Conditioned to Accept Horror

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

A character who is conditioned to accept a rather horrible, disturbing fate in life does so with a smile on their face. Why must they engage in this Senseless Waste of Human Life? As it turns out, they've been conditioned for it. Literally. Their life, memories, and personal experiences have all been deliberately designed so that they genuinely enjoy, understand, and accept the macabre world they've been placed in, even as people from a different context are terrified just observing them.

This is a very cerebral trope, as the ability of a person to accept such gruesomeness as commonplace and accept their fate without thinking about it raises a lot of questions about the human condition. Don't be surprised if some authors try to sidestep the issue entirely by having the heroes "educate" the conditioned target as to the right way of thinking.

For specifics character types, the Barrier Maiden is sometimes trained this way to get them to accept their job. The Apocalypse Maiden might get told they need to be sacrificed so that they don't, y'know, bring about the apocalypse. Sometimes overlaps with Face Death with Dignity, this person often seems to be a Martyr Without a Cause until the reasons are explained (and sometimes even after).

A common component of Training from Hell and The Spartan Way. Overlaps with Let's Meet the Meat when the horror part comes from a food source being sentient. Can be part of a Crap Saccharine World. Compare with Epiphanic Prison.

Examples of Conditioned to Accept Horror include:

Anime and Manga

  • Gunslinger Girl used this as an early conceit. The girls are very sweet and can pass for normal in public, but they cannot comprehend the idea that there's anything morose or negative in the fact that they must kill people on command, most of the time without knowing why. This is best summed up in an early story where Rico realizes she must kill a busboy she befriended earlier because he's a witness. At first it seems like she's hesitating for human reasons, but it turns out that she was trying to remember the words "I'm sorry". That she had to kill him was never a doubt in her mind.
  • Rei in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Her character relationship arc with Shinji is based largely on how he questions why she feels this is necessary. Mostly it's the fault of Shinji's dad.
  • Hansel and Gretel of Black Lagoon end up as Creepy Twins due to this trope.
  • The main character of Pandora Hearts can accept anything life throws at him — death, being thrown into an extra-dimensional hell/prison, stuff like that. Most disturbingly, he actually conditioned himself into this as opposed to the usual premise of it having been performed by morally dubious characters. Naturally, this creeps the heck out of his friends.
  • Fate Testarossa in the first season of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha seemed to genuinely believe that her mother's abuse of her was a good enough substitute for parental affection, because she has never actually experienced the latter (other than in Alicia's memories). So much, she even defended her mother's actions to her familiar Arf.
  • Hibiki from Bloody Monday Season 2 is perfectly understanding about the possibility of dying and being replaced because not only has she been trained to be a perfect agent since childhood, she also has seven identical clones and all of them were specifically bred for spying.

Comic Books

  • Bella Donna Boudreaux was raised to be a professional hitwoman, from at least the time she was eight years old, and possibly younger. As a result she has no qualms about committing murder.
  • Kick-Ass' "sidekick" Hit-Girl has no qualms about vigilante murder and even killing mooks for money. She has been trained by her father to be a killing machine because he wanted a more exciting life.
  • In Batman, the hitman Cain has raised his daughter Cassandra from an early age to be nothing but a killing machine. In fact, it was his intention that violence and martial arts be the only language in which she is fluent, and she is, for all intents and purposes, mute.
    • While successful at making her into a nigh-unstoppable fighting machine, Cain's regimen actually backfired massively when it came to conditioning Cass psychologically. The first time she killed someone her abilities meant she could 'read' all the target's emotions as he died, making the experience even more traumatizing than it would be for a regular six-year-old. She converted to Thou Shalt Not Kill on the spot.
    • Not to mention Batman's own son Damian, who was raised by the League of Assassins and conditioned to not only kill but to enjoy killing.
  • Raven of the Teen Titans is an Apocalypse Maiden who, since birth, was trained to seal away her emotions, despite the fact that she was an empath who thrived off other people's emotions.

