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Troubled Fetal Position

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Alice is not having a good day.

"Actually, I'm going to lie down in the fetal position and weep."
Fastidiious, Sonic Boom
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A common sitting position for an introverted, shy, depressed character or perhaps one that is going through a breakdown or some Sanity Slippage is for them to sit with their knees pulled to their chest perhaps with their arms wrapped around their knees. Similarly, the character can lie down (or slide down in extreme cases), curl up and hold their knees. If the character has gone through something traumatic, expect them to rest their head atop their knees so that their hair falls around their face. Sometimes, they may rock their body back and forth while muttering something incoherent. When Played for Laughs, they may also suck their thumb like a baby. Someone taking a Shower of Angst is likely to do this.

Different from the Corner of Woe in that this trope is usually done in a dramatic fashion; could also be done as a result of coping with some Paranoia Fuel or Nightmare Fuel.

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Truth in Television, this is a natural defensive reflex against physical attack (it protects your belly, throat, and eyes) and by extension against many sorts of psychological stress and trauma, in the same manner that both physical and psychological trauma can prompt an adrenaline rush.

Compare Cradle of Loneliness, which may involve a similar position, but are brought on by loneliness rather than trauma, though there can be overlap between the two.

Contrast with Fetal Position Rebirth, where the pose conveys a different symbolic meaning from angst.


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Examples

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    Comic Books 
  • Aggretsuko (Oni): Resasuke ended up in one clutching his ears after getting reprimanded by Haida for sneezing at him. This is how they found out those that have been infected are sensitive to loud noises.
  • Concrete:
    • This is probably one of the most frequent positions Concrete is drawn in, especially after he becomes depressed as the series goes on, though in some instances he is just trying to take up as little space as possible and not in a mood.note 
    • In Mountain with a Steel Heart Violet is mostly seen sitting like this.
    • Michael sits like this and rocks back and forth in Strange Armor.
  • Klara Prast's last appearance in the Runaways regular series shows her curled up in an unhappy little ball (by contrast, the rest of her teammates are sprawled out in exhaustion.) Given all the shit she was put through in the final arc, this is understandable.
  • Supergirl:
  • Superman:
    • Superman of all people does this in the storyline Krypton No More when he sits on a mountaintop and reminisces about Krypton's destruction.
    • Kryptonite Nevermore: Superman wants to renounce his powers because he is tired of being a hero but Wonder Woman's mentor talks him out of it. Superman pulls his knees up and covers his face with both hands while he resigns himself to get his powers restored.
    • The Unknown Supergirl: At the end of a hallucination where Kara is made to believe that she has killed people accidentally, she sits on the ground, curls up in a ball, and cries.
  • Antoine does this in the Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) reboot after learning he nearly died in the previous continuity. He snaps out of it because he knows he still has work to do but it's clear he was shaken by it.
  • In Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of The Authority, young Jack Hawksmoor repeatedly ends up in a troubled fetal position after getting repeatedly kidnapped and operated on by aliens.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Being lassoed by the Lasso of Truth leaves Superman curled on the ground crying, for some reason he and Diana leave the lasso on him for quite a while despite there being plenty of molly around he could use to prevent Circe from magicking him again and the fact that if Diana took the lasso to Silver Swan she'd redeem the poor tortured and brainwashed girl just about instantly.
  • In the first issue of the "Moons of Venus" arc of X-Statix, Venus is left in a fetal position after encountering... something while exploring the parallel dimension Sector H-3-Minor.
  • In Swamp Thing Abby Cable cradles herself on the floor after evil uncle Anton Arcane has returned to life in the body of her husband Matt and brutalized her in a number of ways, including sexual.
  • The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye: Out of all bots, you'd never believe Megatron would be the one to do this, but that's exactly what he does when he meets Chromedome the mnemosurgeon.

     Fan Works 
  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): The Two Beings, One Body Titan Monster X, mainly the Vivienne Graham half when she's controlling their shared body, go into this position a couple times when Vivienne's confused or has just had a PTSD episode. Besides that, when Vivienne was still human and Ghidorah was frozen, Vivienne was at one point reduced to curling into this position in the snow by exposure to Ghidorah's Psychic Powers. In Chapter 7, Sergeant Travis is curled in this position after his Sanity Slippage has progressed.
  • The Ultimate Evil: While wallowing in self-pity, Valerie is sitting in this position when Shendu possesses her.

