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The Chain of Harm

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Hurt people hurt other people (and cats).

Blackadder: It is the way of the world, Baldrick. The abused always kick downwards. I am annoyed, and so I kick the cat, the cat [loud squeak] pounces on the mouse, and finally, the mouse—
Baldrick: Argh!
Blackadder: Bites you on the behind.
Baldrick: And what do I do?
Blackadder: Nothing. You are last in God's great chain, Baldrick. Unless, of course, there's an earwig around here that you'd like to victimise.

A very messed-up theory as a variant of typical karma. The basic premise of karma is: "Don't do something bad, because later on something bad will happen to you." This, on the other hand, is quite different.

A scenario: a man running a company is under a great deal of pressure from his superiors to produce the product faster. He's just been yelled at. Obviously, he can't talk back to his supervisor since he'd get fired, so what does he do? He chews out his normally best worker over something small. Well, the target man doesn't want to be known as a guy who beats his wife, so instead he shouts at her when something wrong happens. Because of this marital strife, she screams at her kid all the time. The kid, having no weaker human to take it out on, beats the family dog, which then bites the nearby cat. And so on. The strong attacks the weak, who turns around and gives similar treatment to the weaker, who then harms the next weaker in turn. That's only "fair", right?

Inspired by a dynamic that's often Truth in Television, this theory has a number of assumptions:

  1. There may or may not be an original source (in the latter case, it is because the source is oddly cyclic, or the superiors in question are just an excuse used by a Jerkass boss (see Bad Boss and Mean Boss), doing this For the Evulz (or it's the superiors who are the evil ones).
  2. Things often worsen when the effect changes species (the boy beating the dog, when the others simply shouted at their target).
  3. The chain either loops back to its original source (going on from the previous scenario, after the dog bites the cat, the cat scratches the CEO's superiors), or ends with a designated scapegoat, which is then summarily killed.
  4. The scapegoat in question is often not human and an animal viewed as a pest. In the above example, this would probably continue on from the dog, to cat, ending with a rat being killed. It's worse if the animal has some productive use (such as rats clearing the street of insects) since their normal prey will now come along with a vengeance.note 
  5. If it doesn't end with the original cycle, this harm will continue until it degrades the quality of the world, or until it reaches the original abuser, who will then receive their punishment.
  6. Occasionally the cycle can end with no one being killed and with the original abuser getting away with it, but in these cases, there are usually no pets involved, and it's done to demonstrate the cycle-breaking character's virtue and/or to make them more sympathetic (for instance, instead of beating the dog, the boy goes to his room and cries). In these situations, the character who breaks the cycle is generally the protagonist. If the protagonist doesn't break the cycle (for instance, the boy is the main character but he does beat the dog), expect them to feel guilty afterwards.

The act of abusing someone weaker or lower-ranking than you to displace frustrations because of similar treatment from someone stronger or higher-ranking than you is often known as Kicking the Dog, but that term has a different meaning on this wiki.

Contrast to Cycle of Revenge, which directly targets the person causing harm. Compare to Revenge by Proxy, Delegation Relay, and Troubled Abuser. Breaking the Cycle of Bad Parenting is an effort to avert or defy this. If you were looking for examples of people using chains to harm others, see Chain Pain.

See also Create Your Own Villain, when one or more of the victims goes bad and hurts others as a natural consequence.

See Freudian Excuse when this is used in a villain's backstory as an explanation for their behavior now. Sometimes played as An Aesop (e.g. "Don't be mean to someone because someone was mean to you, or it will go on forever").


