Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Sibling’s Betrayal

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.

heartbreakCharacters, 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. 

We hope the sample list of ideas below will help you see how emotional trauma will influence your character’s behavior and mindset. For the full entry of this and over 100 other emotional wounds, check into our bestselling resource, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression.



  • Spilling a closely guarded secret to parents, a spouse or one’s children
  • Starting false rumors or perpetuating existing ones
  • Exposing something shameful or embarrassing to others (like drug use, deviant behavior, committing a fraudulent act, 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:

  • If I can’t trust my family, who can I trust?
  • I need to distance myself from family
  • My private life is not safe to share with anyone, especially family
  • Whatever I have, another will always take it…

Positive Attributes That May Result: cautious, disciplined, discreet, empathetic, focused, independent, industrious, introverted, kind, mature, observant, pensive…

Negative Traits That May Result: abrasive, catty, controlling, cruel, defensive, dishonest, evasive, hostile, hypocritical, impulsive, insecure, judgmental, martyr, nervous…

Resulting Fears:

  • Fear of vulnerability
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of achievement…

Possible Habits That May Emerge:

  • Avoiding family members, especially one’s sibling
  • Refusing to speak to or about one’s sibling
  • Making excuses to get out of social engagements where one’s sibling is present
  • Having a distanced relationship with nieces and nephews
  • Cutting the individual out of one’s life (online and off) and taking care about all personal information shared online so other relatives don’t “report back” to one’s sibling…

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: Macunin @ Pixabay

Which emotional wounds are haunting your characters and keeping them from being whole and fulfilled?

Emotional wounds are incredibly formative, changing how a character views the world, causing trust issues, damaging their self-worth, dictating how they will interact with other people, and making it harder for them to achieve their goals. As such, understanding your character’s wound is vitally important to your overall story.

To help with this, we have integrated this thesaurus into our online library at One Stop For Writers.


Each entry has been enhanced and expanded to provide even more helpful information about your character’s wounds and is cross-referenced with our other thesauruses for easy searchability. We’ve also included a must-see tutorial on this topic—a crash-course on how a wound impacts the affected character and the role wounds play in his or her arc over the course of a story. Interested in seeing a sampling of our completed wound thesaurus entries?  Head on over and register for free!

On the other hand, if you prefer your references in book form, we’ve got you covered, too, because this thesaurus is now available for purchase in both digital and print form. In addition to the 120+ entries, each book contains instructional front matter to help you understand wounds and how they’ll affect your character and story. With chapters about the wound’s aftereffects and how the event ties in to the character arc, along with ideas on brainstorming your character’s wound and how to best reveal the trauma to readers, this book will be your go-to resource for connecting the backstory dots and coming up with characters who are well-rounded and realistic.





Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
4 years ago

this should be on http://www.onestopforwriters.com. It would help a lot.

4 years ago
Reply to  CG

Hi, CG! We are planning on adding the Wounds Thesaurus to One Stop at some point, but it will take some time to make that happen. We have to finish the thesaurus at Writers Helping Writers first, then it will be added to One Stop as part of a scheduled update, once we’ve had time to format it for that site. Our first update at One Stop will be happening sometime in the spring, so the Wound Thesaurus will have to wait until the next one, at the least. I’m sorry for the delay; it just takes some time and planning to roll them over.

Leslie Rose
5 years ago

Definitely a powerful dynamic. Those people that share the arc of your life can also do the most damage.


[…] 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. Learn more. […]


[…] H. Knecht lists 5 simple tips to set your characters apart, and Angela Ackerman gives pointers on using a sibling’s betrayal as emotional backstory for your character, while Jami Gold discusses character likability and subtext. And when you are […]

Lori Johnstone
5 years ago


This is wonderful for people who easily access their rational thinking brain rather than their emotional one. Those people can sometimes be fantastic at the mechanical aspects of writing and especially plot. However, understanding a character’s cause and effect-showing who they have become as a result of their experiences, is absolutely integral to story.

I think this is also relevant for those of us who think we understand emotional responses, a great reference.

Thanks for creating this useful series, and this excellent resource!

Melissa Sugar
5 years ago

OMG, this is the story of my real life. I never even considered how easily I could use this information to make my characters come alive. I come from a large family and not even going into my brothers, I have four sisters, two older and two younger. We experienced our share of sibling rivalry, but at one point or another it grew into sibling betrayal between two siblings. I’m not sure if the underlying cause was our fighting for our mother’s love and approval, (at times she seemed to only have enough for one daughter), and it was usually the daughter who happened to be excelling the most in life, or if the betrayal stemmed from something else. I read through your examples, needs, false beliefs, positive attributes, negative traits, fears, and habits and I recognized almost every single one. You’ve really nailed this emotional wound and more accurately depicted it than my therapist, LOL.

Fortunately, my sisters, my mom and I were all open to therapy. In fact we were all eager to find a way to mend the wrongs of our past. I know that this doesn’t often occur in dysfunctional families so I recognize how blessed we are. When we had our own children and saw how close all of the cousins were and how there was nothing they wouldn’t do for each other, we realized that we wanted a closer sibling relationship and one that was true, real and authentic. We’d been to therapist over the years, but the result was nothing more than a bandaid. Once we all recognized our responsibility for what was wrong with our relationship and we all committed to finding a way to make it better, we finally found real help and we are truly close now. Even though we have worked through the past trauma, I still sense and feel the fears and anxiety seeping into situations, but we try to call each other on it, before it festers into something uncontrollable, and we work it out. We are fortunate that we were able to forgive one another and work together and alone to atone for our past behaviors. We worked hard to find a way to respect and cherish one another. Sadly, it took a second brother’s death to make us work toward this goal.

I just wanted to commend you on how well you have explained this wound. You really got it … all of it. Thank you.

Melissa Sugar


[…] Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Sibling’s Betrayal – WRITERS HELPING WRITERS™ […]

Traci Kenworth
5 years ago

This is a good one. Sibling rivalry is one thing, betrayal is even more incentive for trouble.

Nicole Montgomery
5 years ago

Holy cow, that’s exactly my MC.The only decent member of her family was her brother, then he did something she took as betrayal and ran away. Years later, she’s superficially very outgoing and friendly, but never lets anyone truly close. If they try to get close, she runs away. Simultaneously, she’s always trying to create the family she didn’t have – you can guess those things don’t work out well for her.

In this book, she’s forced to face her brother for the first time in years. Making matters worse, he viewed her running away, and where/who she ran to, as a betrayal of *him*.

Mayhem ensues…

Your books are eerily accurate by the way. I was going through them, ticking off traits for my characters. The other MC is very introverted, as am I, and I kept having to remind myself that these traits were the *character’s*, not my own… It was like reading a mirror of me. I hadn’t realized how much that character was like me. Very interesting.

Great post! Thank you!

Victoriah Lloyd
Victoriah Lloyd
5 years ago

“Simultaneously, she’s always trying to create the family she didn’t have”

Nicole, if I could offer a bit of feedback from a personal perspective, her truest desire is to have the family that she didn’t have, and guilt is why she runs away. What makes us better at writing is the ability to write what we know from our experiences, which in turn, gives our characters real life, whether it be a tragedy or an accomplishment. Don’t avoid finding yourself even in the negative traits; ask yourself, what could possibly happen to me to make me react or respond in a way that would force me to exhibit this negative trait. When your imagination takes off and you can’t keep up, find a voice recorder and keep it in your back pocket.

Victoriah Lloyd
Victoriah Lloyd
5 years ago

This may be out of pocket, but I would love to see a post about generational curses, a continual negative pattern of something being handed down from generation to generation.

Victoriah Lloyd
Victoriah Lloyd
5 years ago

Will do. Thanks so much for all that you do. You and Becca are wonderful and truly Godsends.

Victoriah Lloyd
Victoriah Lloyd
5 years ago

Absolutely. What i have been working on is a script about sibling rivalry. The last two posts have changed my life as well as my writing skills. What i have discovered in reviewing the negative and positive traits is that there are certain degrees of character change. On one end of the spectrum, there’s the top of the line healthy and on the other end, the absolute worst traits a character could exhibit. In seeing myself in this post, I’m thankful to say that I don’t exhibit many of the negative traits listed, yet it doesn’t mean that i never will given the right circumstances. My problem to solve is what circumstances can i put the character in to force her to take on these negative traits. Since, I tend to live a very spiritual lifestyle (being the betrayed), my thought processes on hateful and evil behaviors are significantly minimal other than what i have experienced myself, and trust me I have experienced some doozies, but nothing I’ve experienced has changed me for the worst just yet. The greatest challenge of all i guess.

Victoriah Lloyd
Victoriah Lloyd
5 years ago


Victoriah Lloyd
Victoriah Lloyd
5 years ago

O.M.G. Are you a mentalist? I can’t believe this entry. This is by far the best entry I’ve read. Not that I need a psychiatrist have you, but you just pegged me. This is so wonderful. As I was reading it, my anxiety levels went thru the roof, because every bit of it is true, except the dishonest trait. Being honest is my saving grace. With all the lies trampling over my good name honesty is all i have, that and proof of course. We’ve become very great at record keeping /keeping score of every negative thing the sibling did, in hopes that one day, she will be able to use it against her to get her revenge. All in all, my favorite terms: you reap what you so, every dog has its day, the hole you dig for me is the one you’ll lie in trying to bury me.
Sorry for all that. You hit a sore spot. Love it.