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Stress-Induced Mental Voices

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Lots of times in fiction, during a climactic battle or a time of great peril, the main character in trouble will begin to hear the voices of people, oftentimes repeating what they told them earlier. This is to denote how stressed out the character is when under pressure, especially if they are or otherwise feel responsible for everything the voices are saying. If it's played seriously, it's a hallucination. If played non-seriously, it's just a memory/their imagination.


See also: Hearing Voices (when the voices are more vague), Floating Advice Reminder (where in this trope it doesn't have to be an advice).

Usually a precursor to a Heroic BSoD or other collapse of some kind, particularly when there's a lot of voices that start to overlap.

Contrast Spirit Advisor for when those voices are real and coming from a definite source, although only certain people may hear a Spirit Advisor. See also Flashback-Montage Realization, where a character remembers previous images and lines of dialogue during a "Eureka!" Moment.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Happens through external means in Naruto — the titular character gets trapped in Itachi's illusion and his body parts start revealing faces of Kakashi, Sakura, Sasuke, and Gaara all berating him for being a failure.
  • Happens to Lucy in Elfen Lied in her flashbacks when she feels rejected and humiliated, particularly after she finds out Kouta lied to her. She visualises Kouta telling her he was only interested in her because he thought of her as an exotic animal and goes into a furious, murderous rampage.
  • Implied to happen in the last two episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion to the main characters, and later only with Shinji, after Instrumentality starts. All characters have pretty much hit emotional rock bottom at that point, but by the end of the series, Shinji reaches a breakthrough and makes a huge step forward in restoring his own mental health.

    Fan Works 
  • Most fan-art of Twitch Plays Pokémon portrays the player characters as horribly broken shells whose minds are filled with voices screaming contradictory commands, a Gameplay and Story Integration of the PC following the input in a chat channel.
  • In Strandpiel, a Discworld-themed Fan Work by A.A. Pessimal, young student Assassin Famke Smith-Rhodes-Stibbons receives an instructive punishment from her tutor. Specifically, Famke is put into a sensory deprivation chamber for an indefinite period to see what she can learn from the experience. As all her senses go into overdrive to try to find something to actually sense, she starts reliving intense experiences from her life. These include her grandpa telling her off for being hot-headed and stupid. Famke gets this in full colour 3-D stereo with Dolby sound. She also wonders what the previous occupant of the Chamber saw and heard from her life which resulted in her ending up in the School Infirmary on heavy sedatives.
  • Sword Art Online Abridged: Sachi's last words to Kirito before being fatally disconnected (due to lag) are "it's not your fault". Unfortunately, whenever they echo in Kirito's mind it comes out as her repeating "your fault" ad infinitum.

    Films — Animation 
  • Ice Age: The Meltdown had this happen to Manny, after a geyser blows up in his face, rendering him deaf for a few minutes.
    "Kids! Look! The last mammoth!"
    "I heard you're going extinct."
  • In Monsters University, Mike experiences this as he is preparing for his scare: "You don't belong on a scare floor." "No one will remember you." "You're not scary." "Come on. DIG DEEP!"
  • Rock-A-Doodle: Chanticleer was also a victim of this trope, when the Grand Duke had him trapped and was threatening to destroy the entire farm. However, after hearing Patou's voice tell him that he has to crow, he finally regains enough confidence to crow to bring up the sun and defeat the Duke once and for all.
  • Surf's Up: As Cody prepares to surf his first wave in the competition, there is a montage of past scenes of characters telling him to give up.
  • Happens in Cars 2 during a dream sequence where Mater realizes what an embarrassing jackass he's been to Lightning.
    "I never leak oil! Never!" "Mater, you have to get a hold of yourself. You're making a scene!"
    "Wait a minute. I didn't screw you up, did I?" "I lost the race because of you!"
    "Bang the gong, get it on!"
  • In Brother Bear, when Kenai realizes that the bear he killed was Koda's mother and, during some flashbacks, hears the words of himself and Denahi (some of which which actually didn't appear earlier in the film).
    "I'm going after the bear." "I don't blame the bear." "Sitka wouldn't want that!" "Sitka's not here, and it's because of that monster!"
  • In An Extremely Goofy Movie, Goofy's little daydream turns into a nightmare as the circumstances that got him into college haunt his recollection.
    "You're FIRED!!!" "[sound of van horn]" "I notice you don't have a college degree." "Come on, son, I can't miss ya if you won't leave!"