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • One Archie Comics gag strip showed a bad mood being passed down when Mr. Weatherbee gets chewed out by the school superintendent. Mr. Weatherbee chews out Miss Grundy, Miss Grundy chews out Jughead, Jughead chews out his younger cousin Souphead, and Souphead chews out a stray dog. The punchline is that the dog encounters the superintendent (who greets it in a friendly manner) and chases him down the street, biting the seat of his pants.
  • Asterix: In Asterix and Obelix All at Sea, Caesar berates and threatens Admiral Crustacius for losing a ship. Right after leaving Caesar, he immediately yells at his Vice-Admiral.
  • The Incredible Hulk: Many of Bruce Banner's neuroses can be traced back to his horrifically abusive childhood at the hands of his father, Brian Banner, an unbalanced and mentally ill man who took out his paranoia, jealousy, and anger on his family… and whose own father, Bruce's grandfather, was just as bad and abused Brian horribly, causing Brian to grow up maladjusted and convinced he and his son were monsters. And Bruce's grandfather himself was the progeny of Robert Sterns, Bruce's great-grandfather, a man who let anger over a betrayal consume him and whose only interaction with Bruce's grandfather was kicking his wife out into the snow while she was pregnant with him. All in all, it's made clear that the Banner family's history is a long cycle of abuse being passed down from father to son, with each successive generation paying for the sins of their forefathers. And the cycle comes close to beginning anew when Bruce has a son of his own, only being broken when Bruce realizes that Skaar views him the same way he viewed Brian as a kid.
  • Acknowledging and overcoming this trope is the Central Theme of Middlewest: Dale’s father abused him, Dale tried to be better to the protagonist Abel but abused him after his wife walked out on him and Abel struggles to overcome his anger. Abel is successful and Dale has a Heel Realization and works to become a better person to try to rebuild his relationship with Abel.
  • This trope kicks off the main plot of the Sin City story, "The Big Fat Kill." After having a run-in with Dwight McCarthy, the new boyfriend of the ex he'd been abusing, Jackie-Boy is on the receiving end of a vicious Freudian Threat and a Swirlie, which succeeds in driving him off. Unfortunately, Jackie-Boy doesn't take humiliation well, and he rounds up his boys and takes them out for a stroll, where he hopes to take his rage out on a woman. Unfortunately for Jackie-Boy and crew, they picked the wrong neighborhood to go trolling for women to take it out on. And unfortunately for the girls of Old Town, this asshole happens to be a hero cop, resulting in everything going straight to hell when they kill him.

    Comic Strips 
  • Crabgrass: In this comic, after Janine tells Kyle to go do something, this makes him mad, so he pushes Kevin over. Angered, Kevin takes out his frustration on Krystal by ruining her tea party, which angers HER enough to kick over Kody's blocks, which angers Kody into pushing over Crumbs. Unlike his older siblings, however, he immediately feels sorry for what he did and gives the toy a hug.
  • Seen in this Dilbert strip. A man calls his employee stupid, who calls his employee stupid, who calls his coffee mug stupid.
  • For Better or for Worse illustrates this in several strips. One Sunday comic shows the trickle-down effect with a frustrated and exhausted Elly yelling at Michael over some slight, followed by him going after their dog Farley. Farley barks at Elizabeth, who throws her stuffed Bun-Bun down as the punchline.
  • One comic has a manager yelling at his employee, the employee yelling at his wife, the wife yelling at their son, the son yelling at the cat, and the cat shanking the manager.
  • At least two different Retail Sunday strips show how the frontline employees, the store manager and the district manager all deal with problems, while the Grumbel's CEO (the one mostly responsible for their situations) is either gloating about what he did or is inconvenienced by a minor problem that pales to what his underlings have to deal with.
  • Vater und Sohn features one: Great-grandfather slaps grandfather, who in turn slaps father, who slaps son, whose reaction is not depicted. All of this is caused by the three younger ones ruining great-grandfather's photoshot and breaking a prop.

