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A character is abandoned, neglected or thrown to the wolves by someone they love and trust, because the said person that they love and trust decided to look after someone else. There are two main variations of this trope:
- Type 1 - Abandonment at a critical point: Alice is in the middle of a battle alongside her mentor, Bob, and Bob's other apprentice, Charlie. Usually, Alice is the more powerful or competent of the apprentices -- she gets into much less trouble than Charlie. However, on this single occasion, Alice is unlucky. Not to worry though -- Bob will rescue her! After all, he's always bailing Charlie out of trouble, isn't he? He'd never fail his apprentice! Except...as Alice screams for help, she catches sight of Bob and Charlie -- and they're fleeing the battlefield. If Charlie is in any way sympathetic, he will protest leaving Alice to her fate, only for Bob to tell him "Leave her!" Alice blacks out, bewildered and betrayed. If she has been struggling before, the sight of her friends turning their backs on her will break her spirit and she may give up.
- Type 2 - Ongoing Neglect: David and Emily are siblings. David is perfectly healthy, but Emily is an Ill Girl. Their parents are constantly attending to Emily, bundling her up against the cold, making emergency hospital trips, taking time off work to look after her when she's ill and generally worrying about her. In all the fuss, however, David is practically forgotten - his mum and dad expect him to look after himself, since he doesn't technically need the same amount of care Emily does. However, should he start misbehaving or worse, voice resentment about Emily's monopoly of his parents' time, expect a massive Guilt Trip of the "you don't know how lucky you are" variety.
Somehow, Alice escapes her captors and David manages to survive childhood. Unsurprisingly however, they are less than happy with the person who failed them. If they are The Stoic or The Woobie, they probably won't make a fuss - the stoic because (s)he sees complaining as a sign of weakness, the woobie because...well, it's part of that "suffering beautifully" thing. However, other characters may opt for Calling the Old Man Out.
How does the "Old Man" justify himself? "I abandoned you because I knew you could cope." Or "I had faith in your abilities." Or, more bluntly, "Your (insert relevant relation or friend here) needed me more."
This reaction can be perfectly justified. The mentor may have had to make a Sadistic Choice, and chose the course of action most likely to get everyone out alive. It's also inevitable that a sick child is going to demand more attention than a healthy one. This does not make it any more pleasant for the character who was left out in the cold, but it prevents the audience from losing sympathy with the parent/mentor. Other situations are less defensible - for example, Charlie has clearly been Bob's favourite all along, or Emily is not actually sick, just a Spoiled Brat who fakes illness to get attention.
This trope sees more capable or better-natured characters getting the short end of the stick, because they are always expected to look after themselves (and, often, other people as well) while their parent/mentor/friend goes haring after their more vulnerable or stupid associates. If the target of Because You Can Cope can't cope in one particular instance (usually having to rescue themselves or be saved by a third party), others may claim it was because the victim was weak, not because they were let down.
Sometimes the parent/mentor gets away with their act of abandonment with no ill consequences. However, Alice in particular may be prone to a Face Heel Turn, eventually attacking those who left her to die. Even David might decide to deny help when his parents or sister need it, as payback for years of neglect. This may be an act of Laser-Guided Karma or proof of David/Alice's descent to Complete Monster territory, depending on the lesson the writer is shooting for.
There is a Heroic Sacrifice version of this trope, where a character volunteers to take one for the team because they are better equipped to deal with a bad situation -- for example, The Big Guy goads an enemy into attacking them in order to protect The Chick or the Squishy Wizard. Tragically, he usually overestimates his own resilience. The trope can be Played for Laughs, but may end with Dude, Not Funny. A game of Misery Poker may be involved, especially between siblings. A Family-Unfriendly Aesop usually results - "if you're able to put up with it, you should put up with it, no matter how much it hurts you". Occasionally, the mentor/parent will use the "Because you can cope" excuse as an excuse to cover up more sinister motives - or just their own thoughtlessness.
Anime and Manga Edit
- Twisted version in Gravitation - Shuichi demands that Yuki stay in the relationship for him, since, although Yuki is coughing blood due to stress (allegedly due to Shuichi's presence in his life), it won't kill him - but Shuichi claims he will die without Yuki. Could be What the Hell, Hero? moment for Shuichi, but Yuki's own Jerkass tendencies and the fact that his illness isn't actually Shuichi's fault are mitigating factors.
- Katie, the mother in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, pays for her son Neely's education and not her academic daughter Francie's. She justifies this by saying that Francie will fight to achieve her dreams, whereas Neely won't. Francie doesn't buy it, and it cements Neely's position as his mother's favourite (which she made no secret of earlier in the book). Francie sums it up:
Francie: "You fix everything for him and tell me I can find a way myself."
- Would be a Crowning Moment of Awesome, if Francie wasn't immediately made to feel guilty about asserting herself and promptly apologise to her mother.