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Played With in Airplane!.
    'Ted Stryker: [thinking, in his own voice] I've got to concentrate... concentrate... ... concentrate...
    I've got to concentrate... concentrate... ... concentrate...
    Hello?... Hello?... Hello?...
    Echo... Echo... Echo...
    [in a different, sports announcer's voice] Pinch hitting for Pedro Borbon... Manny Mota... Mota... Mota... [crack of bat and baseball crowd cheering]
  • In Gaslight, the heroine is Driven to Madness and during the final stage she is hearing voices of people repeating what they told her earlier.
  • In the sci-fi movie Triangle, the heroine experiences a moment of Sanity Slippage where she hears her own voice in her head repeating the line "You have to kill them all", an advice her future self gave her earlier.
  • Home Alone has a scene where Kevin discovers his family is gone. He is at first worried, but his despair turns to joy when he remembers the insults directed toward him the previous night.
    "You're completely helpless" "You know, Kevin, you're what the French call les incompetents" "Kevin, I'm going to feed you to my tarantula" "Kevin, you're such a disease" "There are fifteen people in this house and you're the only one who has to make trouble" "Look what you did, you little jerk"
  • In Fury, the hero undergoes a Sanity Slippage in the third act and hears the voice of the lead female, repeating a line she uttered in the beginning of the movie.
  • In The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Thorin hears voices of various characters scolding him during his Sanity Slippage moment before he finally steels up and leads his Dwarves out of Erebor to fight.

  • A Feast for Crows: Jaime Lannister is haunted by what his brother told him in their final scene together in the previous novel. "You poor stupid blind crippled fool. Must I spell every little thing out for you? Very well. Cersei is a lying whore, she's been fucking Lancel and Osmund Kettleblack and probably Moon Boy for all I know. And I am the monster they all say I am. Yes, I killed your vile son."
  • Dune. After the Harkonnens abandon Liet-Kynes in the desert he becomes dehydrated and starts to hallucinate. He hears his long-dead father speaking ecological theory to him but can't see him.
  • Swedish crime writer Mons Kallentoft uses this device a lot, especially in murder mystery Dem femte arstiden. Criminal investigator Malin Fors, stressed by developments in her marriage, a recovering alcoholic trying to fend off her husband's desire for a child, finds herself investigating a sadistic serial killer. She frequently imagines the voices of the tortured and murdered women speaking to her and begging her to find their killers.
  • Tom Clancy wrote a non-fiction book Marine about the Marines and focusing on one Marine Expeditionary Unit. In the beginning of the book, Clancy covers the Training from Hell all new Marines get at boot camp. Many Marines recall the voice of their Drill Sergeant Nasty giving them motivation when they were under fire or under stress.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In "Waltz", Dukat's mental breakdown causes him to see characters from his past and he even has conversations with them right in front of Sisko, who sees Dukat talking to the air as if someone is there.
  • In one episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the movie uses this trope, so the SOL crew chime in with their own echoes: "You wet the bed again... again... again." "You'll have to repeat the third grade... grade... grade."
  • In the Season 2 finale of Stranger Things, Eleven recalls her "sister" Kali's advice from a previous episode to find something from her past to channel her anger and thus defeat the Eldritch Abomination.
  • In The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "A Stop at Willoughby", the protagonist has a breakdown at work due to stress and flees into the bathroom where he sees the floating head of his boss talking to him in the bathroom mirror. The scene culminates in a Rage Against the Reflection. Watch it here.
  • In Fosse/Verdon, perpetually stressed Bob Fosse constantly hears his dad telling him to only let people "see the smile, not the sweat".
  • NCIS: Special Agent Gibbs often hallucinates friends and loved ones who have been killed, especially Mike Franks and ex-wife Diane.


