Emotional Wound Thesaurus

Below are samples of the entries in our popular emotional wound thesaurus. For the complete and enhanced collection, please visit One Stop For Writers, where it has a permanent place within our vast Descriptive Thesaurus Collection. You can access it and our other thesauruses with a click of a button as you write.

If you prefer your references in book form, good news: The Emotional Wounds Thesaurus is now available in Print & Digital formats. It contains well over 100 different wounding events and includes comprehensive, one-of-a-kind instructive material that goes over the backstory wound’s key role within Character Arc, and how to use it in your own storytelling to create rich, authentic characters your readers will connect deeply to.

Partial Wound List (Samples)

Everyone has negative experiences from the past that impact who they are in the future; this is true for n
our characters, too. If you’re trying to decide which emotional wound might be a possibility for your character and how it might affect him/her in your current story, this thesaurus might be able to help.

sad2What Is An Emotional Wound Thesaurus?

Accidentally Killing Someone

A Family Member’s Suicide

A Home Invasion

A House Fire

A Parent’s Abandonment

A Role Model Who Disappoints

A Sibling’s Betrayal

A Speech Impediment

Becoming a Caregiver at an Early Age

Being Bullied

Being Fired or Laid Off

Being Held Captive

Being Mugged

Being Publicly Humiliated

Being Raised by Neglectful Parents

Being Raised by Overprotective Parents

Being So Beautiful It’s All People See

Being the Victim of a Vicious Rumor

Being Stalked

Being Trapped in a Collapsed Building

Being Unfairly Blamed For The Death of Another

Childhood Sexual Abuse (by a family member or known person)

Discovering One’s Parent is a Monster

Discovering One’s Sibling was Abused

Experiencing a Miscarriage or Stillbirth

Failing At School

Failing To Do The Right Thing

Financial Ruin Due To A Spouse’s Irresponsibility

Finding Out One’s Child Was Abused

Finding Out One Was Adopted

Getting Lost In a Natural Environment

Growing Up In A Cult

Growing Up in a Dangerous Neighborhood

Growing Up In Foster Care

Growing Up In The Public Eye

Growing Up In The Shadow of a Successful Sibling

Growing Up with a Sibling Who Has a Chronic Disability or Illness

Having Parents Who Favored One Child Over Another

Having To Kill Another Person To Survive


Infidelity (emotional or physical)

Losing a Limb

Losing a Loved One To A Random Act of Violence

Making a Very Public Mistake

Overly Critical or Strict Parents

Physical Disfigurement

Rejection By One’s Peers

Telling The Truth But Not Being Believed

The Death of a Child On One’s Watch

Victimization via Identity Theft

Watching A Loved One Die

Wrongful Imprisonment

Spending Time In Jail

Suffering From a Learning Disability

Visit our other Descriptive Thesaurus Collections HERE.


Image via Adam McGuire @ Pixabay



86 Responses to Emotional Wound Thesaurus

  1. Sidney Williams says:

    How do you use these emotional wounds to create a fleshed-out, detailed, and compelling backstory for your character(s)?

  2. Sidney Williams says:

    This is a really good page! I’m trying to create a really fleshed-out and compelling tragic backstory for my OC and this can really help me a lot. Though, is there a way for someone to add “Witnessing a traumatic event” so I can find a way to use that to create said backstory? Anyway, great page.

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  4. May says:

    This is a great page! In fact, one of the links is currently helping me flesh out my character’s backstory. However, I’m wondering if one emotional wound can be synonymous with another. Can “A parent’s kidnapping” be considered the same as “Abandonment by a parent”, especially if the child was in their formative years?

    • Sure thing. Just like, in a child’s eyes, a parent’s divorce (causing one parent to move across the country and take them out of the picture), could also be perceived as abandonment. The name of the wound itself is secondary, really, to the results of it. So you should be able to pull different responses from both of those entries if they apply. Good luck!