Fan Works


  • Rambo is particularly notable in that he realizes he's so conditioned to accept horror that he doesn't actually have any idea what he's supposed to do with his life now that the war's over. The entire premise of the movie is pretty much him demanding an answer to this question and not getting one. Later movies "solved" this problem by tossing Rambo into typical action movie plots against Exclusively Evil nemeses. The original book, by contrast, ended with Rambo killed as a result of his inability to adapt.
  • The first half of Full Metal Jacket. Some might say that Kubrick depicted this trope a bit too well.
  • The Hunted featured a character who was trained to be proficient in close-quarters knife assault tactics. This type of assassination is very emotionally taxing, and combat training comes with it conditioning to help make close-range murder easier on the psyche. The main conflict in the movie comes when the main character, having gone through this training, is utterly unable to relinquish violence and reintegrate into the world.


  • Nineteen. Eighty. Four. The whole world has fallen below the Despair Event Horizon yet the people have been conditioned to accept the fact and just live their drab lives worshiping Big Brother or not giving a shit about politics despite trying to survive in such a suicide-encouraging hellhole plagued by constant and immutable war, poverty and paranoia, with the Party members getting the worst of it, thanks to the corrupt Big Brother Is Watching regime. Also, if a Party member even thinks of going against the will of Big Brother, he is even more conditioned to accept horror via Room 101. O'Brien even openly admitted that only pure power is what keeps the Dystopia alive and the future is pretty much "a boot stamping on a human face forever".
    • Winston is subjected to a little piece of personal horror when he recalls how he walked through a district that had just been hit by a bomb, and casually kicked a severed human arm into the gutter as though it were a stone or a piece of debris.
  • Never Let Me Go has this as the central tragic plot point. As terrifying as the fate of the Hailsham students is when it's finally revealed to the reader, it's not particularly remarkable to Kathy, who mentions it casually while talking about something else. It genuinely doesn't even occur to anyone that they could do something else with their lives.
  • Brave New World has an entire society of people who don't engage in any meaningful intellectual thought, or for that matter, much of anything. Aside from the few characters intelligent enough to realize how blithe all this is, everyone seems to enjoy it.
  • The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy features food that's been conditioned bred to want to be eaten. Arthur Dent, being a normal human from Earth rather unused to this, is a little disturbed.
  • Bethan, the sacrificial maiden from The Light Fantastic.
  • In The Giver, people who work with the very young or the old are conditioned to accept euthanasia as a fact of life, starting from their early adolescence.
  • In The Sparrow, the Runao are conditioned to serve the Jana'ata. In every sense of the word. Including the Twilight Zone sense of the word.
    • After some jarring injustices, one of the humans teaches the Runao the old Earth adage of "We are many, they are few". The Jana'ata that are there to hear this being chanted, understandably, flip out and try to pull a Total Party Kill; their entire civilization hinged on the Runao never making that connection (the Runao outnumber the Jana'ata population something like 10:1 at least, even if they are pacifist herbivores).
    • In the sequel Children of God, the Jana'ata's fears are proven exactly right and they are almost hunted to extinction by the Runao.
  • Many of the Calla from The Dark Tower series have come to accept how the Wolves take away one twin from each pair, and return them in a mentally and physically damaged condition. Granted, this is more likely to be true among those Calla whose own children are too young or old to be taken.
  • In a more short-term manner, Basini in The Confusions of Young Törless regards what his classmates do to him with a childish acceptance. It isn't clear whether this is due to real innocence, because he is genuinely complicit in it, because the way in which they frame their advances and "experiments" has eased him into accepting them as okay... or because he has been abused before.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's book Mirror Dance, the clone Lily Jr. knows and agrees with the notion of being killed to give "my lady" a full body transplant.
  • Cowslip's warren in Watership Down is managed by a human. In return for a daily delivery of garden scraps, the rabbits all pretend not to know that the area is full of snares and have convinced themselves that rabbits must await death with dignity and stoicism. The protagonists escape, taking a Defector From Decadence along with them.
  • In The Hunger Games, an entire subculture exists of people who select, groom, and train the "tributes" for the eponymous games. In the first book the main character's team is nothing but friendly professionalism. In the second, they start to break down...

