When you’re writing a character, it’s important to know why she is the way she is. Knowing her backstory is important to achieving this end, and one of the most impactful pieces of a character’s backstory is her emotional wound. This negative experience from the past is so intense that a character will go to great lengths to avoid experiencing that kind of pain and negative emotion again. As a result, certain behaviors, beliefs, and character traits will emerge.
Characters, like real people, are unique, and will respond to wounding events differently. The vast array of possible emotional wounds combined with each character’s personality gives you many options in terms of how your character will turn out. With the right amount of exploration, you should be able to come up with a character whose past appropriately affects her present, resulting in a realistic character that will ring true with readers. Understanding what wounds a protagonist bears will also help you plot out her arc, creating a compelling journey of change that will satisfy readers.
NOTE: We realize that sometimes a wound we profile may have personal meaning, stirring up the past for some of our readers. It is not our intent to create emotional turmoil. Please know that we research each wounding topic carefully to treat it with the utmost respect.
Finding Out One’s Child Was Abused
Discovering one’s child had their innocence ripped away and one did not know, didn’t see the signs, or misunderstood the signs as being about something else…it’s a parent’s worst nightmare. Whatever the scenario, the result is the same–deep seated guilt and shame that one failed at the most important job they will ever have: being a parent.
Learning after the fact that…
- one’s partner or a close relative has been abusing one’s child
- the abuse occurred at a trusted family friend’s house
- one’s child was abused by a teacher or person of authority
- the abuse took place while one’s child was in the care of a neighbor or babysitter
- one’s child was being abused in the home while one was present but far enough away to not know what was happening
- the abuse occurred while away on a supervised trip for a team, organization, club or school event
- the abuse happened during shared custody visits with one’s ex (either by the ex-spouse or by someone who had access through the ex-spouse)
Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: physiological needs, safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and recognition, self-actualization
False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:
- I am a terrible parent–I couldn’t even protect my child
- I should have seen the signs, I should have known
- I recklessly placed my child in danger instead of protecting them
- What happened is my fault, I am the adult, I should have been able to stop it
- If I don’t do better (parenting, questioning everything and everyone, etc.) this will happen again
- I don’t deserve to be a (mother or father). I basically handed my child over to a predator. My daughter/son is safer with someone else
*these lies (and the guilt and self-blame) are even more deeply entrenched if one’s child acted out in some way only to have it passed off as “bad behavior,” if they tried to say something but were not believed, or they said nothing because they felt they couldn’t go to their parent about it.
Positive Attributes That May Result: alert, analytical, cautious, empathetic, loyal, nurturing, observant, perceptive, persistent, private, proactive, responsible, wise
Negative Traits That May Result: addictive, confrontational, controlling. fanatical, humorless, inflexible, irrational, morbid, obsessive, paranoid, pessimistic, stubborn, uncommunicative, vindictive, worrywart
- That if one’s child is out of one’s sight, abuse will reoccur
- That one will somehow miss obvious signs something is wrong and let one’s child down again
- That people around one’s child will somehow know he/she has been victimized and target them
- That one will trust the wrong person and unintentionally expose one’s child to harm
- That if one’s lets down one’s guard, someone will try and get close just to have access to one’s child
- That if known, other people will condemn one for being an unfit parent
- That even if one discovers an unsafe situation, one will not be able to stop the abuse in time (“failing” one’s child again.)
- That, in general, one will continue to fail as a parent over and over
Possible Habits That May Emerge:
- Needing to know where one’s child is at all times
- Checking on them frequently with or without their knowledge
- Being suspicious of anyone who interacts with one’s child, or shows an interest in him/her, even trusted family or friends
- Looking for dangers and possible areas of exposure to the point that it disrupts the child’s routine or causes fear to bloom
- One’s mind always going to the worst case scenario
- Being unable to leave one’s child (choosing to home school them, switching jobs so one is always home after school, etc.)
- Difficulty sleeping, high anxiety
- Being overly generous and agreeable, even spoiling one’s child out of guilt
- Needing to know who the friends of one’s child are, and only allowing sleepovers in one’s own home
- Difficulty leaving one’s child alone even for short periods of time (to see a movie with a friend, go on a date, etc.), even if the child is old enough to care for themselves
- Questioning and second-guessing one’s own judgement and decisions, losing confidence in one’s own abilities and personal “radar”
For other Descriptive Thesaurus Collections, go here.