Me in Deadlands. Under the classic rule set, virtually every one of them allowed a character a second chance to fight back if they are compelled to do something sufficiently "against their nature," which is left to the Marshal's judgement of the character. Effectively, the rules assume that almost everyone has one or two of these.
  • Call of Cthulhu
    • When the Dominate spell is used, orders given by the caster must not violate the basic nature of the target, such as killing a friend.
    • White Dwarf magazine #68 article "Crawling Chaos - Free the Spirit". When a person is hypnotized, they may be given simple commands. However, they can try to resist following any command that is strongly out of character (such as requiring them to kill or be reckless).
  • Chaosium's ElfQuest RPG. The magical power Hypnosis cannot make the target do anything obviously contrary to his deeply held convictions.
  • Rolemaster
    • Shadow World supplement Gethaena. The Ishrun spell Suggestion can't make the target do something completely alien to them, such as blinding their son.
    • Spacemaster Privateers campaign setting. The Telepathy Psychic skill had several powers with this restriction.
      • Behavioral Trigger: If the psychic tries to get the victim to do something that is totally out of character (such as betraying everything they care about) the Task Difficulty is Sheer Folly (-50% to chance of success).
      • Suggestion: If the suggested action is completely alien to the target's personality, they will not follow it.
    • If a Faerie uses Enchantment (or a Pixie uses Love Charm) and asks the victim to do something against their basic beliefs, the victim can resist the effect.
    • If the spells Mental Command or Dominate Will are used to make someone do something against their ideals or their fundamental nature, the victim has a chance to negate the spell's effect on them.
    • If the Implant Suggestions spell is used to implant an idea that the target would never normally consider, the target will ignore it.
  • Cubicle 7's Victoriana game, supplement Faces in the Smoke Volume 1 - The Secret Masters. The Mesmerism skill taught by the Domus Alucinae secret society allows the user to implant an order in the subject, to be carried out immediately or later. The subject will never carry out an order that's completely out of character for them, such as murder.
  • C░ntinuum: roleplaying in The Yet#. A person under the effect of the Hypnosis skill will not do anything that is directly against their nature.
  • Encounter Critical. If a Psi Witch uses Crowd Manipulation, those affected can resist any command that goes against their strongly held taboos or reservations.
  • Unknown Armies supplement Statosphere. The Invisible Clergy cannot make a mortal (such as a human) do something against their will or prevent them from doing something they really want to do.
  • Mythus (Dangerous Journeys) main rules
    • The Hypnosis skill allows the user to give commands to the subject, but the subject will not obey commands completely contrary to their nature.
    • A character affected by the Spiritual Combat attack Subvert will act the reverse of their normal personality (e.g. Evil instead of Good and vice versa), but they cannot be made to directly hurt their friends.
  • It Came from the Late, Late Show main rules. If a Monster has the Hypnotize special effect, it can control the actions of Cast Member (PC) as long as the actions are not against the Cast Member's nature.
  • Tales of the Space Princess. One possible alien ability is to control the mind of another being. If the controlling alien gives the target an order contrary to their personal beliefs (such as betraying their cause or harming a loved one) the target gets a second chance to resist the control.
  • DC Heroes. The Hypnotism power allows the user to implant suggestions in the target's mind. A suggestion will not be carried out if it is something completely against the target's Motivation or belief. However, a clever hypnotist can get around this restriction by implanting suggestions that circumvent the target's beliefs. For example, if the hypnotist wants Superman to attack Jimmy Olsen he can first implant a suggestion that Jimmy is actually Darkseid. If this suggestion works, Superman will follow a subsequent suggestion to attack Jimmy because he will believe that Jimmy is Darkseid.
  • Shadowrun. Spells that control the mind (Control Animal, Control Emotions and Control Thoughts) allow the target to resist the effect if it would cause harm to their loved ones.
  • Hackmaster, 4th Edition Player's Handbook. The spell Charm of Undying Devotion allows the caster to control the target's actions. If the caster gives an order that is against the target's nature, the target receives a new saving throw with a bonus of +1 to +4. If the saving throw succeeds the spell is neutralized.
  • Arduin RPG, The Compleat Arduin, Book 2: Resources
    • The spell Aura of Command will cause the target to carry out any order given to it unless the command is "fundamentally contrary to the essence of their being".
    • The bond of love between a Bigglie and its master is so strong that the Bigglie cannot be affected by mystik charms, geas or suggestions.
  • Chaosium's supplement All the Worlds' Monsters Volume III. A newborn Perneese Fire Lizard (based on the ancestors of the dragons in Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern novels) can become imprinted on an intelligent being. If they do so, any kind of mind-control magic used on them cannot make them attack the being they're imprinted on.
  • Psi World. The psionic discipline Suggestion allows the user to plant a mental command into a target's mind. Orders that are completely against the target's way of thinking (such as harming a friend) are ignored.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade. A creature under the effect of a Blood Bond tries to obey its Regnant's wishes, but will not follow orders that violate its core principles.
  • In Genius: The Transgression, Beholden usually have no ideology of their own, but they will retain their morality score, even if they will be unable to articulate why they consider something to be wrong. If the Beholden is abused enough or given an order that strongly contrasts with their morality, they get a chance to break free of being Beholden.
  • In Exalted, each Lunar Exalt is mystically bonded to a specific Solar Exalt, and has access to various Charms that let her resist effects that would turn her against her Solar. Going even further, if that Solar Exalt was warped into an Abyssal Exalt, should the Abyssal have any positive feelings toward their Lunar mate, none of their actions where the Lunar is concerned trigger any of the usual side effects for disobeying the Neverborn and Deathlords.
  • Judges Guild generic RPG supplement Masters of Mind. When using the psionic skill of Hypnosis, it is difficult to implant a suggestion which goes against the target's standard behavior.
  • The Compleat Adventurer by Bard Games. The Rogue class has an ability called "Con" (as in Con Artist). Anyone who has a strong alignment (e.g. Good or Evil) cannot be made to act contrary to their alignment by using Con on them.