  • In Cosmic Warriors this is inverted, where the villain takes out his frustration on the innocent. In the first chapter, Jadeite causes a nearby helicopter to explode after his hunt for the Silver Crystal is being interfered with by Tuxedo Mask.
  • Forgiveness is the Attribute of the Strong: This trope dominates All for One's personal life. He was abused by a father with overly high expectations of him and a mother with Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (towards his brother) who liked to accuse him of being a monster. He had to take over protecting his brother when they were young, but when they'd grown up and his brother started to have a life away from All for One, All for One resorted to poisoning him much like their mother had done to stop him from leaving. And later, when he had a child of his own, he made sure said child was weak and quirkless to stop him from trying to leave, and when the child (Izuku) inevitably still did want to have a life outside of a Gilded Cage, All for One started poisoning him too. All for One's younger self, upon time traveling to the present and seeing how he turned out, is utterly horrified.
    Small for One: I have become my mother?!
  • The Outside has a subtle one. When she was young, Ragyo's mollycoddled a chronically ill Satsuki and Soichiro encouraged her to go outside, leading to the asthma attack, then their parents' fight, before the two split, with Soichiro dying after that, which in turn led to Satsuki being agoraphobic, overprotective, somewhat neglectful, and borderline psychologically abusive to her little sister Ryuuko, keeping her confined indoors, which in turn made Ryuuko dependent on her, more naive (than a preteen would be), and more vulnerable to dangers, along with more prone to sneak around her rules, which got her hurt and later on removed from Satsuki's care.
  • Defied by Olive in Olive's Last Partner in regards to telling Otto about Oscar being her former partner. She's afraid that she'll hurt him the same way that Oscar hurt her, which in turn would lead him to hurt either her (as her current partner) or possibly another agent. He does manage to find out eventually, though, in the sequel story Ships Ahoy!.
  • In the For Better or for Worse fanfiction The Unauthorized Litougraphies of the Patterson Family, Elly, and Michael are the direct products of one: Barclay emotionally abused Marian, Marian feared Elly turning into him, which resulted in her emotionally abusing Elly and pitting her against her brother Phil. Elly in turn neglected and emotionally abused Michael and his sisters and pitted them against each other. Michael starts doing the same to Meredith and Robin, but he has a Heel Realization and goes to family therapy with the kids and Deanna and breaks the chain as a result.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Ant Bully: The basis of the initial plot: A bully and his followers torture Lucas, and Lucas takes out his frustration on a colony of ants.
    Bully: What are you gonna do about it? Nothing. 'Cause I'm big, and you're small.
  • Turning Red:
    • An example of unintentional harm being passed along. Ming winds up putting her own daughter under the same stifling expectations that her own mother did.
    • Inverted in the climax. After being forgiven for her betrayal by her friends, Mei repays that debt by extending a hand of caring and understanding to her traumatized mother. That support gives Ming the inner strength she needs to apologize to her mother for losing control and scarring Wu so long ago.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, Heather is surprised to learn that the protagonists, who she'd resented at school, were, in turn, looked down on by the "A group". She's delighted to learn that she herself had consistently made another girl at school feel miserable.
  • In a weird partial example there's the relationship between Tony Stark and Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Howard Stark was neglectful and distant toward his son, and they were on bad terms when Howard died. The emotional baggage is partly why Tony grew up into a selfish hedonist before he was Iron Man. Now that Tony is taking on Peter as a protege, he's making a conscious effort to avert this trope, albeit with mixed success. He falls into some of his dad's old trappings (communicates with Peter almost exclusively through conference calls or his assistants, is hard to reach when Peter needs him, condescends and insults him constantly, is harsh and unforgiving of failure), but also breaks out of things and manages to be a fair mentor at times (takes the time to listen to all of Peter's messages, intervenes immediately if he's ever in serious trouble, shows concern for his safety and well-being, and is appreciative and complimentary of Peter when he does things right).
    Tony: (Calling up Peter to congratulate him) My Dad didn't give me a lot of emotional support, so I'm trying to break the cycle of neglect.
    • In Avengers: Endgame, it's revealed that Howard's father used to be physically abusive to him, meaning that he likely learned and perpetuated his own troubled childhood. It is hinted that like Tony, he did try to be a better parent even if he didn't fully succeed.
    • Endgame also shows that in the timeskip, Tony's had a five-year-old daughter and that despite all the lingering trauma of his life, he's shaped up and become a doting father. The implication seems to be that seeing Peter's tragic death at the end of Infinity War helped him finally succeed at Breaking the Cycle of Bad Parenting, and devote himself entirely into being a dad. When Peter's life is restored at the end of the film, Tony runs forward and hugs him, showing a display of affection and sincerity he never was able to manage before.
  • The first scene of the Danny Kaye vehicle The Inspector General ends with a city hall official physically taking out his frustrations by slapping a subordinate. Which causes him to slap his subordinate. Then that man leaves the building, gets into an argument, and slaps a passing farmer. The farmer, at the bottom of the chain, slaps his donkey.

