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"Now I see that my life's hardships can all be traced back to a single event. Psychoanalysis is so easy when you're an anime character."

In real life psychological issues stem from many sources, some biological, some cognitive, and some related to experiences and memories, and overcoming them often takes lots of time effort, and sometimes medication. However, this is a little too complicated for fiction. It's much easier when all a person's problems stem from a single traumatic incident, and working through that single incident will instantly cure them, so fiction tends to represent psychology this way.

Compare: Freudian Excuse, when Single-Issue Psychology is used to explain the Big Bad's actions. See also Bored with Insanity.

Examples of Single-Issue Psychology include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Nodame Cantabile, Chiaki is unable to pursue his dream of becoming a world-class conductor because an incident in his childhood (watching a man die while their plane was crashing at the age of 10) gave him a phobia of flying. Partially averted in relation to the cure of the phobia, since Nodame's hypnosis compels him to get on a plane, but he's still terrified, and only after many times traveling without incident does he get used to the experience.
  • Rosemarine from Kaze to Ki no Uta would have been more stable if he hadn't been raped by Auguste.
  • Great Teacher Onizuka relies heavily on this trope. Nearly all of the students (and several of the other teachers) have incredibly hostile personalities, but once Onizuka finds out about the traumatic event in their pasts, one dramatic example is usually enough to at least tone them down, although many continue to struggle with their old problems throughout the series, or acquire new ones.
  • Despite the page quote, the situation with Asuka is a bit more complicated. Most of her mental issues reach back to her mother going insane and subsequently killing herself, fact, but it does seem as if she had problems beyond that. It's mentioned that her mother neglected Asuka even before her illness, and the rest of her childhood was apparently pretty bad too: her relationships with her father and stepmother seem to be horrible (in the flashback to the hanging scene, she mentions that she 'doesn't have a papa') and completely loveless respectively. She lumps them both in as people she hates. Hearing her father and future stepmother going at it at the hospital probably contributed to her unhealthy attitude toward sex as well.
    • Right before the most-graphic portrayal of her mother's suicide, we see the little girl running toward Mom shouting It's All About Me in classic-Asuka fashion; presumably, some of her self-absorption dates further back.
      • All kids are like that at that age. A lot of memories at that age are not set in stone, as well. One's attitude to and impressions of what happened are important in how one remembers them, perhaps even more important than what really happened. In the end it doesn't matter, though, because she certainly remembers her (early) childhood to be fairly... not conducive to a healthy and balanced personality.
  • Half the cast of Naruto fit this trope pretty well. Not so much in the "one trauma" thing- that is there, but they are usually well aware of it. Rather, in the Defeat Means Friendship way, in that their trauma tends to inform their philosophy of life and fighting, which is why Naruto (or whoever they are facing) can't defeat or understand them. Its more like they are shocked that people can have as bad or worse lives than they had, but not be a psychological trainwreck.
    • Though the big one, Sasuke, averts it. He's had to confront his issues repeatedly over the course of the series but, while he made progress a few times, they still continued to haunt and drive him, plus each time he looked like he was getting better something came along that screwed it all up; currently he's crazier than ever, and thats after dealing with the source of his troubles (albeit in a fight to the death). In Part 1 Kakashi actually warned him that he wouldn't be able to play this trope straight, since he'd seen too many people like Sasuke who let revenge consume their lives, even after they had achieved it, because their issues by then had grown beyond the initial trauma.
    • Naruto, as well, since though he had, as he put it, been "saved" from his depressingly lonely childhood and the neurosis that went with it early on in the story, it was only the worst of it that was over, and he spent much of the rest of the story gradually overcoming them, as well as constantly running into situations that brought back his painful memories.
    • Inverted with Gaara. Defeat Equals Friendship and sanity is in play after his fights with Sasuke and Naruto brought his issue to the fore, but while he's cured surprisingly easily of being a deranged and psychotic Serial Killer, and is now closer to his family and has friends, he is still emotionally withdrawn and obviously has some progress to make.