- Jodi Picoult uses this trope as justification for her Knight Templar mothers. Amelia of Handle with Care, gets lectured about all the things she can do that her fragile little sister, Willow, can't do whenever the girl complains about the restrictions placed on her and neglect she suffers. Anna of My Sister's Keeper gets No Sympathy for all the painful operations she gets put through, because her mum is too busy making sure that her cancer-stricken big sister, Kate, is all right, and Theo of House Rules is expected to put up with Jacob's abuse, and held to higher standards than his sibling, because Theo is capable of normal social interaction and autistic Jacob is not.
- YMMV on whether Jodi Picoult is agreeing with this as she shows how destructive this kind of parenting is and that it not only ruins the mother and ill child's life but destroys their family and everyone who gets too close.
- Kate Cann's Leaving Poppy uses the "sibling who fakes illness" plot - the titular Poppy controls her mother and sister's lives through tantrums and passive-aggression. Her mother claims that Poppy is "fragile" and guilt trips her other daughter, Amber, into bowing to her younger sister's demands. For example, when Amber is due to go on holiday, Poppy throws a fit, and their mother pleads with Amber to cancel, claiming that she'll have plenty of other opportunities to go on holiday while Poppy will not - and that while cancelling her holiday will be tough on Amber, Poppy (and their mother) will be even worse off if she doesn't, so Amber should be the one to make the sacrifice.
- Subverted in the poem "Footprints". You know the one. A dead man is walking with God, looking at the footprints of his life. There's always two sets, his and God's, except when times get hard; then there's one. Man accuses God of abandoning him at those points but God says he was carrying the man. You'd think you'd be able to tell...but yeah.
- In The Belgariad, there's a point when Garion is telling Ce'Nedra about the girl he grew up with, Zubrette, and says the group couldn't have brought Zubrette along on their adventures because she wouldn't have been able to deal with, for instance, sleeping on the ground. Ce'Nedra is indignant: "You never had any problem asking me to sleep on the ground!" Garion says he supposes that's because Ce'Nedra is braver than Zubrette.
- In the "Rizzoli" series, the titular character's mother has spent years blatantly favoring her son Frankie while ignoring her daughter Jane. Suddenly, in one book, this is retconned into her mother always knowing that Jane was the strong and capable one who didn't need her mother's constant attention while Frank was the weakling who need coddling. A later book takes this even further--when her husband leaves her for another woman and her son takes his side, she finally realizes the error she made with her bias.
- Averted in Memories of Summer. Summer is mentally ill and getting worse, but Claude Compton is just as worried about his younger daughter Lyric due to the pressure she puts on herself to be Summer's caretaker. When Summer starts becoming violent and hurts Lyric, Claude has her institutionalized for Lyric's safety and because there's nothing more either of them can do for her at home.
Live-Action TV Edit
- In Malcolm in the Middle, Malcolm spends an episode teaching Reese the value of hard work and studying and helps him write a passing paper for a class. When the paper gets an "F" the boys, who do not see how they can get Reese to perform any better, cheat and have Malcolm take one of Reese's tests for him. This one gets an "F" as well and this is when they realize that Reese's teacher really is out to get him and is deliberately failing him. When Lois threatens to use this information to force the teacher to pass Reese he points out this will get Malcolm in trouble. Lois cites this trope as her justification, to Malcolm's own shock:
Lois: You don't think I'd sacrifice this one? Let me explain something to you. I would sell Malcolm down the river in a heartbeat to save Reese. Malcolm's gonna be fine no matter what happens. Maybe he'll have to go to junior college or start off blue collar, but he'll work his way up to management eventually. Reese is the one who needs saving.
- In the last episode of Stargate SG-1 after being trapped in a time freeze for 60 years, Teal'c stays to press the Reset Button, thus being the only one not to get those years back. He does this because he has a much longer lifespan than the rest, so the loss of six decades is less drastic for him. He is also the only one to retain the memories of what happened, which is shown to be much more difficult than the getting older.
- It was also brought up that he's the only one still in good enough physical shape to actually perform the necessary tasks quickly enough once he's back in the past.
- Appears in Firefly when Zoe can either rescue her husband or her captain and good friend. She chooses her husband without an instant's hesitation, probably because he couldn't survive the torture. Mal didn't seem to mind.
- Which makes it not really a betrayal. Mal could cope better than Wash, and they all knew it. Zoe unapologetically (and understandably) cared more about Wash than Mal, and everybody but Wash knew it. Then there's the fact that they did come back and get Mal as soon as they could get a rescue party together. She probably acted exactly as they all expected, and Mal didn't seem to have the least problem with her decisions.
- One episode of Everwood has Andy treating a boy for various injuries. It turns out these are being caused by his severely autistic younger brother, which the older brother has been trying to keep secret from their mother. Andy gives their mother information on a special boarding school for disabled children, and is surprised when she instead sends her other son away so that he can be safe while she continues to care for her autistic son. Given that the older son seemed even more self-sacrificing than she was, the traditional angst of this trope would hopefully be avoided.
