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Too Broken to Break

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Dormammu: You will suffer!
Doctor Strange: Pain's an old friend.

There's a threat made to a character. Maybe it's Cold-Blooded Torture, maybe it's having their heart broken, or maybe it's just not being paid enough. They profoundly underreact. Is it because they're zen? Because their mental fortitude is just that great? Are they just nice?

No, they've been through so much terrible shit that they just don't care. In other words, there's nothing you can do to them that life hasn't already outdone in terms of pure misery, so they just blandly accept whatever misfortune that comes their way because nothing could possibly compare to what happened already.

Torture them? Meh, couldn't be worse than their traumatic past. Give them bad food? They've probably eaten worse. Underpay them? They've been through worse. Break their heart? They've felt worse.

See also Conditioned to Accept Horror, in which is not that the person is too broken to react, but that they actually find this normal and mundane. Similar to Insanity Immunity, except in this case, the character still holds to their sanity, to Disability Immunity, where the disability in this case is psychological rather than physical, and to Empty Shell and Stopped Caring, with the difference that this character can still feel and care normally. Also, The Last Dance, when the character achieves this state shortly before their unavoidable death. This trope can serve as justification for a character becoming Bored with Insanity.

Occasionally subverted when the person trying to break the broken character either manages to find that one little thing the character still cares about (often a loved one), fears (often something very goofy), or they pull off a Fate Worse than Death (or horrible death) that the broken character was unable to expect.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Protagonist of My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, as I Expected is a young boy who experimented with the deception of human relationships at short age, especially about the rejection of girls and ostracism of his class towards him. All of that makes him a lone wolf who doesn't want/interest to make any kind of relationship, sees the youth as a big lie, and has a misogynistic vision of women in general (with the exception of his little sister); reasons more than enough for his teacher to force him to be part of the Service Club in order to "save his soul" and "being more human". During the series, it's seen how Hachiman commits social suicide acts to achieve his goals for the Service Club, which could be left devastated if it's made by anyone else, but he isn't affected a bit... except when he sees the collateral damage he makes to Yukino and Yui every time he does this in the series, which makes him question his own methods for the first time.
  • In Naruto there's this image of Obito Uchiha against Kakashi Hatake in which the latter made a hole in the former's chest and he stands up as if nothing happened to him. This image quickly became a Memetic Mutation, being used by loners about love deceptions as they have no heart to be broken, and having a lot of derivated memes, some funnier (or more depressed) than others.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: By the end of End of Evangelion, Shinji has witnessed so much absolute horror he doesn't even flinch upon seeing the corpse of his best friend after transmuting into a Physical God surrounded by an entire ocean containing liquified humans and is indicated to face it with hesitant determination according to the poster, which takes place shortly after the ending of the movie.
  • Played for Laughs in One Piece's Thriller Bark Saga during Perona's fight with Usopp. He triumphantly shouts that her Emotion Bomb power has no effect on him because he naturally has "a negative personality". This drives her to tears and prompts her and her mooks to start cheering for him to not give up, with him being frustrated by his opponent taking pity on him.

    Comic Books 
  • Daredevil: Given how much the titular hero suffers in his life, this trope does tend to pop up now and then.
    • In the Born Again storyline, Wilson Fisk does everything in his power to make Matt's life living hell, and destroy everything he had. When Matt is left homeless and penniless with barely any of his sanity left, Fisk thinks he has beaten him... Only to realise that he has created a man with nothing to lose, and thus a man without fear.
    • This happens again in a later storyline when Mysterio tries to break Daredevil as his dying act, only for him to deliver a scathing "The Reason You Suck" Speech and explain why that's not possible.
      Daredevil: You think you can break me? You're a joke and a fraud. [...] And trying to drive me insane? Kingpin nearly did it, once.
  • Present in the comic prequel of the game Modern Warfare 2: Ghost. The protagonist, Simon "Ghost" Riley, is captured among other soldiers. Then they are put under torture for months until their will breaks, as the first stage of a long-term program of brainwashing. This works with all of them, except for Simon. The reason? His infancy was so ridiculously abusive and traumatic, that the only thing the torture did for him on a psychological level was reawaken those traumatic memories. And as he explains to a thug before killing him, they could not break someone who is already broken.
    Simon "Ghost" Riley: There isn't a man alive that doesn't have a breaking point. Your mistake with me was that I'd already reached mine a long time ago. I was already broken, mate.
  • The Incredible Hulk:
    • In an early 1980s issue, the Hulk is leaping around the world and lands in Afghanistan at a time when, in real life, the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan was still going on. He drops right in front of an Afghani who barely even notices the Hulk and walks on with the same shocked expression he had had before the Hulk landed. What was going on in his vicinity is so horrific that the arrival of the Hulk doesn't even register.
    • And in the early 2000s, the Hulk himself is subjected to this treatment. The military tries to torture the man with multiple personalities, but Hulk just tells them "You can't break a man who's already been broken," using a different panel, face, and alter for each word.
  • Spider-Man:

