Character Motivation Entry: Overcoming Abuse and Learning To Trust

What does your character want? This is an important question to answer because it determines what your protagonist hopes to achieve by the story’s end. If the goal, or outer motivation, is written well, readers will identify fairly quickly what the overall story goal’s going to be and they’ll know what to root for. But how do you know what outer motivation to choose?

If you read enough books, you’ll see the same goals being used for different characters in new scenarios. Through this thesaurus, we’d like to explore these common outer motivations so you can see your options and what those goals might look like on a deeper level.

We hope the sample list of ideas below helps you better understand how your character’s motivation drives the story. For a much more detailed entry, follow this link to the official Character Motivation Thesaurus.

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): To Overcome Past Abuse and Learn To Trust

Forms This Might Take: Because of the focus on trust, abuse in this case might come at the hands of a partner, family member, person in authority, or someone known to the character. Some examples might be

  • Sexual abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Being raised by a abusive parent or caregiver

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): love and belonging

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Get oneself into a place of safety if one has not already done so (a government-supported shelter, stay with a friend, move out into a place of one’s own, move in with a trusted relative, etc.)
  • See a doctor and enter treatment for resulting conditions from the abuse (Post-traumatic stress, sleeping problems, suicidal thoughts, phobias, anxiety, depression, etc.) including taking medications if necessary
  • Read books and articles about overcoming abuse and how to deal with the emotional turmoil that has resulted from it (trust issues, a tendency to disassociate when deeply stressed, emotional numbness, an inability to express certain emotions, how to deal with fears resulting from the abuse, etc., whatever applies)
  • Extend the hand of friendship to others who respect boundaries and honesty

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Leaving an abusive environment may create financial hardship, especially at first as one is striving to go it alone while recovering from the trauma
  • As one opens up to others (through friendship or romantic relationships) one is also open to being hurt

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • An abusive partner or parent may refuse to let go and stalk, harass, reclaim, or try to hurt the character
  • One may struggle to find support (a place to live, means to get by) especially if one has no skills or ways to support oneself
  • If the character went to the police, they may not believe the character’s account of the situation, especially if there is no evidence, the perpetrator has a good reputation in the community (as a pastor, a teacher, a member of town council, etc.), or has power and influence. This could leave one’s abuser free (and possibly able to seek retribution) and leave the character’s trust and faith betrayed again, this time by the police or court system

Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:

Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:

  • Being unable to trust people and feeling the void of close relationships
  • Being victimized again
  • Living with fear as a constant companion

Click here to return to the list of sample entries for this thesaurus, along with a master post containing information on the individual fields.

Image: Tegula @Pixabay

What does your character want more than anything else and what is he willing to do to achieve it?

On the surface, the protagonist’s goal seems to be the most important, but the inner motivation driving your character toward this goal, despite pain, suffering, fear, setbacks, and sacrifice is what really draws readers in.

Understanding the four cornerstones of character arc and how they frame a story is paramount for today’s writers. To help with this, we have integrated our popular Character Motivation Thesaurus into our online library at One Stop For Writers.

Each entry has been enhanced to provide even more information about your character’s motivation, and is cross-referenced with our other thesauruses for easy searchability. We’ve also included a must-see tutorial on Character Motivation. Interested in seeing these expanded character motivation entries? Head on over and take advantage of our FREE TRIAL!



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.
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1 month ago

Overcoming abuses in a person’s life is a very difficult process. Any violence leaves its mark on a person’s life, which can be manifested in later life. If you read information about domestic violence on the site, it will help you a lot to create an image of a character that will be as realistic as possible and will have habits that characterize the person who experienced it…


[…] can experience the loss, anxiety and trauma with your character. Writers Helping Writers has a great entry on overcoming abuse that walks through trauma and character […]


[…] even if I did, it’s still got a ton of great info. Here is a post on character motivation and Overcoming Abuse and Learning To Trust by Angela […]


[…] Don’t be lazy. As a writer, you need to dive deep into these secondary emotions and layer the primary emotions so the reader can experience the loss, anxiety and trauma with your character. Writers Helping Writers has a great entry on overcoming abuse here that walks through trauma and cha… […]


[…] Don’t be lazy. As a writer, you need to dive deep into these secondary emotions and layer the primary emotions so the reader can experience the loss, anxiety and trauma with your character. Writers Helping Writers has a great entry on overcoming abuse here that walks through trauma and cha… […]


[…] Once we start writing, there are big ticket issues to worry about. Mary Kole explains how to direct reader attention, Donald Maass shows how to produce an emotional response from your reader, and Angela Ackerman explores the character motivation of overcoming abuse and learning to trust. […]

Nadja Van der Stroom
Nadja Van der Stroom
3 years ago

Although I own several of your books, I don’t check in on this blog regularly. Today, by chance, I did. This article was written for me(!) and is most helpful. My MC has suffered neglect, abuse, molestation and rape, and in asking myself what his motivation is upon his release from prison, I wondered if “learning to trust and have meaningful relationships again” could be a goal. From what I’m reading, it can be. However, my MC is not proactive in trying to make it happen. He still has something of a flinch-reflex to people getting close. He self-medicates rather than seeking real help. I think that being ready to admit that he can’t heal on his own will have to be part of goal. In any case, thanks for a great, insightful post.

Mary Van Everbroeck
3 years ago

Hi Angela: Thank you for sharing this very informative and interesting information. I think that The Skills and Talents listed regarding a Character who has been abused would need to be developed. In taking a look at the link you provided, two talents that I believe this type of Character would inherently possess could be ‘A Way With Animals’ and ‘anything to do with nature’. I look forward to learning more about this Thesaurus.

Sharon M Hart
3 years ago

Would solving a problem be in your list of characters’ motivations or is that in another category? Thanks for sharing.