Internalized Categorism

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Alice is a wizard, an Un-Sorcerer, a superhero mutant, a person without superpowers, a homosexual, a heterosexual, a sadomasochist, left-handed, or whatever. Whatever such category of people it is she belongs to, it makes her hate and/or reduce herself. And while the trait itself might not be destructive, her irrational self-hatred makes it destructive. It might even lead her to seriously harm herself or others.

The trait is always something the character considers herself to be, not something she's considering herself to believe in: If it's her beliefs that get scorned but she keeps her faith in them, she will see the scorners as bad instead of seeing herself as bad. Let's say she eventually gets Driven to Suicide: If it is out of self-hatred then it is this trope, but if it is because she can't stand the ignorance and narrow-mindedness of other people then it is a variant of Too Good for This Sinful Earth.

"Categorism" is a catch-all word for racism, sexism, homophobia, and all such phenomena where individuals are clumped together into a category of people—negative stereotypes, prejudice, strict norms and/or entitlement for the normative group. As a trope, internalized categorism covers real social categories as well as fictional ones, such as mutants with superpowers.

The self-hatred of internalized categorism may cause the character to become a Boomerang Bigot. However, a boomerang bigot does not necessarily suffer from any such self-hatred: The character might be too shallow for such emotions or might side with the oppressors for any number of reasons that leave room for feeling good about oneself: Greed, Stockholm Syndrome, even delusions of grandeur. For example, let's say that a certain African-American man believes that black people are lazy criminals and rapists. If he doesn't live like that but attributes it to denying his "true nature", then he's a boomerang bigot. If he doesn't try to get a real job because he's "just a Negro" and/or commits criminal offenses of the drug-related or sex-related kind, saying, "I'm a Negro, I can't help it", then he's a case of Internalized Racism.

Of course, if a hero is plagued with this psychological problem, it can be a Crowning Moment of Awesome/Heartwarming to see him/her overcome it and learn to some needed self-esteem.

Compare Category Traitor, Aggressive Categorism, I Just Want to Be Normal, Pitying Perversion and Then Let Me Be Evil.

For other tropes relating to categorism, see Stereotype Reaction Gag and Stop Being Stereotypical.


Specific kinds of Internalized Categorism that have their own tropes:


Specific kinds of Internalized Categorism that are Internal Subtropes:
  • Internalized Homophobia: Gays who hate themselves and/or believe they have to have to do destructive things like having lots of unsafe sex with strangers because they have been taught that "that's how gay people are". For the non-internalized version, see Heteronormative Crusader.
  • Internalized Sexism: Women or men hating themselves simply for being born into a certain gender, or deny themselves everything that doesn't fit into a very narrow gender role. (This hatred is about a belief that the gender is inferior or evil or "supposed to behave" in a very limited way, not about being a Transsexualism and actually desiring to be another sex.) For the non-internalized version, see He-Man Woman Hater and Does Not Like Men. See also Female Misogynist.
  • Internalized Racism: People hating themselves for their genetic ancestry or ethnicity, or reduce themselves to racial stereotypes. For the non-internalized version, see Racist Grandma.
  • Internalized Mutiephobia: Super-powered mutants who hate themselves... or goes "Hey, society consider us evil. So I guess we are. Lets just accept our role as a bad race and call ourselves Brotherhood of evil mutants. (In the silver age comics, this group was evil, period. It was later retconned into having suffered from Internalized Categorism and/or having chosen their name ironically.) For the non-internalized version, see Fantastic Racism.
  • Internalized Paraphobia: self-hating fetishists, sadomasochists et cetera. For the non-internalized version, see Heteronormative Crusader. With the social norms being arbitrary, paraphobia can apply to mainstream heterosexuality as well: Any mainstream relationship is "deviant" when the norm is Lie Back and Think of England. For the not-so-internalized version of this kind of paraphobia, see Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny.
  • Normopathy: People who hate themselves for being different from others in any way, and thus hide any skills or talents that might make them stand out from the crowd. Psychologically and narratively, there's not much difference between Internalized Categorism and Normopathy, that's why it's an Internal Subtrope here. Philosophically, however, it's quite a big difference - Normopathy condemns talent and power and individuality as such rather than specific groups.
Examples of Internalized Categorism include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • In Bitchy Butch, the heroine learned in her teens that she's a horrible person, and took it to heart. As an adult, she doesn't believe in that stuff anymore, but it's obvious that she still has a lot of self-hatred inside her and that her aggressive attitude is partly an overcompensation for this.
  • In the Marvel Universe, it is a social stigma to be a mutant. That includes anyone who develops superpowers naturally (rather than gaining them through an accident, experiment, etc.). One issue of New Mutants had a boy hanging himself in shame of being able to create beautiful sculptures of light.
    • The obscure villain Supercharger is a particularly Anvilicious case: he gained his powers in an accident that killed his scientist father, and subsequently concluded that all superhumans bring pain and destruction to normal people, becoming a murderous supervillain specifically to intensify the existing anti-superhuman prejudice in the Marvel Universe.
  • Much of The Feeling Prince Charles Had is about women learning to hate themselves for being the gender that society considers less valuable.
  • In Cinderella's Sister, Cinderella is the antagonist - perfectly sweet and kind, but it's all passive-aggressive Sugary Malice - at least in the eyes of the angsty protagonist, the "evil" stepsister. Cinderella's most heinous weapon is her ability to teach her sister about not being docile enough, not feminine enough, et cetera, causing her to suffer a massive dose of Internalized Sexism.
  • Sandman has a particularly disturbing case of Normopathy. Rayne of the metamorphae: A woman who have several superpowers including immortality, invulnerability and shapeshifting. She spend her days locked in her home, feeling sorry for herself for not being normal. As she claim that life is hell, Death tells her that she's actually making her own hell.

