Nerves of Steel

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"It's widely believed that a Contractor possesses a cool, analytical mind: at all times, in all situations, no matter how desperate, he's able to calculate the most logical course of action. Is it because he knows no fear? Hardly. A Contractor can get as scared as anyone. He simply doesn't let his feelings affect his reason."

Everyone has a tipping point, a Berserk Button, a threshold of shock and joy and weirdness that once crossed collapses all emotional reserve like a Fawlty Towers Plot. Some, however, have such an exceptionally high threshold that they'd probably greet the impending collapse of the universe with the same equanimity as cold tea.

Characters with Nerves of Steel are of steel in the same way a physical body can be Made of Iron—they are nigh-unshakable.

Someone who has Nerves of Steel thinks when times are tough. He makes decisions efficiently; he pushes his emotions aside, and so his decisions are not overly affected by them. He may be The Stoic, or he may be perfectly normal emotionally. Either way, his mind is never shoved aside when his emotion is. It is always thinking, a weapon as sharp as a sword. Characters with Nerves of Steel aren't intimidated by screams from those with a Hair-Trigger Temper, won't get upset if his Evil Plan is foiled (this is a morality neutral trait), he isn't likely to burst into tears when it turns out The Hero is Not Quite Dead and got better, and very probably won't even raise his voice to the man who murdered a Bus Full of Innocents unless the sound of his righteous ass kicking is loud enough to require it. Even happy news and emotions aren't likely to cause exaggerated reactions of joy (though he probably enjoys a nice hearty laugh every now and then).

Reasons for this demeanor vary. He's probably Seen It All, is naturally Spock-like, has an iron-clad Stepford Smiler facade (though on the inside they probably are banging his head against his cage) or emotionally can't be made to feel extreme emotion, such as the Tin Man. This doesn't count if the character is an Empty Shell, since there isn't anyone home to excite. The Extreme Doormat may count depending on the individual case (some are just too listless to care at all, not requiring any emotional control at all). Affably Evil villains and The Chessmaster are always composed as a result of everything going according to plan.

Even if this person doesn't have Psychic Powers; their control over their OWN brain makes them resistant to those who do.

In short, someone with Nerves of Steel is immune to the Heroic BSOD, Villainous BSOD and Villainous Breakdown. God help us all if this proves untrue.

A good trait for a Badass Bookworm to have, at least if they want both halves at the same time. Note that nerves of steel may be hard to distinguish from Tranquil Fury at times. Showing a Stiff Upper Lip is a good way for a character to convince other people that they have Nerves of Steel. Compare Heroic Safe Mode, where the emotional/thinking part of the brain "shuts down" to allow for instinctual survival mechanisms to work unclouded by emotions.

Examples of Nerves of Steel include:

Anime and Manga

  • One Piece
    • Nico Robin should qualify. She's the one on the upper right not losing her cool.
    • Zoro and Sanji both probably count as well. Sanji's been shown to be very efficient at dealing with a rapidly crumbling situation and saving his fellow Straw Hats, Zoro never loses his cool (except at the other Straw Hats), but he's a little too happy to pick a fight with other swordsmen, and tends to consider options that are too extreme to be plausible, to qualify fully for this.
    • Jinbei; he was able to stand up to Big Mom with enough courage to resist her soul sapping powers. His kimono has more nerve than an entire fleet of Marines.
  • Miyata Ichirou from Hajime no Ippo.
  • Zero from Gambling Emperor Legend Zero. Even the narrator mentions how the more pressure is on him and the more dire the situation is, the sharper his mind becomes.
  • A trait common to most, if not all, Contractors of Darker than Black.
  • Homura Akemi of Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Horribly averted when we see her backstory. Many tears are shed, both by her and the viewer.
  • To everyone's surprise, Mizuiro in Bleach turns out to have these. Faced down by a being that can literally vaporize things at the touch, he nonchalantly throws a bottle at him, then a Molotov cocktail, and expresses only mild surprise when it doesn't work.
  • Itachi Uchiha. Every move is carefully calculated, and he never loses his cool. That Sanity Slippage from a couple years ago? He totally faked it so Sasuke would kill him. And then after being freed from Kabuto's control when he's ressurected, he helps Killer Bee and Naruto fight the resurrected Nagato and calmly figures out how to beat Nagato's then-unbeaten gravity attack. He then, still calm, announces he's going to go defeat the resurrection technique itself.
  • Gendo Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion. He only expresses emotion when his surrogate daughter Rei is in mortal peril or about to abandon him. He calmly assesses and discusses options about the situation while his actual son might be being boiled alive, or trapped in a dimensional pit, or about to attempt to attack him with a giant robot because he's tired of his dickery. At one point he's half-coated in blood by an Angel duel happening right in front of him, and he doesn't even flinch. It's not that he doesn't care; he does, deeply. He's just... very inexpressive. There's a certain amount of self-loathing there as well.
  • Black Lagoon has a number of characters who are remarkably good at keeping their cool under pressure, with Chang as probably the main example. He remains perfectly calm and collected even while a psychopathic killer is trying to kill or keep him pinned down with a machine gun.

