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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 simply not being paid enough, or maybe having their heart broken. 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 becomes this moments before their unavoidable death.



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    Anime & Manga 

    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.
  • In an early 1980s issue of The Incredible Hulk 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.
  • In Spider-Man Noir, Felicia Hardy is the only person alive who knows Spider-Man's secret identity. One mob group tried to get his name out of her through Cold-Blooded Torture. The second mob group took one look at what was under her mask and decided there was nothing they could do to her.
  • In one Spider-Man story, a villain who could generate people's worst fears tried summoning the ghost of Uncle Ben to break the webslinger. The villain is shocked when Spider-Man greets Ben happily and starts chatting with him. Peter explains that he lives with the grief of failing to save Ben every single day, and at this point, that pain and sorrow is simply a part of who he is.

    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 Time 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.

  • 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.

    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.
  • In an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, 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.

    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.

  • 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 more or less 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, defenseless in the bowels of the city) makes a deal with Fontaine in exchange for Sally's safety; fragments of Elizabeth's memory that remain from when she had her temporal powers before she returned to Rapture (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 the "ace" is and can retrieve it for him. Fast-forward a bit and Fontaine's patience is wearing thin in anticipation for the "ace"; 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, personality can so easily be erased if he hits just a little harder. Although you can hear her shaky breathing, she finally just laughs at his efforts to gather information she doesn't even know and invites him to go ahead and make her virtually brain dead so she'll stop caring about all the horrific things around her. He 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 begin screaming in earnest that she doesn't know where the "ace" is; thankfully her subconscious gives her a clue in the nick of time and the situation is diffused.

    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.
  • 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.