  • The Berenstain Bears: Tuffy beats up Sister Bear, but then it turns out to be because her parents are abusive. Sister Bear doesn't hurt someone weaker though, instead she punches Tuffy.
  • Good Omens has Crowley rely on this, having shut down mobile phone service in London for several minutes during busy hour, which he expects to produce a lot of angry executives who take it out on subordinates and so on. He views it as a much more efficient method of spreading pain and misery than the usual demon nobles' gradual corruption of righteous or powerful individuals, something that none of them are able to understand or appreciate.
  • In the Polish novel Lalka, the protagonist is visiting large stables. The stable owner gets angry at one of his underlings and chews him out. A moment later, the protagonist sees a stable boy running out onto the street and kicking a Jewish kid.
  • In Midnight Tides, book five of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, Uruth, who as the Emperor's mother has a very high standing among the women of her tribe, scolds said Emperor's wife for acting foolishly. Since Mayen cannot talk back, she takes it out on her slave Feather Witch by beating the latter. Feather Witch is unable to deal with the situation in any other way and in turn, takes her frustration out verbally on fellow slave Udinaas, who's even lower than her in social status by being not only a slave but also an Indebted. The trope is then, however, defied by Udinaas who is fully aware of what is happening and quietly informs Feather Witch that he's not her doormat. Not anymore, anyway.
  • Marshall Karp's The Rabbit Factory has Kilcullen explicitly refer to this trope, albeit as the Hierarchy of Pain, justifying it by pointing out that their main case is a high profile one, meaning that people higher up the chain expect results fast, and so he has to lean on the main characters to make it happen. Keep in mind that this is after he reveals that he took his bowling ball out to the shooting range and used it as a target.
  • The ending of Ratburger reveals that the reason Tina Trotts calls Zoe names and salivates on her head is because her father yelled at her. Luckily, Zoe does not continue the cycle.
  • In Stranger in a Strange Land, this trope, exhibited by monkeys in a zoo, causes Michael Smith to laugh for the first time and allows him to start to understand humanity.
  • Nan Balat Davar in The Stormlight Archive releases the stress caused by his father's abuse by pulling the legs off small animals.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Discussed (and simultaneously played out) in Blackadder the Third. Blackadder abuses a cat, the cat abuses a mouse, and the mouse abuses ... Baldrick.
  • In Game of Thrones, Tyrion, who suffered merciless mocking as a dwarf, admits that the only time he felt like part of the family growing up was by making fun of their mentally disabled cousin Orson. (And Orson mostly amused himself by smashing beetles.)
  • In the Korean Drama The Grand Chef, used on (at least) two occasions. The first is when a nearby butcher turns in Lee Sung-Chan (the protagonist) for selling goods nearby his store, when it turns out later he's getting harassed by local thugs. The second involves Min-Woo (the Big Bad of sorts of the show) getting forced to kneel by a chef he previously fired, and later taking it out on one of his underlings.
  • In How I Met Your Mother, this is known as the Chain of Screaming. When someone screams at a subordinate, the subordinate must scream at someone lower, who in turn screams at someone else, and so on until someone screams at the original screamer and the cycle is complete. Marshall's attempts to break the chain do not go as well as he hoped.