- One episode of Family Matters has Laura go out on a pity date with Village Idiot Waldo Faldo, in favor of going on one with Urkel. When Steve confronts her about this, she basically outlines this Trope: Steve's been rejected by her so much that he's used to it, but Waldo wouldn't be able to take it. Steve doesn't take this news very well, however.
- In the episode of Home Improvement where Randy learns to drive, Jill decides he's not allowed to drive after dark for a month thanks to Brad getting into an accident when he first got his license. Mark, however, is permitted to stay out late at a friend's house. Jill explains that Mark is an outcast and this is the first time he's been involved in anything social. Randy sums it up nicely: "So Mark gets fewer rules because he's a dork, and I get more rules because Brad's a dork?"
Video Games Edit
- In Dragon Age, the Heroic Sacrifice variation appears in Leliana's Song. Tug pulls a "Because I can cope", getting himself tortured rather than Sketch. Tragically, he overestimates his own toughness.
- Meta example: The role of a "Tank" in most RPG games. He's built to take damage, so the player just lets the enemies beat him up while focusing on protecting the Squishy Wizard and Glass Cannon characters.
- The Sentinel role in Final Fantasy XIII is this trope invoked intentionally. The designated tank provokes the enemies to attack him so that the other characters can attack or heal; as a bonus, the Sentinel gets abilities that allow him to guard, guard and heal, guard and counterattack...the ideal Sentinel not only can cope, but becomes much better at coping when in the role. The Sentinel also grants a bonus to everyone else's defense while active.
- In Knights of the Old Republic, Kriea is clearly working under this philosophy.
- Marche in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is a great example of Type 2: His younger brother, Doned, has an unnamed illness that requires he go to the hospital occasionally, and he is confined to a wheelchair. This becomes a plot point later in the game, as Doned is revealed to have gained the ability to walk in Ivalice, and is a streetear who gives out information about Marche's location, so bounty hunters can attempt to collect the reward on Marche's head. Marche and Doned eventually have a heart-to-heart, where Marche convinces his brother that he was not left behind, and Doned accepts that Marche is given the shaft when it comes to parental care.
- And then Marche cripples Doned again by destroying Ivalice, thus returning things to exactly as they were before, although the characters affected by this accepted it. FFTA's plot is repeatedly a source of Internet Backdraft.
- In Fire Emblem Fates, Camilla and Xander left Leo to his own devices because of this trope. Since Corrin was isolated and naive and they wanted to protect little Elise from the horrors of Nohr's Deadly Decadent Court, they assumed that the intelligent, mature, and self-sufficient Leo was perfectly okay on his own. That wasn't the case, though, and when Leo admits this to Camilla in their supports she feels guilty and reassures him that she loves him as much as she loves Corrin and Elise.
Western Animation Edit
- On American Dad, Francine is hurt when she discovers that her parents are leaving all their money to her sister. At first she assumes that it's because she was adopted, when really it's because her sister is a ditzy Asian Airhead whom they feel needs it more.
- As seen below in the Real Life section, in Daria, Quinn gets a cash reward from her father for getting an A on one major homework project. Daria, the much smarter of the two, immediately calls him out on it for it being a Double Standard, even implying that it would demotivate her since her consistent high grades garner no such rewards.
- An episode of The Simpsons opens with a similar plot. The family goes out for a fancy dinner to celebrate Bart getting his first A, and Lisa immediately calls out the double standard since she's been getting As her whole life and never got any rewards for it. While it's not said outright, the justification seems to be that getting As comes as naturally as breathing to Lisa, while Bart is such a bad student that he deserves lots of attention and praise for doing it right for a change.
Real Life Edit
- Can happen with real siblings, though more commonly in less vicious version. Like if one kid is worse at school, they'll get rewarded for accomplishing what the other sibling accomplishes all the time.
- Sadly, this mindset can and does hide instances of child abuse, at the hands of a relative or close friend. If one can cope, then one should, so there's no need to make a fuss about those bruises or that stream of insults and profanity; bruises happen all the time! and you know what they say about "sticks and stones..." Because peer pressure etc., can make it so hard to step outside this attitude, a common result would be for a child to be traumatized well past any sane human tolerances without considering their situation to be unjust in any manner.
- The book Siblings Without Rivalry delves into this trope and how harmful it is in the chapter "No More Problem Children." Several adults talk about growing up with sickly or unstable siblings who "needed" more than they did, and how if they ever asked for anything for themselves their family would shame them for being "selfish" and taking away from their sibling. It created a great deal of resentment, in addition to reducing the troubled siblings to their problems instead of encouraging them to be stronger or improve themselves. One parent then recounted how his family eventually overcame the trope by helping their disabled son ice skate while their able-bodied and athletic daughter cheered him on.