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Painful Transformation

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"I didn't mean to call you a meatloaf, Jack!"

"The first, and only, time I tried to become human, I passed out, and I nearly died.
Nothing compares to the pain I felt that day, and since then, all other pain... is numb."
Vlad, El Goonish Shive

In order to shapeshift, every part of your body would have to twist and contort. Typically, it’s not acknowledged that would hurt... a lot. In most media, shapeshifting is done quickly and without undue pain for the shifter.

But that isn't always the case. Sometimes, those who take on another form are really going to feel it.

As the name implies, a Painful Transformation tends to be agonizing. While it probably won't leave permanent (physical) injuries, it's still not very pleasant.

There are generally two ways transforming can be painful:

  • Physical — The body is tortured during the transformation process. This is rather understandable, as one would imagine the bones and organs shifting around as having some sort of impact on the nerves.
  • Mental/Spiritual — The user's mind is overrun with horrid... whatever. We rarely get into a shapeshifter's head. Externally, it looks like they undergo a Freak Out every time they change shape. This may even be necessary to transform, in cases like that of The Incredible Hulk.

Expect a lot of Anatomy Agony tropes to come into play here. I.e., the character transforming might have their teeth fall out, their fingers twitching painfully, their feet stretching out, etc.

If "painful" doesn't begin to describe the transformation, see Transformation Horror.

Usually not associated with Voluntary Shapeshifting, where the user generally knows enough to pick a quick and painless method of transformation. It's much more common with Involuntary Shapeshifters and Forced Transformations. That said, it can be great drama to have a shapeshifter know a transformation will be painful but chooses to do it anyway. Done properly, it is always Worth It.


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    Comic Books 
  • This has become a problem for Jaime Reyes the Blue Beetle.
  • After acquiring a book that governs the rules of magic in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10, Dracula has Xander write into it that "Dracula became the most powerful vampire of all". All right, Dracula, one incredibly agonizing transformation into the massive demon responsible for creating vampires in the first place, coming right up.
  • The Incredible Hulk transforms extremely painfully in most instances, which is probably why Banner's attempts to keep control tend not to work once it's actually started. In his case, the pain is mental as well, as he can feel his human intellect degenerating. Even in instances where Bruce remains in control, the transformation pains are suggested to be one of the reasons he still tends to have difficulty keeping his anger in check. Likewise, turning back from Hulk to Banner is equally unpleasant, and often leaves Bruce knocked for a loop.
  • Morbius:
    • In his first solo series Morbius is able to turn back into a human for short amounts of time thanks to a serum derived from Spider-Man's blood. The change from vampire to human and back is very painful, with lots of screaming involved.
    • In his third solo series an attempt to cure himself of his vampirism goes wrong and he starts turning into a monstrous bat. The change can be slowed or partially reversed by ingesting blood, leading to a lot of painful changing back and forth.
  • In the Superman comics in the late 80s and 90s, Matrix (the Supergirl of that time) was actually an artificial life-form. Shapeshifting, while being one of her primary abilities, was noted for being very painful for her.
  • Ultimate X-Men: Unlike the original Angel, Derek can retract his wings back into his body to "pass" as human. Considering his transformation also includes growing long talons, thickened skin, and glowing eyes, it is rather distressing to watch.
  • In Werewolf by Night Volume 1, Jack Russell's transformation into a werewolf gets more painful each time he goes through it, escalating to levels of unbearable agony by the time he's been one for less than two years. And it's not just physical, either: every time he changes it feels as if his soul is being torn apart. After he gains control of the change it becomes less painful to shift, but one is left to wonder what would have happened if he never had...
  • Wonder Woman: The way people react when being turned into Circe's Beastiamorphs indicates that it is a very painful and horrific experience. In Wonder Woman (1942), Maj. Keith Griggs collapsing and screaming transformation when Circe nabs him is a good example of just how unpleasant being transformed into one of Circe's loyal mooks can be.