Comic Books

  • Albert Cleary of Damage Control, who serves overdue bills to Dr. Doom without showing any outward signs of duress.
  • Post-Parallax members of the Green Lantern corps tend toward this, since they are now selected not for their lack of fear, but their ability to overcome it.


Charles: You know, I once read an interesting book which said that, uh, most people lost in the wilds, they, they die of shame.
Robert: What?
Charles: Yeah, see, they die of shame. "What did I do wrong? How could I have gotten myself into this?" And so they sit there and they... die. Because they didn't do the one thing that would save their lives.
Robert: And what is that, Charles?
Charles: Thinking.


  • Horatio Hornblower : He displays these in war, in gambling and as in the above quote, in arranging the rules of a Duel to the Death to give himself a fair chance.
    • Of course, what neither duelist knew was that their captain arranged for both guns to be empty. Everyone assumed that the 'loaded' gun, whichever one it was, had misfired. Honor was satisfied, nobody got hurt, and afterwords the captain told Horatio that while having the courage to fight a duel was good, having the sense to not fight (or start) a duel was even better.
  • Paul Atreides in Dune
  • Scheherazade in the Arabian Nights.
  • Shows up, appropriately enough, in Nerves, where nobody really loses their cool despite a breeder reactor blowing up, producing an isotope that could destroy everything within thirty miles at any moment and the one guy who knows enough to stop it going missing. Interestingly, it slightly deconstructs this trope, showing just how hard it can be to keep calm and carry on.
  • In the often overlooked Frank Herbert novel, The White Plague, a character takes great pain and care to describe the titular illness in its every gory, incurable, detail, knowing that no one trying to cure the white plague can possibly do so. The reason this character has such intimate knowledge of the plagues effects is because she's dying of it.
  • Harry Dresden is normally exhausted, bleeding, in spiritual if not physical agony, angry, terrified and running out of magic with the fate of the world on his shoulders - none of which ever stops him from thinking and finding the answers he needs.
  • Multiple characters in the 1632 series—notably among the uptimers Mike Stearns and Jeff Higgins.

Live-Action TV

  • Michael Weston in Burn Notice
  • Spock on Star Trek displays this.
    • Kirk often does, too.
    • In a Star Trek: The Original Series/Star Trek: The Next Generation/Deep Space Nine crossover novel, The Return, Dr. Bashir was doing some very delicate operation and the Red Alert klaxons went off. Data was sure that the patient was dead because the noise would have startled Bashir, but no, he kept his scalpel very still. Then he contacted the bridge. "Turn off the alarms in sick bay. I held myself still once but I don't think I could do it again."
  • In Firefly, Simon Tam displays this in "Ariel". River does in "Objects in Space".
    • Simon operating on Kaylee in the pilot episode with (as far as he knew) the possibility that he and River might be killed or turned over to the Alliance hanging over his head.
      • Also, directing Zoe in operating on him in Objects in Sapce. Including warning her when he's about to pass out.
    • It's In the Blood
      • Simon is a classic Kuudere and is stoical a lot of the time. River had an even harder time in Objects in Space. She had her amygdela torn out after all and thus is flooded with emotion
      • Wash is able to go from the funny sarcastic guy to completely calm and in control in mere moments as well, as best seen in the Pilot in where he shows us just WHY Malcolm and Zoe have such trust in him and provides us with one of the best Crowning Moments Of Awesome in the series by outmaneuvering the Reavers without losing that stoic calm
  • Mr. Morden in Babylon 5. Gotta hand it to him; not even being arrested, threatened by most of the cast or coming face-to-face with Ambassador Kosh seems to unnerve him. The fact that two equally advanced aliens constantly watch over him may have something to do with that -- when Londo kills/chases them off, he finally cracks.
  • In JAG Clayton Webb has Nerves of Steel. While he can be annoying the only picture of him panicking was in a flashback in one episode. In other times he is never fazed.
  • Grey's Anatomy: the season six finale is a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Christina. Derrick's been shot, and lockdown has left no one but her to operate on him. If she doesn't, he will die. A few minutes later, the shooter comes in and sticks his gun in her face, demanding that she stop operating and let Derrick die. She's scared, she's crying, but her hand's don't shake because dammit she promised she would try to save her best friend's husband. She keeps. On. Operating.

