Character Motivation Entry: Overcoming Abuse and Learning To Trust

What does your character want? This is an important question to answer because it determines what your protagonist hopes to achieve by the story’s end. If the goal, or outer motivation, is written well, readers will identify fairly quickly what the overall story goal’s going to be and they’ll know what to root for. But how do you know what outer motivation to choose?

If you read enough books, you’ll see the same goals being used for different characters in new scenarios. Through this thesaurus, we’d like to explore these common outer motivations so you can see your options and what those goals might look like on a deeper level.

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): To Overcome Past Abuse and Learn To Trust

Forms This Might Take: Because of the focus on trust, abuse in this case might come at the hands of a partner, family member, person in authority, or someone known to the character. Some examples might be

  • Sexual abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Being raised by a abusive parent or caregiver
  • Being tortured
  • Being raised by neglectful parents
  • Being treated like property (sold, prostituted, enslaved, etc.)
  • Being raised by a parent with untreated mental illness

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): love and belonging

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Get oneself into a place of safety if one has not already done so (a government-supported shelter, stay with a friend, move out into a place of one’s own, move in with a trusted relative, etc.)
  • See a doctor and enter treatment for resulting conditions from the abuse (Post-traumatic stress, sleeping problems, suicidal thoughts, phobias, anxiety, depression, etc.) including taking medications if necessary
  • Read books and articles about overcoming abuse and how to deal with the emotional turmoil that has resulted from it (trust issues, a tendency to disassociate when deeply stressed, emotional numbness, an inability to express certain emotions, how to deal with fears resulting from the abuse, etc., whatever applies)
  • Get involved in online forums for survivors of abuse to access information and have a support network
  • Work at establishing a normal routine that focuses on minimizing stress and promoting wellness (eating well, getting enough sleep, taking medications on time, attending support group meetings, getting exercise)
  • Learn to identify and break negative thought patterns that will cause anxiety flare ups or reinforce feelings of low self-worth (by getting outside, reaching out to someone one trusts for support, cognitive therapy, etc.)
  • Seek out a therapist for counseling, slowly building bonds of trust
  • Join a support group to meet others in a safe space who understand the difficulty of openness and vulnerability
  • Strengthen one’s self confidence by viewing oneself as a survivor, not a victim (and feeling empowered through building a career, pursuing education, following passions, getting fit, becoming an advocate for a cause, being in service to others, learning self-defense, etc.)
  • By getting involved in one’s church or community, and through caring for others, seeing people are trustworthy, and realizing everyone has value and is worthy of loving relationships
  • By getting an animal as a pet for companionship and unconditional love
  • Through the practice of self-acceptance and self-care, continuing to boost one’s feelings of self worth
  • Extend the hand of friendship to others who respect boundaries and honesty
  • By being able to help others through their own struggles by showing empathy, kindness, and understanding, which leads to trust being built on both sides

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Leaving an abusive environment may create financial hardship, especially at first as one is striving to go it alone while recovering from the trauma
  • As one opens up to others (through friendship or romantic relationships) one is also open to being hurt
  • One may choose a dysfunctional partner or toxic friend because this is the unbalanced relationship one is used to, reliving the situation of abuse
  • One could get into a relationship with someone that just doesn’t work out, leading to heartache
  • Trust can be broken in small ways (accidentally spilling a secret, telling a white lie, breaking a promise, etc.) which will leave a bigger mark on a survivor of abuse than it might with others

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • An abusive partner or parent may refuse to let go and stalk, harass, reclaim, or try to hurt the character
  • One may struggle to find support (a place to live, means to get by) especially if one has no skills or ways to support oneself
  • If the character went to the police, they may not believe the character’s account of the situation, especially if there is no evidence, the perpetrator has a good reputation in the community (as a pastor, a teacher, a member of town council, etc.), or has power and influence. This could leave one’s abuser free (and possibly able to seek retribution) and leave the character’s trust and faith betrayed again, this time by the police or court system
  • One may be cut off from other family member as a result of leaving (the family members at home forbidden to have any contact by the abuser, or family members who side with the abuser over the character, etc.)
  • Being victimized in some way (mugged, a victim of random vandalism, a wallet stolen, a break-in, etc.) that causes one’s emerging trust in people to crumble once more
  • Developing a sexual dysfunction as a result of the type of abuse one suffered, leading to even more struggles with intimacy to overcome
  • Having a dependency to deal with (to alcohol, drugs, etc.) as a result of past trauma or a disorder that creates extra challenges (such as an eating disorder)

Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:

Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:

  • Being unable to trust people and feeling the void of close relationships
  • Being victimized again
  • Living with fear as a constant companion
  • Dreams and passions left unrealized
  • Never being able to be a mother (or father) if that is a desire
  • A lifelong struggle with low self-esteem and self-worth
  • Feeling isolated and alone

Click here for a list of our current entries for this thesaurus, along with a master post containing information on the individual fields.

Image: Tegula @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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9 Responses to Character Motivation Entry: Overcoming Abuse and Learning To Trust

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  4. Nadja Van der Stroom says:

    Although I own several of your books, I don’t check in on this blog regularly. Today, by chance, I did. This article was written for me(!) and is most helpful. My MC has suffered neglect, abuse, molestation and rape, and in asking myself what his motivation is upon his release from prison, I wondered if “learning to trust and have meaningful relationships again” could be a goal. From what I’m reading, it can be. However, my MC is not proactive in trying to make it happen. He still has something of a flinch-reflex to people getting close. He self-medicates rather than seeking real help. I think that being ready to admit that he can’t heal on his own will have to be part of goal. In any case, thanks for a great, insightful post.

  5. Hi Angela: Thank you for sharing this very informative and interesting information. I think that The Skills and Talents listed regarding a Character who has been abused would need to be developed. In taking a look at the link you provided, two talents that I believe this type of Character would inherently possess could be ‘A Way With Animals’ and ‘anything to do with nature’. I look forward to learning more about this Thesaurus.

    • Sure either of those could apply. Our entries are a jumping off point, and the talents and skills merely a way to encourage individual brainstorming of what talents might best fit each individual character. 🙂

  6. Would solving a problem be in your list of characters’ motivations or is that in another category? Thanks for sharing.

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