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They Were Holding You Back

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The Alpha: Scott, I think you're getting the wrong impression of us. We really just want to help you reach your full potential.
Scott: By killing my friends?
The Alpha: Sometimes the people closest to you... can be the ones holding you back the most.
Scott: If they're holding me back from becoming a psychotic nutjob like you? I'm okay with that.
Teen Wolf, episode 10

Alice is a very fortunate woman, she's the best at her profession in the world, has a group of supportive friends and a loving family. True, she probably longs for adventure and excitement or wider recognition, but that's a minor concern compared to the bliss that is her life. Bob knows of her skills and sorely needs them, so he makes a generous offer for her to join him and help in his (potentially evil) goals, sweetening the deal with the promise acclaim, power and wealth. Of course, she'll refuse because she's happy where she is. In fact, she probably quit Bob's team not long ago precisely to get that happy family life.

So how does Bob get her into the fold? He kills these happy people to remove all her links to mundane life. Usually he's smart enough to frame one of his enemies, or at least Make It Look Like an Accident, that way he can channel Alice's rage and despair towards his cause. If Bob is especially malicious and grand in scope, he may even give Alice a Doomed Hometown and make her Conveniently an Orphan.

You can expect the fireworks to start once the secret is revealed. Alternately, Bob might instead kidnap one or all of her friends and family in order to more directly control her, or as a backup since their murder can will backfire. If Charlie wanted to make Alice pull a Mook–Face Turn/Heel–Face Turn (or at least leave/betray Bob) revealing this Villainous Demotivator is sure to work.

A more sinister variation happens when Bob wants to."help" Alice by killing her Living Emotional Crutch and Morality Chain. The reason? "They were holding you back from achieving your true potential."

Subtrope to The Call Knows Where You Live. Compare Murder the Hypotenuse, where a jealous lover kills anyone who might "steal" their beloved's heart.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Black Cat (manga). Creed kills Saya because he thinks that she is holding Train back.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: This is how Dartz groomed each of his "Three Musketeers" to be vengeful bringers of the Apocalypse. It backfires on him when one of them discovers the truth about his tragic past, but Dartz has already acquired more than enough power to stop him.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!: Capsule Monsters, Alexander claims this about Yugi's friends and urges him to sacrifice them so they'd be on equal footing. Yugi's friends actually agree with this, but Yugi himself does not.
  • In Battle Angel Alita, when Yasugun comes to his sensei to talk about fear of death, he is told that a perfect machine he is striving to be should feel no emotion and if its his sister that is the source of the doubt, he should kill her.
  • In Shaman King, Hao has his followers attack Yoh multiple times in an attempt to kill his friends so nothing distracts him from merging with Hao. It fails. Multiple times because his most devoted ones think Yoh isn't worth his time.
  • Naruto has a curious case: Sasuke's only goal from the beginning was to kill his brother, Itachi, to avenge his clan. As the series progressed he started to develop bonds with his teammates, only for the Sound Four to arrive and give him a beating and a Hannibal Lecture, to convince him that his bonds are holding him back and he should leave the Leaf Village to search for power. While they do this in a bid to steer Sasuke into going with Orochimaru, who wants to steal his body and his Sharingan for himself, Sasuke is convinced by their words and defects from the Leaf that very night. Two years later, he remains convinced that bonds with people only hold him back from his revenge, and absolutely refuses to return to the Leaf.
  • In The Garden of Sinners, Shirazumi Lio is convinced that the only thing holding Shiki back from a murderous existence is Mikiya, and attempts this along with Murder the Hypotenuse. Mikiya survives, but thinking he's died pushes Shiki enough that she eviscerates Lio, but she gets pulled back by Mikiya, implying that Lio is correct. Ironically, Lio himself takes Mikiya's "death" pretty badly.
  • In the manga version of Whistle! Shigeki does this when When he defects to the other side and challenges Sho's team. This angers Mizuno in the process

