The Connection Between Emotional Wounds and Basic Needs

As many of you may know, we have a new thesaurus, one that looks into a problematic (yet SO important) area: Emotional Wounds. It’s somewhat intuitive to see how a traumatic event might spawn specific fears or cause flaws or attributes to form. What isn’t quite so clear is the relationship between a wound and a character’s basic human needs. So I wanted to shed some light on that.

First of all, what are basic human needs? According to famed psychologist Abraham Maslow, there are 5 basic needs that every person needs in order to feel fulfilled. If a person—or, for our purposes, a character—is lacking any of these needs, they will set out to fill that void, beginning with the need that’s most vital. 

As the diagram below shows, the foundation of the pyramid represents our physiological needs because those are the most important; the need for food, water, air, and the like are obviously the most vital because without them we would cease to live. The next most important need is that of safety, followed by love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.
1024px-Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg

So a character whose physiological needs aren’t being met is going to do whatever it takes to meet those needs. This is the heart of Character Motivation.  Once that goal is accomplished, she’ll move on to the next most pressing goal. 

FullSizeRender-3As an example, consider Erin Brockovich, from the movie of the same name. At the beginning of the film, she has no job and is struggling to provide for her family; she’s missing the safety need. So she scours the classifieds, interviews pretty much everywhere, and tells potential employers whatever they want to hear in an effort to secure employment so she can take care of her family. With no luck. Then she gets creamed by the doctor in the Jaguar. Medical bills pile up and she becomes so desperate that she walks into her lawyer’s office and just starts working, telling everyone that he hired her. You can see her pride taking a hit when the lawyer confronts her and, in obvious embarrassment, she quietly pleads with him not to make her beg for a job.

This is the power of basic needs. When one is missing, it affects a character’s behavior and pushes her to do things she never would have done otherwise. Knowing which needs your character is missing can help you to write her believably because you’ll know what’s driving her on a primal level. 

So what do emotional wounds have to do with this? Angela has written an excellent post that explains the wounding event; if you’re looking for more information on what that is or need some guidance on choosing the right one for your character, please check that out. Once you’ve chosen an appropriate wounding event, the next step is identifying which needs have been compromised because of it.

To clarify this, let’s look at a girl who was bullied repeatedly about her looks. Because of this bullying, her esteem is removed; the abuse diminishes both her view of herself and her perception of how other people see her. Even after the bullying is done, she still feels the pain associated with the loss of her esteem and will subconsciously take steps to meet that need or make sure that it isn’t threatened again. Maybe she’ll throw herself into education, sports, or the arts as a means of gaining recognition for herself, since she feels unable to compete physically. Perhaps she’ll become overly flirtatious or promiscuous, seeking attention from others as a way of feeling desirable. She might even become a bully herself, valuing her power over others because it brings a measure of respect from her peers.

See how wounds and basic needs are related? The former inevitably impacts the latter. So when you’re looking into possible emotional wounds for your character, always take into account the needs that have been diminished or removed because of those wounds. This information will help you to create and write characters who make sense and resonate with readers.

For more information on Emotional Wounds and how powerful Unmet Needs will trigger a inner transformation within the character, take a peek inside The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma.

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About BECCA PUGLISI

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.
This entry was posted in Basic Human Needs, Character Arc, Character Wound, Characters, Experiments, Motivation, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons. Bookmark the permalink.
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[…] They should be as nuanced as the rest of the cast, with motivations, wounding events, fears, and missing human needs that drive them to do what they […]

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[…] They should be as nuanced as the rest of the cast, with motivations, wounding events, fears, and missing human needs that drive them to do what they […]

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[…] Each of us is a different fingerprint, molded by our past and what life has thrown our way. We have motivations for everything we do, and fears, insecurities, and emotions which shape our actions, especially […]

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[…] This emotional shielding comes in the form of bad habits, defense mechanisms, personality flaws, biases, and skewed beliefs that, while intended to protect the character, only create more problems. They’re so destructive that they create a void in the area of her basic human needs. […]

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[…] one of these layers is missing, we become compelled to fill that void. To do this, we adopt new habits, thought patterns, and beliefs that align with that purpose. These […]

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[…] The Connection Between Emotional Wounds and Basic Needs […]

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[…] https://writershelpingwriters.net/2015/05/the-connection-between-emotional-wounds-and-basic-needs/ If your character is lacking basic needs, they are going to set off on a journey to fill the void. […]

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[…] Each of us is a different fingerprint, molded by our past and what life has thrown our way. We have motivations for everything we do, and fears, insecurities, and emotions which shape our actions, especially […]

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[…] way. One way to bond your audience of unique individuals to the protagonist is to remove one of her basic human needs, such as belonging or surviving. Because everyone understands these needs, taking one of them away […]

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[…] true-to-life. They feel, think, and behave like real people. So if Love and Belonging drives us, it must motivate our characters as well (especially in […]

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Cynsational Information, Giveaways & Summer time Hiatus | TiaMart Blog
5 years ago

[…] The Connection Between Emotional Wounds and Basic Needs by Becca Puglisi from Writers Serving to Writers. Peek: “…she nonetheless feels the ache related to the lack of her esteem and can subconsciously take steps to satisfy that want or be sure that it isn’t threatened once more. Perhaps she’ll throw herself into schooling, sports activities, or the humanities as a way of gaining recognition for herself, since she feels unable to compete bodily.” […]

Traci Kenworth
5 years ago

Looking forward to this, Becca!!

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[…] Tweet of the Day: The Connection Between Emotional Wounds and Basic Needs […]

Manju Howard (@ManjuBeth)

Your post connects with last month’s Ted Radio Hour on Maslow’s Human Needs. http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/399796647/maslows-human-needs?showDate=2015-04-17

Angela Ackerman
Admin
5 years ago

Thanks Manju–I will be sure to check that out!

Mona AlvaradoFrazier
5 years ago

Every writer needs to read your post. I can see how the Emotional Thesaurus can help a writer go deeper and more fully into a protag. or antag. personality and character arc. Thanks for another great resource.

Angela Ackerman
Admin
5 years ago

Thanks so much. I find the more I learn about how this all fits together the more fascinated I become. 🙂

Theresa Milstein
5 years ago

I really like thinking about my manuscripts in terms of emotional wounds and the drive it creates in my characters.

Angela Ackerman
Admin
5 years ago

So glad this helps, Theresa!

Alexandra Wallner
5 years ago

Great and helpful slant on a character. I will read it again more slowly and determine how this applies to my characters. Thanks so much for this post!

Angela Ackerman
Admin
5 years ago

You bet–this is a unique area to explore, and so I am excited to see where it leads. 🙂