Emotional Wounds Thesaurus: Growing Up in a Cult

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.


courtesy: Todd Huffman @ Creative Commons

Definition of a cult: a small, fringe organization (often but not always defined by a religious belief system) that espouses idealogies and practices believed…

Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: safety and security, self-actualization

False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:

  • I am weak-minded.
  • I’m an easy target.
  • My judgment can’t be trusted…

Positive Attributes That May Result: analytical, appreciative, cautious, independent, industrious, persistent, persuasive, protective

Negative Traits That May Result: antisocial, callous, controlling, cynical, defensive, evasive, inflexible, inhibited, insecure, judgmental, nervous, paranoid, possessive…

Resulting Fears:

  • Fear of someone sucking one’s children into a cult
  • Fear of organized religion in general
  • Fear of being manipulated or controlled by anyone…

Possible Habits That May Emerge: 

  • Avoiding or despising religious groups and organizations
  • Becoming controlling (in an effort to avoid being controlled again)
  • Becoming studious so one can make informed decisions and not be easily led by others
  • Avoiding organized groups (even those that aren’t religious in nature)
  • Difficulty making decisions for oneself…

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.


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.





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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6 Responses to Emotional Wounds Thesaurus: Growing Up in a Cult

  1. Sacha Black says:

    So I totally know you’re bringing out the settings thesaurus next month, which (YAY by the way) but seriously… this is becoming such a tease! These are SO good. Do I need to get on my knees and beg you to collate these into another thesaurus?! :p <3

  2. Sara Beth says:

    This is an unexpected addition! I grew up in a cult but I have almost no memory of most of what happened. It wasn’t a particularly dangerous cult. My parents were kicked out, but they would have left regardless. After we left, many other families left, and it dissolved on it’s own. When I mean not dangerous, I mean, the main purpose was to control people within the group, not necessarily inflict physical harm upon people, or harm upon people outside of the group. Pretty sure there wasn’t any massive brainwashing going on, but definitely the Pastor was in complete control and he had spies and if people didn’t do what they were supposed to, then they would rat you out and embarrass you in front of everyone. I’m blessed to have no memory. My family has fared extremely well compared to other people I met who were among our group. We are still together. Many families broke apart (divorce, etc) The biggest result is that people fear religion altogether, and they fear being controlled.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Sara Beth. Events like these are tough to write about because you know they’re real things that have happened to real people. It’s good to see that with cults there are varying degrees of intensity in regard to their impact on the community. But the control issue seems to be constant.

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