Follow TV Tropes


Psychosomatic Superpower Outage

Go To

...Well well well. Little Maui's having trouble with his look.
You little Semi-Demi-Mini-God.
OWWWCH! What a terrible performance! Get the hook! (get it?)
You don't swing it like you used to, maan...

Super-powers are frequently linked to one's mental state. When the character has unresolved emotional issues, his or her superpowers can stop working. This is universally true of explicitly Psychoactive Powers and Concentration-Bound Magic, but this also can apply to powers that don't normally seem to have a psychoactive component.

Sometimes, there's really nothing wrong with the character's powers; he's just so out of emotional whack that he just can't bring himself to use them.

A Psychosomatic Superpower Outage is often precipitated by loss of self-confidence, loss of faith in one's cause, unresolved emotional conflict, a Freak Out or extreme fear.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Eren Yeager from Attack on Titan often suffers from this: his transformation into the Attack Titan is triggered by a combination of (usually self-inflicted) physical harm and having a specific idea of what task he's trying to accomplish. If he tries to shift just for the sake of shifting—or while his faith is shaken—he'll fail to transform and end up pointlessly injured.
  • In Bleach, the usable strength of a spirit is of course affected by their mental state. Doubt and fear tend to limit how much spirit energy can be released, worst case scenario being a complete shutdown. For example, Ichigo's massive insecurity over the Hollow nature of his soul's power weakened him for an entire arc, so much that his Hollow mask would outright fail to release at times.
  • In Fairy Tail, this happens to Mirajane after Elfman tries a full-body Take Over, loses control of himself, and ends up killing their younger sister Lisanna. Mirajane's left unable to use Take Over, because trying to use it reminded her of the incident. When Elfman is threatened by Freed during the Battle of Fairy Tail, Mirajane's desire to protect her remaining sibling reactivates her Demon Take-Over — Satan Soul.
  • Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILLYA: Illya can easily fly, but Miyu cannot, even though Miyu is Illya's equal in every way and there is nothing physically wrong with her. The others chalk it up to Miyu having a Lack of Imagination and not believing it is possible. It turns out Miyu is too emotionally damaged to believe in flight. Later, when the heroes go to Miyu's home world, they find that everyone there cannot fly and does not believe it is possible even though they have the potential. Illya realizes this Crapsack World has damaged the inhabitants emotionally until they lack the confidence to fly, and is determined to correct this.
  • In Four Knights of the Apocalypse, demons can conjure tangible darkness to serve as weapons, limbs, etc., but the darkness is dependent on their state of mind. If the demon loses confidence (or anger; it's not clear) the darkness dissipates, as when Tristan's shadow wings wither from Arthur's Breaking Speech.
  • When Guyver's Sho Fukamachi sees the damaged Guyver II consume its host, he has a Freak Out and can't bring himself to bioboost.
    • In episode 8 of the OAV, Guyver won't respond when Sho calls for it after realising that he had killed his father (who had been transformed into an Enzyme II) when the Guyver's autopilot had taken over after Sho himself suffered massive head trauma. Sho's extreme determination to save Mizuki several episodes later is what gets it working again.
  • Jewelpet Twinkle☆: in episode 33, Akari's magical power shuts down when she hears rumors that her love interest Yuuma has something going on with her elder sister. She gets better when they're disproven.
  • Several characters in Kuroko's Basketball have experienced instances where they're unable to access the Zone because of their mental state. During the Yosen match, Kagami, under the stress of feeling powerless, attempted to forcibly activate the Zone to no avail. Yosen's own ace, Murasakibara, always had the physical potential to enter the Zone, but couldn't do so until he stopped denying his love of basketball. During the final game of the series, Akashi is forcibly ejected from the Zone due to the absolute shock of his trump card being completely stopped, when before then he had never once lost at anything.
  • In My-HiME, a shocking event that greatly distresses Natsuki prevents her from using her powers late in the story. In the anime, it's learning that her mother wanted to sell her to the first District, and she is unable to use her powers until she saves Nao from Shizuru, by which point she fully understands what Shizuru means to her. In the manga, she loses her powers after learning from Nagi that Yuuichi kissed Mai, and gets them back while fighting her mother, after an internal monologue about caring for Yuuichi in her own way.
  • In Prétear, The Reveal regarding the Princess of Disaster being a former Pretear shakes Himeno so badly that she can't transform until she manages to recover her resolve with some support from Hayate in the following episode.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, according to supplementary material Kyouko Sakura used to have the power to create illusionary clones of herself, but lost it when her father went insane and slaughtered her whole family.
  • During Ronin Warriors, Kento can't summon his Armor of Hardrock after Big Bad Talpa lies to him that the armor is inherently evil.
  • In Sailor Moon, Usagi loses the ability to use her Moon Tiara Action attack at one point; it's because she subconsciously doesn't want to be Sailor Moon anymore.
  • This happens quite a bit in Pretty Cure:
    • In Smile Pretty Cure! Reika lost her powers as Cure Beauty during a fight with Joker because the latter used the former's conflict between quitting being a Cure and disappointing her friends by not studying abroad to drive her into a breakdown and cause her to lose her transformation.
    • In Go! Princess Pretty Cure, Haruka lost her ability to transform into Cure Flora after she falls into a massive Heroic BSoD, thanks to an an amnesic Kanata telling her to stop chasing her dream.
      • At one point, Minami/Cure Mermaid's power waned because of her worries over choosing between her childhood dream and her new dream.
    • Happens again to the main character in HuGtto! Pretty Cure. Hana's insecurities and lack of faith in herself costs her the ability to transform into Cure Yell.
  • During Tekkaman Blade, Blade goes into an Unstoppable Rage after exceeding his time limit. When he recovers, he goes into a Freak Out and is so afraid that it will happen again that he can't transform.
  • In Yuki Yuna is a Hero, Yuna's belief that she's a failure as a friend leaves her temporarily unable to transform.