    Films — Animation 
  • In the climax of Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Milo slashes the villain, Rourke, across the arm with a piece of the magic Atlantean crystal, leaving a spot of pure crystal on his arm...which instantly starts spreading across his entire body in a painful process.
  • The Beauty and the Beast midquel Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas has a flashback to the night the Beast encountered the Enchantress and was cursed for his inhospitality. The Karmic Transformation leaves him roaring in rage.
  • The six Toa mutating into half-beast Hordika in BIONICLE 3: Web of Shadows is much more drawn-out and painful than in the concurrent toy commercials, where it was instantaneous and "cool". Their deformed bodies explode out of their cocoons and Vakama can barely manage to speak. The novelization on the other hand plays the scene more for drama and comedy, as the Toa talk freely.
  • Frozen: When Elsa accidentally freezes Anna's heart, she starts to freeze from the inside out. She is shown multiple times to be in pain, as well as feeling cold even in front of a fire.
  • Every time the title character of Howl's Moving Castle transforms into and out of his bird form, the experience gets more painful and difficult.
  • The Last Unicorn: It's not so much the transformation but the form she transforms into: when the immortal, unaging unicorn is polymorphed into a mortal human woman, she screams that "I can feel this body dying around me!" She gets used to it.
  • In Disney's The Little Mermaid, Ariel's tail is literally torn in half as she is changed into a human. The facts that it occurs in silhouette and the two ragged halves become shapely legs almost instantly does little to ease the horror of the scene. And of course, Disney being what it is, this is actually toned down from the original fairy tale. Not only was the transformation excruciating, but afterwards she felt like she was walking on knives the entire time she was transformed.
  • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls:
    • In the first movie, from the look of it, Sunset Shimmer's transformation into a demon isn't enjoyable. The moment she put the crown on, she looks worried, then starts crying and screaming as she rises into the air. Friendship Games has Sunset admitting she was "overwhelmed" by the magic in the crown, so it's likely she was in pain as well.
    • Legend of Everfree: In human Twilight's mindscape during the climax, her slow transformation into Midnight Sparkle, with wings sprouting from her back and a horn coming out of her forehead, doesn't look like a pleasant experience at all.
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: As the Evil Queen becomes an ugly witch, she clutches her throat, seemingly in pain, while wearing an expression of raw horror. She gets over that quickly, though.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Some versions of legend about werewolves actually either invert or subvert this trope, saying that while the transformation may appear to be excruciatingly painful, in truth it turns out to be sinfully pleasurable instead.

  • Ruby Quest: Ruby gaining her Third Eye is quite painful. It's explicitly said that "her head is killing her", and her head is bleeding afterwards.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Normal shapechanging powers don't fall under this trope (in fact, the polymorph spell, metamorphosis psionic power or Wild Shape ability will instead heal some damage). However, the force shapechange spell (originally from the Oriental Adventures), which forces shapeshifters to return to their true form, causes wracking pains — even if the victims actually resist it.
    • 3rd Edition has a sourcebook which expands on the rules and abilities of wizards and sorcerers called Tome and Blood. It gives the Prestige Class of "The Acolyte of the Skin", which is gained by summoning the essence of a fiend and binding it to your flesh. The illustration is not pretty.
      The Ritual of Bonding is painful and not to be undertaken lightly. The ritual requires 10 rounds from initiation to completion, and once begun, nothing can halt its progress. The fiendish essence subsumes the caster's own skin, an agonizing process that deals 1d4 points of damage each round of the ritual — wise candidates keep some cure potions handy.
    • According to many sources about the Nine Hells of Baator, while any type of promotion among devils is painful, the promotion to pit fiend (one of the leaders of the race) is the worst. For this to happen, a devil must spend 999 days in the Pit of Flame on the fourth layer of Baator. The Pit of Flame is usually used to punish devils, contains fire so hot that even they find it agonizing (devils are normally immune to fire), and is considered one of the worst punishments that an insubordinate can receive. In other words, surviving three years of it is the perfect test for one who wants to join the ruling class of Hell.
  • Exalted:
    • Infernal Exalted have the Charm Inner Devils Unchained, which turns the target into a demon. Painfully.
    • Then there's the process of becoming akuma, which throws in plenty of Mind Rape in addition to everything else.
  • Mage: The Awakening features a spell whereby one can force a person to transform by forcing their new form to claw its way out of their normal body.
  • Naturally, Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 have their own form of this trope with Chaos mutations, all of which are disgusting, irreversible, and excruciatingly painful.