Comic Books

  • For the first fifty or so issues of Justice Society of America, Obsidian was portrayed as a threat to himself and others and as suffering from symptoms superficially akin to schizophrenia. This culminated in his attempt to destroy the world, which was thwarted by his father's The Power of Love speech. Obsidian hasn't been in any need of treatment since then, judging by subsequent apperances: apparently, working through his daddy issues was enough to entirely cure him. In this case, the "voice" he was hearing was, in fact, genuinely another entity, making it less "paranoid schizophrenia" and more "daddy issues and receiving a metric tonne of malicious advice". It would still probably be more complicated than it was portrayed to resolve, but it's not quite as bad as curing schizophrenia. Also, in a recent issue one of his teammates worried aloud if had stopped taking his medication when he began to act strangely, suggesting that when not medicated his problems may return.
  • Batman's entire life, obsession, and psyche hinges on the night his parents were killed in front of him. Later events (the death of the second Robin, nearly shooting Alexander Luthor, being cast through time by a mad god) merely add nuance to his behavior.
    • Reconstructed in Batman Begins. The death of Thomas and Martha Wayne were the main reason that lead Bruce to become the dark avenger that he was later, but it was still only one of the many incidents that contributed to it.
  • Subverted in Batman: The Killing Joke, where the Joker tries to prove that going through one bad experience can change someone into a maniac like him, in this case Commissioner Gordon by kidnapping him, abusing him, and crippling his daughter. It doesn't work.
    • Similar thing happens in The Dark Knight, but the Joker does it to Harvey Dent this time, and this time it works, resulting in Two-Face. However, there are at least hints that Harvey was already on the slippery slope when the Joker pushed him off.
    • There's also Two Face in the comics rather than the movie, who originally only had his scarring to contribute to his insanity. Eventually, he was given a severely screwed up mentality including issues due to Abusive Parents and problems with rage, which the scarring only pushed into pure insanity.
  • Alan Moore actually deeply dislikes this trope, believing instead that characters should be complex enough that their personalities can't easily be encompassed by short blanket summaries. He mocked the concept in Writing for Comics: "I was just standing there, looking at my stamp album and the priceless collection that it had taken me years to build, when all of a sudden I realized that since I had foolishly pasted all of them directly into the album using an industrial-strength adhesive, they were completely worthless. I understood then that the universe was just a cruel joke upon mankind, and that life was pointless. I became completely cynical about human existence and saw the essential stupidity of all effort and human striving. At this point I decided to join the police force."
  • Spider-Man's obsession with being Spider-Man stems entirely from his guilt over letting a robber get away who wound up killing Uncle Ben. He consistently reminds himself that the one time he ignored his "responsibility" it cost him his father figure.
    • However, the comic and even the live action films show even this as not being enough to keep Peter in the game at times and he leaves crimefighting, or tries to cash in, or tries to have his powers stripped away. Anytime he begins to act selfish, karma slaps him in the face and sets him straight.
  • Magneto averts this, despite how most adaptations portray it. The Holocaust was as horrifyingly traumatic for him as you'd expect, but in the mainstream comics it actually took him a couple of decades worth of other horrifying incidents to make him into a supervillain. Principal amongst them is the murder of his daughter by an angry mob (and abandonment by his wife after going berserk with his new-found powers on them); followed by befriending and falling out with Charles Xavier over budding ideological differences after fighting Neo-Nazi's; then working for and being betrayed by a Western Intelligence agency so they could help a Nazi defect, killing his then-girlfriend in the process...and a few other things besides all that. It's only then that he actually becomes Magneto, and even after all that it was suggested his behaviour can be explained by his powers giving him Bi Polar Disorder and driving him insane, assuming he's not just a Jerkass because thats who he is.

