The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: How False Beliefs, Fears, and Human Needs Are Connected

Just like real people, our characters have a plethora of past experiences that play a part in molding who they become. While these experiences, good and bad, affect their personalities, it is often the harrowing ones that have the most impact.

car-accident-337764_1280An emotional wound is a negative event from the character’s past that causes a hurt deep enough to change who he or she is. It might be a single experience (discovering a spouse’s infidelity), a longer term situation (being so poor one often went to bed hungry), or a series of small cuts that leave scars (a parent who withheld affection whenever one’s performance and grades were less than perfect). Whatever the wound, the result is an all-consuming fear that if the character does not protect himself, this situation (and resulting emotional pain) will happen again.

This intense fear causes flaws to bloom, flaws that act as emotional shields to keep people and situations at arms length, preventing a past hurt from reoccurring. Behaviors, habits, attitudes, and even beliefs may alter. The character who was cheated on will struggle with trust, and may become promiscuous to avoid meaningful relationships that could put his heart at risk. The character raised in poverty may become stingy with money and resources to avoid any possibility of having to go without. A character taught that affection is tied to success may become an overachieving workaholic out of a need to please others. The most important aspect of these flaws is that while they appear to “protect” or “help” the character, they actually do the opposite, damaging relationships and preventing the self-growth needed to move past these fears.

Wounds will help shape our characters. Who someone is at the start of a story is due, in part, to any wounds from his past. As authors, it’s important to identify a character’s unique wounds to better understand what kind of person he is, how he’s likely to react in a given situation, and why.

By exploring EMOTIONAL WOUNDS as the topic for our next thesaurus, we can examine different wounding events and offer ideas on how they could change a character, helping you plot how a wound will impact your character’s personality and steer his motivations.

Wounds are messy, and their effects can be complicated. To break it all down, here’s a brief tutorial on the elements that will be covered in each entry of this thesaurus and how they’re inter-related.

1024px-Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svgBasic Needs: According to famed psychologist Abraham Maslow, people are driven by 5 basic needs that we all need in order to be fulfilled. If a need isn’t being met, we will deliberately or subconsciously set out to meet that need. Often, a wounding event will steal away one of these needs—i.e., safety being sabotaged when someone is mugged. Even after the event is over, that lack of safety haunts the victim and can affect his or her behavior as she tries to reclaim her feeling of security. Thus, it’s important to identify which needs will be compromised from a given wound so the character’s resulting actions will make sense.

False Beliefs: There’s something in human nature that makes us internalize bad things that happen, even when it wasn’t our fault. In the aftermath of a wounding event, a character will often blame himself and come to believe a lie that begins to erode his self-esteem. For instance, someone who is bullied may start to believe that there’s something intrinsically wrong with him, and this is why he’s picked on. This lie, like any belief, will affect the character’s behaviors, mannerisms, decisions, and beliefs. It’s a highly motivating factor in influencing who a character becomes in the aftermath of a wounding event and so must be identified. For more information on lies and their relationship with basic human needs, check out the Needs and Lies appendix in The Negative Trait Thesaurus.

Character Traits: Because a character will be highly driven to avoid repeating both the wounding event and the negative feelings that are associated with it, he will often adopt new attributes and flaws that weren’t a part of his personality in the past. For instance, a character who was abandoned by a parent might become distrustful of others, rebellious, or withdrawn. On the positive side, he may be fiercely loyal to those who meet his need for love and acceptance; he might also develop and express deep empathy for others who have suffered from abandonment. There are many ways a character might respond to a wound, giving you much freedom in creating a character who is believable and makes sense to readers.

Resulting Fears: Wounds often spawn fears that are born out of a desire to avoid repeating the negative experience and associated emotions. These fears will absolutely impact a character’s behaviors and habits moving forward, so it’s important to identify them.

New Habits: The lies and resulting fears that stem from a wound will drastically alter a character’s actions as he moves into his new normal. The habits offered in this thesaurus may seem contradictory in nature because behaviors will vary from character to character. For example, someone experiencing the violent death of a loved one could begin to act a number of ways: he might withdraw from meaningful relationships out of the fear that he can’t protect his loved ones; he may turn volatile and seek revenge because he wrongly believes that he will never find peace until the culprit is brought to justice; he could throw himself into work as a way of avoiding the negative feelings that resulted from the wound. Once you’ve identified any lies or fears, it will be a simple matter of picking the new behaviors that correspond.

As you can see, wounds are highly formative. Choosing the right wound for your character and your story is a good first step toward writing a believable character who rings true with readers. If you would like more information on wounds, the front matter of The Negative Trait Thesaurus covers this in great detail.

