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Unstable Powered Woman

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Jean Grey is so unstable, she's even destroying the logo!
"I don't know what's happening to me. When I lose control, things happen, bad things to people I love."
Jean Grey, Dark Phoenix
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This trope is about a female character who starts off in a pretty good place. She's surrounded by people and probably wants to do good. But then somehow, she comes into great power (political, supernatural, or otherwise) and proceeds to completely lose it.

Maybe she cannot control this new power and winds up causing great damage. Maybe she was repressed and isolated from a young age, providing the foundation for her ensuing instability. Maybe the event that gave or awakened her superpowers was very traumatic. Maybe Power Corrupts or she becomes Drunk with Power, making her mental health nosedive. Maybe the power amplified "feminine" weaknesses that were already there. Either way, she eventually becomes a danger to herself and others. The story mines great drama from contrasting this pretty young thing with her ensuing corruption and the mess that she inevitably causes.

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This trope has its roots in Women Are Delicate, particularly the Hysterical Woman — the portrayal of women as emotional and unstable, and thus ill-equipped to handle the responsibilities that come with their newfound power. Thus, many superpowered versions of this trope will explicitly tie the woman's destruction to her feelings, if not her womanhood. While there are powerful male characters who fall from grace, the ways in which they do so are much more varied than a woman doomed to lose control due to her feelings or a lack of mental fortitude. Bonus points if it falls to existing male characters to clean up after the Unstable Powered Woman, often by arranging it so that she loses the power that she obtained.

Compare the Good Girl Gone Bad, where a female character becomes nasty and villainous due to a tragic event, the Mystical Waif, a frail young woman with mysterious powers, and the Apocalypse Maiden, which also juxtaposes an often young and female character with mass destruction — the end of the world. Also compare The Ophelia, with which this can overlap if she is portrayed as lovely despite her insanity, and Puberty Superpower for another situation in which someone suddenly acquires a power and may find it difficult to control; in some cases, it overlaps with this trope if a female character acquires her powers during puberty.

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God Save Us from the Queen! and Good Princess, Evil Queen are related — a young, less powerful woman can be good and heroic, but a queen is probably nuts. See also Emotional Powers, With Great Power Comes Great Insanity.

No Real Life Examples, Please!


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the anime adaptation of 11eyes, every single female character that has a romantic relationship with one of the male characters falls into this trope. Liselotte, Yuka, Superbia and Yukiko all go completely mad with grief the moment that their Love Interest seemingly loses interest in them or dies. In particular, Liselotte, an exceedingly powerful witch, becomes a completely Ax-Crazy Omnicidal Maniac bent on destroying the world itself after her lover is killed, and is thus the main antagonist of the series.
  • In the backstory for Naruto and Boruto, we learn of Kaguya Otsutsuki, the instigator of nearly all of the story's events. There are a lot of conflicting stories and ideas about exactly what type of person she was beforehand (even in-universe), but it's generally believed that she was a caring person until absolute power went to her head. She comes from a race of "celestial beings" that travel to planets in search of a "God Tree", an alien plant form that lands on a planet and drains its inhabitants of their blood and life force. The fruit from the tree grants those who eat it a power that comes to be called "chakra". Originally, she and another relative came to take the fruit for the benefit of their clan, but she decided to protect the Earth and its inhabitants instead, eventually falling in love with a human emperor and becoming his concubine. While she was pregnant, an invasion from another nation led to the death of her friend and attendant, and Kaguya lost all faith in humanity, decided to eat the fruit, and create peace by force. She became worshipped as a goddess, and this eventually went to her head, where she became so power-hungry that when her sons manifested the ability to use chakra, she tried to take it backnote  under the belief that chakra should belong to her alone.
  • Exploited in Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Kyubey's species makes contracts with teenage girls and turns them into powerful witchhunting Magical Girls, knowing that teenage girls will eventually dramatically fall into despair and become powerful witches themselves. All this to prevent the inevitable heat death of the universe!
  • Witchblade the series, the cloneblades can make someone Ax-Crazy due to Phlebotinum Breakdown. Worse, just like in the comics, the Witchblade and the Cloneblades are Clingy MacGuffins.