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm:
    • Doctor Strange is Crazy Sane on a good day and remarks that any tortures/murder attempts he faces would be "amusingly quaint." Considering how awful his life has been - even the highly redacted version, given how ridiculously old he is - this isn't entirely surprising.
    • Harry is drifting towards this territory in the sequel, walking a peculiar knife-edge between being recovered and resilient and having just gone through so much that he quite literally cannot be faced with anything worse.
  • The Sacred and the Profane: Played for horror and tragedy with Zirah. There's really nothing the other characters can threaten him with because, over the course of his millennia-long existence, the worst has already happened. He's been kicked out of Heaven, gone insane, committed countless evils, and lost all empathy for everyone. He's ultimately undone by the one person he genuinely cares for, and who still cares for him: Caphriel, who is able to get the drop on him and douse him with holy water.
  • In What Tomorrow Brings, Tom spent so long being tortured by Yeerks that he's learned to endure it, and he's able to keep his cool when Mertil tries to kill Marco because he's met all kinds of aliens who tried to kill him.
  • Nobody Dies: Combined with Disability Immunity in one early arc, when an Angel's Mind Control powers fail to affect Asuka. Turns out that Kyoko's A+ parenting has messed her up so badly that she's developed dissociative identity disorder.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Doctor Strange (2016), Stephen Strange is attempting to bargain with Dormammu to make him leave Earth alone, and he's enforcing it via a "Groundhog Day" Loop, forcing Dormammu to live in the exact same moment for as long as is needed. Dormammu threatens Stephen with torment and suffering, as seen in the quote image. Stephen, who'd already lived through agony and hopelessness earlier in the film, shakes it off.
  • Played for Laughs in Hot Shots! Part Deux, when the Qurac Torture Technician tries to interrogate Colonel Walters but discovers that his torture has no effect whatsoever. Walters then reveals that he had been married twice, earning a respectful nod from the torturer.
  • In Ikiru, Kanji Watanabe has stomach cancer and as a result is expected only to live another six months. He makes getting a children's park built his final project. At one point a Yakuza boss who wanted to build a block of restaurants on the spot where the park was getting built threatens to kill Watanabe; Watanabe just grins after hearing the threat, which completely unnerves the Yakuza boss and his underlings.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: As Bootstrap Bill helps his son Will escape from the Flying Dutchman, Will points out that the other crewmen will know he did so and will hold him accountable. Bootstrap, having already pledged to serve on the hellish ship for all eternity, merely laughs and says, "What more can they do to me?" Jones sends the Kraken on a detour to try and kill Will once the deception is discovered and later reduces Bootstrap to a living part of the ship.
  • In the original movie, what made Godzilla so hard to kill wasn't his incredible durability but the fact that his mutation into his current form caused him more pain than anything humanity could do to him.
  • Discussed in Conspiracy Theory: after Dr. Jonas captures Jerry and (falsely) tells him Alice is dead, a despondent Jerry mutters, "Then you can't hurt me anymore." Jonas's smirking response: "I'll be the judge of that."
  • Played with in the dramedy film Into the Night. Jeff Goldblum's character Ed Okin has been suffering from chronic insomnia, apparently for years. During the course of his two-night adventure, he encounters threats, violence, and murder, including David Bowie's assassin character sticking the barrel of a Walther PPK in his mouth while interrogating him and, later, the need to try and talk down a surrounded former Iranian secret police agent who has taken Michelle Pfeiffer's character hostage. For the most part, Ed barely reacts with anything more than mild bemusement or disbelief (although a jump scare with a barking dog briefly panics him). His condition has left him mostly detached from the reality of the dangers around him.