  • This becomes a major theme in the final story arc of Kamen Rider Zero-One. We had long known that Corrupt Corporate Executive Amatsu Gai had manipulated an Artificial Intelligence to turn it malicious in order to sabotage and take petty revenge on a business rival, leading to the creation of the robot terrorist cell; and that Gai and MetsubouJinrai had both abused and ruined several other lives since. But now we learn that Gai had himself suffered abuse as a child; and on the other end of the chain, MetsubouJinrai's leader Horobi finally pisses off Nice Guy Aruto enough that the two start engaging in a mutual Cycle of Revenge. The final conflict of the series isn't having to defeat a Big Bad, but trying to get Horobi and Aruto to break the chain of abuse before they spark a full-scale war.
  • Comes up frequently in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, usually along the lines of a former abuse victim abusing another child. The examples in this series are often more complicated than most because there's often a significant delay between each link in the chain, as this sort of thing is not about lashing out in the moment but rather the long-term damage of the abuse warping their moral compass.
    • In one episode, a former abuse victim refuses to have anything to do with his infant son for fear of this trope: the older boy who raped him was in turn being abused by a sports coach, and the victim was terrified that the abuse had left him with "a switch waiting to flip" that would make him become an abuser the way his own abuser did. The detectives help him to see that what he fears is not inevitable, and at the end of the episode, he holds his baby for the first time.
  • In M*A*S*H, a chain of favors suddenly reverses into this when a favor is unfulfilled. It might be taken as people simply abandoning deals that Hawkeye is now unable to hold up his end of, but they're rather spiteful about it. Hot Lips tears up Klinger's discharge papers, Klinger takes his hair dryer back from Nurse Murphy, Murphy cruelly rejects Radar when he shows up for their date, Radar takes back the cake he procured for Frank's birthday party, Hot Lips announces she is going to file her report disparaging Henry to a general she slept with, Henry rescinds the pass to Tokyo for the dentist, who refuses to work on Sergeant Zale's tooth, who now won't replace Hawkeye's holey boots.
  • Played for Black Comedy in a Saturday Night Live sketch where a Mad Scientist named Roy (played by Dwayne Johnson) presents the "World's Most Evil Invention" to the International Mad Scientist Society. Whereas his colleagues invented a Shrink Ray and a Freeze Ray to steal or destroy the world's monuments, Roy invented the Robo-Chomo, a child-molesting robot that horrifies everyone in attendance. When one of them asks just how one goes about building a child-molesting robot, Roy explains that you start by building a regular robot, then molesting it and hoping that it continues the cycle.
  • In an episode of Scrubs, J.D. witnesses Dr. Cox getting humiliated by Jordan and decides to make a quick exit, saying "Anger like this has a way of being passed on to whoever's closest." As soon as he's out of the room, Carla comes in to ask for Cox's help. He angrily snaps at her, she gets angry and snaps at Turk, and so on. Ironically, the chain eventually reaches J.D. anyway.
  • In Succession, this could be the entire idea of the show, and of Waystar-Royco themselves. Every single person needs someone to punch down at: Logan tries to keep his children close so he can belittle them; Shiv marries Tom at least in part because she knows he's so far out of his depth that he'll put up with her treating him badly (though he finally snaps back at her in Season 2); this is even why Tom helps Greg get his job, so he's no longer on the lowest rung of the family ladder.
  • The season 4 finale of Young Sheldon features a Chain of Harm. After Missy suffers heartbreak over Marcus dumping her and Mary has a bad day at work, the two of them bring their conflicts home and it quickly spreads to the rest of the family getting mad and insulting each other. The Adult Sheldon narrator compares it to a bunch of pool table balls hitting each other. Georgie ends up being the only one not affected by it, coming home to witness the arguing and just being confused by what is going on, with nobody dragging him into it.