Fan Fiction

  • Avoided in the Terinu AU fanfics Grace of God and Spin Recovery. The alternate universe version of Rufus did suffer from a major trauma, but he managed to inflict plenty of lesser ones upon himself in subsequent years, which he still has to attend therapy and take plenty of corrective drugs to deal with.
  • In the Ranma ½ fic, The Bitter End, Akane's rage disorder is depicted as stemming from Akane's "inability" to fight off Death and save her mother. (Note that Akane was barely older than a toddler when her mother died). An obsession exacerbated by Ranma's seeming ability to overcome any opponent.
  • Averted in Hunting the Unicorn; Kurt and Blaine's issues stem from a number of factors, ranging from their own faults and insecurities to various events in their lives.
  • While Jessie went through a series of misfortunes in Cori Falls's fics, all of her hangups and angst can be traced back to her mother dying and leaving her all alone in the world. She's cured by meeting both sets of grandparents and an uncle, and learning the truth about her parents' time together and why her dad left.


  • Mel Brooks' character in the movie High Anxiety, arguably a parody of this sort of thing.
  • Surprisingly averted in the movie Analyze This. In a wacky comedy about a mobster's analyst, you'd expect there to be one big issue that would, when revealed, leave the mobster miraculously cured. Instead, there is one major trauma -- which, when touched upon, opens up a heaving wall of repressed guilt and grief, and renders the mobster an emotional wreck for weeks. After he pulls himself together he and his analyst agree that, while he's had a breakthrough, he's far from cured and needs a lot more therapy.
  • In Citizen Kane, all of Kane's psychological problems are rooted in him having been taken from his mother when he was eight. This lack of love led to him spending the rest of his life trying (and failing) to win other people's love through superficial means. Although there is one root cause for all his problems, there is still no happy ending for him...
  • Seen in the Star Trek V: The Final Frontier where Spock's brother, Sybok, has the power to discover everyone's 'one trauma'.
  • In The President's Analyst, the title character gets out of a forced defection to the USSR by getting his KGB captor to realize, in very short order, that he became a spy only out of fear of his father, who had arrested his mother in a Stalin-era purge. He does tell the spy that a cure through analysis is possible but would take years, which he couldn't possibly do if he were bundled off to Russia....
  • Subverted in The Conversation. Main character Harry Caul avoids his terror over having others harmed by his surveillance work by completely ignoring the consequences of what he does. At first, it seems like this is due to a vague job he did some years earlier involving a union dispute, but a Dream Sequence has him narrate his early childhood to an unconcerned female passerby including how he accidentally killed a friend of his father's. In the end, this isn't even the worst of his problems.

  "I'm not afraid of dying... but I am afraid of murder."

  • Subverted in Reign Over Me : Main character Charlie Fineman is a broken shell of a man since his family died during 9/11. He seems to be getting better when he's with his old college friend Alan, but relapses often in the course of the movie. Even when he finally opens up about his issues, it's obvious he still has a very long way to go before he's really cured.
  • In Good Will Hunting, Will, who has successfully fended off helpful and unhelpful psychotherapy throughout the movie, is cured of all his issues at the end by exchanging graphic memories of their respective abusive childhoods with Sean, then crying as Sean repeatedly tells him, "It's not your fault." It was cited by some critics as the one thing in the movie that seems like it was written by people as young as Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were at the time.
    • I guess if you watch the film with this trope in mind it could come off that way, but the movie itself didn't seem to imply that he was all better now. Rather, he had finally turned a corner, admitted to himself what he was feeling and what he really wanted, and let himself be vulnerable with another person. This breakthrough gives him the confidence to face his fear of abandonment and pursue his love interest across the country. Facing a fear doesn't mean you aren't afraid anymore though...
  • Lars and the Real Girl partly averts this. Lars's problems are all connected to his childhood and his parents, but there's no single defining event--many negative experiences made him the way he is.