Live-Action TV

  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "A Taste Of Armageddon", the entire planets of Eminiar VII and Vendikar are like this. To wit: The planets were at war with each other for over five hundred years using computers to make supposed attacks on each other when they fight and calculate casualties based on what "might" be attacked. Within twenty-four hours, the people calculated to have died are given twenty-four hours to report to what are essentially Suicide Booths, leading to thousands of people all the time willfully committing suicide en masse! Even worse? When Kirk tells them this is wrong, the leader of Eminar VII says he's the barbarian!
    • To be fair, the Eminiar VII leader does offer the argument that a real war would kill more people and destroy civilization generally. The real underlying horror both sides have accepted is the notion that they can't live in peace instead.
      • Yes but the problem is they have been so Conditioned To Horror that they don't even TRY to steop or even reduce war! It's jsut about making it faster and not as messy as it used to be.
      • Actually the real horror is not just that they have accepted war as part of their lives(which after all is arguably a sensible thing to do). The real horror is that they are killing just for the sake of killing with no attempt to use strategy to change circumstance in their favor, or even to just frighten their enemy away. At least in real war people are supposed to stop killing when they figure the job to be done and vaguely accept that citizens have limited liability for their government's actions.
  • Connor from season 4 of Angel grew up on a demon world, so he's used to all the horrors. Specifically, when Jasmine showed up everybody saw her as beautiful, until they were exposed to her blood at which point they saw her true form (NOTE: Squicky in an OK for TV sort of way), which Connor still described as beautiful.
  • The jadedness with which Dr. Brennan and her team respond to extreme gore and decomp gets thrown into sharp relief on Bones, each time someone unaccustomed to such things, like Sweets or a guest star, walks in on a forensic examination in progress. Early on, Brennan's own clinical detachment when discussing violent murder occasionally invoked this trope even for her own colleagues.

Tabletop Games

  • Exalted: While the Abyssal sourcebook is full of horrifying things, The Dowager of the Irreverent Vulgate in Unrent Veils (sic) takes the cake for invoking this trope. She raises children to be her Abyssal Exalted. She teach them "the pointlessness of existence and hatred for the cruelty of life". The place she raises them, the Mound of Forsaken Seeds? No normal animal nor Fair Folk will get near it without magical compulsion.
  • In Paranoia, this happens with some citizens of Alpha Complex. Work as a janitor mopping up in the Internal Security Information-Extraction chambers, and after a while you've seen it all..
  • The 'Jaded' Trait in Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay indicates a character whose life has been so dark and crappy that they've become entirely immune to fear and Sanity Meter hits from 'mundane' horrors that have a natural explanation (such as, say, a very grisly murder scene; seeing something that don't belong in the material Universe will still hurt your psyche). There are several character backgrounds that makes your character start with this trait, from being Mind-Wiped to hailing from Volg Hive, a place so violent, dirty and low-down that it basically serves as a garbage pit you throw people too savage to live in a Wretched Hive.

