This trope is when a painful betrayal of one's self-image, self-loathing, internal conflict, personal failing/flaw or guilt is Played for Drama. It can be because of what someone did, didn't do, tried and failed to do, or they were just unlucky and got caught up in a bad situation. The key part of this trope is that something goes against the character's personal moral code, leading to the alienation of self.
Can lead to Heel–Face Turn or the character becoming The Atoner. Sometimes results in Past Experience Nightmares or the character crossing the Despair Event Horizon. Some characters have an overlap with You Are What You Hate. Often results in Heroic BSoD, sometimes after running Heroic Safe Mode.
Because this trope is personal, examples will be of a different kind for different characters. When editing, keep in mind to explain why an example is this trope for that character.
Related to Psychological Horror. Very much Truth in Television, but please keep examples civil. Not related to I Know What You Fear or Author Phobia.
Compare Primal Fear, Death of Personality, and Cessation of Existence.
- Accomplice by Inaction: You didn't do something, and now you feel guilty about it.
- And I Must Scream: Being in an endless Fate Worse than Death, and unable to do anything about it.
- Became Their Own Antithesis: You became what you used to hate.
- Brainwashed and Crazy: Being horrified by what you've done while under mind control.
- Cold Equation: Almost out of supplies? Have fun deciding who gets to live.
- Dead All Along: You find out that you or someone else was dead without being aware of it.
- Forced into Evil: You were forced to do something evil.
- Gollum Made Me Do It: Your other personality did it.
- Heel Realization: You realize you're the bad guy.
- Human Alien Discovery: You discover you aren't human, but a Human Alien.
- Identity Breakdown: Insecurity about your identity causes a breakdown.
- I Let Gwen Stacy Die: You blame yourself for being unable to save a loved one.
- I Should Have Been Better: You feel guilty about not doing enough/not doing everything.
- The Killer in Me: Especially the amnesiac variant.
- Loss of Identity: You lose what makes you you.
- Loss of Inhibitions: You lose your restraint and you feel horrified and regretful of the things you've done without it.
- The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: Shapeshifting changes your personality.
- Moment of Weakness: A temporary lapse in judgment causes you to make a mistake with disastrous consequences.
- My God, What Have I Done?: You feel remorseful of something you've done after realizing how malicious your action was.
- My Greatest Failure: You're motivated by an unfortunate mistake you made in the past.
- Organ Autonomy: Your body betrays you.
- Powerful and Helpless: All of those powers you rely on and you can't do anything.
- Restricted Rescue Operation: Outside forces restrict how much you can do to help.
- Sadistic Choice: If forced to choose between different things that betray your sense of self. Especially if taking a third option is not available or possible.
- Shoot the Dog: You're forced to go against your or society's moral code in order to do the right thing.
- Tomato in the Mirror: You're not who you thought you were.
- Trapped in the Past: Your legal identity and everyone that knows you won't exist for decades.
- What Have I Become?: You no longer recognize yourself in a new form.
Works with their own subpage:
- The titular protagonist goes through this after his evil side takes over.
- Kohaku realizing that he was Brainwashed and Crazy and killed his family.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: All the main cast, but Shinji Ikari might be the poster boy for this trope. A person with very high moral standards, but a weak and tender heart that cannot shoulder them against the odds. He develops a bad case of self-loathing, reaching a Despair Event Horizon after the final angel and a Moral Event Horizon for himself after Dude, She's Like in a Coma.
- Sankarea: Rea has this when she starts to succumb to her zombie nature.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: Happens to the Spiral King in the prologue/parallel works.
- The origin of Spider-Man involves this, as Uncle Ben's death is indirectly caused by Peter's irresponsibility.
- In Brother Bear, Kenai is first transformed into a bear. Then he finds out that the bear he killed earlier was Koda's mother.
- In Frozen (2013) Elsa freezes her sister Anna while trying to drive her away to protect her.
- Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon 2 after being Brainwashed and Crazy and killing Stoick.
- In The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney), Quasimodo inadvertently leads Frollo to The Court of Miracles when he goes there to warn everyone that Frollo is coming.
- In Justice League: Doom, the plan against Green Lantern relies on this trope.
- The Last Unicorn starts losing her sense of self when she's transformed into a human.
- Perfect Blue, along with a healthy dose of Psychological Horror and Surreal Horror. Yay, loss of identity and emotional insecurity!
- In Turning Red, both Mei and her mother Ming face this.