    Video Games 
  • Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne: As Arthas is ascending the glacier leading to the Lich King, he hears the voices of other characters who tried to restrain him on his Start of Darkness.

  • In Red Dead Redemption II, during the last mission Arthur rides to camp one last time to confront the gang's traitor. During this last ride, depending on your honor level and personal choices numerous voices of the people you've helped/harmed throughout your playthrough echo through Arthur's head.

    Web Videos 
  • Game Grumps: At the beginning of the Domino Rally playthrough, Danny and Arin are shown telling Barry what to do when editing their new episodes. Their vague, nonsensical demands seem to be the straw breaking his back, as Barry's mind then takes over; Danny and Arin's disembodied faces float around him, ordering him to do other various editing tasks. It cuts back to the real Arin and Danny watching Barry spazzing out from the stress. This was used as a jumping point to introduce new editor Kevin, who joined on because Barry, in real life, really was very stressed from the demands of editing for the Grumps.

    Western Animation 
  • Hercules: The Animated Series: In the episode "Hercules and the Big Lie" Herc experiences this as he's being shoved toward the stage (and, he thinks, social embarrassment): "Heroes never lie! Heroes never lie!"
  • The Simpsons:
    • "Homer Alone": A series of annoyances push Marge over the edge, and she hears them repeated a la (but not) a Floating Advice Reminder.
      "Bart's making faces" "Where's my lucky red cap" "Alley balls" "Your wife is dead" "Haven't flushed a ball in years" "[sound of jackhammer]"
    • "Marge in Chains": It happens to Marge again.
      "Mom we need more OJ" "Flintstones chewable morphine" "I'll miss Sheriff Lobo" "OJ" "morphine" "Lobo" "OJ" "morphine" "Lobo"...
    • A younger Bart gets these in "Lisa's First Word"
      "From now on, the baby sleeps in the crib" "Iron helps us play" "[evil clown laughter]" "Hello, Joe!"
    • From "Some Enchanted Evening", where Marge angrily waits for Homer to come home and hears Dr. Marvin Monroe's advice to her from earlier.
      "Your husband sees you as nothing." "The pig has made you into his mother." "You are not the hot love object you deserve to be." "If he doesn't start loving, you're leaving."
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Fools in April", Squidward is criticized for playing a mean prank on SpongeBob that caused him to run away crying, leaving Squidward filled with genuine remorse. After several unsuccessful attempts to apologize, he puts his head in a bubble, and as a result, SpongeBob can't hear him when he says he's sorry, but Squidward is confident that his conscience is clear. But just as he tries to walk home, he's confronted with the voices of those who called him out earlier, including one deep voice shouting "You stink!" that is revealed to be Squidward's own mother, and that is what finally makes Squidward give a full apology to SpongeBob.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Avatar: The Last Airbender: In the episode "Nightmares and Daydreams", Aang is so stressed about the "invasion to the Fire Nation" plan that he can't get any sleep even after his friends tried making him sleep. Then, due to sleep deprivation, he starts hallucinating Momo and Appa (the Team Pets) speaking human language and then fighting like samurai, among other surreal things (such as dancing rocks).
    • Near the end of the series, Azula starts having these before her coronation; and sees her mother. Her mental defenses were badly lacking at this point.
    • The Legend of Korra: As Korra is fighting the mercury poisoning her body, she sees the members of the Crimson Lotus turn into the previous seasons' villains and hears them telling her to give in.
  • The Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas segment "Donald's Gift" has Donald having these when he's walking out in the snow all alone after Daisy and the nephews leave him when he destroys the mall's Christmas display.
    "Donald, stop being so selfish!" "For cryin' out loud, where's your Christmas spirit!?" "No, I've never seen him before." "You're blowing us off for a beverage?" "Christmas is the time to be with family and friends and the people who love you..."
  • Samurai Jack: In Episode XCVI, Ashi hears the conflicting lessons of her mother and of Jack.
    "Aku is the creator of this world and everything in it."
    "Aku is the one that has ravaged this world."
    "The samurai is the poison killing the land."
    "If you let go of your hate, you will see the truth."