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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Guilt Through Association

This week's assessment comes from Laura. She's writing romance featuring her hero, who grew up with rich parents and all that entails (private education, luxurious holidays, designer clothes). But when he was 18, his dad was arrested and he discovers all the wealth he enjoyed came from crime, causing him to feel so guilty and ashamed that he cuts off all contact in town (including a girlfriend) and starts a new, simple life--one that comes from his own efforts. His career is centered on helping people because he feels he needs to make amends for profiting from his father's crimes.

Laura wants to know: What would his unacknowledged inner need be? What would he need to learn emotionally?

She also plans to bring the ex-girlfriend back into the story 13 years later, along with a child he knew nothing about. Alaura wants to know what type of person would this woman need to be to help her hero grow emotionally? The girl will come from a wealthy background, and Alaura is trying to figure out what the heroine's emotional need would be and what she'd need to learn about life with the help of the hero.

Almost without exception, I'd say his inner need would be validation. Validation that what he has done with his own two hands is good, that it is enough to erase the tarnish of having lived in plenty while in the shade of crime, however unknown to him at the time.

This rings true for almost every one, but males have a different ruler to measure up to. Most males want this validation from their father. Beginning back with Freud, psychologists have attempted to quantify the effects of needing a father's blessing, but really, I don't think anyone can guess just how much can ride on it for an individual. In your hero's case, his ruler no longer compares with his dad. I imagine he'd probably seek some other man he could model and emulate. Just because he might despise what his dad did, and the circles he ran in, doesn't mean that the inner need to have some sort of fatherly validation--some sort of blessing--wouldn't be as high as the next guy's.

As to what he'd need to learn emotionally, I'd probably start with learning to trust again. As a young boy, he probably trusted his parents to do right by him and others. To learn of his father's affairs would have been akin to learning his father was a traitor. It would not only throw him into a guilt-fest, but it would also bring to question everything he thought he knew about someone he probably loved very much--maybe even admired for being so "successful." Your hero probably wanted to be just like his dad when he grew up...before he knew the ugly truth.

Not everyone will betray him in such a fashion, but once bitten, twice shy. An emotional wound from childhood (and yes, 18 is still young enough to experience a wound that lasts for eternity), even not a romantic one, will color how he views other relationships. I imagine the 18-year-old harbored quite a bit of anger toward his father, and even though he picks a field of work where he can help others, that doesn't mean the anger isn't latent, lying there under the surface. You might want to think about him having some sort of physical outlet--like a hobby that involves blood, sweat, and tears--for him to pour out his underlying frustrations at a cruel world.

It would make for a nice character arc in the end for him to work through the anger (or what-have-you) and no longer have the need for that outlet (would make the reader sigh in relief if you maybe made the hobby a dangerous one--like rock climbing or something). Of course, to be truly in a healthy place, he's going to have to come to a point of at least acceptance, if not forgiveness, of his past and of his father. Forgiveness doesn't have to entail forgetting, of course, but just coming to a place where he is no longer driven by a need to remedy having condoned his father's actions.

So now let's factor in the heroine's return into his life. With her being from a wealthy family, another point of growth for the hero will be to accept the fact that not all wealth is bad. If she can be sensible about her wealth, lie not-living-in-excess-just-because-she-can about her wealth, then she could show him that money isn't the evil. It's what people do to get money...or what people do with money...but the green bill itself is neutral in those schemes. It'd be great for her to be in some sort of charity work, really doing something worthwhile with her money.

Her emotional need could be to know without a shadow of doubt that his man won't leave her again. She must have been pregnant when he left, and not being in contact for 13 years...she must have really held a grudge or not wanted him to have any place in her child's life. Assuming you work through the logistics, and she now wants to introduce her son to him, she would never do so with the thought that the hero would jump ship again. So she might introduce her son as her son, leaving out the hero's relationship to him. Innocent encounters that would win over a hero reluctant to get involved connected (for lack of trust). And once he finds out the connection, he might still have to work through his fear that he'll disappoint his child like his father disappointed him.

Hopefully this will get you started with some internal conflicts to work with! I appreciate you writing in. As always, any additional questions sparked by my assessment are welcome in the comments section.

Q4U: How many of you have written in a character with an internal problem revolving around their parents? What kind of problem was it? I'm doing a little research here for my next Thursday Therapeutic Thought series and would appreciate your help.

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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LauraC said...

Wow!That gives me loads to think about.Thank you, Jeannie. Off to play around with some of those ideas.

You said:that my hero might be worried that he'll disappoint his own child as his own father did him. This is a great idea. Do you think he'll be scared that he'll inadvertently do something to disppoint him?

I'm guessing he'd take great care not to deliberately do anything that could upset the child, but can't think what he fears he might do in the future to unintentionally let him down.

Tamika: said...

Jeannie, you provide so much for any writer to pull something away. Guilt will drive you in ways you would never imagine, it can also serve as a great platform for a person receiving salvation.

Unknown said...

Very interesting--I love reading Treatment Tuesdays, even if I don't always post or make it over here to read!

As for your question, I haven't written a story where the problems with the MC's parents were central to the story (yet), however, I've had it on the fringe. One MC had her parents divorce (she was in her 20s when it happened, and out of the house) and she tries to avoid the fact that her father has been dating a woman--one she learns is only a few years older than herself. When she learns they're engaged, she goes a little off the deep end, even considering manipulating her way into the hospital (she's Type-1 Diabetic) so she doesn't have to go to the wedding. Eventually, she grudgingly learns to accept her step-mom, even though the little girl in her still wants her parents to be married to each other.

Aubrie said...

This is a great post because I really struggle with writing the inner battles that go on inside people. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Jeannie - it seems that I can't stop from creating characters with issues regarding their parents. This worries me because I'm not aiming for YA by any means but most of my characters seem to develop an angsty teenage mindset, despite their chronological age! It just keeps creeping in. :o

Love to hear your opinion on this!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

Alaura - i think it's possible he could fear disappointing him. you'd have to really think about something that might work...maybe something to do with the boy...maybe he's special needs and actually NEEDS money for his care? that would give you a great juxtaposition...a hero who doesn't like money but would eventually need to have lots of it to care for his son or "let him down." could work.

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.