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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - From Bully to Protector

Airdale wrote in for an assessment on her military cadet, Kalish* who lives in her medieval fantasy pages as a 17-year-old who just finished the Academy portion of his training before he is delivered to an outpost in the wilderness where Sergeant Daniels* will supervise Kalish's 2 years of field internship. At the novel's beginning, Kalish is a bully and believes the world exists only to hurt him. By the novel's end, he needs to be "rehabbed" into a leader.

Kalish has a backstory that starts as him being a prank-loving 8-year old who, at 14, has a prank that goes terribly wrong. As an alternative to prison, the Academy Headmaster takes Kalish under his tutelage. The Headmaster really takes Kalish to task, beating him and locking him in his room. The Headmaster, who actually cares for him, believes this abuse is discipline. When in training, Kalish becomes savage, and by the time the novel begins, he wills tart a fight anytime someone looks at him the wrong way and won't stop until he causes injury.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

What Airdale wants to know is this: What can Daniels and Kalish's fellow cadets do help Kalish stop being a bully and become a protector and leader? What kind of milestones and lapses might happen along the way? Wh
at kind of situations could I create to help Kalish heal and grow?

With Kalish, I'd like to start at his childhood (of course!). The prankster and fun-loving child who makes a huge mistake. Since you didn't specify what went wrong, I can only imagine that Kalish would feel guilt, shame, and a hardening of his heart when he's sent to the Academy, knowing he was destined for prison if he didn't go. This might cause him to really resent the Academy, what it stands for, and what he's learning there. He might decide to beat those who beat him, so to speak. This would give him the motivation to be the best swordsman and best cadet he could be.

Being locked in his room during his formidable teenage years, when Kalish is developing a sense of who he is, and a sense of his self-worth, would be perhaps the most psychologically damaging. It would teach him that he can only depend on himself and trust no one. He'd likely develop the mentality that it's him against the world, since no one was really coming to his aide to stop the abuse (regardless of how much more it might be accepted in your story world). The one man that took him under his wing was also the same man whose hand brought pain. Pain done in the name of love is the most detrimental kind.

For him to want to channel his violent tendencies toward protection, you'll have the hard job of making him actually care about something. You don't want to protect something you don't care about, and if you do protect something you don't care about, then you do so begrudgingly. So what's out there in this wilderness to make him care? Is it incredibly dangerous so that he would care about his life? Is it home of native inhabitants, one of which might become a romantic interest? (Think Avatar here. Being immersed in a completely foreign culture makes a person put up guards initially, yes, but respect tears them down. Learning to respect others is key to not being a bully. This is a mode of treatment for preschool bullies, even.)

I suppose that you could pit him against another cadet in the wilderness who is a contender for the role as "top dog." Then perhaps Kalish might be more of a protector or defender since he's still got something to prove, so he'd recognize that the rules of engagement at the Academy have changed and now he's got to shift his focus from self to something else in order to prove he's the best. Just something to consider.

This Sergeant is going to have to have long-suffering and consistency in order to gain Kalish's respect. If the man didn't beat him or do some other degrading punishment, then I think Kalish would pay attention to him. After all, that's the only sort of discipline he's known. Something completely foreign to him would make him come up short. At the very first "challenge" or behavioral faux pas, have Sergeant show his displeasure drastically different from the Headmaster.

For Kalish to heal from his past and become a man of honor and a great leader, then the internal transformation will have to start small, like learning there are other ways to handle conflict, and then realizing those ways are actually better than his old ways. It would be helpful for him to see someone he's come to respect make a true sacrifice for what they believe in...perhaps even Daniels himself. You might not have planned to kill the Sergeant off in your book, but if Kalish comes to really respect him, looks up to him like a father, so to speak, then having Daniels die at the end, and sort of "pass the torch" on to Kalish would be a powerful motivator for Kalish to finally change his ways. To have someone on his death bed tell Kalish that they believe in him, trust him, would heal all sorts of hurts and wounds from his past. Kalish might very well move mountains not to let Daniels (or whoever) down posthumously. Just another plot twist to think that would be very dramatic for the reader.