    Films — Animation 
  • The sequel to Peter Pan, Return to Never Land: Jane, Wendy's daughter, goes into this position frequently throughout the movie.
  • Coraline: After Coraline figures out that the Other Mother wants her to sew buttons into her eyes Coraline gets scared, runs up to her room, locks the door, and hides under her blankets in this position repeating, "Go to sleep... Go to sleep... Go to sleep..."
  • 5 from 9 drops into this complete with rocking and frantically muttering the first time he, 9, and 7 take cover from the machine, right after 2 is killed.
  • Jessie of Toy Story 2 does this when she tells Woody about how she was abandoned by her original owner Emily.
  • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls:
    • First movie:
      • In the opening, when demonstrating "nervicited" to Twilight, Pinkie Pie assumes this position and rocks back and forth. "You just wanna curl up in a teeny-tiny ball and hide!"
      • Human Fluttershy does this in a flashback after trying to recruit volunteers for the animal shelter and being ignored.
      • Ditto Twilight when she loses hope of getting her Element back before the Celestial Deadline due to the Fall formal being postponed.
    • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks:
      • Sunset Shimmer slumps into one after Principal Celestia mentions the Fall Formal, and every student in the gym (save the Humane Five) start glaring at the former school queen.
      • Twilight Sparkle gets into one too when the Rainbooms are trapped under the stage and start blaming each other, and she begins admitting that the song counterspell would just never have been ready in time.
    • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Friendship Games: Human Twilight Sparkle slumps into this pose in the hallway after Principal Cinch blackmails her (again), this time to spy on the Wondercolts, and Twilight admits she doesn't know what to do.
  • Both Anna and Elsa do this after their parents died at the end of the song "Do you want to build a snowman?" in Frozen.
  • Rapunzel in Tangled does this during the "bipolar scene" after she left her tower against her Mother's, or rather her kidnapper's, orders.
  • In WALL•E, the titular character could be seen doing this on several occasions and is a non-humanoid robot example of this.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the 1995 version of A Little Princess, Sara goes into the Troubled Fetal Position whenever she's in her new room in the dirty attic. Her dad supposedly died so she's forced to work as a servant.
    • The first time, she curls up in the middle of a "magic circle" she drew on the floor to try to feel safe.
  • In The Princess Diaries, Mia returns home after being humiliated by her supposed "friends" and she cuddles with her mom in a position like this and cries.
    Mia: It was really bad — my foot didn't even pop!
  • Deep Blue Sea: After losing the research she's devoted her life to and having to strip down to her underwear to survive a shark attack, Susan slides down into a sitting position and clutches her knees.
  • Drew Barrymore's character in Ever After does this occasionally, most notably towards the end where she is sitting in the rain, still in her ball gown after being publicly humiliated by Prince Henry.
  • Friday the 13th (2009)'': As she listens to an injured Lawrence begging for help, a sobbing Bree curls up into a ball and puts her hands against her ears to try and block out the sound.
  • Featured in a poster for Spider-Man 3.
  • Dirty Dancing: Johnny and Baby discover Penny in a Troubled Fetal Position after an encounter with Bobby.
  • Pink Floyd: The Wall is fond of this.
  • Raymond from Rain Man has periods of this.
  • Unsurprisingly occurs in Requiem for a Dream as things go downhill for the main characters; Marion's most notable variation - huddled in a bathtub, head underwater, screaming - was a frame-for-frame recreation of the scene in Perfect Blue. The film itself actually concludes with a montage of all four main characters assuming this position: Harry in a prison hospital, having just lost an arm to infection; Marion alone and clutching her stash of heroin, having been forced to participate in a humiliating sex show for drugs; Tyrone in a prison cell, going through a very painful withdrawal; and last but not least, Sarah Goldfarb in a mental hospital, slowly retreating into her fantasies following a disastrous ECT procedure.
  • Used a good deal and doubly justified in The Elephant Man. The title character even sleeps like this. If he doesn't, he'll die.
  • In the fourth Lake Placid movie, after they get away from the scene of a gruesome crocodile attack, Elaine finds Brittany sitting down, knees to her chest, and with her arms wrapped around her legs as she looks out across the water.
  • Evey in V for Vendetta does this a lot when she is captured, imprisoned and tortured by the fake government which turns out to be V himself.
  • Vesper does this in a Shower of Angst in Casino Royale (2006). Originally she was supposed to be in her underwear in the scene, but she argued that, traumatized from seeing Bond killing several people, she wouldn't have stopped to get undressed.
  • In Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, Beverly does the "rocking back and forth" variation at one point.
  • Another Cronenberg film, The Fly (1986), has Veronica curl up in her bed into this position after she has a terrifying nightmare where she gives birth to a gargantuan maggot in the hospital.
  • Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk enters this after a particularly nasty Flashback Echo hits him when he's in the shower.
  • In the spirit of one-upmanship and outdoing the rest of this list, A Serbian Film has Milos have one after learning that he was drugged and made to rape and kill people, including his own son, he was raped himself, and all of it was filmed for a snuff director's entertainment after which we get a Shower of Angst shot with him in the fetal position in the shower. Eventually this leads to him killing himself.
  • In Gravity, after making it back to the ISS, Ryan Stone shucks off her spacesuit and floats in a fetal position as she recovers from the stress of her situation and almost suffocating.
  • In Re-Animator Dan drops to the floor and curls up after their first (and second) attempt at bringing a human back to life goes horribly, horribly wrong.
  • Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away: Mia after she falls into the forest from the sandcliff, right before the Aerialist finds her.
  • Pokémon Detective Pikachu: At the underground fight arena, Pikachu decides to kick the butt of the Charizard he's fighting...only to find out that he has to fight a Charizard hyped up on R Gas. After failing to get Tim to "get me the hell out of here!" and realizing that he's forgotten how to use his moves, he curls up into a fetal position, squeaking, "Pika Pika..."
  • The Trip (1967): When Paul's acid trip turns bad, he curls up on John's couch, saying, "Oh, I'm dead. I'll never get back. My body's gone."