- The red panda transformation shatters Mei's self-control; she wants desperately to get rid of it and be her old self again, but the more she fights to repress it, the more often she transforms. At the same time, the discovery that her parents knew about the panda and didn't warn her breaks her trust in them in a way that she never dreamed possible.
- Ming fears two things above all others: losing control, and losing her daughter's love. Unfortunately, like many people she equates "love" with "obedience," so when Mei starts disobeying her, she thinks that the thing she's long dreaded is finally happening. When Mei openly defies her during the red moon ritual and chooses to keep the panda, Ming's fear turns to Unstoppable Rage, driving her to lose control, unwittingly set her own panda free, and go on a destructive rampage at the concert.
- In Zootopia, Judy Hopps' self-esteem takes a big hit when her own unconscious prejudices cause her to inadvertently start a speciesist panic against predators and betray Nick Wilde's trust, leading to their Plot-Mandated Friendship Failure. Her guilt over what happens is so strong that she resigns from the ZPD for a while because she feels she betrayed her own ideals.
- In 1408, the overall schtick of the titular hotel room seems to be dragging guests kicking and screaming through the darkest corners of their own subconscious and beating them over the head with their own doubts, fears, and regrets. Mike Enslin discovers this to his extreme detriment.
- In Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Leta Lestrange is dealing with this after swapping her brother for a baby who wasn't crying so she could get some sleep. The ship sunk directly afterward, and her brother died.
- Ghost Stories (2017) begins as a fairly unique but still pretty standard movie about a noted professor and skeptic being challenged to explain three cases that have haunted his mentor for years. It ends as a movie about a man suffering from locked-in syndrome, doomed to live in the world of dreams created by his own brain as a coping mechanism over the choices he's made in life.
- Inception deals with the aftermath of this. In The Reveal, we find out that Cobb planted the idea that her reality isn't real in his wife's head when they were stuck in a dream. This resulted in her suicide to wake up. It's unclear if she died or woke up.
- Elise in Insidious discovers that despite her life's goal being to help people who are afflicted with supernatural entities, she unknowingly let a woman in her house die as a teenager because she believed her to be a spirit and didn't save her from being murdered by her father.
- In Iron Sky, Renate has a Heel Realization followed by a Heel–Face Turn when she finds out who the Nazis were.
- In Red Rover, Kylie killed her mother with her powers, and all of Kylie's problems and life events since then have revolved around her denial of what she is. The film ends with her acceptance and owning of her powers.
- In Sarah's Key, the eponymous Sarah has to live with the fact that she inadvertently locked his brother in the closet during the Nazi raid. He died there because she couldn't manage to rescue him, and her depression eventually leads her to commit suicide as an adult.
- Taxi Driver is all about the protagonist projecting his self-loathing on others, where his antagonists are just placeholders for the things he hates about himself or wants for himself.
- This is what the horror of Room 101 in Nineteen Eighty-Four is all about. Using your greatest fears to get you to betray the most important thing about yourself, to destroy your self-image by making you betray everything and anything that's left of what you valued before they arrested you.
- ALiCE (2014): Christopher is horrified by the idea that his sexual orientation may be apparent to everyone on the island.
- The title character in Eden Green is a rationalist young woman infected with an alien needle symbiote that gradually takes over her body. Her intelligence is her main weapon, and her greatest fear is losing it to the symbiote's survival-obsessed instincts.
- Funny Business is entirely about the guilt the main character feels as a result of misusing her Reality Warper powers.
- The Imperius Curse in Harry Potter can result in this. Both times when Voldemort took over many people were being mind controlled by him.
- Tom Bertram of Mansfield Park behaves as though his only responsibility as the heir to a baronet's estate is to spend money and have fun, causing numerous problems for his family that he refuses to take responsibility for. Near the end of the book, he gets ill while on a trip with his friends and they ditch him to continue their own entertainments, which allows his condition to worsen until his life is in real danger. Realizing how quickly he was abandoned by his "intimate friends" and how close he came to death leave him severely shaken and forces him to acknowledge the consequences of his careless behavior.
- Hollyleaf in Warrior Cats is a staunch follower of the warrior code. After finding out her birth broke the code, she feels horrified by what she is, which is worsened when her first reaction is to murder the cat threatening to reveal the secret of her and her siblings' parentage. The increasing realization her actions and her birth have betrayed everything she is leads her to end up revealing the same secret she killed to prevent coming out.