Film[edit | hide]

  • In The SM Judge, Magda initially hated herself for being a masochist, ruining her own life as well as making her husband miserable. This turns around early in the movie, but the character had already wasted decades of her life when the story begins.
  • X-Men: The Last Stand starts with a little Angel who tries to cut off his own wings (and maybe he did that quite often) in his desperation to be normal. Later, his father tries to help him get "cured" of having white wings to fly with. Angel changes his mind at the last minute, however, and later uses his Flight to save his father's life.
  • In Human Nature, the protagonist has fur. She hates herself for it; shaves her entire body every morning (except her head, of course), and punishes herself by chosing a man who is utterly disgusted by female bodily hair.
  • In Never Let Me Go, perhaps the most painful aspect of the story is that the characters never overcome their social conditioning. The government plans to harvest their internal organs, and they really don't want to die. They spend the story agonizing over their lives being cut short, grasping for straws as they try to find loopholes so they'll be allowed to stay alive a little longer, and feeling guilty about taking out their angst on each other. But none of them ever dare to admit to themselves that the system is unfair, that they actually deserve to be allowed to live. They have been given the identity of sacrificial victims, and while they hate their place in life, they fail to break free from this imposed image of who and what they are.
  • Much of the drama in Secretary revolves around Edward's internal conflict. He's a sexual sadist who thinks that BDSM is dirty and immoral. This make him very unfair to himself as well as to his submissive, who he blames for tempting him. Lee eventually manage to snap him out of it.
  • In Female Perversions, Eve struggles with this through the entire movie. As the work page quote indicates, the whole thing is about the devastating effects of having grown up as a girl/woman, being pushed into an destructive gender role. Not restricted to gender alone, it's also about trying to come to terms with one's power and sexuality.
  • Balto has this as a central internal conflict for the title character who has internalized everyone's abuse of him being half-wolf. When he learns to embrace his wolf nature with a mighty howl, it is a glorious moment.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • In Harry Potter, some of the meanest people are said to hate themselves because they are squibs — and taking this self-hatred out on young wizards of whom they are jealous. While more ambiguous, it is also possible that Tom Riddle (Voldemort) himself was embarrassed over being a half-blood and that his Fantastic Racism was partly a overcompensation for this.
  • In one of the official collections of shortstories for Werewolf: The Apocalypse, the hero goes through severe identity confusion and self-hatred as he discovers that he's actually a child of the evil werewolf clan, the Black Spiral Dancers. (He eventually snaps out of it and concludes that he doesn't have to be like his ancestors.)
  • There are several versions of this in The Regeneration Trilogy. On one hand are the soldiers at a psychiatric hospital who suffer from different forms of PTSD, and hate themselves for breaking down and being "in with the loonies." Then there are the gays, who have to keep their sexuality a secret because of the repressive atmosphere, all the time hearing that homosexuality is a sin and a threat to the nation.
  • Ender's Game deals with this after Battle School. He hates himself for what he was—a child military genius who wiped out most of an alien race and emphatically does not want to continue being that person. As an adult, he becomes The Atoner, hiding his identity while traveling the galaxy and trying to create peace and understanding.
  • In The Idiot, Nastasya Fillipovna Barashkov was Afansy Ivanovich Totsky's mistress for a time, and afterwards believed that her soul had been irrevocably corrupted by the experience. She threw herself into her role as a "bad girl" and Femme Fatale, and pursued a Masochism Tango relationship with the violent Parfyon Semyonovich Rogozhin because she believed he was the sort of man she deserved. Furthermore, when Prince Myshkin (the novel's incarnation of Incorruptible Pure Pureness) declared his love for Nastasya and his belief that she was actually innocent, Nastasya turned him down—partly in order to hurt him, and partly because she was afraid she would ultimately hurt him worse if they married.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • In the Criminal Minds episode In Heat, the unsub was a gay man motivated by the abuse his Heteronormative Crusader father subjected him to. He became convinced that he was "dirty," and began killing men and stealing their identities to escape his own.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Tara turns out to have been abused by her relatives. Among other things, they have tricked her to believe that she's an evil demon when she's actually fully human. Believing herself to be a demon lead her to actions that almost get everyone killed, as she's desperately try to hide her "true" nature from all her friends.
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode Cardassians, the main characters do one of Pitying Perversion by deciding Ruko's identity for him against his will, and then insisting that he's suffering from Internalized Categorism because the identity they have chosen for him and eventually condemned him to, by giving him away to the stranger Ben decided deserved him the most - by virtue of being his biological father and the victim of a political conspiracy is one he hates.
    • The episode leave it for the audience to decide whether or not Ruko was actually suffering from Internalized Categorism or not and whether or not forcing him to move to Cardassia was the right choice. What you'd consider best for the child depends on whether you consider him to be a Bajoran (his identity and upbringing) or Cardassian (his biological ancestry, including his looks).
    • There's also the issue of whether Ruko hated the Cardassians as an empire or as a race. Hating the empire is not a problem for him, as long as he's allowed to stay away from it. (Entering the empire would be quite dangerous, however, since it's a military dictatorship likely to eventually having him executed.) Hating Cardassians as a race would be far more problematic. Since Ruko claim to have no guilt in the atrocities committed by the empire, it is likely that his hatred is of the first kind. But it never gets analyzed in any detail.
    • This is further complicated by how you feel about Ruko's adoptive parents. They raised him to consider himself a Bajoran and hate Cardassians. despite the fact that biologically Ruko is a Cardassian. The decision to move him with his biological father becomes even more complicated when you realize that his biological father didn't abandon him. He was taken from him without his knowledge.