Video Games

  • It shouldn't surprise anybody that this is a goal in Dwarf Fortress, what with being the veritable poster child for Video Game Cruelty Potential. Unhappy dwarves are prone to fits of violence, and nothing makes a dwarf unhappier than seeing loved ones and treasured pets die. The solution? Drip feed them a steady stream deaths until they acquire the coveted "doesn't really care about anything anymore" trait. All in the name of progress of course!
  • In Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus, the Tsviets of Deepground are like this. Special mentions go to the team-killing Azul and bloodthirsty Rosso.
  • Summoners in Final Fantasy X are like this, raised from a young age to accept that someday, they'll march off to battle an Eldritch Abomination and die in battle to give their world a few years' off from its horrific bombardment (Everybody besides from the player and the protagonist are aware of this, to them there's no other option. It's either to not give the world temporary peace or no peace at all. Yuna, a summoner, only decides to find another way when she learns that a second sacrifice is needed).
  • Similarly, in Tales of Symphonia, The Chosen One is raised to believe that they are responsible for sacrificing their life to save the world. Some accept this better than others, although it leaves both the ones we see with serious self-esteem issues. Colette believes that her life only has value as long as she can have the strength to become a sacrifice, and is all right with the idea because it will allow her friends to live long and happy lives in a carefree world. Zelos, although he hides it, is far more bitter about the entire system.
  • Tales of the Abyss not only has Ion go to his death with a smile because he can't grasp that his individual life has any meaning besides what he can do with it, like trying to stop a war, find a way for Luke to win and save Tear's life and instead of resenting it, he is honestly happy that betraying him and causing his death helped The Mole. While he's an extreme example, the entire population of Auldrant qualifies.
    • Nephry breaks up with Peony because the scorer said she'd marry someone else, and not only does neither of them fight it, they don't try to renew the relationship even after the Score is rejected and they have the option.
    • Luke's own father and uncle are willing to send him to die both to set off a war they'll win and because the Score says so: it's not until fairly late in the game that they seem to realize that this was a cruel thing to do to Luke and Natalia and it would have been not just ok, but good for them to not want to do it.
    • Grand Maestro Mohs sees nothing wrong with a genocidal war, since the Score was made to bring prosperity to Auldrant, so it's obviously for the best. While Mohs is hated by fans because of Ion's death, he actually doesn't even qualify as a Well-Intentioned Extremist on Auldrant. His is the moderate faction, containing the normal, sensible members of the Order who just want the best for Auldrant, like Tear. In a different era of Auldrant's history, he'd probably be a good guy, just not when the Score is currently counting down to Auldrant's demise and he's dealing with replicas. Since the Score, written for the benefit of everyone, doesn't regard replicas as worth a mention he's actually fully justified in considering them not people, given the Order's doctrine about Lorelei. He's actually completely right that Lorelei cares about everyone, he just overestimated Lorelei's ability to make the Score turn out that way.
    • Almost everyone reacts with shock and horror to the idea of revealing a Score of death, even when, or especially because, doing so would save someone's life and go against the Score, and since the Score was written to create the most prosperity and happiness for Auldrant's people, obviously Lorelei wouldn't have had them die then if it wasn't for the best.
    • The best example, even more than Ion is the Big Bad. When Luke asks him if he cares about Luke at all other than as a living weapon he honestly doesn't understand the question, mistaking it for an existential one. The Big Bad was brought into the world as a Laser Guided Tykebomb, in accordance with the Score with parents who were aware of this the entire time and only thought about him in terms of that function just like how he regards Luke. Oh, and as a babysitter for their 'real' child. The people who used him to destroy his homeland and as an excuse for performing deadly experiments on civilians who were going to die anyway considered themselves fully justified, between the Score and using him as a scapegoat. When that's the ethical framework in which he was raised, is it that odd that he doesn't see anything wrong with creating replicas or destroying Auldrant? After all, it was ok to hook him into a machine and destroy Hod for the greater good, and he's doing this to allow humanity to survive the Scored end of the world. In the context of Van's childhood, his interactions with Luke in the early game become a massive Pet the Dog. He gives Luke the childhood he wishes he could have had: a comfortable life with parental figures who at least seem to love him instead of being constantly told thousands will die because he's a monster and subjecting him to brutal experiments. He just can't grasp that Luke feels he has a right to resent what was done to him because Van himself was repeatedly told that he didn't and internalized the idea.
    • The Start of Darkness for most of the loyal god-generals was when they ran into a horror that they could not accept. Largo's daughter was kidnapped, causing his wife to kill herself and he could not have justice. Legretta suddenly fell in love with someone she went after in a Roaring Rampage of Revenge and the knowledge that this was likely Scored makes her skin crawl. Sync, like Ion believes that he can't have value other than as a tool and hates this.
  • Fatal Frame II's Crimson Sacrifice ritual involves one twin strangling another to pacify the gate to Hell. All sets of twins in the village know of the ritual and accept it as necessary. Some, like Sae (though not her twin), even look forward to it...
  • The Little Sisters, as shown in Bio Shock 2.
  • In Suikoden III, Yun of Alma Kinan is fully aware she's going to be sacrificed as part of a ritual to continue hiding the sealed True Water Rune. Though the party that meets her protests this and tries to stop the ceremony, she calmly insists on its necessity, and the ritual goes as planned.
  • The initial protagonist of Theresia was raised by a Torture Technician, and displays a lot of sadomasochistic tendencies (sometimes at the same time as more normal reactions.) In particular, she's comforted by the smell of blood.
  • Shirou in Fate/stay night. It's hinted at in Fate route with how quickly he adapts to the situation and more or less stated outright at the beginning of UBW. Why did he stay calm when Shinji tried to melt everyone in the school? Because he's used to seeing corpses, which lets him tell them apart from people who are just injured! Isn't it obvious?
  • While at first Jack seems to just enjoy killing, it's not until you do her loyalty mission that you find out she was put into life-or-death combat matches with other biotics as a child. When she won, she got a dose of drugs. As she says, she "stills gets a tingle" when she kills someone.
  • Heather in Silent Hill 3 becomes increasingly inured to the blood and gore all around her as time goes on, but even at the beginning she's surprisingly blase about, for example, finding a roasted dog in in a cafe. Some speculate being raised by the Properly Paranoid Harry Mason or having the memories of torture-magnet Alessa had something to do with it.