  • Used in The Seven Percent Solution, where Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis of Sherlock Holmes traces his misogyny, his hatred of the innocent Professor Moriarty, and his constant search for justice, to one event: when Holmes witnessed his father kill his mother and her lover. Moriarty comes to be hated by Holmes either as the bearer of bad news (Freud's version) or because he played some deeper but unknown role in the affair (Watson's version, based on observations of Mycroft Holmes). Subverted slightly: Freud helped Holmes through his cocaine addiction in another way entirely.
  • Played straight and subverted in House of Leaves, where one of the several narrators relates to the reader a period of several months where he lived with a kind doctor friend and his loving wife, who helped him get his life back together mostly by prescribing him one medication. The subversion comes at the end of the chapter, where the narrator tells you he made the whole thing up and then laughs at you for believing such a ridiculous story.
  • In The Color Purple, the high-spirited Sofia is a broken shell for some time after being released from prison. It takes just one opportunity to make a good joke at the dinner table to snap her out of it, and she's her old self again.
  • Justified in the Everworld series, with Jalil's OCD. One of the few things he likes about Everworld that there, his OCD goes away. Partially subverted in that it literally is like an on-off switch: he continues to experience it in the "real world" as he alternates between the two. Brutally played with in a mental torture scene.
  • The patients of Brazilian character O Analista de Bagé (The Bagé Analyst) are usually this. And solved through his unorthodox methods, which usually involve violence/fear for males and sex for females ("we can only hit women to relax!").
  • Averted in The Regeneration Trilogy, with the characters being based on real people and being set in a mental health institution. Although traumatic events are described, they are likened to the straw which breaks the camels back and it is the long gruelling state of the war in the trenches that is the cause for the patients breakdowns. Also, lots of focus is given to the patients' history prior to the war.
  • Subverted in Trainspotting. Mark Renton (a drug addict) has several different psychiatrists trying to tell him that everything wrong with him is the result of a single issue, though they disagree on what the issue is. The fact that he doesn't believe them is confirmation that, despite being addled by heroin, he is by no means stupid.