    Literature 
  • Cholly from The Bluest Eye does this when he gets rejected after finally meeting his biological father.
  • Oreg in Dragon Bones a couple of times. He suffers from PTSD and is magically bound to do as he is ordered by his master, which causes him severe pain if he can't do what he's been told to do. If he feels really bad, he usually curls up on the floor.
  • The standard "panic position" for the Pierson's Puppeteers of Larry Niven's Known Space stories is to tuck their heads (they have two, on really long necks) between their legs, and collapse into what looks like a perfect imitation of a hair-covered footstool.
  • The protagonist of Stephen King's Pet Sematary goes into this after his wife is killed and eaten by their toddler son that he brought back from the dead as a demon-possessed zombie.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • In Graham McNeill's Ultramarines Novel Dead Sky, Black Sun after escaping from a daemonic womb that has been trying to take his genetic material via tendrils through the interface sockets in his body Uriel Ventris does this, screaming and crying in rage and horror.
    • The Night Lords series fields another example with Uzas of First Claw who tends to curl up in his room muttering to Khorne and begging it/him to stop rearranging his mind.
  • In Out of the Silent Planet, Ransom does this while talking to himself during a delusional spell.
  • Bella spends nearly the entire book of New Moon in this state after Edward breaks up with her. According to Word of God, Edward also spent most of this time curled up in a fetal position hating the world, before his suicide attempt.
  • Bail Organa is taken aback and more than a little shocked when confident, self-possessed Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi assumes this position during their journey to Zigoola in Clone Wars Gambit. Obi-Wan has just experienced an extremely vivid Flashback Nightmare about a time when he was a Padawan and was almost eaten alive by carnivorous insects, and come out of it exceedingly rattled. Unfortunately for the two of them, it's only a mild taster of what's to come...
  • The Ice Palace. Unn ends her life deep inside the Ice Palace, sitting like this.
  • In Chapter 25 of The Day of the Locust, protagonist Tod Hackett finds his friend Homer Simpson sleeping tightly curled up into this position after his life in California collapsed around his ears the previous night. He mentally compares the sight to a picture he saw in a textbook on abnormal psychology with the caption "Uterine Flight", and muses on "what a perfect escape the return of the womb" can be.
  • Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen!: Vivy curls up in a ball on the floor of her parents' room after she fails to convince her mom to let her play in real baseball games, instead of just practice.

     Live-Action TV 

    Music 
  • The video "Everybody's Fool" by Evanescence features Amy Lee in this position.
  • Suzanne Vega has it in her song "Small Blue Thing."
    "With my knees against my mouth, I am perfectly round..."

    Professional Wrestling 
  • A common defensive position taken by pro wrestlers who just took a particularly hard groin shot.
  • Mankind would squeal while rocking in the fetal position before his matches.
  • Kimberly is seen rocking in this position in anticipation of her rematch with Leva Bates at SHINE 6. She's smiling, but that only reinforces the fact she's troubled.

    Roleplay 
  • Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
    • All the stress and panic from getting transformed into a swarm of bugs causes Jenna to lash out against the other characters and then curl up in a ball on the floor, rocking herself back and forth.
    • In the same scene, Vivian's belief power fails, making her no longer believe that she has her emotions in control. This causes her to enter a Heroic BSoD where she goes to a corner of her room and curls up into a ball.
  • In Survival of the Fittest: The Program, Marilyn Williams does this in reaction to being thrown into the compound, under a bed, no less.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Swedish comedian Johan Glans had a bit about when faced with a problem, there are two kinds of people; the ones who rise to the challenge and the ones who prefer to go away and lie down in the fetal position and hope the problem goes away on its own. He confessed to belonging to the latter category.

    Video Games 
  • Kingdom Hearts: Kairi in this shot of her.
  • The members of the Beauty and Beast corps that Snake fights in Metal Gear Solid 4 are female soldiers brainwashed into perfect soldiers from an early age so that war is all they know. If Snake manages to defeat them nonlethally with his tranquilizer gun, they curl up into a fetal position on the ground, having been forced to face the horrors of their past.
  • Left 4 Dead: The Witch. She just wants to be left alone. Don't disturb her.
  • Sakura's Game Over animation in Street Fighter IV, although she squats instead of sitting. Also, awww.
  • Saavedro from Myst III: Exile goes into one of these near the end of the game.
  • Touhou:
  • Heavy Rain has Norman Jayden in this position as he dies of an overdose.
  • StarCraft:
    • In the opening cinematic of the Brood Wars expansion, a Goliath unit does this as its operator waits helplessly for the overwhelming Zerg forces to reach his position.
    • In StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, Kerrigan collapses into this after hearing on the news that Raynor was captured by the Dominion and summarily executed.
  • Pressing the secondary action button in Yume Nikki with no effect that uses it makes Madotsuki sit like this. After a few seconds, she lowers her head invoking this trope.
  • In the Superstar expansion pack of the original The Sims, your Sim can do this in Studio Town if their mood is low enough. Watch out, though — the next tabloid might just report that your Sim was spotted in that position and that things might not be looking too good for them.
  • In Ib, Ib does this if she's unable to save Garry after he goes insane. Even Mary is disturbed by this.
  • Up until The King of Fighters 1998, if the player had Yuri Sakazaki in their team and she was defeated, she'd be seen in this position in the background.
  • In The Binding of Isaac, this pose is pretty much Isaac's signature pose. He engages in it on pretty much every piece of cover art, during the "vs. Boss" screens, and on the between-level vignettes that show him thinking about all of the horrible things that happened to him as a child.
  • In the Silver Surfer NES game, a picture of Silver Surfer in this position is shown when you lose a life. As The Angry Video Game Nerd said, "this image will be burnt into your retina".
  • In a rather infamous example from EarthBound, Giygas appears to assume one of these in his final form if you squint hard enough. Maybe. If you know WHY this might be the case, it can be a Tear Jerker.
  • In Fire Emblem Tellius, as Mist and Ike mourn for their dead father Greil, the first is seen like this.
  • If you don't save Louis at the end of the second episode of The Walking Dead: The Final Season, you later find him in a cell, curled up in the corner and bleeding from the mouth, because Lilly has cut his tongue out as punishment for talking too much.
  • In Drakengard 3, if you leave Zero idled for a while she will assume this position.
  • In Yandere Simulator, after killing certain characters who are close to somebody else (sibling in Sakyu and Inkyu's case or best friends in Osana and Raibaru's case), the person left alive will spend subsequent days at school sitting with their knees pulled to their chest as a sign of mourning.
  • In both Little Nightmares and Little Nightmares II, the player characters Six and Mono re-spawn in this position after dying. Almost like they are waking up from a nightmare.