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  6. Morgan says:

    I’m having trouble thinking of an emotional wound for my character. I know what her lie is (it’s a four-part series, so she tackles a few. In book one, her lie is believing that poor people are leeches). The reason she believes this is because she grew up in America, where society assumes that rich people must’ve worked hard to get where they are, meaning that the poor are stealing from her via welfare. Because of this, she calls poor people all sorts of nasty names and in general acts like a snob.

    Any idea what a good wound would be here?

    • Hi, Morgan. The beauty of this whole character arc process is that you don’t have to have all the puzzle pieces in place; you can start with just one and figure it out from there. So for that lie, you want to brainstorm possible wounds and make a short list of the ones that might have caused that lie to come about. Maybe she grew up in the public eye as part of a wealthy family. On the flip side, it’s likely that someone who experienced poverty and worked hard to pull herself out of it could view the ones who haven’t done the same thing with disdain. Fortunately, there are a lot of possibilities; it’s just a matter of figuring out which ones make sense for a character believing that particular lie. Good luck!

      • Morgan says:

        Wait, how is growing up in the public eye an emotional wound? Because that works great.

        • Well, growing up in a fish bowl can have negative effects on certain personalities. Think about the result on a child of every word and action being scrutinized, having to please not only your parents but the public as well, carrying the weight of the family’s reputation on your shoulders and being afraid to take a wrong step…Some people navigate this situation easily, but others can be deeply effected by it (as is true with any wound). If you’re subscribed to One Stop for Writers, you can take a look at the entry for this wound using the link in my last comment. Good luck!

  7. Timothy Turner says:

    I would find it incredibly helpful if we could identify the emotional wound within famous characters – those found within well known novels: Dickens, Austen, Shelley, Lee, Salinger, etc. I guess I’m asking, ‘are emotional wounds needed?’ – if they are sometimes seemingly absent, in the most memorable characters found within the classics.

    • Hi, Timothy. This is a great question that I struggled with for awhile. While some classic characters do have clear wounding experiences, many of them do not——or they have wounds, but they aren’t clearly defined for the reader. It may be true that the wounding experience as part of a character’s development is more of a modern device, but I don’t believe that makes it any less effective. Stories have been told since people first started banding together, and the mode and format of the story are constantly evolving. For instance, I love the classics, but I believe the modern trend toward shortening setting descriptions and cherry-picking the important details is a big improvement over the page-long descriptions in the books on my shelves. I still love those stories, but there are changes that could have been made to make them even better, imo.

      The classics absolutely worked, and they still do, but I would argue that they work less today than they used to because storytelling is changing, and new generations are used to the new style. One of the devices that has become more common recently is the wounding event as a formative event that has to be overcome. Again, this isn’t the case for every story——particularly those where the story is more about an event (solving a mystery, getting the bad guy, exploring a theme through a current event, etc.) than it is about the character’s internal journey. So a wounding event isn’t always necessary. But many stories today are about an internal change that stems from past pain, and if that’s the kind of story an author wants to write, the wound is vital.

      My buck fifty :).

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  11. Elmer says:

    A big part of the wounds are their resolutions at the end of a story. In most stories the characters need to undergo development in order to be intressting and the audience has to see the progress made. It would be really nice to also see a list of events that could make the characters values change. I’m writting a character who has, after the suicide of her mother, become pessimistic and she belives she’s better off on her own. But I don’t know what situations or events would cause her to challenge these belives, so it would be great to have guide lines, like the list of false belifes you wrote for every single wound.

    • Because each situation will be unique based on many factors (the type of wound, how personal it was, the support a character had, their personality, ability to cope, etc.) what we’ve done in the book is provide a section on healthy coping mechanisms that can be adapted to fit each individual, and show their path to healing. We hope this will help writers accomplish that necessary growth and ability to “re-frame” the event in the character’s mind. 😉

    • Wade Gaviota says:

      i would say look for ways for you character to have to join a team, or have to work one on one with someone new like a buddy cop movie kinda way or find a way to introduce a character that needs to watch over her that fills that mentor hole in her life.