Live Action TV

  • In Everybody Loves Raymond, before Ray was born, Mamma used to play the old "airplane" game when feeding Robert, invariably touching his chin before she put the spoon in his mouth. When Ray came along and became the eternal centre of attention, Robert was left to fend for himself and subconsciously began touching his food to his chin the way Mom used to do. This never gets resolved. They just found out why he does it, but he didn't stop (though the audience now had one more reason to like him). His doing it then just fell into Running Gag status.
  • The patient-of-the-week in any M*A*S*H episode that includes Dr. Sidney Freedman. And that Single Issue is almost always The War. There is at least one exception: the patient was Hawkeye, and the problem was rooted in a childhood experience in which his cousin pushed him off a boat. It was still a single issue, though. Possibly justified in the cases of most 'victims of the week', since Sidney was mostly just charged with getting a diagnosis so they could get a handle on what to do with the kid in question. Usually the diagnosis was "Send him home, he needs a lot more therapy than we can give him in the middle of a war zone."
  • Parodied in 3rd Rock from the Sun when it is discovered that Evil Dick is the way he is because of an unloving father. This is unearthed during a scene played as a mock tabloid talk show.
  • Subverted in Red Dwarf. We meet Ace Rimmer, a parallel universe's version of Arnold Rimmer. Ace lives up to his name, while our Rimmer is a cowardly, neurotic, bullying, officious, psychological train wreck. We learn that the difference between them is that one Rimmer undeservingly passed a grade in school, while the other was held back. The subversion is that it's the loser-Rimmer who got the lucky break; Ace got left down a year and learned to stand up for himself as a result. Rimmer's the mess he is today for lack of a single traumatic event.
  • Subverted and played straight in The Tenth Kingdom: Wolf's issues with food, love, and his animal urges are hilariously sent up in scenes with a New York Jewish psychiatrist, and after only one session (which he later describes to Virginia as "extensive therapy") he suddenly pronounces himself a changed man and produces "the books to prove it," consisting of several titles of real, well-known self-help books. These books make the journey with the heroes and, seemingly after one read-through, manage to correct character flaws and induce positive developments in all the protagonists. On the other hand, the source of the Evil Queen's wicked nature seems to stem from one event: once it is revealed that she is actually Virginia's missing mother, Tony then reveals that she attempted to drown Virginia as a little girl because she was 'sick and getting worse and worse', a rather vague statement of mental illness. And it was this instability that made her easy prey for Snow White's Wicked Stepmother.
    • To be fair, Wolf as a character acts as Plucky Comic Relief most of the time, and even after enthusiastically devouring (pardon the pun) the self-help books with all their cliched phrases and pop-psychology he's still half-werewolf and can't entirely control his urges (such as during full moon).
    • The Evil Queen was also a could-have-been starlet with an unplanned-for daughter and a husband who went from business tycoon to janitor thanks to a lousy investment.
  • Averted on The Colbert Report. While the character Colbert is clearly very screwed up, the writers introduce new reasons for him to be that way about as often as they introduce new screwups. One fan theory is that the character is exhibiting symptoms of PTSD: again, from a whole bucket of different traumas, ranging from his abusive parents to his repressed homosexuality. Either way, he's clearly not going to be 'fixed' any time soon.
  • On Thirty Rock:
    • Jack gets Tracy an appointment with the staff therapist to deal with Tracy's combative attitude. Over the therapist's objection, the two start up a role-playing session with Jack playing Tracy's dad, mom, the upstairs neighbor, Tracy himself, the man his mom ran off with (in a rapid-fire stream of comical impersonations)...and within a minute Tracy is weeping and cured...of his compulsion to transgress, anyway. He's still a complete madman otherwise.
    • Jack helps Liz realize that her sexual issues stem from a childhood trauma involving rollerblades and a Tom Jones poster. While the trope is specifically defied in that he assures her she'll still need years of therapy, they do realize that she can function much better if she avoids Tom Jones posters.
  • Subverted in Slings and Arrows. The main character goes crazy for a while after his fiancee cheats on him with his director, but years later (after that specific trauma has been dealt with) he is still experiencing unpredictable mood swings and the like.
  • Deconstructed by Mulder in The X-Files episode "Oubliette". When Scully suggests that Mulder's willingness to protect the potential suspect was due to the fact that she was a kidnapping victim (like Mulder's own sister), he argues that not everything he does goes back to his sister and states that "sometimes motivations for behavior can be more complex and mysterious than tracing them back to one single childhood experience". Despite that, though, it is beyond doubt that Mulder's obvious Big Brother Instinct is a consequence of his sister's abduction.


  • The title character of the rock opera Tommy is thrown into a borderline catatonic state by the childhood trauma of watching in a mirror as his biological father kills his mother's second husband. After years of unsuccessful attempts to treat his condition, his mother loses her temper and smashes the mirror he's staring into -- and he's instantly cured.
  • Averted in Equus. Adam's problems are a result of various issues that were building up over his entire life, and he would probably have continued to be a fairly normal (if withdrawn) boy if they had been spotted earlier, or if there hadn't been a fairly specific series of triggers. The psychiatrist uses the metaphor of a group of metal pins lying scattered with no shape or structure, until a magnet is applied to one part and then suddenly all these previously harmless experiences and thoughts snap together and form links to various outcomes.