    Visual Novels 
  • Seen twice in Katawa Shoujo. First, in Hanako's cinematic sequence as the route is unlocked; second, in Shizune's bad ending.
  • In Songs and Flowers, Jazz does this after she gets a call from the police informing her that a skeleton that may be her Missing Mom was found in a forest outside of her old hometown. After all the work she put in trying to find her, she's devastated.

    Web Animation 
  • Salad Fingers:
    • The eponymous character does this as well as cry in the cupboard when Roger assaults him with Brown Notes.
    • He also does this during a Freak Out after a little girl speaks to him.
  • Happy Tree Friends: Flippy in "Double Whammy" after coming out of his Ax-Crazy state and discovering himself to be covered in the intestines of one of his friends.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • At the end of Necro Critic's review of Baby Geniuses, he feels so empowered about finally confronting the movie that traumatized him as a kid, that he decides to try conquering his fear of babies as well. After turning on the scene where the giant robot baby is rampaging against the adults, it immediately cuts to Necro in this position while sucking his thumb.
  • One of the scenarios in Play with Me shows the doll grabbing the stuffed monkey and going into the Troubled Fetal Position.
  • The picture accompanying The Onion article "Study: Depression Hits Losers Hardest".
    A depressed loser cowers in a corner. According to a new Stanford University study, there is no hope for such people.
  • We first meet the transformed Stuart in this position in The Jade Box.
  • SCP Foundation: What essentially happens to SCP-096 after a 27 hour fight with SCP-682.
  • Putting someone in "Position Latérale de Sécurité" (or "PLS" for short), which means "Recovery Position" is a popular euphemism on the French parts of the Web, meaning someone was just spectacularly owned and now feels really uncomfortable.
  • In Episode 1 of The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air) Julian the Janitor adopts a miserable fetal posture in the aftermath of his latest failed on-air interruption of the eponymous radio Variety Show he loves, mirroring his Fetal Position Rebirth at the episode's beginning.
    Narrator: Curled in a ball in the janitor's closet in which he lives, lies Julian, janitor at the Eiffel Tower, crying.
    Julian: *while crying* I'm not crying!

     Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball: In "The Girlfriend", Jamie (who has been fixated on forcibly making Gumball her boyfriend during the episode, to everyone's horror) corners Gumball in the library, and he briefly crawls into a fetal position while sucking his thumb and calling out for Darwin's help.
  • Justice League: When the Flash thinks he's going to be alone in a time-stuck world forever, in "Only a Dream" he buries his face in his knees and wraps his arms around his legs. Superman curls up in his rocket and hides his eyes after his out-of-control superpowers kill Lois, Perry, and Jimmy.
  • The Owl House: In "Convention", Eda asks Luz how she would respond to a fireball coming at her. Luz responds by pulling up her hood and curling into a ball. Eda realizes she probably should have taught Luz more spells.
  • Wakfu: Amalia in season 1 episode 25, while feeling the destruction of every tree in the forest.
  • Young Justice - Original Series: Artemis, towards the end of "Homefront," when facing the prospects of every friend she has dying and her being unable to do anything about it.

    Real Life 
  • As mentioned up top in the description, the troubled fetal position is a natural position to take if and when one feels overwhelmed by anything.
  • In early January of 2021, an ICU ward in an Egyptian hospital runs out of oxygen and every patient in the ward dies. A man is walking through and filming the different beds and he briefly captures a traumatized nurse huddled against the corner of a wall.

 
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Alternative Title(s): Fetal Position Of Troubledness

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Drake in Despair

Believing things are ruined beyond repair between him and Josh and that he deserves no better, Drake has the lost the will to do anything but lie curled up in despair.

How well does it match the trope?

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