  • The traditional Jewish song "One Little Goat" starts with the goat (that Father bought for two zuz) and ends with God killing the Angel of Death.
  • Discussed and defied in "Mean" by Taylor Swift: The narrator speculates that their tormentor was abused once, then declares that they won't turn out like them.
  • tool's "Prison Sex" is about this. The first verse is the narrator remembering sexual abuse at the hands of his parent, and the second verse switches to the viewpoint of abuser, with eerily similar wording. Some have taken this to mean the victim in first verse becomes the perpetrator in the second verse.
  • Pink Floyd: This is one of the central themes in The Wall. The schoolmaster's wife hits and humiliates the schoolmaster; the schoolmaster hits and humiliates the kids he is supposed to educate; the kids take it out on the younger ones. This is made explicit in The Movie: in "The Trial", the schoolmaster is depicted as a puppet that the wife beats, causing it to strike a smaller puppet representing Pink.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • Another reason the original Jesus story, and the Messianic Archetype in general, is so powerful. We have the Roman government, which is hated as a general rule, taking it out on its subjects (which includes the nation of Judea). The Jewish leaders in turn as kings and Temple officials exert authority on their subjects, and basically, everyone is miserable from this trickle-down. Finally, at the end of this cycle, you have this healer/prophet who is used as a scapegoat. Rather than deny it, he takes the punishment.
  • This is, in essence, how bad karma works in Buddhism, although it's explicitly outlined that it will bite you in the ass one day.