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Comics:
    • Rogue of the X-Men has to avoid any skin-to-skin contact. If she does touch someone with bare skin, she absorbs their life force, which can cause death if she touches them for too long. If she touches a mutant or other superhuman, she also temporarily steals their powers. In either event, she also absorbs the target's memories and personality, which has led to semi-regular mental health problems due to having so many different personalities, most of them hostile to her, in her head.
    • The Invisible Woman was once subjected to a villain's mental manipulation and developed a dark personality called "Malice", which caused her to dress in darker, skimpier, bondage-themed clothes and a more evil, sinister personality. Infamously, she is literally freed from the villain's control by her husband Reed slapping her across the face.
    • Jean Grey was a heroic member of the X-Men up until the events of The Dark Phoenix Saga, where she is possessed by the Phoenix Force, one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe. While she initially handles this new power well, Jean is targeted by the supervillain Mastermind, who shatters her control over them in a mental battle. This causes her to lose it and become Dark Phoenix, an intergalactic menace who casually indirectly kills billions of people by devouring a star, and by doing so paints a big target on her back. This storyline was extremely influential, and many comics storylines parallel or homage this directly.
    • Polaris was in Genosha the day that Cassandra Nova launched a genocidal attack that killed nearly every mutant in the nation. This was the original start of her personality becoming unhinged. Later, when her long-time Love Interest Havok decided to leave her at the wedding altar to be with a woman whom he just met, she went completely off the deep end, adopted a costume similar to her father Magneto, and attempted to murder everyone there.
    • In the "Homeschooling" arc of Runaways, Klara is caught in an explosion and suffers a concussion, causing her to mistake Karolina (who had activated her glowing alien form in order to use her powers) for a fire. Since Klara is deathly afraid of fire, her Green Thumb powers suddenly turn into Gaia's Vengeance in order to protect her, trapping her teammates in a dense forest of vines. And then Chase, upset because his beloved pet Old Lace died in the explosion, decides to take out his rage on Klara, which naturally just makes her more scared and causes her powers to lash out even more.
    • Scarlet Witch, despite being one of Marvel's most powerful magic users, has had a variety of storylines where her fragile mental state has devastating consequences for the universe. It started when she was forced to forget a Deal with the Devil where she and The Vision have their idealized Nuclear Family. Suddenly remembering them starts a psychotic break that triggers Avengers Disassembled and later feeds into House of M, and it often falls to her father, brother, or occasionally Doctor Strange to keep her in check.
    • Storm was once tasked with seducing Doctor Doom as a distraction while the rest of the X-Men launched a rescue mission. Unfortunately for them, Doom was already onto their game and captures most of the team in sadistic deathtraps. For Storm herself, he encases her entire body in chrome, which has the effect of triggering her intense claustrophobia. As she panics, she unconsciously triggers a massive tropical storm that threatens to destroy the east coast. When the X-Men finally force Doom to release her, Storm has regressed into a savage, uncontrolled state that is called "Rogue Storm" — a character that both the cover and the story parallels to Dark Phoenix. In fact, Colossus uses their past experience with Dark Phoenix to calm Storm down enough that she turns back to normal and dismisses the storm.
    • In The Vision (2015), Virginia Vision is based on the Vision (which means there's some Ultron tech within her) with a facsimile of the above-mentioned powerful-but-mentally-fragile Scarlet Witch. When her children are threatened, she becomes increasingly homicidal and ruthlessly murders anyone who might pose a threat to her family. This sets off a string of events that culminates in her murdering brother-in-law Victor Mancha, then murdering the family dog, and finally committing suicide.
  • The DCU:
    • In Countdown to Final Crisis, Mary Marvel loses the powers originally bestowed upon her by Shazam, but a dying Black Adam grants her his own powers, which leads to Mary taking on much greater power with a new darker costume to go along with it. The villain Eclipso (herself once the wife of superhero The Atom) uses this to rapidly seduce Mary to evil, only for Mary to turn against her once she realizes she's gone too far. Almost immediately afterward, though, Mary receives a visit in her home from none other than Darkseid himself, who correctly guesses that despite her temporary reluctance, Mary is still addicted to the evil power and tempts her into receiving it once again.
    • Raven is infamous in-universe for the number of times she has manifested a Superpowered Evil Side and betrayed the Teen Titans, often at the bidding of her father, Trigon. There have even been instances in the comics where people have regarded her as akin to a ticking time bomb, who is always at risk of being corrupted, controlled, or seduced into betraying her friends.
    • In one 1970s The Flash story, Barry Allen's lab partner, Patty Spivot, was nearly struck by the same chemicals that gave him his powers. Barry immediately hypothesised a scenario where her inability to control her speed meant "Ms. Flash" caused more problems than she solved, and therefore moved her out of the way before they struck. Note that his reaction when the same thing happened to a teenaged boy had been to immediately recruit the kid as a partner. This was something of a Recycled Script from an earlier story involving an extradimensional female speedster whose lack of control was only in our dimension, and a Johnny Quick story in which his secretary accidentally duplicated his formula to become Joanie Swift, until he eventually convinced her she didn't want to be a superhero by using her fear of mice.