Web Comics

  • Homestuck: The trolls live in a brutally Social Darwinist Crapsack World where, had SGRUB not taken place and destroyed the planet, most of them would've probably been culled for being disabled like Terezi and Tavros or low-blooded mutants like Karkat. Daylight brings rainbow (blood)-drinkers and the undead, while they sleep in a tub of tranquilizers to make sure they don't get nightmares from the Eldritch Abominations that live in the sea.
    • In "[S] Jade Wake Up", Jade meets Feferi and they both meet, essentially, the "relative" (after passing through a tunnel of similar creatures) of Feferi's lusus. Jade is disturbed while Feferi thinks they're nothing to be scared of since the creature that is effectively her foster mother is essentially a small version of the one they encounter. Feferi's lusus is also the one who killed all the rest of the entire troll species after unleashing a Brown Note of galactic proportions.
  • Very nearly everyone who lives long enough to develop a discernable personality in Gone With the Blastwave, but unlike most of the examples on this page, this is not a result of some kind of supervillan scheme or Government Conspiracy. (Well, not as far as we know.) It's just that they've been fighting an apparently Endless War that's long past the point of being winnable -by any of the participants- for so long and seen so much death and mutiliation and human misery in all its myriad forms that they've become completely desensitised to it all. The more normal squaddies seem to be operating on a mild form of Heroic Safe Mode, whilst a couple have descended into outright Comedic Sociopathy, and all but the sniper (the closest thing the comic has to an Only Sane Man) have a highly-developed death wish. War Is Hell.

Web Original

  • Agents in LIS DEAD are conditioned right down to their exact personality and while some like Dramatic Detective don't entirely seem to like it, they at least put up with it because it's useful
  • Played for laughs with The Cinema Snob. At this point, when he shuts his eyes and thinks of something happy, he sees the village-burning scene from Cannibal Holocaust - not because it cheers him up, but because he's seen so many disturbing films that it's his baseline. (The scene also comes to him unbidden when he listens to beautiful music.)
  • The Nostalgia Critic's Dark and Troubled Past has caused him to be biased in this way, like when he's telling off the boy in North for having a panic attack because apparently every set of parents violently argue at the dinner table.