- In the Game of Thrones episode "Hardhome", Jon Snow, the rest of the Night Watch, and surviving Wildlings can only watch as the army of the dead grows by the almost 100,000 Wildlings they went to save.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Best of Both Worlds", Federation Captain Jean-Luc Picard is forcibly assimilated into the Borg Collective. The trauma this caused him is explored over the course of several later episodes, the movie Star Trek: First Contact, and the later series Star Trek: Picard.
- After fatally wounding Devin and Daigo in Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues Harriet is horrified to discover that she feels nothing about trying to kill them. She questions whether she's an Empty Shell, which causes her to experience severe cognitive dissonance.
- The Bond and Sanity mechanics in Delta Green bring this, as Agents will start slowly burning their sanity and becoming stressed as they lose relations with the external world and isolate themselves from friends and family as their lives fall apart.
- Done in both Old World of Darkness and New World of Darkness, especially the Vampire gamelines.
- Unknown Armies has the Self madness meter, which is meant to address this trope specifically.
- Honkai Impact 3rd: The protagonist Kiana has several cases of this, from her Guilt Complex over having her closest people get hurt while trying to help her and her not being able to do anything about it, to realizing that she's a "monster" or a "time bomb" due to her Superpowered Evil Side, in which she was controlled to hurt her closest ones. It's "horror" enough for her that she keeps getting nightmares about it. Her whole struggle is about how she could become a "hero that saves the world" despite suffering from all of the above.
- Overwatch: Imagine that one day, you decide to join a group of bank robbers, and to ensure that nobody can figure out that you're no longer a law-abiding citizen, you come up with a criminal alias. That alias quickly snowballs out of control to the point that years later, long after you've quit the outlaw lifestyle and now trying your hardest to uphold the law, practically everyone still called you by said alias, which you now regard as a shameful reminder of your mistakes that you wish to part with. This is what Cole Cassidy had to deal with, and in the New Blood tie-in comic, Ana Amari comments that she could tell that he felt trapped by the life that he was living beforehand.
- Several characters in Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon end up with this trope. Nuzleaf, Yveltal and Beheeyem are all controlled by the Dark Matter to turn everyone into stone and go into self-imposed exile after breaking free and helping to defeat Dark Matter.
- Silent Hill 2 is the poster-boy of this trope, featuring the guilt-ridden protagonist being invited by mail from his supposed-to-be-dead wife to the namesake town. Many of the horrifying apparitions in the namesake town takes from the protagonist's own fear and guilt, up to and including the revelation that he killed his own wife in the past.
- Justice League does this to several of the heroes in the episode "Only a Dream". Superman's nightmare has him dealing with Power Incontinence. His heat vision kills Lois Lane and he accidentally breaks Jimmy Olsen's back when attempting to give him a hug. Meanwhile, Green Lantern is dreaming about losing his identity to the ring to the point where he becomes transparent, and the Flash dreams of being unable to turn off his Super Speed and being trapped in a world where everything else is standing still.
- Steven Universe:
- "Mindful Education" has Steven and Connie both dealing with this, Connie from attacking a kid who bumped her out of reflex and the All-Loving Hero Steven from being unable to save Jasper, poofing Bismuth and sending Eyeball out of his bubble when they were lost in space.
- The movie gives us Spinel's Heel Realization. She was literally made to be Pink Diamond's friend. She enjoyed being Steven's friend. And then she reactivated the injector that would kill all organic life on Earth when she thought he was going to use the rejuvenator on her.
- Spoilers for the Steven Universe: Future: This entire followup series is this for Steven. It turns out that saving the universe has left him without any life-changing goals to pursue and instead created a vacuum for all the pent-up trauma and anger at his mother's irresponsibility to surface. This isn't helped by all his friends and family members moving on with their lives, or sudden bouts of serious Power Incontinence (both of which he conceals from his family, despite their repeated attempts to offer help and support). This eventually culminates in Steven accidentally shattering one gem, then nearly shattering another. By the penultimate episode, his inability to live up to his (mistaken) belief that his friends expect him to be always and only an All-Loving Hero causes him to cross the Despair Event Horizon, triggering his corruption into a Pink Kaiju.
- In Real Life this is called moral injury. Although research has been focused on the military, it can happen to anyone. As it's not commonly talked about or only talked about very narrowly, it can lead to people feeling Alone in a Crowd. The index above is incomplete, so if you recognize the description from some situation you never should've been put in but don't see the trope for it, don't downplay what happened. Reach out to someone.