    Films — Animation 
  • Frozen plays with the trope. Elsa had repressed her ice powers since childhood, so they are an additional stressor when she is crowned queen. Not knowing how to handle them in public, she keeps the castle closed off from the rest of the world until her coronation day. When she reveals her powers to the court while arguing with her sister, who has had the powers hidden from her, over Elsa's decision to close off the castle again, she is branded a monster and runs away to the wilderness. In doing so, she embraces her powers but inadvertently plunges Arendelle into an Endless Winter for which she is demonized. However, thanks to The Power of Love and The Power of Family, she is able to rein in her powers and comfortably settle into the role of a Benevolent Mage Ruler by the film's end. The movie also gives reasons for her difficulty handling the situation besides her natural character; her parents also didn't know how to handle it and started the isolationist strategy in an attempt to protect her.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Subverted in Captain Marvel. Carol Danvers, unknowingly indoctrinated by the Kree, is told her energy powers have to be tempered by restraining her emotions, lest she lose control. Once she realizes this is just a lie to keep her their prisoner, Carol lets her energy run completely loose, becoming magnitudes more powerful and still in control.
  • The 1976 and 2013 adaptations of Carrie take this up to another level by depicting Carrie as a very sweet, borderline angelic character who shows kindness to everyone... until she discovers telekinesis and uses it to push back at anyone who hurts her, burning down her school, house, and entire town.
  • The Craft plays with this trope:
    • Nancy becomes increasingly unhinged and Ax-Crazy when she invokes the spirit to gain more power. However, it's indicated she wasn't the most stable girl to begin with and she's fixated on gaining power right from the start; it's her belief that having magical powers means she can do whatever she wants that makes things worse rather than her just having powers. When Sarah expresses reluctance at invoking the spirit herself because it "made Nancy crazy", Lirio states that it's actually all down to the individual witch and Nancy takes her power to "a dark place". After her powers are bound, Nancy completely loses it and is confined to a mental hospital, insisting she can fly.
    • Inverted with Sarah. She starts out as anxious and depressed, but becomes a lot happier when she starts practicing witchcraft. When she invokes the spirit and achieves her true potential, she goes from despairing and hysterical to calm and confident. She ends the film in the best place she's been in years, possibly ever.
  • Dark Phoenix, a retelling of Jean Grey's transition into Dark Phoenix. Jean is manipulated into becoming an incredibly powerful but still unstable young woman by the alien Vuk, and when her powers go haywire and kill Mystique, the X-Men start gunning for her. This film adds the context of Professor X suppressing Jean's powers when she was a little girl, which Beast calls him out on.
  • My Super Ex-Girlfriend: After becoming G-Girl, Jenny becomes a selfish, possessive, and controlling jerk.
  • Gender Inverted when it comes to Star Wars, where it's the male Force wielders whose powers are proportionate to their mental instability. Palpatine? Powerful and completely Drunk on the Dark Side. Anakin was powerful, but hotheaded and prone to abuse of his powers, eventually going full-blown Sith. His grandson in the sequel trilogy was profoundly unstable and prone to fits of uncontrollable rage. And Luke was prone to moodiness and poor judgement, even if he showed more restraint than his father and nephew. Female Force wielders like Ahsoka, Leia, and Rey tend to avoid the wild swings in emotion and keep their powers in check. Even Dark Side female Force users like the Nightsisters tend to be more restrained than their male counterparts.

