Emotional Wounds Thesaurus Entry: Wrongful Imprisonment

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. 


Courtesy: miss_millions @ CreativeCommons


  • Being deliberately framed
  • Being mistaken for the criminal because of similar physical features, race, etc.
  • Someone committing perjury and setting one up to save someone else
  • Being found guilty because of the prejudices of a jury or judge

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 will never be free again.
  • God must be punishing me for something I’ve done.
  • I’m partly to blame for what happened; if I hadn’t been in that place, at that time, doing what I was doing…
  • The system I trusted betrayed me; I’ll never be able to trust anyone or anything again.
  • Hating the people/group/organization that did this to me will make me feel better.
  • There’s no point in following the rules if I’m going to be punished anyway.
  • I’ll never be able to go back to my life again.
  • I’ll never be able to achieve my dreams.
  • Maybe what they say/think about me is true.
  • If I let someone else be in control of me, they’re going to take advantage of me.

Positive Attributes That May Result: ambitious, cautious, independent, industrious, just, persistent, private, proactive, resourceful, thrifty, tolerant

Negative Traits That May Result: abrasive, addictive, antisocial, apathetic, callous, confrontational, controlling, cynical, defensive, hostile, humorless, inflexible, inhibited, irrational, jealous, martyr, morbid, paranoid,pessimistic, rebellious, reckless, resentful, self-destructive, temperamental, timid, uncooperative, ungrateful, vindictive, violent, volatile, withdrawn,

Resulting Fears:

  • Fear of never getting out of jail
  • Fear of losing one’s family or loved ones
  • Fear that people will think badly of one
  • Fear of trusting others
  • Fear of others being in control
  • Fear of being disappointed again

Possible Habits That May Emerge: 

  • Being suspicious of and distrusting those in authority
  • Flouting the rules, since following them never did one any good anyway
  • Hating and acting out against the people/group/organization responsible for one’s imprisonment
  • Turning away from one’s faith
  • Clinging to one’s faith
  • Becoming suspicious of the institutions or people that one formerly trusted
  • Becoming accustomed to life in prison out of the knowledge that one will never be able to live
  • Withdrawing from loved ones (returning their letters, not showing up on visiting days) as a way of leaving them before they have a chance to do the leaving
  • Clinging to loved ones
  • Doubting oneself; becoming insecure
  • Becoming determined to prove one’s innocence as a way of striking back at one’s accusers
  • Becoming pessimistic or cynical in one’s thoughts and words
  • Lowering one’s expectations in regards to what one will be able to do or what one can do
  • Refusing to let others control oneself
  • Becoming controlling of others
  • Becoming antisocial; being disillusioned with and fighting everyone and everything
  • Engaging in self-destructive behaviors (drugs, alcohol use, picking fights with others, etc.)

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.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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4 Responses to Emotional Wounds Thesaurus Entry: Wrongful Imprisonment

  1. Pingback: Monday Must-Reads [02.15.16]

  2. Mart Ramirez says:

    What a great list! Thank you for the reminder and the examples. Always helpful <3

  3. Beverly Campbell says:

    My main antagonist is very self absorbed, eccentric and narrow minded. I need to be able to clarify his traits better and to elaborate on them with his actions. Would I be able to do this easier using one of your trait thesauruses? If so which one in particular?

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