Emotional Wound Thesaurus: Growing Up In The Public Eye

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.

royaltyCharacters, 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. 



  • Parents who have extreme wealth (own an airline, a hotel or fast food chain, etc.)
  • Parents who are important and well-connected (head of government organizations, high ranking military officials, etc.)
  • A parent or parents who are famous (movie stars, music singer, etc.)
  • Coming from royalty
  • A family that is very old and powerful (aristocrats, coming from nobility, well-respected)
  • Parents who are notably accomplished (sport stars, mega star painters or authors)
  • Being famous oneself (a child singing prodigy, actor, beauty queen, etc.)
  • Being famous for an unusual talent (being able to talk to the dead, healing people, etc.)
  • Having an infamous parent (a serial killer dad, a terrorist bomber mom, etc.)
  • Being part of a political family (generations of senators, governors, diplomats, etc.)

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 don’t know who I am, just what I am supposed to be
  • I can’t afford to make any mistakes
  • People are cruel and want me to fail because I am famous
  • I can’t trust people; they only want to use me for my fame
  • People expect me to be just like my famous (mother, father, etc. *this can be negative, not just positive, if infamy is involved)
  • It doesn’t matter what I do, people will only know me for X
  • The cards are stacked against me (if one’s “fame” is negative)
  • Without X, I am nothing

Positive Attributes That May Result: adaptable, cautious, cooperative, courteous, discreet, disciplined, extroverted, generous, hospitable, independent, introverted, kind, loyal, mature, meticulous, obedient, organized, patient, private, proactive, proper, responsible, sentimental, socially aware, sophisticated, supportive, talented, unselfish

Negative Traits That May Result: addictive, callous, cocky, compulsive, confrontational, cynical, defensive, evasive, extravagant, foolish, frivolous, fussy, haughty, hypocritical, impatient, insecure, irresponsible, lazy, materialistic, melodramatic, paranoid, pretentious, rebellious, reckless, self-destructive, self-indulgent, selfish, tactless, temperamental, timid, vain, volatile, whiny, workaholic

Resulting Fears:

  • fear of trusting the wrong person
  • fear of public embarrassment
  • fear of making a decision that will haunt one forever
  • fear of never measuring up
  • fear of letting people down
  • fear of taking risks
  • fear of being vulnerable (and being taken advantage of)
  • fear of being oneself (and therefore disappointing others)
  • fear of making mistakes
  • fear of letting people in (and being betrayed or hurt by them)

Possible Habits That May Emerge:

  • being obsessive about presentation (clothing, hair, behavior, fitting in)
  • holding back rather than taking risks (for fear of screwing up publicly)
  • acting more mature than others of one’s age (having to grow up fast in the limelight)
  • hoarding one’s privacy (because one gets little of it)
  • Keeping secrets or avoiding voicing one’s opinion
  • obsessing over one’s imperfections
  • being very hard on oneself
  • false bravado or pretending to be overly confident
  • having few genuine close friendships (difficulty letting people in)
  • turning into a “mean girl” or something similar to armor oneself against haters so people leave one alone
  • doing what one is told and not thinking for oneself out if habit
  • Engaging in anonymous activity to “feel like everyone else” (disguises, chat boards with a fake name, etc.)
  • using alcohol or drugs to loosen up and not feel so self-concious
  • working hard and not making time for oneself, trying to keep up with expectations
  • messy burnouts and meltdowns from the pressure

TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus. For our current list of Emotional Wound Entries, go here.

For other Descriptive Thesaurus Collections, go here.

Image: GLady @ Pixabay


Angela is an international speaker and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also enjoys dreaming up new tools and resources for One Stop For Writers, a library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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14 Responses to Emotional Wound Thesaurus: Growing Up In The Public Eye

  1. Thanks so much for writing this piece it was insightful. Your opening painted a clear picture of how we as writers can use negative emotions or emotional trauma to help develope charchers. The examples you proved were extremely helpful. This writing piece provides a lot of value and I appreciate the time you put into doing so. Thanks so much for sharing your work. If I could offer one helpful tip I would perhaps modify the title to welcome more readers who are specifically interested in charcher development. For example, a tittle such as, “Why Emotional Truman is the most effective way to develope your character!” This let readers know right away what you are going to discussion. Well I hope that was helpful. Thanks so much for your effort you put into this work!

    • Thanks for the kudos, Lanette. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. As I think you know, this is part of a series we’re doing on Emotional Wounds, which is why we have included that in the title. Between that and the actual wound title itself, our titles are a little on the long side as is, so adding to it probably wouldn’t work. But we appreciate the feedback :).

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  4. An interesting and welcome article! Thanks.

  5. Fascinating and helpful post on this niche topic of character-building. The thesaurus is a really useful resource. Thanks for this post, Becca and Angela.

  6. Carol Riggs says:

    Whoa, great nitty-gritty stuff! You really know how to go into depth into the character motivation! I’ve never thought about this in reference to growing up in a public eye.

  7. Sacha Black says:

    I have been following this series, and I really hope you are going to put it all together in a book. This one is particularly useful for a character I have at the moment. But they are all so insightful and I am desperate to have them collated in a book like your others. <3

    • Hi, Sacha. I’m glad to know this series is working for you :). We are currently in the process of putting together our Setting Thesaurus for publication (slated for release in late spring), so we haven’t talked extensively about what would be next. But we’ve received a lot of interest in the Wounds Thesaurus, so it wouldn’t surprise me if that made it into book form, too. It would be a while before that happens, though, since we’re currently working on the other thesaurus and are still in the process of putting up entries for this one. Thanks for the feedback.

  8. Dylan says:

    Mrs. Ackerman, Are you going to do an entry about surviving an environmental disaster like a hurricane, tornado, earthquake/tsunami. One of my characters survived the 2011 Japanese Earthquake/Tsunami.

  9. Samaria Driscoll says:

    This blog is intriguing. This is what characters in books feels. But if I may, an emotional wound can be resolved by being yourself.

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  11. Maria Hossain says:

    Another very helpful article, Ms Ackerman. I’ll use it to portray one of my protagonists in my next project, a historical YA where she’s the sole heiress to a multi millionaire family. Thanks again, 🙂

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