    Literature 
  • Carrie White in Stephen King's Carrie and all of its adaptations. The trope is more muted in the original novel, where Carrie already struggles with her emotions as a result of her mother's abuse. However, after her psychic powers fully awaken, she becomes homicidal, vengeful, and eventually goes completely insane and murders over four hundred people in a single night while burning down half her hometown.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: After her husband King Robert's death, Cersei Lannister rules Westeros as Queen Regent for her son. While never the best person, she is at first kept in check by her father Tywin and brother Tyrion, who are both noted for their intelligence and strategic skill, as much as she resents it. After Tywin dies and Tyrion goes on the run, Cersei is left unrestrained and quickly goes downhill — she starts stress-drinking and becomes more overtly paranoid, cruel, and incompetent in her determination to keep the crown.
  • The Stormlight Archive: Queen Aesudan became regent of Alethkar when her King went to war, but soon began living in hedonistic excess while abandoning the common folk to starve, abetted by sycophantic priests. By Oathbringer, the capital is in chaos and Aesudan has become a Willing Channeler for Yelig-Nar the Unmade, who ultimately consumes her.
  • The Wheel of Time: Elaida seizes control of the Aes Sedai in a coup, styling herself an Iron Lady and the only one who can lead them in the Last Battle. She proves to be unstable, paranoid, and cruel; her reign causes a major schism and a war, with even her loyalists distrusting each other; and she does more harm to the Aes Sedai's international reputation than any leader in a millennium. It doesn't help that she's got The Mole within her inner circle who is trying to bring out the worst in her.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow Rosenberg's power as a witch increases over the seasons, and her arc in the last two seasons is chiefly devoted to this. She becomes increasingly reckless and arrogant in her use of magic in the early part of the sixth season and briefly becomes involved with a form of black magic that acts directly as an addictive drug. As a result, she impulsively swears off magic completely, but when her lover is murdered she "falls off the wagon", kills the man responsible and tries to kill his associates, attacks her friends when they try to take her down, and ends up trying to destroy the entire planet out of depression. The final season has her continuing to struggle to get on an even keel, constantly worrying that using magic to any powerful degree will drive her insane again.
  • For most of Game of Thrones, Daenerys shows that while she's not a perfect leader, she knows the horrors of the downtrod and is willing to listen and compromise with her advisers. Come season 8, when the Iron Throne is within her grasp, she snaps and razes King's Landing after the deaths of two of her beloved dragons, causing the deaths of thousands of innocents and forcing Tyrion and Jon to kill her.
  • Firefly: River Tam is a Teen Genius from a wealthy family who gained powerful Psychic Powers after being experimented on. Specifically, she wound up with a damaged amygdala, which affected her ability to properly filter, feel, or control her emotions — as her brother and caretaker Simon points out, "She feels everything; she can't not." As a result, she's highly unstable and prone to psychic freakouts and tantrums that potentially hurt the other characters, although she has stabilized a little by the end of Serenity due to the companionship of the crew.
  • Sherlock: The final episode of Season 4 introduces Eurus Holmes, Sherlock's sister, an inhumanly brilliant criminal mastermind described as being able to gain complete mental control over others just by talking to them for a few minutes. The plot of the episode is set in motion when she enacts an escape scheme she has spent years planning, eventually gaining absolute power over the high-security prison she was previously being held in. It's set up to look like she's planning world domination. At the end of the episode, however, Sherlock deciphers her clues for him and tracks her down to her hideaway, where he finds her curled in a ball and sobbing, claiming all she really wanted was his brotherly love. Sherlock remarks that underneath all her brilliance, she was just a scared little girl after all, with the implication that she was unable to handle the power she thought she wanted.
  • Vanya Hargreeves of The Umbrella Academy (2019) deconstructs this. She starts off The Team Normal in a Super Family Team and resentful of her adopted siblings. However, she turns out to be the most powerful of them after all and eventually causes the apocalypse the siblings were trying to prevent after Luther locks her up. However, this happens because her father figure had treated her as a ticking time bomb from the beginning by repressing her personality and powers (supernaturally and through drugs) and isolating her when she was young and had not allowed her to grow into them organically. In season two, with a clean slate and the love and support of people around her, she remasters her powers fairly quickly and becomes a force for good.
  • On I Am Not Okay With This, Sydney's powers are tied to her emotional state. She tries to suppress her emotions and just chill out so that she doesn't unleash them, only for Brad to ruin that at the High-School Dance by reading from her diary in front of the whole school, causing him to explode his head. As she puts it:
    "The less of a fuck I give, the less likely I am to break shit."