    Comic Books 
  • DC Comics Bombshells: After Supergirl's little sister Stargirl dies, Supergirl becomes so depressed that she loses the ability to fly. She regains it when she meets her clones Power Girl and Superman, and realizes she still has family.
  • When Wally West became The Flash, he was rife with Heroic Self-Deprecation. Never being able to see himself living up to his late mentor Barry Allen's legacy, he was haunted by the nightmares of Barry being ashamed of him. As a result, he mentally limited himself to speed of sound for a long time, and even after he overcome his fear of living up to Barry's legacy, he suppressed his speed because he didn't want to actually replace Barry by matching his speed. After the famous The Return of Barry Allen story, he was finally able to make peace with himself and eventually surpassed all of Barry's benchmarks.
  • Green Lantern:
    • Kyle Rayner loses his powers when his confidence is shattered by Megaddon.
    • Given that the various colored lantern rings are powered by emotion, this can be a pretty common occurrence. A Green Lantern filled with fear and self-doubt, or a Blue Lantern who loses hope, would be left virtually powerless.
    • This is especially dangerous for Blue Lanterns — to the point that it even happens to Saint Walker himself.
  • Spider-Man's powers have stopped working several times due to emotional issues, in almost every medium that he's been in. He gets them back when he becomes self-assured again, usually just in the nick of time. Inversely, when people he cares about are in danger his powers grow exponentially stronger.
    • In Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (published in 1964), Spider-Man seemed to lose his powers after a bout of guilt over his uncle Ben's death. He regained them just in time to face off against the Sinister Six, an alliance of his biggest villains at the time. He even admitted to himself that his temporary power loss was probably psychosomatic in nature.
    • Spider-Gwen's powers take on this quality once she gains the symbiote, with emotional stress causing her to uncontrollably sweat "spiders" and behave more aggressively.
  • Marvel Comics character Gladiator of the Shi'ar Imperial Guard is often the victim of this. Justified because his powers are fueled by self-confidence. As long as he feels like an unstoppable super badass, he's an unstoppable super badass. But if something shakes his confidence, his powers suffer a drop, leading to his confidence dropping even further, leading to his powers falling further...
  • Empowered is implied to be subconsciously holding her powers back due to her consistent losing streak and subsequent humiliation. The few times she was brainwashed into forgetting her self-loathing she becomes a very dangerous minion, with her teammates lampshading the relative power boost.