We hope that you find The Emotional Wound Thesaurus to be a useful addition to our Writers Helping Writers collection.

You can find the sample entries for this thesaurus HERE and the completed book HERE. We are excited for the depth this book will bring to your characters. Happy writing!

photo credits: 1)Pixabay, 2)Wikimedia Commons


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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71 Responses to The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: How False Beliefs, Fears, and Human Needs Are Connected

  1. Pingback: Useful Writing Resources | Matthew's Cute Reports

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  4. Stacey Riley says:

    Will this become a book eventually? Love to read it on my kindle.

    • Hi, Stacey! The interest in the Emotional Wounds Thesaurus has been high, so the chances of us turning it into a book are high. But that won’t be for awhile, since we’re still fleshing it out at the blog, and we’re just two weeks away from publishing our setting thesaurus books. If you’d like to stay up to date on information about our books and what’s coming down the ‘pike, you can always sign up for this newsletter. That way you’ll be informed about if/when the emotional wounds thesaurus is going to be published. Happy writing!

    • This will be the next book we create, yes. 🙂 But that means at least a year. 🙂 Becca and I are doing something very unusual for us…taking the summer off. 🙂

  5. Frank says:

    I’ve been writing a MG novel on teen therapy, but am being VERY careful not to stray into Pop Psychology, because that would almost automatically disqualify it during any agent or publisher’s legal review. The story is more about the patient, and not what the therapist says, and is one way to keep the story legally safe (I wouldn’t want a 10 year-old self-diagnosing)……

    • Yes, good strategy. The MG protagonist is the star of the book, and if you have too strong of a therapist’s angle it will feel preachy and not ring true with the MG voice.

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  7. Elba says:

    I can see that I’m very late in this thread but, I’m wondering if the Emotional Wounds Thesaurus and the Emotion Thesaurus are the same. From the info here, it looks like a new book coming out? Have you published it yet? I have all of your books and subscribe to your blog. Can’t imagine how I missed this.

  8. I’ve got the others and chomping at the bit for this one! Thank you for all your hard work for us struggling writers! 😀

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  10. Pingback: Emotional Wounds Thesaurus Entry: Failing To Do the Right Thing | Michiko Katsu

  11. Isabelle says:

    Will this thesaurus, and the skill/talent list be added to
    Cause that would be awesome. =)

  12. Pingback: Necessary Writer Tools…Ackerman and Puglisi’s collection #writing #thesaurus #writingtools | Wicked Dragon Writer Solutions

  13. Irene says:

    Two more wounds for you:
    1) Character’s husband and best friend run off together – double deceit!
    2) Character’s husband doesn’t want children even tho she does. Has vasectomy without telling her. When she finds out, the relationship breaks down. Divorce. Within no time at all he has re-married a woman with three small children to whom he becomes ‘daddy’.

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  16. Faith says:

    Are you *sure* I can’t have it right this minute? I can hardly wait to preorder. This may be your best yet.



    • Thanks Faith, lol. Becca and I are very happy this collection is helping people!

      • Victoriah Lloyd says:

        You have no idea how much. I’ve been writing now about 6 years. My biggest problem was character creation. When I got my first real breakthrough was when I bought your book collection from the Writer’s Book Store. Angela & Becca, you have truly changed my life as a writer. Cheers to you.

  17. Angela Mayfair says:

    I want an entire book of this so badly, I would pre order it today if I could.

  18. Karen rider says:

    When will the emotional wounds thesaurus be available?

    • Hi Karen,

      We are currently exploring this thesaurus on the blog only, as we do with all our thesaurus collections in the beginning. If we see a strong response from our readers asking us to convert it to a book, we then decide whether to do the conversion. As you can imagine, each of our reference books is very labor intensive as we strive to improve on what we offer on the blog and add in the teaching component of writing each specific area of description. So, we focus on conversions that we feel will offer the best help to writers. 🙂

      • Dee Kincade says:

        I want to add my vote. I would definitely buy this book when it comes out. I already have your other books and use them all the time.

        I can’t wait to pre-order!


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  20. Cassandra L Shaw says:

    Love all your emotion books and look forward to using and recommending this resource.

  21. Karen Jennings says:

    I am excited about your newest endeavor; I have all of your books and they are profoundly helpful to writers and in real life as well. Thanks for writing these books and best of luck to you both!