    Video Games 
  • Halo 5: Guardians: When Cortana is given access to the virtually infinite Forerunner network the Domain, she turns from a friendly companion to a ruthless AI supremacist with goals of galactic domination. This is in complete reversal to her depiction in Halo 4, where even when collapsing due to the AI equivalent of Alzheimer's she remained good-hearted and devoted to her loved ones.
  • Knights of the Old Republic: Played with when it comes to the female Jedi in the party. Juhani already came from a traumatic background before her Force Powers manifested. Even with her notoriously hot and cold temperament, she can be seen as an inversion, as it's the Jedi Code and training that's keeping her from lashing out. Bastila will spare no opportunity to point out how ever-present the Dark Side's threat is and while she does fall at the game's climax, it's less due to anything gendered and more Being Tortured Makes You Evil.
  • Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords: Played With. Atton Lampshades in his opening conversation by referring to Revan as a Dark Side female, the opposite of the "canonical" alignment and gender, but it becomes clear in hindsight that he was saying that in an attempt to misdirect the Exile. Atris turns out to be corrupted by her self-righteousness, but not all that powerful. Female party members like Visas, Handmaiden, and Mira are no more or less corruptible than the male party members. And out of the three Sith Lords in the game Darth Traya (aka Kreia) is the most in control of their mind and their powers.
  • In Suikoden V, Falenan Queen Arshhat becomes this after taking hold of the Sun Rune, one of the 27 True Runes, resulting in her destroying Lordlake before being put down so as to prevent her from potentially wiping out the entire nation of Falena itself. She's actually a Reasonable Authority Figure until the power of the Sun Rune corrupts her into insanity.
  • Tales of Legendia: The female lead, Shirley Fennes, is a Ferines — a race of aquatic people that have been at odds with humanity for centuries. Even more than that, she is the Merines, who has the ability to hear the voice of the Ferines' god and let him act through her. Later in the story, a group of antagonistic Ferines perform a ritual that revives the god in Shirley in the hopes that said god will wage war against humanity. Their plan nearly succeeds because around the same time, Shirley confesses her feelings to the protagonist Senel, who rejects her because he is still in love with her deceased older sister. After she runs away, her only remaining friend, Fenimore, is then killed by an army of attacking humans. These events push Shirley over the edge and make her much more susceptible to the god's influence, as her pain and rage is amplified. She spends the next portion of the game being one of the major antagonists, encouraged by the priest who had been plotting this all along.
  • Terra in Final Fantasy VI. A mysterious woman with magical powers, her story arc in the game revolves around her trying to master her powers and to learn her identity. She starts to fit this trope fully when she discovers that she is half-human and half-Esper, at which point her powers go completely out of control and she flies off uncontrollably into the horizon.

    Western Animation 
  • X-Men: Evolution:
    • Jean Grey starts to lose control of her psychic powers in the season 2 episode "Power Surge". Notably, unlike the previously-mentioned examples in the "Comic Books" and "Films - Live Action" folders, the Phoenix Force is not involved at all in this situation. When she loses all control, Rogue needed to drain her power to get them back under control, and she resumes training with Professor X in order to keep them that way.
    • Rogue undergoes one of her own in the Season 3 episode "Self Possessed", all the various personas and their respective abilities she's absorbed over the course of the series activating within her at random. An accidental absorbing of Mystique's powers while in her disguise as "Risty" causes Rogue to use her shapeshifting powers to literally transform into those personas and run amuck through Bayville before the other X-Men are able to get her to calm down.
  • Teen Titans: In addition to Raven's instabilities mentioned in the "Comic Books" folder being brought over to this series as well, this ends up being part of Terra's Adaptational Heroism, wanting to do good, but her inability to control her powers resulting in causing multiple natural disasters and her becoming a runaway in order to avoid hurting others, eventually turning to Slade when he promises to be able to give the control she so desperately wants.

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