    Fan Works 
  • What prevents Li figuring out that he was a firebender in Foxfire is that he's not angry. Without Zuko's anger, Li is forced to start from scratch which helps in rediscovering a lost form of firebending.
  • At the beginning of Green Tea Rescue, Izuku's Psychokinesis is a weak Quirk after years of not being used and suffering bullying that destroyed his self-esteem. All Might uses objects that are much heavier than they look so Izuku can break through the mental blocks holding him back.
  • In Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Makoto has a block shortly after first discovering his Secret Art fighting Raynare and has to nail down the proper frame of mind to use it.
  • In Perfection Is Overrated, this happens to Natsuki in similar circumstances as in canon, although she only realizes what has happened when she learns Yukariko has betrayed the others, tries and fails to summon Duran to defend herself and gets pulled into Yukariko's Lotus-Eater Machine as a result.

    Films — Animation 
  • This is the main conflict of Kiki's Delivery Service; the heroine loses her witch powers and goes through an identity crisis.
  • Moana: After reclaiming his magical fishhook, Maui finds that a thousand years without it have left him woefully out of practice and he has lost control over his shapeshifting. Unfortunately, he discovers this just as he confronts Tamatoa, a old crustacean foe of his who proceeds to mop the wall with him while delivering the Break Them by Talking section in his song "Shiny". For a demigod that thrives on human adoration and has a severe Inferiority Superiority Complex, Maui spirals into a negative mental state that perpetuates his power outage. Once Moana gets him thinking positively again, however, he regains the knack.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • During Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker loses his powers because he is unconsciously conflicted about whether or not to continue being Spider-Man. Given the suggestive nature of his powers, the whole thing looks a lot like a man struggling with stress-related impotence. (With the webs being made from a sticky fluid coming out of his body, the parallel is even stronger.) This plot element may have been suggested by a similar plot point in 1964's Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1.

  • In After the Golden Age, this happens to the superhero Typhoon. She loses the ability to use her powers after accidentally killing a police officer.
  • The Black Witch Chronicles: Icarals who grow up being told they're foul and evil, like Ariel and Wynter, develop stunted wings and can't fly.
  • The Dresden Files: This happened to Mortimer Linquist, Chicago's resident ectomancer. Apparently he felt guilty about faking a few ghosts (despite his whole power revolving around real ghosts) or something, and lost confidence, which then made him doubt his abilities, which disrupted them further, which caused him to lose confidence... by Dead Beat he's nearly powerless. Harry gives him a pep talk, and by Ghost Story he's recovered.
  • This happens to Tonks in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. She loses control of her metamorphmagus powers in her depression over both Sirius' death and her feelings for Lupin. We later learn that this also happened to Merope, when she was under the thumbs of her brother and father, and Dumbledore's sister Ariana after being attacked by a group of Muggle boys.
  • In Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar, this sometimes happens with Heralds whose Gifts are less tangible, like Empathy and True Magic — if you try to use it and it doesn't work, you start to disbelieve in your Gift a little. This gives Talia trouble, because she's the first Herald in a long time to have Empathy as her primary Gift, and nobody really knows how to train her properly.
  • Journey to Chaos:
    • Annala starts the series without the shapeshifting ability inherent to her species because of trauma related to it as well as a Crisis of Faith. A Vision Quest in Transcending Limitations helps her to resolve the crisis and regain her shapeshifting.
    • In the immediate aftermath of his mana mutation, Eric finds himself unable to use his Casting a Shadow based spells due to confusion regarding his new identity. As he gets more used to thinking of himself as a grendel instead of a human, he regains this ability as well greater control over his physical transformations.
  • Rai Kirah: The rite to De-power Ezzarian mages is revealed to Invoke this, traumatizing them to the point that they lose all faith in their power and can't access their own magic. Epiphany Therapy doesn't help, however; Seyonne needs extensive training and specialized guidance to break the block.
  • The Scholomance: This is a hazard of attempting magic around Muggles. Magic runs on Clap Your Hands If You Believe and non-wizards are quite certain that magic doesn't exist, so not only can they cause the spell to fail, they can start to erode the wizard's faith in their own powers.
  • The Wheel of Time: People who are self-taught in the One Power often develop mental blocks on their abilities, like only being able to channel while angry, in the presence of a man, or with their eyes closed. These can be overcome by training or circumstance, like the trainee learning that the "man" sitting in on her lessons is really a Sweet Polly Oliver.