    Literature 
  • The Belgariad: In The Malloreon, Emperor Zakath keeps interfering with the heroes' quest even after he learns what they're really up to, is forced to accept the truth that he can no longer pursue revenge against the Murgos, and has been threatened with sorcery. He's so broken by the trauma Taur Urgas inflicted upon him when he was nineteen that he's an Empty Shell who pursues world domination while awaiting death. At their wits end, they petition the Seeress of Kell to intervene because they've noticed he'll listen to her even when he heeds no other. Even she struggles because he's not bothered by the revelation he'll die by winter if he doesn't stop hindering Destiny. Since threatening his own life fails, she makes him responsible for hers by insisting they become each other's hostage. The inappropriateness, and his inability to refuse it, leaves him shaken to his core. It's a secret The Power of Love gambit by Cyradis, as she already knows that she is his future wife even though he and the heroes don't.
  • The Death Gate Cycle: The Lazar are undead monsters whose souls are fused with their bodies in unimaginable torment. They can shrug off almost anything, even dismemberment, and do because every instant of their existence is far worse.
  • In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, this is one factor that allowed Sirius Black to remain sane even while in Azkaban, a prison guarded by joy-sucking Eldritch Abominations called Dementors. Sirius is so unhappy already, over the deaths of Harry's parents and over his own wrongful imprisonment, that there isn't really much joy left for the Dementors to eat. This in turn is aided by the fact that he is consumed by thoughts of revenge, which fuel him enough to stave off despair, but aren't happy thoughts, so the Dementors can't take them away from him.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, Éowyn is able to shrug off the usually crippling despair that follows the Ringwraiths. It's not because she's 'just that badass'; it's because she's been living with depression for years and she is just used to feeling utterly hopeless and acting in spite of it.
  • In The School for Good Mothers. Frida spends a year at the school so she can regain custody of her daughter, but despite her best efforts, the judge terminates her parental rights. She won't be allowed to have any contact with Harriet until she turns 18, and only if she wants to. Frida ends up abducting Harriet, figuring that any time with her daughter is worth going to jail when (not if) she gets caught.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Alienist: In the second season finale, after interrogating Libby, Thomas concedes his inability to break her will. Laszlo retorts:
    Laszlo: You can't break someone that is already broken, Mr. Byrnes.
  • Heavily implied in the climax of the first episode of Chernobyl. After the reactor core has exploded, a hapless engineer has been ordered by his idiotic superiors to "inspect the damage" to the reactor (or, to put it more accurately — be marched at gunpoint to the roof and forced to stick his head into toxic smoke to stare into the radioactive pit where once a nuclear reactor was). The last we see of the poor man in the episode is a distance shot of him slumped in a chair staring blankly into space while his superiors, unable to ignore the obvious evidence of radiation burns on his face, are pacing around clearly screaming all manner of threats and abuse at him, none of which he reacts to in the slightest. Because he knows full well that he's been doomed to a slow, lingering death by radiation poisoning and there's absolutely nothing they can say or do to make his life worse, so there's no reason for him to care whatsoever about their empty threats.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Doctor's Wife": House is only shown attempting to Mind Rape Amy. Word of God says that House did try to do this to Rory, but simply gave up after he proved immune to it.
    • "The God Complex": An alien minotaur feeds on the faith of those trapped in its prison by revealing their worst fears. When Rory shows up, all it does is show him the exit because he is neither religious nor superstitious and, unlike Amy, does not have an abiding faith that the Doctor will always save the day. Also, because after the events of "The Pandorica Opens"... there isn't really anything left for him to be afraid of.
  • Malcolm in the Middle: In one episode, Francis is taken by a secret society at the Military School to be tortured. When they suspend him blindfolded over a "bottomless pit," threaten to flog him to death, and even put his head inside a cage with some hungry rats, Francis responds that he's not scared at all. When the leader asks how their tactics are not scaring him, Francis says that his mom had humiliated him so much, that he had lost the ability to be afraid of anything else.
  • In the fifth season of Supernatural, Dean Winchester has returned from hell, where he had taken up torture and kicked off the apocalypse. When one of the Four Horsemen, Famine, arrives, he inspires gluttony in everyone around him. Random people die via cannibalism or alcohol poisoning. Sam drinks Demon blood. Castiel devours red meat. But Dean wants nothing; needs nothing. Dean tries to pass this off as a good thing, but Famine points out it is because Dean is dead inside.
  • In House of the Dragon, Rhaenys Velaryon has lost her share of people close to her; her daughter Laena suffers Death by Childbirth, her son Laenor fakes his death to live with his lover Qarl, and her husband is injured and afflicted with a fever he is not expected to survive. After her brother-in-law Vaemond gets killed in front of her, Rhaenys has the following exchange with a maester while examining the body.
    Orwyle: It is ill luck to look upon the face of death.
    Rhaenys: The Stranger has visited me more times than I can count, Grand Maester. I assure you... he cares little whether my eyes are open or closed.
  • In the pilot of Upright Citizens Brigade, the centerpiece of the long-form sketch is a "Bucket of Truth" in the the middle of the living room, said to contain knowledge that is so uncompromisingly, unadulteratedly true, that anyone who looks in it will go mad. Throughout the sketch, various characters look in the bucket, and instantly go mad (usually escaping into the Hot Chicks Room). At the end of the sketch, the tough-as-nails cop, angry at God, decides to take the plunge and is unfazed.
    I'm going to look in your damned bucket! [He looks in for a moment, then emerges.] DON'T YOU THINK I KNOW THAT!

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: In Ravenloft, many beings are forced to live eternally in ironic hells. Lord Soth actually escaped because he was so broken he accepted his punishment and nothing the dark forces could do hurt him anymore.
  • The Warhammer 40,000 games (Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Only War and probably Deathwatch) all include an advantage called "Jaded", meant to represent the character having gone through so many of the horrors that are normal to the Crapsack Universe of 40K that the only things that can make him nervous any more are the literal Cosmic Horrors.