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  14. Just wondering if Giving Up A Child For Adoption made the final list in the book?

  15. What, incest didn’t make the list? Better yet, incest actively aided and abetted by the opposite sex parent? This is more common than you think – child molesters marry a person who doesn’t like sex who has a young child they will offer up instead. Then they will actively help the molester to hide what goes on in the home. Trust me, it leaves you one fucked up adult if you were the child victim 😉

    Also being the victim of a loved one who has narcisstic personality disorder is a level of domestic abuse that can hardly be imagined by someone who hasn’t been through it. Look for https://www.amazon.com/POWER-Surviving-Narcissistic-Collection-Narcissism-ebook/dp/B01N5R6U0X/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1492883011&sr=8-3-fkmr0&keywords=kindle+books+power+nacisstic+abuse for an excellent description of the pattern a victim will experience.

    • The list you see here isn’t complete. We have furthered developed this thesaurus and will release it in the fall as a book. You’ll be happy to know that both Incest and Being Raised By a Narcissist are included. You can also find the collection at One Stop For Writers–currently there are 60 fully developed entries, and in a month or two, the entire list (about 120) will be there for writers to use. https://onestopforwriters.com/wounds

      Happy writing, and thanks for your links. 🙂

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  17. John Pepper says:

    I’m really enjoying your thesauruses. Soon enough I want to be able to purchase them all, especially this one. I hope you plan on adding even more for the book.

    As a suggestion, because I want to know about characters from sci-fi novels who go through this, but how about some kind of identity crisis? Something like finding out one is not who or what they thought they were. Finding out one was adopted is the closest thing I have seen to it.

    Hope you’ll consider it, and I’d love to hear what else you might have planned. Thanks.

    • He have a lot of different wounds we’re covering, so hopefully when this thesaurus is complete, you’ll find something that gives you what you need. The issue with identity crises is that they can come from many different wounds–finding out one was adopted, finding out one was a product of rape, many different childhood wounds can cause this because of dysfunctional relationships, abuse situation can cause this, being imprisoned, suffering prejudice and discrimination, etc. So the best thing is to think about WHY your character is struggling with heir identity. 🙂

      If you like, there are about 60 or so Emotional Wounds up at One Stop for Writers, and in coming months we’ll be adding more. https://onestopforwriters.com/wounds

  18. Just found your great site. I am looking forward to reading your books and can’t wait for this ’emotional’ one coming.

  19. Dana says:

    How about being dumped by someone you love, i.e., spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, lover, etc.? Whether s/he just stops calling, breaks up, or divorces a romantic partner, the wound to the rejected party can be devastating and never heal.

  20. Cary Nichols says:

    Please add me to your mailing list.

  21. The one I need is a woman in jeopardy who knows that someone is trying to kill them, but they don’t know who. I keep writing these stories!

  22. Carol Malone says:

    Hi Angela and Becca,

    I was thinking of the trauma of when a spouse does a spiritual 180 when the other spouse thought they’d be spiritually and equally yoked for life. I hope you can describe the betraying pain that comes from being “spiritually abandoned.” Thanks.

    I heard this handy website resource is closing soon. I sure hope that’s not the case as I just found this fabulous resource for my writing. Please tell me we’ll be able to find these Wound categories some place else.

  23. Tricia says:

    Just thinking… Can you also add antonyms to these wounds (like liberating emotions)? Having broken out and being freed from physical captivity, or emotional captivity (seen a therapist), etc.

  24. Tricia says:

    Slavery – Many people may think of sexual slavery. There are also the poor in other countries that go to work in mines and other types of businesses looking for a bright future only to realize they are wearing invisible chains. Some bosses are known to pay partly in addictive drugs as a form of payment. Working conditions are hazardous so watching colleague die or become disabled is common.

