Emotional Wounds Thesaurus Entry: Finding Out One’s Child Was Abused

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.

teddyCharacters, 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.

Finding Out One’s Child Was Abused

Discovering one’s child had their innocence ripped away and one did not know, didn’t see the signs, or misunderstood the signs as being about something else…it’s a parent’s worst nightmare. Whatever the scenario, the result is the same–deep seated guilt and shame that one failed at the most important job they will ever have: being a parent.


Learning after the fact that…

  • one’s partner or a close relative has been abusing one’s child
  • the abuse occurred at a trusted family friend’s house
  • one’s child was abused by a teacher or person of authority…

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 a terrible parent–I couldn’t even protect my child
  • I should have seen the signs, I should have known
  • I recklessly placed my child in danger instead of protecting them…

*these lies (and the guilt and self-blame) are even more deeply entrenched if one’s child acted out in some way only to have it passed off as “bad behavior,” if they tried to say something but were not believed, or they said nothing because they felt they couldn’t go to their parent about it.

Positive Attributes That May Result: alert, analytical, cautious, empathetic, loyal, nurturing, observant, perceptive, persistent, private, proactive, responsible, wise

Negative Traits That May Result: addictive, confrontational, controlling. fanatical, humorless, inflexible, irrational, morbid, obsessive, paranoid, pessimistic, stubborn…

Resulting Fears:

  • That if one’s child is out of one’s sight, abuse will reoccur
  • That one will somehow miss obvious signs something is wrong and let one’s child down again
  • That people around one’s child will somehow know he/she has been victimized and target them…

Possible Habits That May Emerge:

  • Needing to know where one’s child is at all times
  • Checking on them frequently with or without their knowledge
  • Being suspicious of anyone who interacts with one’s child, or shows an interest in him/her, even trusted family or friends
  • Looking for dangers and possible areas of exposure to the point that it disrupts the child’s routine or causes fear to bloom
  • One’s mind always going to the worst case scenario…

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: greyerbaby @ 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, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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7 Responses to Emotional Wounds Thesaurus Entry: Finding Out One’s Child Was Abused

  1. I’m going to post this one on facebook, so I don’t lose it. I need it for my MC in the YA I’m working on. Thank you ladies…You are A MAZ ING!!!!

  2. Maria Hossain says:

    Wow! This post came out just when my MMC’s dad didn’t believe him when he told him that his teacher aka his dad’s friend tried to abuse him. I was wondering about how his dad’s reactions will be when he finds out that his son was true all along and he should’ve believed him. He also feels guilty learning that my MMC had suppressed this for a very long time till he couldn’t but his dad didn’t believe him. Not only that, my MMC’s dad also feels guilty when he learns that because of this sexual abuse, my MMC once tried to commit suicide. Thanks so much, Ms. Ackerman, for such an helpful post.

  3. Tabitha says:

    Thank you. Very helpful. It would be interesting to note if behaviours change based in how long ago the abuse happened when then parent finally finds out or accepts in happened. For example an adult child revealing this to a parent.

    • It would depend on the individual I think. So much would factor in to determine the depth of the wound for a parent: how long it had been since the abuse, how the child was handling it now (did they move past it, are they still struggling, did it completely ruin their life, etc.) and how deeply the adult feels responsibility for the event. Adults (except for the select few who aren’t supportive/don’t care/just want everyone to pretend it didn’t happen) will always feel guilt and responsibility to some measure, but the situation where the abuse took place will determined HOW MUCH responsibility they feel. If the abuse happened by a teacher at school, a parent would feel they let their child down, that they should have known something was off with the teacher, etc. But if the abuse happened at home, with a relative or a friend of the parant and the parent unknowingly gave them access to their child…the guilt will feel so much more severe, even after the fact and many years later. It will be a harder wound to move past.

  4. This is a very sensitive entry. I applaud your getting it right.

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