    Video Games 
  • Tsubaki Yayoi and Jin Kisaragi of BlazBlue both have vowed each other's hand in marriage to the other when they come of age. It falls under this trope as challenging it is the crux of Jin's plan to break the Mind Eater curse Tsubaki is under in Chronophantasma. With Makoto's strength, Noel's Eye and his Power of Order all working in succession, he succeeds and Tsubaki escapes the curse completely.
  • We see this in City of Heroes for Arachnos — the main villain group. When you swear your loyalty to Lord Recluse they use your own oath to brainwash you to make sure you don't go back on your word. Those in the top ranks like the Arbiters can't betray their oath even if they want to. When the senior most Arbiter is forced by his son to choose between him or Arachnos, the Arbiter gives his son's execution orders because his oath to Arachnos makes him unable to so much as mentally process turning on Arachnos. The mind-set also protects them against possession and extended mind-control.
  • In Completing the Mission of the Henry Stickmin Series, specifically the Master Bounty Hunter route, it is possible to attempt to rewire the Right Hand Man, who in this timeline has become a Cyborg, to fight alongside Henry to take down the Toppat Clan. It doesn't stick, as he is easily reminded of his true identity. The FAIL screen for this even proclaims:
    FAIL Screen: Deep down he is always gonna be a Toppat. There's no rewiring that.
  • Upon being summoned by God Arjuna in Fate/Grand Order, William Tell informs him that he'll do what God Arjuna asks of him, but he will not kill children. God Arjuna deems Tell's memories of his son to be "evil" and removes them in the next Yuga cycle. When facing Chaldea afterwards, he acts confused when they bring up his son. When a child Chaldea has befriended attempts to help in the fighting, he hesitates long enough for Chaldea to take him down.

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Haley breaks a paladin out of a Dominate Person spell by tricking him into thinking he had just attempted to kill the lord he had sworn to serve and protect.
    • Nale uses a Charm Person spell on Belkar and orders him to kill his teammates and bring their magic items back to Nale. Belkar adamantly refuses. Nale then orders Belkar to kill his teammates and keep their magic items for himself (and sing the complete score to Meet Me in St. Louis). Belkar agrees instantly.
      Nale: I love being evil.
  • In Rusty and Co., Mimic deduces what Madeline's been told because she cannot work against her fundamental nature. While she's chasing him, he tries to guess what the vampire could possibly have said to make Madeline attack him, and then he figures it out — the vampire told her that Mimic was being attacked by bees. She was trying to swat them away. With her spear.
    Mimic: I am not being attacked by bees!

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Hypnotism works like this. To be hypnotized, the person must want to be hypnotized, and while under hypnosis, will not perform any action that goes against their morals. All hypnotists, stage practitioners and therapists alike, agree that this is true.