    Comic Books 
  • In The American Way the US government wants a college football coach to come back to work for them, training their super hero squad. The coach refuses for the sake of his wife, so the US government kills her so he'd come work for the gov't. Except it turns out they just gave her a million dollars to move to Wisconsin. Except not really, they did actually kill her.
  • Birds of Prey's David Cain once found two very promising martial arts-practicing sisters who he believed would be able to give him a suitable heir. Problem is, neither was dedicated enough to become that potential perfect mate. So he killed one of the twins and enraged the other to release the full power of her training as Lady Shiva.
  • In the early issues of the new Batman and Robin series, Damian Wayne's mother Talia put control devices in his spine and manipulated his body in order to have him kill Batman (Dick Grayson). Her reasoning was that Dick was holding Damian back by making him Robin, though it was clearly more along the lines of unhappiness that Damian was not obeying her since when using the machine she even commented that "this is what it's like to have a son who does what I want." Damian refused her "help" after Dick freed him from the control, and his mother has since cut ties with him via Cloning Blues now that he's siding with his father's legacy.
  • This was somewhat the reason why the second Zoom attempted to kill Wally West's wife Linda (and succeeded in temporarily causing the deaths of their unborn children in Geoff Johns' Flash run. He felt that Wally needed a great personal tragedy in his life to strive to become a better hero, and Linda being alive in a happy relationship with him was preventing this from happening.
  • In Death of the Family, The Joker is putting Batman and his allies through hell just to prove this point. He claims that Batman could be so much more than he is if the "Bat-family" weren't holding him back.
  • Daredevil: There was a period when the Kingpin had retired from crime at the request of his wife Vanessa; this galled one of the Kingpin's lieutenants. When Vanessa was kidnapped, during the rescue attempt the lieutenant attempted to kill her and blame it on the kidnappers (she survived, but nobody knew that until much, much later) so the Kingpin would return to his old ways. It worked perfectly...unfortunately, the Kingpin figured out what had happened, and the "old Kingpin" had no compunction about murdering a traitor with his bare hands.
    • In another storyline, Wilson Fisk moves to a different country and settles in to a humble life. He ends up falling in love with a local woman and becomes a father figure to her children. Then the Hand murders them all and shove a few swords into Fisk's back to get him back in the game along with a standing offer of leadership. Fisk takes the offer, but once again makes a point of killing the person who ordered the attack that killed his loved ones.

  • In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Harry becomes briefly afraid that Dumbledore will dispose of his family once he realizes that they aren't abusive (and therefore might be holding him back) and thus pretends to be miserable. Much later in the story, this is played deadly straight when Professor Quirrel does try to remove Harry's friends in order to limit their influence on him. This is done by framing Hermione for Draco's attempted murder, and then killing Hermione. It turns out to have been a bad idea.

    Films — Animated 
  • Despicable Me would have Dr. Nefario taking the orphans back to Miss Hattie because he thinks of them as a distraction for Gru.
  • Megamind has this when Minion tries to stop him from dating Roxanne.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, this is apparently why Victor kills Kayla. Only it turns out, it was Stryker's plan, not Victor's, and Kayla is not actually dead.
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home: The Green Goblin wants the MCU Peter Parker to become like him, exactly what he wanted for his own Spider-Man. Unfortunately for Peter, he decides that his Aunt May is responsible for his moral code/"weakness", and so the Goblin murders that character in front of him, telling Peter to "thank me later".
  • In Star Wars it is elaborated upon in the Expanded Universe that Palpatine had plans to kill off Padme anyway, he felt that Vader's love for her was holding him back.
    • This is very, very common in Sith training in general. Removing the "weakness of compassion" by killing a loved one is usually the last step in becoming truly devoted to the Dark Side. See Jacen Solo and Kylo Ren.
  • A less malignant version of this is what drives the main conflict of The Adjustment Bureau: the Bureau doesn't try to kill Elise but aims to keep her and David apart because David's drive to become a politician and make a positive difference in the world was his means to cope with the loneliness he felt after losing his parents at an early age (also due to the machinations of the Bureau). According to the Bureau, if David and Elise remain together, David won't become President and change the world for the better. Likewise, Elise would fail to become one of the greatest ballet dancers in the world.
  • In the French film With a Friend Like Harry... (also known as Harry, he's here to help), Harry tries to clear all obstacles to his favorite writer's progress, including family.