    Live-Action TV 
  • This was practically a mantra on Charmed (1998). "Your powers are tied to your emotions."
  • A variation in The Flash (2014). A Villain of the Week drains Barry's superspeed, leaving him unable to go fast (in fact, Cisco observes that Barry's running speed is lower than a normal person's). Barry tries to shock himself to get his powers back, but it doesn't seem to work. However, when Dr. Wells is about to be killed by the same meta-human, not only do Barry's powers return, but they kick into overdrive, and he ends moving faster than lightning. Wells later observes in a log that his initial speculation that Barry needed to focus on increasing his speed at the expense of his personal relationships and concern for the victims was mistaken. Indeed, Barry's concern for the people he cares about is what fuels his speed. The same thing happens in season 4, when Iris being in danger throws off Barry's temporary insanity and boosts his speed even faster, allowing him to break out of the Pipeline (something no one else managed to do without trickery).
  • John Locke of Lost loses his Island-restored ability to walk after an incident of self-doubt.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ars Magica: Several character Flaws restrict a mage's powers in this manner. "Deleterious Circumstances" halve all spellcasting rolls (e.g.: when wet); a "Restriction" blocks spells outright (e.g.: while touching stone); and a "Necessary Condition" needs to be performed to cast any spells (e.g.: clapping). These aren't explained by magic theory, so it's ambiguous whether they're entirely in the mage's head or a side effect of Wrong Context Magic.
  • Princess: The Hopeful: A Princess's powers are born out of her hope and determination to make the world a better place, and as such her Shadows (scars on the soul left by witnessing or committing acts of cruelty), can impede her ability to Transform or replenish her Wisps.
  • In Wild Talents, if you run out of willpower, your powers lose strength and become unreliable.

    Video Games 
  • Fate/Grand Order: Sir Galahad eventually declares he revokes the powers he gave to Mash Kyrielight and leaves, resulting in Mash losing her powers and having to hook herself up to the Ortenaus device to enhance her powers so she can fight. The fact that she can manifest powers at all makes Da Vinci suspect that Mash didn't actually lose them and is only held back by a mental block. This is proven in the British Lostbelt story when she loses her memories, including of Galahad, and can unleash her full power. She luckily keeps her powers when she gets her memories back.
  • Somewhat implied in Mass Effect 2. Your party members gain their final powers after you help resolve their emotional baggage. Of course, while some of them have actual powers (Miranda's Slam, Samara's Reave), others apparently have a psychosomatic power outage on their ability to...use variant ammo types.

  • Yeon Ehwa from Tower of God has insecurities… so much that she has a problem controlling her flames. Which just fuels her insecurities even more.
  • True Villains: Mia temporarily loses her ability to animate Golems while she's mourning the death of one of her beloved creations. It's Justified by Xaneth's explanation that her power relies on spirits being attracted to her Aura, which is ordinarily very powerful but is muted by her grief.
  • Poppy O'Possum: Boris' "Lucky Star" superpower grants him super strength and growth in proportion to his self-confidence. Then the Queen ruling the city giggles at his kiddy-anime underwear and he deflates.