  25. Mary says:

    Please add partner physical abuse.

  26. Sacha Black says:

    Aloha Gurus, don’t suppose being a victim of kidnap is on your list? looking for some emotional reactions around that.

    • Hey! That is on our list but hasn’t been covered yet. I’m going to be writing Saturday’s wound entry post tomorrow, so I’ll do that one. Saves me having to pick one ;).

      • Sacha Black says:

        Goddamn that’s a good service :p – LITERALLY LOVE YOU GUYS. Thank you so much. Now off to study IN detail <3 <3 thank you SO much

        • Aww, right back atcha! As i was writing this, I realized that there are really two scenarios here. There’s what happens to a person who is actively being held prisoner and what happens to a person who has escaped captivity. Because of this, I did the first here and will probably tackle the next one for my next entry, in two weeks. So if you need more information about the latter, tune in then :).

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  28. Claire says:

    My suggestions for this (very awesome thesaurus that I hope you one day make a book out of) list:

    Surviving a terrorist attack

    Growing up with an autism spectrum disorder

    Being the victim of a failed honor killing

    Police brutality

    Being an immediate family member to a serial killer

    • Hi, Claire. Thanks for the suggestions. Some of these are on our list, and we’ll consider the others. It’s unfortunate that the list of possible wounds is so extensive. So many negative events that can impact people and characters.

  29. Sara Beth says:

    I’m sure your list is growing. Definitely adding something about a child experiencing divorce would be a great one to put on here. And the sudden death of a family member (sibling) or sudden death of a childhood/family friend. Or even finding out that you’re adopted later on in life.

    Thank you these are all great so far as I’ve read. Anyone else discover that your characters have multiple wounds to deal with?

    • I think Characters, just like people, have multiple wounds, and they may make headway on several, but one will be paramount to overcome for the character to move forward and achieve that internal growth so they can achieve their goal. I think too, in series, this is a great way to work through multiple wounds, too!

  30. Miah Arthur says:

    Being the parent of an addict.

  31. Lucy Brown says:

    You guys are brilliant. I’ve bought your other collections and this resource is going to prove as invaluable – I just can’t believe it took me so long to find it!

    Thank you.

  32. Miah Arthur says:

    Suggestions: Surviving a kidnapping/hostage situation. Short term vs. long term.

    Sudden loss of health. Maybe not full disability, but requiring drastic lifestyle changes and constant consideration–especially hard on a young, extremely active person

    Sudden disability, especially that results in loss of livelihood

    Sudden disability in a loved one that requires constant care.

    Being identified in a small community as being a victim of some of these other things. I think that can be traumatizing in it’s own right, especially in a case where people may blame the victim for what happened. Like the character mentioned earlier that lost most of his family in a fire. In a small community, everyone is going to be looking at him differently. Pitying him, and at the same time at least half of them are going to be whispering amongst themselves why wasn’t he home? Couldn’t he have saved more of them? (if he was there). It isn’t exactly a vicious rumor, just idle gossip.

    Also, how these things can interact. What if the man whose family died in the fire was also seriously burned himself? Like badly enough that he now has limited use of one limb or will have good use, but only in time. Now he’s dealing with all of these emotions and a scared child, and doctor’s appointments and therapies, AND the town gossip. The whole can be greater than the parts.

    Losing a parent at an early age

    Childhood physical abuse

    Domestic abuse survivor, including info about male victims would be good, because it happens way more frequently than people think and has an entirely different stigma attached to it. (same for male rape victims)

    These thesaurus are amazing. I recommend them all the time!

  33. Claire says:

    Definitely a great resource that, once it gets large enough, you should publish as a book.

    Bullying incidents might be a good one to add to this list–as could the tragic incident of sexual assault.

  34. Paul Vitols says:

    This is a fantastic page. You really take your tagline, “writers helping writers,” seriously. Thanks for making your research and brainstorming available to others.