All young men--and women--just want to be believed in, to be affirmed and to be blessed by someone they love and care about. The Headmaster's ways weren't affirming, even though he might have cared for Kalish. Having a dying Daniels or someone else affirm Kalish not only because of his military prowess, but because of who he is, would be passing on to him the blessing that he's been denied ever since he played that prank that went horribly awry. He might be able to forgive himself for it, as well.

This assessment has been written a bit stream of consciousness, which I hope is still helpful. I found this was more difficult, and I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because of my association with the military (husband is 10 years in the Coast Guard) and having heard all the stories about boot camp, academy,'s hard not to try to put this storyline into modern time for me. If someone was a bully in the military, not able to keep their fists to themselves, then they would just be kicked out. So in a fantasy world, you've got lots more to play with that could be feasible.

Please, leave any additional questions in the comment section. Maybe one of your questions will spur me to think of something else I might have forgot or missed.

Good luck with writing Kalish's emergence into a worthy man. :)

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

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Livia Blackburne said...

I've often thought that being a respected mentor in a coming of age book is one of the riskest professions around. Seems like most of the die off to let the young'uns grow. Poor Dumbledore, Gandalf, etc :-)

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

ha! you are so right! thanks for stopping by. i always welcome a neuroscientist. :)

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for the great therapy session. I can definitely use the cornerstones you suggested of 1. Making Kalish care about something before he’ll protect it and 2. Have someone believe in him. I can’t quite kill the sergeant because this novel is a prequel and the sergeant appears in a later, finished novel. But I can take the concept. Awesome. Thank you so much. I do have questions, if you don’t mind

1) Fear. Would a boy like Kalish, who actively acts out and gets in trouble, fear the Sergeant’s (and other authority figure’s) wrath? On one hand, it seems that since he’s been punished into abuse, he should fear it quite a bit. On the other hand, it seems like he’s used to the worst so its norm and not frightening. What say you?

2) After having been locked in a room a lot, would Kalish more initially cherish the wilderness right away or be freaked out by it?

Thank you again for your wonderful insight! -Airdale

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

hey airdale. great questions. i think that Kalish wouldn't fear wrath. he's probably become immune to is after the severe beatings he received at the academy. he probably would have a "do your best" attitude, and even take the pain in silence, refusing to allow his tormentor the satifaction of knowing it hurt. remember, he's all he's got.

as for having been locked in his room...i think we have a human tendency to crave what we can't have. for kalish, this would be freedom (out from the lock and key). my gut says he'd be thrilled with the wilderness and what it represents. since he doesn't have any fear (see above!) then he'd likely get into trouble pretty quickly...and this could be where the sergeant handles disciplining him in such a different style. kalish will expect the beating, so have the sergeant give him an option of his punishment: to have ale with the sergeant (which kalish would be extremely uncomfortable with) or stand watch for other misbehaviors (which would show kalish that the sergeant is going to trust him). something like either of those examples...just something different.

hope that helps some. of course, these are just my thoughts...but i could see this happening feasibly with no problem.

thanks for writing in!

Unknown said...

Thank you Jeannie for the additional clarification. Sounds like the take point point is "I'm all I got". So, i'll work on getting Kalish's idea of "I" to expand to include productive activities, like bullying the enemy instead of fellow cadets :) Are there any typical "phases" that abused kids go through on their way to recovery?
Thank you again, espcially for making me think.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

airdale - ah....phases? recovery is just so different for everyone. one thing that's important for people who have been abused (domestic violence, child abuse, etc) is to stay away from repeat trauma (which could come in the form of secondary or even tertiary trauma, as well). something happens that reminds him of the Headmaster, or perhaps another person confides in him about being locked up and it drags up all his issues...that's repeat trauma and secondary trauma. so if you don't want a relapse, or if you do, then you'll know what to do or not. :)

Unknown said...

got it. Thanks:) I was thinking that since death/dying has the five stages, recovery might too. I'll keep secondary trauma in mind. Thank you!

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