    Video Games 
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition: A major part of Sera's character is that being an elf raised by humans meant that she got the Fantastic Racism both coming and going, which made her hate her species doubly- first from Internalized Categorism, and second because no other elf would accept her because she was adopted by a human. This has unfortunately led Sera to be abusive in turn to other elves out of payback and sour grapes. An elf Inquisitor, even one who's played as an All-Loving Hero who accepts Sera unconditionally, has a much harder time befriending and romancing Sera than a human, dwarf, or Qunari, and it's much easier to lose her approval as an elf, with Sera accepting dissenting opinions from everyone but elves. She laughs at the reveal that most of what the elves think of their culture is Based on a Great Big Lie (potentially in front of an elf Inquisitor who's just learned that nearly everything they'd ever been taught as a child was wrong) because to Sera, the Dalish elves being proven wrong means that they were also wrong to choose their culture over her. Thankfully, she grows out of this in Trespasser, which takes place two years later.
  • In Red Dead Redemption, Abraham Reyes describes the sorry state of his country in a private conversation and suggests that the apparent Big Bad of his own struggle, Colonel Allende, is not actually fully responsible for everything that's happening. In sharp contrast to his rather vacuous public speeches, he says that the spiralling cruelty of government troops is a result of this trope. Unfortunately, this uncharacteristically reflective moment gets derailed rather suddenly when he compares it to "a father who beats his son, so his son takes the dog outside and rapes it." Marston wondering why such a specific example might occur to Reyes puts something of a damper on any more meaningful discussion between them.
  • Fallen London: The Chain of Being represents the social hierarchy of the entire universe, from the lowliest rat to the gods themselves. In truth, it's little more than an excuse for the constantly bickering stars to wage wars against each other in secret by venting their frustrations down the chain. Even the 'main character' of Fallen London, the grandmaster of the Bazaar, hypocritically tries to allow beings of different hierarchies to live as one while also bullying and demeaning the minions and lovers on the lower end of their chain. The game's main questline is about whether to reform the chain or break it entirely.
  • In The Works of Mercy, the protagonist has a brief discussion with his father in what appears to be the afterlife. The dialogue options allude to the father being abusive, but he insists he was just copying his own father — before pointing out that the protagonist themselves broke their daughter's arm.
  • This idea forms much of the plot of The Brains And The Brawn: Former Mayor James P. Ravena used his son Gale as slave labor, leading Gale to abuse his girlfriend and new mayor Jeanne and bring her into his revenge plot- and Jeanne herself, having been bullied in the past as well, takes her pain out on the citizens of Ravena, especially Brains, her favorite target.
  • In No More Heroes, it's implied Travis joins the UAA and it's assassin tournament out of grief over his murdered parents the parents his half-sister Jeane killed after their father abused her, continuing the cycle even farther. His rampage involves him killing the executives of Pizza Butt, which becomes Jasper Batt's motivation for killing Travis' best friend Bishop which in turn causes Travis to rejoin the UAA in No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle for the sole purpose of killing Jasper. In addition, the events of the first game have inspired others to join the UAA, continuing the cycle there. Travis finally wises up near the end of 2, even saying "vengeance begets vengeance" before declaring he'll use his status as the No 1 assassin to destroy the UAA to break the cycle of violence. He succeeds... for a few years.
  • A central theme in OMORI, which explores how a tragic event can spiral and keep spiraling if people don't support each other and stand against it. Mari's death led to Sunny becoming a deeply depressed hikikomori; without his support, Basil also turns into an anxious, reclusive wreck. Hero yells at his little brother Kel out of grief and shuts out anything with a connection to Mari, and that, as well as their parents obviously favoring Hero, led to Kel withdrawing from his family and friends out of feelings of worthlessness. Audrey, unable to comprehend why her former friends have all seemingly abandoned her, is furious and eventually becomes the leader of the local gang of bullies, picking on the weak—including Basil, making him worse. It's not until Kel finally steps up and makes an effort to draw Sunny out of his despair that healing can truly begin, and the game's worst endings require Sunny to actively reject every opportunity to seek out and support his friends.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Umineko: When They Cry, it's mentioned that the way humans in general deal with hatred is by pushing it onto another person, and it's explicitly stated that Maria is special because she is able to find happiness and break the cycle. Unfortunately, even she can be pushed too far.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: Much of the series can be summarized as people abusing their power to hurt others, whether they know it or not.
    • Most notably, the Gods' questionable treatment of Salem (who also already had to deal with having an Abusive Parent) is part of what motivates her to become the Big Bad (the other reason being she went Ax-Crazy from The Corruption), taking out her anger and hatred for her fate on humanity and her former lover. She initially claims that it's because the new, magicless humans are inferior, though after Ozma's betrayal, her reasoning shifts to destroying humanity because humanity is what matters most to Ozma — it's the best way to hurt him. This also indicates she just wanted to hurt humanity in the first place because they were the only people outside of her family whom she could vent out her frustrations on. Cue the in-fighting in humanity over how to stop Salem… otherwise known as the entire show.
    • Salem's abusive mentorship of Cinder (who is based on Cinderella and is shown in Volume 8 to also hail from a background of abuse) clearly frightens and intimidates Cinder… who sees Salem as a role model for empowerment and tries to emulate her, most noticeably on Emerald. Emerald is unable to realize her situation is abnormal and abusive because she doesn't have anything else to compare her current position to.
    • The Gods' harmful (and unresolved) mistakes cause a significant chain of harm in another of their worlds. Namely, their homeworld. The brothers created the Curious Cat to heal and the Jabberwocker to kill, but when the Jabberwocker worked too well and devoured the souls it destroyed, the brothers fought and argued against each other over their mistakes, and they eventually resolved their conflict by neglecting their children. The brothers' 'parent' decided the best thing it could do was set the brothers free to build new worlds - which was also a horrible mistake, as the Jabberwocker hadn't been dealt with and the Cat had unforeseen flaws that grew with neglect. Eventually, the Cat snapped and became obsessed with learning everything, even if he had to vivisect a little brat to get started. Had he not been dealt with, he could have become an even greater threat than Salem. His manipulative actions also cause the adventurer Alyx to grow paranoid, driving her to poison Jaune out of a perceived betrayal. Jaune grows fearful of watching others die as a result, and spends most of his life protecting a small group of artists. Eventually, those same artists realize he stopped being their 'hero' and became their jailer.


    Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • In Adventure Time, we see this chain demonstrated in "Evergreen": Urgence Evergreen is a jerk who mistreats his servant Gunther. In turn, Gunther takes out his frustrations on his pet Nina, slapping her away when she gets in the way of what he's doing.
  • The Apple & Onion episode "Apple's in Trouble" has the protagonists try to find out why Cheesesteak is bullying Apple, only to find a "classic chain reaction". Cheesesteak is mistreated by his boss Fried Shrimp, who is yelled at by Birthday Cake, who is upset that she isn't being catered by Turkey Leg, who is dealing with rats that disobeyed Gingerbread, whose dancing is disrupted by Root Beer Float, who is stressed out by Lemon Drop, who was upset when Apple scolded her.
  • Played for Comedy in Avatar: The Last Airbender. During a (fake) argument, Katara insults Sokka by calling his ears big. Afterwards, Sokka says, "Momo, you have some big ears."
  • The Horseman family from BoJack Horseman. Joseph Sugarman made horribly abusive decisions, which led to Beatrice being abusive and BoJack becoming a self-loathing mess who himself takes his struggles with feelings of depression and inadequacy out on others.
  • In The Boondocks, this is why Uncle Ruckus is the way he is. Nelly, Ruckus's paternal grandmother, abused her son relentlessly when he was young. When said son grew up and had a family of his own, he abused the young Uncle Ruckus in the same way.
  • One episode of God, the Devil and Bob deals with the death of Bob's verbally abusive and emotionally neglectful father. After finding out he went to heaven, Bob demands justification from God. God elaborates that there is a "line of punches" passed from father to son going all the way back to Adam and Cain. Even though his father was no saint, the trick was "passing on a softer punch", as Bob's grandfather was relatively worse. In turn, Bob realizes he hasn't been the best father to his own son, so he learns to forgive his father and be a better one to his son.
  • On King of the Hill, it's shown that Cotton was emotionally abusive to Hank for not living up to his (damn near psychotic) idea of what a man should be. While Hank himself does love Bobby and wants to raise him right, he's still pretty hard on him for not living up to his (not nearly as insane but still pretty uptight) idea of what a man should be.
  • Clay Puppington's backstory from Moral Orel. As a child, Clay accidentally killed his mother by causing her to suffer a heart attack. At first, his father Arthur responded by giving him the cold shoulder, but Clay would continually provoke his father into physically abusing him because it was the only way he could get his father's attention. As an adult, Clay abuses his own son Orel, believing that if Orel will grow up to be like him, it will vindicate his own awful behavior. Orel ultimately defies the trope, as he refuses to sink to Clay's level and in the Distant Finale, he's shown to be a loving father to his own family.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: The Horde is largely built on a structure of callousness, indifference, cruelty, and suffering flowing down the chain. Horde Prime callously discarded Hordak; Hordak maintains a similar indifference to any underling who fails him. Shadow Weaver, one such underling, then raises two children abusively; one, Adora, manages to find a way out of the toxic environment and becomes The Hero (albeit with a huge Guilt Complex), while the other, Catra, remains and continues to lash out at others and subjects Adora to sustained physical and emotional abuse after her defection. And even the reasonably functional ones, like Scorpia and Lonnie, who sat out most of that, don't have any objection to abusing Kyle.
  • The "Homer choking Bart" bit from The Simpsons is hinted to be a generational thing. We've seen Abe choke Homer before (along with pretty severe verbal and emotional abuse, up to advising him to take rides from strangers) and Abe is implied to have gotten it from his own father, and on and on.
  • Near the end of Steven Universe: Future, one of these is described as being the cause of everyone's suffering throughout Future and the rest of the series. Specifically, White Diamond has an It's All My Fault moment, and admits that being a Bad Boss and domineering older family member towards both Yellow and Blue Diamond in turn lead to them being abusive towards Pink Diamond. Pink faking her shattering at the hands of "Rose Quartz" caused her to abandon Spinel, who takes it out on Steven and the Crystal Gems millennia later, and also left Pearl with some likely psychological trauma that followed her for almost as long until she was finally able to open up about it. This also lead Steven to develop C-PTSD, because of the trauma and pressure he was exposed to throughout the original series and movie. All of this pain and suffering, along with the mistakes he made during the epilogue, ended up having him a spectacular meltdown, as he accidentally corrupts himself and transforms into a Kaiju-like rampaging monster.
  • The Venture Bros. goes into detail about how Doc Venture's youth as a boy adventure severely screwed him up, even though he still drags his boys along for similar adventures. Such an occurrence was lampshaded in this series recap.
    Henchman 21: That's the vicious circle, people do this!

    Real Life 
  • The great-grandchild of L. Ron Hubbard exposed in a poem the damage his great-grandfather inflicted on the grandchildren and great-grandchildren he never met with threats to his son, the patriarch of the family, and how when the poet tries to explain to psychiatrists that mental illness does run in his family via the leader of a cult, they accuse him of delusions and compromise his credibility.


Video Example(s):


Get it Out Your System!

After being beaten and berated by his own father all his life, Uncle Ruckus finally snaps at his father during the funeral of his grandmother.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (26 votes)

Example of:

Main / CallingTheOldManOut

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