  • This is what the villain of Decorator intends to do to Erast Fandorin in the end. Luckily, he fails.
  • Thufir Hawat in Dune.
  • The origin of one protagonist in Vladislav Krapivin's Crystal-verse series. One secret society is dedicated to protecting and teaching kids with unusual abilities, which Dark and Troubled Past makes more obvious, and they run a boarding school, so they only watch the bureaucracy of social services and push some levers... Either that, or find children they want to acquire, remove their parents making it look like an accident, then ride in on a white horse when bureaucrats "for some reason" deny custody to other relatives. Good news is that well intentioned extremists prefer "humane" methods of making people vanish: interspacial travel in the setting is anisotropic, so even if exiles know anything of this fringe discipline and somehow can make proper equipment in the world where they were dumped, good luck with finding a way back.
  • In Windmills of the Gods by Sidney Sheldon, the heroine turns down an offer from the President to become a US Ambassador. Unfortunately for her, the villain really wants her to take the job, so arranges for her husband to die in a tragic car crash, so that she will be free to accept.
  • The "good guys" attempt to do this to the protagonist in Repairman Jack. His remaining parent is killed and they put his lover and unborn child into a dying state. He strongarms them into reversing the first, but they refuse to fix the latter to remind him that he only has as much power as they give him.
    "A spear has no branches."

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Smallville, Jor-El does this to Clark, a lot. In "Arrival", he tries to freeze Chloe to death because of this, leading to an extremely heartwarming moment.
    Jor-El: Kal-El, you must continue your education. You cannot stop.
    Clark: She is my friend. She needs help!
    Jor-El: Your destiny is far greater than saving one human life.
    Clark: No! I won't let her die!
  • Earth: Final Conflict starts with this, when Boone's wife is killed by Sandoval. The killer does consider it a favour, too... then again, the killer committed their own spouse to an insane asylum so they wouldn't interfere with the killer's work for the Companions.
  • The ending of Harper's Island reveals that Henry is an example of the second variant. He brought Abby back to the island and started killing people with John Wakefield because he believes it's their destiny to live on the island together, with no one else. She doesn't take it well when she finds out.
  • In Law & Order: Criminal Intent this is done to Goren by his old mentor. In an example that is very, very twisted, the killer not only killed Goren's junkie good-for-nothing brother (who Goren still loved), but also Goren's wanna-be Moriarty Nicole Wallace.
    • In another episode, a young boxing prospect is trained by an Evil Mentor who murdered his friends, because he believed they were holding his prospect back. He is able to see his prospect heading to the ring for his championship fight while being arrested.
  • Burn Notice, in which Tom Strickler offers Westen a chance at his old life back, if he does some morally questionable jobs, which he eventually agrees to. Then Strickler kidnaps Fiona, who he claims is holding Michael back, and tries to give her to her enemies. Michael rescues her at the last minute, and shoots him.
  • In Nikita, Michael's wife and child are killed by a terrorist and Michael joins Division to enable him to track him down and exact revenge. only to find, of course, that the 'terrorist' was a Division agent and the killings done on the head of Division's orders, so that Michael would join them.
  • In Supernatural, Azazel states that this is the reason Sam's fiancee had to die.
  • As shown at the top, in Teen Wolf this is the Alpha's opinion of Scott's friends and family.
  • Altered Carbon. Having lived for centuries, Reileen has a sociopathic We Are as Mayflies attitude to any normal person except her brother Takeshi Kovacs, who spent the equivalent time in Cryo-Prison and so has an entirely different attitude. Reileen is not happy about this and urges Kovacs to Shoot Your Mate to cut away the things that make him weak.
    Reileen: I'm saving them for you. You're gonna kill each one of them. And by the time you do, you won't even care.

  • In Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues, Daigo is unwilling to go too far with his monster project due to a promise he made to his friend Marko. Melissa convinces him that Marko and the rest of the gang are holding back his true potential, and so he goes along with her idea of using their monster to kill more people.