Christina: Derrick's a mess, Meredith's a mess, you're a mess - that leaves me in charge! Now go. Scrub. In.

  • John from Sherlock. In the first episode, Sherlock mentions this trope by name while analyzing the man who shot a serial killer. At that exact moment, he catches sight of John and realizes who he's describing.


Tabletop Games

  • Deadlands has a character trait called nerves o' steel, but this Trope is more effectively represented by the level-headed advantage: the cool-headed hombre's lack of panic usually results in more flexibility with initiative in a combat round than others possess. Used well, a level-headed character can almost choose when to act in a round, representing a mind that is constantly looking for the perfect time to strike.
  • GURPS has the Unfazeable advantage, which means (among other things) that the character in question never has to make Fright Checks.
  • The average Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine has the rule "And They Shall Know No Fear", which lets them regroup automatically (most of the time...).

Video Games

  • JC Denton is Deus Ex, when playing stealthily. "You mechs may have copper wiring to reroute your fear of pain, but I've got nerves of steel."
  • The protagonist in Metro 2033 is resistant to psychic anomalies. At least a few times in the game, he and several others are attacked by something indescribable and unnatural and he's able to resist it. This is also why he's able to withstand the Dark Ones's psychic communication without going insane.
  • Tales of the Abyss has Jade Curtiss as the Stepford Smiler version of this. His ability to be unfazed by any situation is occasionally lampshaded by the younger characters as something that freaks them out.
  • Agent Francis York Morgan of Deadly Premonition reacts to the Dark World simply by lighting a cigarette and proceeding forward with hardly any reaction. It helps that he's already crazy in his own way.
  • Commander Shepard from Mass Effect, especially if you choose the Sole Survivor background. Keeping his/her cool while the rest of his/her unit panicked under attack from nightmarish Thresher Maws was what got him/her noticed enough to be considered for the Spectres. Ditto his/her feat in the War Hero origin, where Shepard effectively stared down an entire invading army until reinforcements arrived.
  • Eternal Darkness, famed for abuse of the Sanity Meter, lacks the meter during Pious Augustus's chapter. Simply due to being before the meter is introduced to gameplay? Being the only battle hardened professional solider among the player characters? Or is it because the ancients decided to preserve his sanity. After all they aren't so bad to look at by default, they choose to make those who look at them lose it.

Visual Novels

  • In Fate/stay night, Servant Archer is singled out as having these more than any other Servant due to cultivating battle experience as a way to make up for the fact that he had very few natural gifts.
    • Servant Assassin also has shades of this. Possibly it's due to his Extreme Doormat nature, but things like having his lungs detonated from the inside, being minutes away from death due to Mana deprivation, or being eaten alive don't seem to affect his mind much.

Western Animation

Squidward: Patrick, your snail is a rock.
Patrick: Thanks, I know. He's got nerves of steel!

Real Life

  • Tim Duncan
  • Jerry West, they didn't call him "Mr. Clutch" for nothing.
  • The Duke of Wellington
  • Pretty much any sub captain who is reasonably good. Submarine actions are very slow and unlike some types of warfare, a sub captain cannot keep himself going by mere "Fight or Flight" instinct.
  • Fedor Emelianenko
  • Try playing professional golf without this...
    • Or indeed any professional sport with a large cerebral component - cricket, baseball, snooker, the aforementioned chess...
  • In the 23-F coup attempt in Spain, in which troops stormed the Congress of Deputies and ordered all politicians to the ground - weapons pointed at them - three of them disobeyed: Manuel Gutiérres Mellado, who stood up and ordered the leader to desist (to no avail, but took some balls) Adolfo Suarez, who remained sitting down (also took some balls), and Santiago Carrillo, who remained sitting and calmly lit up a cigarette showing Nerves of Steel and balls of the same material.
  • Stockbrockers are so good at this, that the US Navy considered them a background occupation of choice for Fighter Direction Officers during World War II. It was believed someone who could handle the stress of bargaining on Wall Street is likely to be good at directing air traffic in a carrier battle.
    • It was also about having experience in quickly allocating resources.
  • Michael Jordan was magic in the clutch because of these. It's really this attribute, more than his other-wordly skills and athleticism, that set him apart from all his peers. Even if he came up short, it wouldn't faze him at all next time.
  • An unwritten item on the essential qualifications list for commercial and military aviators, emergency responders and pretty much every other profession you can name where the smallest panic-induced mistake can cost lives.