  35. Kathy Ruth says:

    I just subscribed to OSFW and was nosing around to see what it offered. Another cool tool in my box. Would you consider assimilating the wounds info into the site at OS even as it is developing, for subscriber convenience? And when and If you eventually make Emotional Wounds a book,(read please, please, puleeze,) please add it to the OSFW collection. Everything you at Bookshelf Muse put out is golden! You are at the top of my Gratitude List currently. Thanks, Kathy

    • Thanks for the feedback Kathy, and we’re so happy you’re finding One Stop to be a good tool! Becca, Lee and I are still determining how things will go for thesaurus collections moving forward, but we also need to think about our blog readers, so it is a challenge. Any changes we make to how we usually roll out Thesaurus collections we’ll be sure to announce! 🙂

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  37. Elyse says:

    My goodness! What a wonderful addition to the series. I own the other three thesaurus. The Emotional Thesaurus goes everywhere I go and has been a critical tool in writing my current novel.


  38. Victoriah Lloyd says:

    I have to concur with the others, this series of books are the absolute greatest. I have read each one cover to cover, and utilize them more than any other resource material. I’m hoping to see more to the emotional wound thesaurus. I have a character that needs help, and I couldn’t find an emotional wound that would cover it, or perhaps make my character make sense to an audience. She’s jealous and envious of her sister’s beauty and accomplishments. She was in love with a guy that used her feelings for him to get to her sister. She blames her sister for every bad relationship, her alcoholism, and overactive sex drive. I thought I could’ve used the “Role Model Who Disappoints” but the profile just doesn’t quite fit the character.

  39. Meg says:

    This is great! Perfect for what I needed. Thanks!
    But, are you thinking of adding more? Such as, dealing with drugs (I know some people struggle with the ”after” or the ”during” of a drug addiction)

  40. Is the Emotional Wounds Thesaurus a book like the Positive Traits – Negative Traits – etc books? I am so happy with the series you’ve produced. They’ve given my writing a much deeper/stronger edge. Thank you for doing these and making our writing better.

    Please let me know if this is a book or not – jlmewrites@gmail.com

    • Hi, Joy! We just started the Emotional Wounds thesaurus at our blog; there are half-a-dozen entries so far, so not quite enough for a book yet :). Down the road, we may decide to publish it, but for now, you can find a new entry each Saturday. I’m so glad you’re enjoying it.

  41. Linda Thomsen says:

    Ladies, you deserve the highest honors possible for putting together this wonderful Thesaurus collection. These books are EXACTLY what we need. All too often “words fail” — either because the author hasn’t had that heart-wrenching experience in their life — or HAS gone through so much it leaves them shell-shocked and empty. But these are the brave ones who WANT to write, perhaps to reach out a helping hand to others or even offer timely advice and warnings that ring true. What they have to say comes from them, not tips from a course they once had.
    Real life offers a person dreadful experiences and unexpected challenges, but if one doesn’t give up (oh, how much easier that way!) and each day takes once again resumes the hard task of just living, they are winners.
    On that bumpy road they probably learn more than they ever imagined (or even wanted to), but at the end they emerge a finer, wiser man or woman. After all, no one ever said life was easy.
    Like writing — never easy, but your thesauruses do provide the needed spark of inspiration. Thank you so much!

    • Thank you, Linda. This is kind of a tough series to write, because we know that our readers have physically gone through many of the events that we’re highlighting and we want to be as authentic as possible without trivializing everything. We also want to help the writers who haven’t shared these painful experiences, knowing that if we can write about them in a respectful way, they might benefit, too.

  42. Rebekah says:

    Are you going to be adding to this list? Possibly PTSD?

  43. Annette says:

    This is just what I needed for one of my novel. A father’s children die in a fire except one. He blames himself but I couldn’t figure how this would show up in his behavior except in the obvious way. Can’t wait to see what’s next.

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