Music[edit | hide]

  • The song "Broken" by Bad Religion brings up the danger of putting people down, that they might start believing it themselves.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Valkyria Chronicles. Alicia forms none of her own ideas about her newly awakened Valkyria powers or how to apply them. Instead, she becomes convinced that she's lost her humanity; not because anyone thinks she has, or is even necessarily afraid that she will, she just assumes that the one other person who has the same ability is evil and so she'll become evil too. This is very obviously not the case, but the assumption she makes drives the last act of the romance plot.
  • In Slave Maker, The state religion is homophobic and also hold similar prejudice against bondage. Characters who engage in lesbian sex or bondage will lose morality, thus becoming Depraved Homosexual or proof that Bondage Is Bad. However, in the case of lesbianism, this effect is clearly caused by Internalized Homophobia, since only those who believe in the homophobic state religion are affected: Characters who follow "the old gods" or "no gods" do not lose morality over same-sex sex acts. However, both religions disapprove of bondage - making it less obvious that the morality loss from bondage is also caused by Internalized Categorism.
    • Worth noting that bondage is heavily tied to being a Pony girl. This apparently is allowed, even in public, with no shame on either the slave or the slaver. But a Pony girl is socialy considered an animal, with no right to speak, refuse sex (in a setting where slave can say "No") or wear anything but leather straps. Pony girl are used to pull carts, and there are official riding races. So bondage is shunted on "normal" slaves but mostly allowed for slaves degraded to labor animals.
  • In the Circle Tower in Dragon Age, there is a mage who is completely convinced that all mages are in fact horrible monsters that should never have been allowed to be left alive and prays to the Maker to free her from her cursed existence, as well as all the other mages who are in denial of their evil nature.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

Web Original[edit | hide]

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In an episode of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, a unicorn named The Great And Powerful Trixie comes to town and starts wowing the townsfolk with her flashy magic tricks, but Twilight Sparkle's friends take an instant dislike to Trixie's showoffy nature. Spike sees through the flash and knows that Twilight, who is genuinely talented at unicorn magic, could put her in her place in no time flat, but Twilight (a lifelong bookworm who is sort of new to this whole "having friends" thing) is petrified that any sort of showoffery at all will drive her friends away from her, and refuses. She spends the entire episode insisting that she's nothing special and has no more right to show how talented she is than flash-in-the-pan Trixie; when her talent ultimately saves the day her friends point out that they're proud of Twilight for being special, and it was Trixie's attitude rather than her (ultimately one-note and useless) talent that had their hackles up.