Video Games

  • Die Anstalt is a Flash game based entirely on this trope; every toy so far has one, singular psychological issue and once you get them to face it and accept it, they are cured. The process of treating each of the insane plush toys is incredibly complex and risky, though, and a mis-treatment can cause them to completely revert to their original state, so at least the game subverts Epiphany Therapy. That said, the Ridiculously Cute Critter and Kick the Dog factor alone makes the headaches worth it.
    • Justified (or subverted maybe?) with the toy snake: he doesn't have "an issue" at all. He's got a tail full of hallucinogens. The secret to curing him is keeping him coherent long enough to find this out, then performing surgery.
  • The Big Bad and some of the asylum patients in Psychonauts can be cured through finding out what their specific issue is and then defeating the level boss in order to cure them. To be fair, this battle is going on inside their minds rather than outside their heads and much of the cure seems to be sorting out their problems on a very deep level in a metaphorical fashion.
    • Also averted in that you also help relieve emotional baggage, remove the clutter of figments, clean up the mental cobwebs, and unlock mental vaults to further cement their sanity. Though any major problems can probably be fixed with a boss battle.
      • Also averted in that the slide-shows reveal in pictures nuances to the character's issues, without bogging narrative with exposition and explanation, without slowing down gameplay, and without going over the heads of the intended audience.
      • Even further averted in relation to people like Big Bad who are capable of hiding some issues from even the deepest mental probing, the only reason you can cure Olieander is because his mind becomes tangled with the main character's less crazy mind. Not to mention the security guard whose mind was so twisted that Raz made him even worse after the boss fight.
      • The last may be a minor moment of character development for Raz as well; he didn't go in with the intention of making Boyd better. He just wanted to find the Milkman, who had the keys to get past a door. He succeeded far too well, and when you get down to it, Plot Armor is the only reason a lot of people didn't die that night as a result (and that's the only reason Boyd ends up at all better). Raz's attitude towards the minds he enters gets a bit more altruistic after that point.
  • Averted as much as logistically possible with Jack in Mass Effect 2. She's a big bundle of crazy, caused by the fact that she grew up tortured and experimented on. Blowing up the facility she grew up in is a big step, but talking to her before and after is what really helps her get a hold of her sanity.


  • In Megatokyo, Piro and particularly Kimiko are subject to a whole host of deep and troublesome issues (Kimiko's boss directly identifies Kimiko as the 'neurotic, messed up kind of actor') but none of them have any real source or solution. Largo and Erika on the other hand tie many of their issues to a single event, one which both of them prove extremely melodramatic about. Largo hangs all the neuroses that he cares about on the Endgames incident. He was probably still an obsessive, hard-drinking, and generally unstable guy before that, because he seems to think that's fine and normal. Erika, on the other hand, sees her big incident not as the cause of all her problems, but as the moment of her epiphany, when she realised just how screwed up her life had become. It proceeded to get even more screwed up from there, of course.
  • Parodied in these two Sluggy Freelance strips.
  • Averted and lampshaded in The Class Menagerie. "And you're always bugging everyone to work hard so you'll fit in, right?" "No, I'm just a perfectionist. This doesn't define all my traits, you know."

Western Animation

  • Parodied in The Simpsons, where Marge had a fear of flying related entirely to the shame of learning her father was a flight attendant. Her many, many other traumas coincidentally related to airplanes were ignored by her psychologist: "Yes, yes, it's all a rich tapestry." Inverted in that they were ignored not because they weren't relevant, but because now that they had made headway with her fear of flying Marge's therapist wanted to move forward with her far more serious problem- being married to Homer.
    • Similarly parodied in the episode where Homer reveals that he found a corpse when he was twelve: "It's responsible for everything wrong with my life! My occasional overeating! My fear of corpses!" While his examples make logical sense, there is certainly a lot more with Homer's life that's wrong.
    • It is implied that Mr. Smithers is gay because of a lie Mr. Burns told him when he was young.

 Mr Burns: I told him his father was killed in the Amazon by a tribe of savage women. (to Smithers) I hope it didn't affect you in any way.

Smithers: We'll never know, sir.