    Western Animation 
  • After Zuko does his Heel–Face Turn in Avatar: The Last Airbender, he loses his firebending powers for a while, since he no longer feels the anger (re: emotional drive) that fueled them. To regain them, he has to learn the ancient form of firebending, which doesn't rely on anger.
  • Castlevania: Nocturne: Richter Belmont was able to perform some magic as a child, owing to one of his ancestors being a Speaker and a peerless mage. After seeing his mother killed by the vampire Olrox, however, he lost his ability to cast magic. His grandfather, Juste, was also a powerful mage, so much so that he used magic more than the Belmont clan's whip, until he lost his lover and his best friend to a vampiric enemy, and his ability to cast magic, along with his previous optimism, were lost to him. It isn't until a group of Erszabet Báthory's enforcers threaten to kill, or turn, his friends and found family that Richter regains his command over magic.
  • The animated series Generator Rex features the eponymous hero whose powers flicker on and off depending on his confidence at the time. He has a supporting character that monitors his vitals and comments on when his emotional turmoil is disrupting access to his powers.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Bridle Gossip", Twilight Sparkle wakes up in the morning and uses her magic to brush her hair. But the moment she sees her horn is floppy (apparently cursed but really afflicted by exposure to the "poison joke" plant), she drops her brush, and doesn't use her powers again until she is cured.
  • Vee from The Owl House ends up shifting back to her true form twice in "Yesterday's Lie" while suffering a Trauma Button induced panic attack. This is made worse by the fact that she was already very low on magic the first time it happened, so she's unable to fully turn back into her Luz disguise even after she calms down.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: In "Beast Island", Adora finds herself unable to transform into She-Ra. At first, she and Bow assume Beast Island is blocking her powers, but she eventually realizes it is because she was depressed over her falling out with Glimmer and her doubts of being a hero. Once she remembers Angella telling her and Glimmer to take care of each other, she cheers up and regains her transformation.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil: Subverted in "Sad Teen Hotline"; after Tom breaks up with Star, the flame pillar he uses to travel between dimensions stops working due to his emotional state. Star offers to send him home with her own magic, but she's stuck in the same conundrum. This lasts the entire episode, until Marco arrives home and can't use the Dimensional Scissors. Tom and Star briefly think they've "infected" Marco with their sadness, before they realize that it's never been psychosomatic at all — someone put up a Teleport Interdiction.
  • Star Wars Rebels:
    • Ezra Bridger had this happen to him in his backstory. He has abnormally strong empathic abilities, even for a Jedi, but after losing his parents and being abandoned he emotionally shut down. It isn't until he bonds with his new family and forgives the person who abandoned him that he regains it.
    • Kanan's Heroic BSoD between seasons 2 and 3 severely limits his ability to sense things through the Force, to the point where he can't even tell his own padawan is in danger until he snaps out of it.
  • This is a staple of Steven Universe where the titular hero needs to be in a particular state of mind to make his powers work. In particular, Steven healed his dad's leg, Greg pretended it didn't work, and Steven actually couldn't heal anymore for over a year. This is frequently lampshaded.
    Steven: Of course it is tied to my emotions. Like all my stupid powers...
  • Teen Titans:
    • Raven's powers stop working when the monsters in a horror movie they're watching come to life. Except they're actually working perfectly well, just out of her control. She's subconsciously creating the monsters and can't divert her powers to intentional uses until she admits the movie actually scared her.
    • Starfire's powers are tied to her emotions (flight is specifically linked to happiness, and her Starbolts to righteous fury), and she needs to call them up to use her powers, so when she's emotionally confused she can't use them. In one explicit occasion depression took away her ability to fly, though there's another implied loss of that ability in the origins episode (she doesn't fly until the manacles from her temporary enslavement are removed) and even a brief moment where she seemed to have lost her strength when confused and scared about Robin apparently going insane.
  • Young Justice:
    • In Season 3 Outsiders, Black Lightning temporarily loses the ability to generate his trademark lightning when he unintentionally kills a metahuman who turned out to be a fourteen-year-old girl. This lasts throughout a couple more episodes. Seeing another young girl brutally killed by a metahuman (fortunately, said young girl has the power to resurrect from death, though he didn't know this at the time) causes his powers to return.
    • Said young girl, Halo aka Violet Harper, ends up suffering a case of this as well in "True Heroes". Since she was originally a Mother Box before her spirit entered the deceased Gabrielle Daou's body she temporarily loses her powers due to a panic attack. Her original Mother Box self wasn't designed to handle all of the emotions that come with being human. Especially not the emotions that come with being a young woman in love.