    Video Games 
  • In Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, Kilian Katar is framed for treason by Alexa, and executed for it. When Alexa's deception is finally revealed, she screams this justification at Kane.
    Alexa: You couldn't see how DANGEROUS she was!
  • Appears in Knights of the Old Republic, where the player can make a minor character do a Heel–Face Turn if it's proven to him that his Sith sensei offed his girlfriend for "limiting his potential".
    • Another Star Wars example: In The Force Unleashed 2, Darth Vader tells Starkiller to give up on his love interest Juno because she is holding back his progress in the Dark Side, his exact words being, "Rise above this, she means nothing" and, "She was holding you back." Vader tells Starkiller this after Vader had just mortally wounded his girlfriend right in front of his eyes, and this does not bode well for Vader winning back his apprentice.
  • In God of War, this is Ares' rationale for tricking Kratos into murdering his wife and daughter, proclaiming that Kratos will become "death itself". Naturally, this backfired.
    Ares: That night... I was trying to make you a great warrior!
    Kratos: You succeeded. [stabs Ares]
  • In The Darkness, the titular creature prevents Jackie from saving his girlfriend, Jenny, claiming that she was a restriction on his personal freedoms.
    The Darkness: She was a burden. This is freedom.
    • The sequel reveals that the Darkness was actually lying; as the vessel of the Angelus, Jenny was a serious threat, even if she didn't know it herself. So, the Darkness allowed her to die and captured her soul to prevent her from ever becoming dangerous- which backfires spectacularly when Jackie finds out and decides to free her.
  • In inFamous, Kessler killed Cole's future wife Trish because having a family will hold Cole back against the Beast in the future.
  • Penelope in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time cites this as her reasoning for selling out Sly's team and joining Le Paradox's crew, when giving her Motive Rant and trying to get Bentley to come with her. Bentley agrees 100% that she is right, but that he simply doesn't care because all he has ever wanted in life was to be with Sly and Murray.

  • In Looking for Group, Cale got married to a woman named Shora. The Archmage and Cale's master, feeling that this attachment would get in the way of his destiny as The Chosen One, forced her to act unfaithful to him to drive him away. Cale's master then murdered her as soon as Cale was gone to ensure he would never have anything to go back to. The Archmage later tries to kill Richard, because as Cale's friend, Richard wants to Screw Destiny to let Cale choose his own path. Though Richard proves far more able to defend himself and ultimately manages to kill him.
  • In strip #916 of The Order of the Stick, Tarquin believes Elan is being held back from becoming The Hero by following Roy's (the actual Hero of the story) lead. So Tarquin orders his entire army to kill everyone who is still in the crater (Roy, Vampire!Durkon, and Belkar).
  • Incubus from Kill Six Billion Demons is Allison's Evil Mentor and advises her to cut contact with her companions and strike out on her own as another Demiurge. This comes to its head in Breaker of Infinities when Jagganoth causes Allison to suffer a breakdown; Incubus first tries to rally Allison with a Rousing Speech (which, because it's Incubus, comes off as a Hannibal Lecture that only makes things worse), and when Cio intercedes Incubus kills her and says to Allison that it was for the best since Cio was only holding Allison back anyway.

    Western Animation 
  • In the last season of Codename: Kids Next Door, a mysterious splinter cell takes interest in Numbuh One. In one of the final episodes, they manipulate events so that Lizzie breaks up with him, breaking one of his last emotional ties before declaring that "He's almost ready".
  • In the final episode of season 1 of Inside Job (2021), it's revealed that Rand Ridley erased his daughter's memories of her best friend because he wanter her to focus on academic pursuits. This is a major Moral Event Horizon and causes his daughter to cut all ties with him.
  • In Steven Universe: Future, Jasper believes the Crystal Gems are holding Steven back, so when he comes to her for training, she helps his powers reach their fullest potential. Things don't work out well for her.
  • In Young Justice (2010), Harm did this to himself murdering his younger sister Greta, the only person he loved, so that he could become pure evil since the Sword of Beowulf will only bestow power on a "pure" individual. It ultimately failed; seeing Greta's ghost shatters Harm's "purity" and the Sword rejects him.
  • The non-lethal variant is discussed in the Spongebob Squarepants episode "The Original Fry Cook"; the titular Fry Cook (as in, the Fry Cook that worked at the Krusty Krab before Spongebob) visits Bikini Bottom, and to Spongebob's dismay, can fry a patty better than Spongebob ever could. However, the Fry Cook does recognize Spongebob's skills and tells him he has the true potential to surpass him...but only if Spongebob leaves the limitations of the Kusty Krab behind. Ultimately, Spongebob turns down the suggestion out of loyalty to the Krusty Krew.