  • Parodied in Holy Musical B@man! as Dick Grayson claims he can "feel his transformation beginning," as he doubles over and oddly wiggles his fingers to simulate feathers, but the "transformation" really just consists of him dramatically tearing his clothes off to reveal the Robin costume underneath.
  • Jekyll & Hyde: After Dr. Jekyll takes his formula for the first time during the song "Transformation", he experiences a maddening pain he describes in detail, wondering if he was going to die from it just before he finishes his transformation into Mr. Hyde.

  • Ariel from Drowtales has this as a natural limit on her hereditary shapeshifting power. It is strongly implied that changing her bodily structure too fast or too severely causes pain akin to a person with braces having their wires over-tightened, and she's specifically warned that if she's not careful she could shift a vital organ to the wrong place and potentially seriously injure or kill herself. She gets around the problem by primarily shapeshifting her hair, which of course has no nerve endings.
  • El Goonish Shive:
    • This is a problem for chimera; it figures prominently in the character of Vlad, who could not change form with risking his life. Part of what makes Grace (Shade Tail) unique is that transforming doesn't hurt her as much as it does others (by design, she naturally releases painkillers when transforming). Vlad is eventually put into a human form via TFG (or the equivalent thereof), thereafter refusing to try transforming again, both out of fear of this trope and that she will be unable to turn back since it wasn't possible on her own.
    • Interestingly, the transformation gun doesn't have this effect, even on normal humans (though it is implied that it did before Tedd perfected it; when Elliot uses the transformation belt, which is based on an earlier version of the TFG, he is incapacitated for several minutes — and his later cat-hybrid transformations reflect this as well until they don't). "OK, I need an aspirin, a ball of yarn, and thirty-seven pounds of catnip, stat!"
  • In Girl Genius, becoming a Jägermonster involves (voluntarily) consuming the Jägerdraught which triggers the transformation into monstrous fanged super-soldiers. However, it is said to be the most painful thing any of them have experienced and kills outright or drives to madness and suicide somewhere between seven to eight out of every ten of those who take it.
  • In Latchkey Kingdom, shapeshifting in general is no problem for those with the ability, but shapeshifting clothes specifically is revealed to be a rather painful process for those not used to it yet.
  • Mina from Uncommon Animals is not happy about changing.
  • K.A.'s upgrade in We Are The Wyrecats is visibly painful for her.

    Web Original 
  • Think regeneration is painful in Doctor Who? In Protectors of the Plot Continuum, we have a human-turned-Gallifreyan with Borg implants. That first regeneration, his screams of pain and the shriek of his morphing musculoskeletal system combined into what had to be one hell of a hideous racket.
  • The "My Metamorphosis Beigns" meme, where a stick figure brutaly melts into another being. However, usually the end results are very unexpected.
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-1575 ("Venus Statue"). When an animal drinks water that has passed through SCP-1575, it mutates into a human being. If it survives the process, the former animal describes it as being extremely painful. The water doesn't lose its potency after ingestion either; the Foundation has to check animals for internal and external parasites after there was a half-mutated flea and a human-faced tapeworm screaming as it burst out of a dog's belly.

    Web Videos 
  • The characters in The Cartoon Man feel no pain once they have transformed into human cartoons. The transformation itself however, seems rather painful.
  • In the SMOSH video about the bad parts of Heaven, in the sprouting wings segment, the angel wings come out rather bloody and painful looking.
  • The VelociPastor, in which a kind pastor transforms into a dinosaur, hands first, while writhing in pain and staring at himself in horror in his apartment mirror.


Cheetah's Transformation

Barbara Minerva transforms into her Cheetah form.

How well does it match the trope?

4.96 (25 votes)

Example of:

Main / VoluntaryShapeshifting

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