Berserk Button

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"However, you called me by that name. Anyone who calls me by that name dies. That's the policy."

Touko Aozaki, Kara no Kyoukai, right before siccing an Eldritch Abomination on a magus.

So you're dealing with a character who seems perfectly normal. He's a Nice Guy; friendly, sociable, and well-adjusted, saving stray kittens and helping old ladies cross the street on the way to his day job of working at a soup kitchen.

But then you make a mistake. You happen to mention in passing what you think is a fairly innocuous observation, maybe pointing out that he could stand to lose a little weight, or is a little on the short side, or maybe could use a girlfriend, or you do something that you think is no big deal in their presence, like question Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?. And the character instantly goes ballistic, flying into a screaming, frothing, sometimes tearful Unstoppable Rage, from which you will be lucky to escape with your life.

You have just pressed the Berserk Button.

The Berserk Button is one type of Trigger, where the response is one of extreme anger.

In comedic works, the Berserk Button tends to be a physical feature that the character is insecure or in denial about, like his height. Animals also don't seem to like having their species misidentified. Comedic Berserk Buttons are often used to make an otherwise unflappable character lose his or her cool and go off on a hilarious rant. In cartoons, you can usually tell when a Berserk Button has been hit when the character who has it turns bright red and steam starts shooting out their ears.

In dramatic works, the Berserk Button is often tied to something important about a character; a particularly hated enemy, or a painful failure that hits too Close to Home. Insulting the memory of a Dead Little Sister, for example, or pitying someone who insists "Don't You Dare Pity Me!." Many characters, particularly heroes, have a Berserk Button over someone messing with or threatening people they care about. If you're unfortunate enough to hit someone's Berserk Button in a dramatic work, being on the receiving end of a rant is the very least of your worries depending on the situation and the character.

Here are some related tropes:

A Trigger Phrase can produce externally similar results if a seemingly innocent word or phrase makes the character go berserk. The key difference is that a Berserk Button is a personality trait, often with a specific Hollywood Psych cause, while a Trigger Phrase is a result of hypnotism, brain programming or another kind of Mind Control.

Contrast against Corner of Woe, where the offended person ends up depressed instead of enraged. If nearly everything seems to be a person's Berserk Button, they have a Hair-Trigger Temper.

Examples of Berserk Button are listed on these subpages: