Emotional Wounds Thesaurus Entry: Being Raised by Neglectful Parents

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. 

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.

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Courtesy: Pixabay

Examples: Neglect can best be described as a caregiver’s ongoing failure to provide for a child’s basic needs. It comes in many forms, including physical, emotional, mental and medical neglect. Child or teen victims of neglect could be said to have been raised by parents who

  • refused to take their child to routine medical check-ups
  • were unable or unwilling to buy appropriate clothing for their child
  • often failed to feed their child…

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 am unlovable.
  • I’ve done something to deserve this treatment.
  • It’s my fault that I’m treated this way…

Positive Attributes That May Result: adaptable, ambitious, focused, independent, industrious, mature, nurturing, private, resourceful, responsible, simple, thrifty

Negative Traits That May Result: addictive, antisocial, apathetic, callous, compulsive, controlling, cruel, cynical, devious, dishonest, disrespectful, evasive, hostile, humorless…

Resulting Fears:

  • Fear of repeating a parent’s mistakes with one’s own children
  • Fear of never being loved or accepted by anyone
  • Fear of being hungry/not having enough to eat…

Possible Habits That May Emerge: 

  • Hoarding materials (food, clothing, toys, etc.)
  • Clinging to anyone who shows love and affection
  • Difficulty forming attachments to others, including one’s spouse and children
  • Struggling to parent effectively
  • Begging for or stealing the items one lacks…

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.

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.

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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.

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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.
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12 Responses to Emotional Wounds Thesaurus Entry: Being Raised by Neglectful Parents

  1. Victoriah Lloyd says:

    Hi, Angela and Becca,

    I’m having some difficulty here, I’ve been searching the emotional wound thesaurus for a traumatizing experience for my character who is a con-man with an obvious antisocial personality. I haven’t quite discovered one strong enough to influence his dark side.

    After relentless searches in psychology, I keep coming back to being raised by neglectful parents, being raised by an addict, or being raised by a narcissist, however, their possible responses and results, don’t really speak to any behaviors that would ordinarily develop his darker side of his personality.

    Whatever help you can give me is greatly appreciated.

    • Hi, Victoriah. Good for you, for digging deep to figure out the “why” behind your character’s behavior. Keep in mind that our thesaurus entries aren’t comprehensive because each character is going to react uniquely to a wounding event, and there’s no way we could include every possible response. So just because the results there don’t fit your character, it doesn’t mean the wound isn’t possible for him. There are so many different factors that work together to determine a character’s response: personality, influential people, support system, etc. So don’t throw out those possibilities until you’re sure they don’t work for him.

      One thing I would suggest is to try and work backward from who he is today to why he is that way. It sounds like you know his behaviors and habits; figure out why he embraces those things. Are they a defense mechanism? Is he mirroring the behaviors of an influential role model from his early days? Does he exhibit them to try and meet a certain unmet need? If you can figure out why he has those habits, you’ll have a better understanding of which wound they may be tied to.

      In your case, where you seem to know who your character is currently and you’re trying to figure out why he is that way, it makes sense to work backward, from the present to the past. Our Reverse Backstory Tool can be super helpful with this because you can start pretty much anywhere and work you way forward or backward. Take a look at that and see if it helps. If you have a copy of The Negative Trait Thesaurus, there’s a filled-in example, so you can see how it’s supposed to work.

  2. Maria Hossain says:

    Again very good post, Ms Puglisi and just in time since the MCs from my WIP has neglectful parents as well. Thanks a lot for this post, 🙂 🙂

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  4. Andrena says:

    Thank you for this update. It will certainly help me with my own fanfiction and novel

  5. James Drew says:

    Wow, as someone who had neglectful parents, this is scarily insightful.

  6. liz n. says:

    So, basically, Harry Potter…

    😉

  7. Very insightful. Even a “little” neglect can result in some of these characteristics. Thanks once again for a post which I’ll save and refer back to.

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