  22. I can hardly wait. . .I’ve got your other three TRAIT/EMOTION books and use them extensively for each of my Contemporary Christian Women’s Fiction stories. CONGRATULATIONS. . .and I’ll be watching for this new addition to the Trait Family. ‘;)

  23. Congrats! Sounds like a great addition to your series.

  24. Angela says:

    Thank you all so much for the enthusiasm–we are very thrilled to be able to tackle this topic, and create a new database that will help writers brainstorm the deeper motivations and fears that drive their characters. The first post will be this Saturday–looking forward to it! 🙂

  25. Raven Jester says:

    Wow, I really like this idea for a Theesauraus. For me personally, I have trouble working out the how – the follow on effect of the wounding, so this idea is great. I look forward to each posting.

  26. Penelope James says:

    Sounds fantastic! Can’t wait for it to come out. Congratulations!

  27. WOW! Looking forward to getting my hands on this!

  28. mshatch says:

    I can’t wait to read more; this sounds both fascinating and extremely helpful!

  29. Phoenix Grey says:

    I can’t wait for this! I am hoping it’s going to be published as a book. Great choice for the next thesaurus guys. This series of books is genius. 🙂

  30. Lisanne says:

    ::dusts off another spot on her desk::

  31. Given that every resource you provide and every post you present are worthwhile, there’s little to do except look forward to its launch. An Emotional Wounds Thesaurus is an inspired idea. I’m looking forward to it!

  32. Wow! This looks like it will be another great addition to the Thesaurus bookshelf! Can’t wait!

  33. Jill W says:

    This is exactly what I need! What a great addition to my Thesaurus collection. Thanks!

  34. Diane Turner says:

    Can’t wait! Thanks for all you hard work.

  35. I can’t wait! I’ll be stalking the website but while the blog is good, this had better turn into a book I can have on my shelf! I’d even pre-order it, and I never pre-order anything!

  36. Kristin Lenz says:

    Wonderful! I feel like I’m revisiting my psychology/MSW school days. Congrats on the huge job of pulling all of this together. Cheers!

  37. Magali says:

    Can’t wait!!! 😀

  38. Keli Gwyn says:

    yes! Yes!! YES!!! I want this–yesterday! Can’t wait until I have this resource at my fingertips in book form. Write fast, please!

  39. Nat Russo says:


    And as for the book potential: SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!!!! 🙂

  40. You guys rock! Can’t wait. Sounds fabulous. I could kiss you guys. xoxo

  41. Can’t wait to add this to my collection!! I can’t stress enough how much these books have helped my writing journey!!

  42. Thanks Angela and Becca! Sounds like exactly what I need for my MGs to work. I’m not good with internal thought. I think a study of emotional wounds would help.

  43. Sacha Black says:

    OMG PLEASE turn this into a book. I cannot wait to see it #preorder!

  44. Bish Denham says:

    You ladies Rock!!!

  45. I cannot wait to delve into this. I already love the other thesauri and use them daily and I know this will be no different. I’m already thinking of characters in my current WIP who will benefit from this.

    You two are fantastic and I don’t know what I’d do without your amazing contributions.

  46. Sara L. says:

    Awesome choice for a new thesaurus! And it will compliment (complement?) the Negative Trait Thesaurus perfectly. Are you planning to keep Emotional Wounds strictly to the blog for now? Or do you think you might turn it into a book later on?

  47. Dawn Allen says:

    First off, plethora is one of my favorite words. Loved seeing someone else use it. 🙂 Second, like all your other fans, I’m thrilled that there will be another one. AND the topic is perfect for my next WIP. Thanks!

  48. And the brilliant work of Angela and Becca continues. The two of you are an infinite source of what author’s crave most–you provide us the ability to dig deep and make our pages spring to life.
    Congratulations on the next “chapter.” I’m looking forward to every entry. Cheers!

  49. I can’t wait for this one! 😀

  50. I’m excited about this new thesaurus. It’s going to be brilliant! Thanks, Angela and Becca, for coming up with all these great thesauri. They’ve made my job as an author so much easier.

    • Thanks, Stina! We’re really excited about this one, too. Wounds play a huge part in our characters’ pasts, but there’s not a lot of information out there on the subject. So we’re hoping this will fill a need.

  51. Allison Collins says:

    This is perfect! This new thesaurus will be well used by authors everywhere. Will this be a book someday? If so, I’ll be first in line to buy it.
    The whole series is great, as is your website. Thank you both for these amazing tools!

    • Thank you, Allison! As for the book potential for this thesaurus, we never know until we see how each new thesaurus will be received. Some are viewed a lot, and we can see that there would be a market for a book. Others…not so much ;). We’ll see how this one goes.

  52. Mary J says:

    Break out the champagne! A toast to the authors! The Emotional Wounds Thesaurus will be an immense help to writers, who often struggle with character motivation. I’ll be following this blog theme with great interest, working out some issues in my own work in progress.

    Many thanks to the rock-star writer bloggers.

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