    Theatre 
  • Cabaret: Fraulein Schneider is implied to be this in her "I Am" Song, "So What." The gist of this song is that she's lost so much in her life, such as a luxurious house, that the promise of Cliff not paying enough for his room in her boarding house just doesn't matter.

    Video Games 
  • The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction: Same as in the comics, Bruce Banner finds himself held captive by the US military, with Emil Blonksy subjecting him to a Mind Probe (which Doc Samson complains would be like "trying to slice an onion with a chainsaw"). Banner assumes Blonksy is trying to destroy him, but that's not the case.
    Banner: You can't break a man who's already broken, Blonksy. What if you get inside, and you don't like what you find?
    Blonksy: I already know what you are. I know how tough you are to the nearest decimal point. (voice getting increasingly deeper) I don't need to know how to become like you, I need to know how to control it.
  • For the most part, the Abomination from Darkest Dungeon is numb to pain and sorrow. While he can still have his Sanity Meter sapped and suffer a Heroic BSoD, he claims that the various monsters of the Darkest Estate don't scare him, because the beast inside him is way scarier than they'll ever be. Best exemplified during the fight with the Heart of Darkness. If you hover him when Come Unto Your Maker is active, he'll have the following to say:
    "Whatever awaits, it cannot be worse than what I've endured."
  • At the beginning of Burial at Sea episode two, Elizabeth, having come back to Rapture to save Sally (the Little Sister whose adoptive father she killed out of spite and then left for dead) makes a deal with Atlas in exchange for Sally's safety; fragments of Elizabeth's memory that remain from when she had her temporal powers (returning to a timeline where that version of her had died erased them along with her omniscience) tell her that Fontaine wants "the ace in the hole," so she claims to be Suchong's lab assistant who both knows where it is. When Atlas' patience begins to wear thin, he ties Elizabeth to a chair, slowly drags an icepick through the top of her eye socket to rest on her skull, and taps it repeatedly as tells her how all her individuality, creativity, and personality can be easily erased if he hits just a little harder. Although you can hear her shaky breathing, she finally laughs at his efforts and invites him to go ahead and make her stop caring about all the horrific things around her. He's visibly unnerved and becomes so enraged that he rips the pick out of her eye and lapses back into his natural Brooklyn accent; it's only when Sally is brought in on a stretcher and he moves to give her a lobotomy does Elizabeth panic and beg him to stop. Thankfully, her subconscious gives her a clue in the nick of time and the situation is diffused.
  • Prayer of the Faithless: In the Tired and Judged endings, Aeyr and Mia gain the Faithless passive, which prevents them from having any emotional ailment. This is because the guilt of killing their best friend means they've hit rock bottom emotionally and have nothing more to lose.

    Western Animation 
  • Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture of The Venture Bros. could very well be the Trope Codifier. No matter what horrible things can happen to him in the show, he's been through worse. An abusive childhood has made him incredibly callous. When the Monarch tries Cold-Blooded Torture on him, nothing has any effect due to him having experienced almost all of it at some point. Trying to crush his spirit doesn't work either, because he's so depressed and bitter that old college friends of his consider it almost creepy to see him looking happy. The Monarch puts it best:
    The Monarch: What can I do to this guy that life hasn't already?
  • Gravity Falls: The Society of the Blind Eye try to use their memory-wiping machine on crazy Old Man McGucket, but it has no effect on him because "you can't break what's already broken!" It's later revealed that using the machine multiple times to forget the things he's witnessed while working for the Author is what drove him insane in the first place.
  • Exploited in the Rugrats episode "Chuckie's First Haircut" where Chuckie is afraid to get his hair cut for fear it'd get hurt, but then the other kids point out that he already feels bad imagining it, so it can't be much worse.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: Catra is exiled to the Crimson Waste as punishment for failure, and encounters the meanest of outlaws, who bully her for heckling them about Adora's whereabouts, as they cruelly remind her that only the strong make the rules. Catra outright tells them that they're making a mistake if they think they can threaten her, that those methods only work on people who have something to lose. Catra, however, lost everything and doesn't even care anymore. From that, she asserts her dominance.
  • Steven Universe: Blue Diamond's pathokinesis takes her grief and pushes it onto anyone around her, making even the most resilient Gem break down and sob... except for Lapis Lazuli, who, after spending most of the last 5,000 years imprisoned in a mirror and then the last few months using herself as a jailer to contain Jasper in their fusion at the bottom of the ocean, is barely fazed by Blue's powers.
    Blue Diamond: What?!
    Lapis: [wipes a single tear from her eye] I've felt worse.

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