    • In another one, Ned Flanders has a huge string of bad luck culminating in his family's house being destroyed by a hurricane. Eventually he snaps and yells at the whole town, after everybody had turned out and done a poor job of rebuilding his house. He checks himself into a mental hospital where we learn that Ned never learned to express anger. This is apparently because he was a hellion as a child, and his parents were beatniks who never disciplined him. He got over that by being spanked continuously for a year by a therapist. That same therapist comes back and gets Ned to admit that he hates his parents, and Ned is immediately "cured." Hard to be completely sure if it's supposed to be a subversion, a parody, or what. However, considering Ned then says, with a cheery grin and an eye tick, that he'll run anyone who really pisses him off over with his car, and that this is The Simpsons, you'd get good odds on a parody.
  • In the Day in The Limelight episode "The Beach" of Avatar: The Last Airbender, all four of the Fire Nation teenagers explain that their personalities are entirely to blame from Single Defining Psychoses (save Zuko): Ty Lee joined the circus and craves attention because she was ignored in a set of seven sisters, Mai has no emotions because her mom shut her down whenever she tried to express herself, and Azula believes that her mom hated her (although Azula is a sociopath and admits as much). They eventually decide the best therapy is to completely trash the house of the guy who slighted them together. Well, they are still the villains in the story.

 Azula: {Morose} My own mother... thought I was a monster... {Upbeat} She was right of course, but it still hurt.

    • A very long argument can be made fan war can be caused over Azula's sociopathy and her mother's opinion of her and which one is the cause and the effect. In fact, before it was edited out, there was one right on this page. However, whatever one's view, the end result of this episode seems to be that Azula is still as messed-up as ever and as Mai later admits to having fallen deeply in love with Zuko and Ty Lee joins a group of fighters in identical uniform and face paint, one assumes they got over their respective issues.
  • While the writers deserve credit for giving a fairly accurate explanation of dissociative disorders, its demographic pretty much demanded that the horrific abuse aspect be trimmed down. Instead, Harvey "Two-Face" Dent in Batman: The Animated Series has a Split Personality as a result of a single, seemingly harmless childhood misunderstanding in an otherwise healthy upbringing that led to his emotional repression. However, Harvey's knowledge of that misunderstanding as an adult hasn't cured him, and of course, getting betrayed, nearly killed and grotesquely scarred only makes things worse...
    • The other villains in the animated series also tend to follow a similar pattern while narrowly averting the trope. Except for the Joker, who's just flat-out crazy, many of the villains start off with single-issue mental disturbances: the Mad Hatter is an Alice-fixated Stalker with a Crush, the Riddler is obsessed with winning, the Scarecrow is a lifelong sadist. But we never find out, at least within the animated series, what sort of experiences might have driven them to their current mental state.
    • Batman himself, of course, might also count, as his crime-fighting obsession (which has been portrayed at times as stemming from an extremely unhealthy Guilt Complex) seems to come entirely from witnessing his parents' death. The DCAU develops his history enough to gradually avert it (notably, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm shows that he was ready to put his obsession to rest until Andrea's apparent abandonment of him left him all the more embittered and devoted to the cause), while the Joker sadistically mocks him for it in Return of the Joker...

 Joker: "Behind all the sturm and batarangs, you're just a little boy in a playsuit, crying for mommy and daddy! It'd be funny if it weren't so pathetic. Oh what the heck, I'll laugh anyway!"

  • Inverted in Birdz: Morty Storkowitz's regular patient, Mr. Nuthatch, has a different hang-up in every episode.

Web Original

Real Life

  • Some of Freud's early formulations suggested that once you unearthed someone's big ol' trauma, they were cured. However, he became dissatisfied with this idea once he noticed some of his patients relapsing. Unfortunately, between his more dogmatic followers and those who only bothered to read his early writings, this trope got well-lodged into the zeitgeist and has been extensively mined (and even called "real psychology" even decades after Freud's death.
  • Additionally, Freud and others eventually wrote that there is still a kernel of truth in this idea, but the effect of the 'one big trauma' tends to be more of the 'taking out the keystone of the arch of the coping mechanism' variety. All the other traumas and various other psychological issues were being dealt with healthily right up until this one trauma came along and, well, if you've ever seen what happens to an arch when the keystone is removed...Which, of course, ties back into the main complaint about this trope's misuse. Sure you can fix/rebuild/etc. a person's 'emotional keystone', but that won't rebuild the entire arch by itself.