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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Over-Critical Parent

This week's assessment is for T. Ruby Johnson, who's working on a contemporary category romance. Her heroine, Sonya*, was raised by a very loving, but critical woman. Ruby's debating on what role her father played, or if Sonya even knew one. Sonya is extremely shy, very self-conscious, and full of insecurities. Her boss is in love with her, but she can't accept that anyone would be interested in her. Sonya is a very dedicated Christian, but not completely free.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Rubywants to know: If Sonya's controlling mother is the cause of Sonya's insecurity, what would that look like? What would finally open Sonya's eyes to the truth or change her mind that it is possible for someone to love her? Also, would it be realistic for her to open up and even joke with the man she adores when it is just the two of them?

Great questions, Tammy. I'll just dive right in. If you're going to have Sonya's insecurity be a direct result of her critical mother, then the critical nature of their interactions during her childhood will have to be fairly harsh. Going on the excerpt you sent, the mother criticizing Sonya for not making her bed would be incredibly mild.

The focus of the mother's criticism would have to be Sonya herself. Some choice words that Sonya could remember when she sees her boss would only solidify in her mind that he couldn't possibly be interested in her. For example, she might question her clothes matching (blue doesn't go with green) or her style (mother told her to never wear silver with linen or some other such nonsense), or her usage of makeup (too much, too little, wrong colors).

If she doesn't criticize her on her looks or clothes, then on her actions. Based on your excerpt, it looks like you've gotten a start on this. Nothing Sonya does would have been good enough, perhaps, even when it comes to making the bed. So it stands to reason in her mind that a guy wouldn't be interested in someone with her because her internal mantra would be, "I'm not good enough." She's inferior.

What I suggest you add in is her father. A girl's view of her father is very important in how she grows up to view men. Let's say her father was a perfectionist, or very concerned with appearances. If this was the case, then her father would be a convenient reason to give the mother motivation to be so critical. Perhaps the mother was only trying to live up to the father's expectations, and found herself always lacking, so she displaced that disappointment into criticizing her daughter. But adding her father would really add some great backstory, in my personal opinion.

What could open her up to the possibility that someone could be interested in her? Gosh, I don't know. If you're wanting something external to happen, the sky's the limit. How about a nice, long kiss out of left field? I'm such a romantic, though. You could still have her rationalize the kiss off as a "slip," or that he was simply being polite. Or a heartfelt letter or declaration of love? If you want something internal to change for Sonya, that will take a bit more effort.

You could have Sonya come to the realization that not everything her mom said was true. This would take the Lord working in her life, of course. Jesus looks on everyone of his creations as being perfectly made in his image. So even if she doesn't match, or coordinate, or iron all the wrinkles out of everything...he still loves her. You might consider this as her spiritual/faith journey...coming to the conclusion that living up to her mother's expectations isn't nearly as important as living up to Christ's expectations.

I think it would be in keeping with her character to have her joke with her boss, in particular if she makes herself the butt of the joke. You wrote that you have her locked in a storage closet with him with soup spilled on her skirt and she jokes about wearing her soup well. That's a great example of the type of semi-awkward joke she might have, which in essence just puts herself down. Look at how she can't even eat soup without getting it all over her. She must be damaged in some way to not accomplish this simple feat. She might also open up to her boss because of her firm belief that he couldn't be interested in her. That might make him "safe" to disclose things to.

I had a client who had a mother who was as critical as you have made Sonya's. Everything was up for grabs: grades, clothes, friends, chores, food, make-up. My client thought if she could just do a little more, be a little "better," then she could earn her mother's love more. You wrote that Sonya's mother was very loving, but my guess is that Sonya might not feel that love due to the nature of their relationship It also might be that her mother didn't know how to share her love any other way. I believe my client's mother was critical simply because she wanted her daughter to live a better life than she had. If my client could maintain a certain look, a certain grade point average, a certain weight, then life would just come easier for her. That motive is out of love, but it doesn't seem very loving. Some of the things this girl's mother said to her have stayed with her forever. I imagine it'd be the same for Sonya.

So whether you want her internal mantra to be "I'm not good enough," or something else, I'd think about that question long and hard. What do you want Sonya's driving motivation to be when she puts herself down by thinking her boss could never be interested in her? What's the nagging little voice inside her head saying constantly about her? What's that core truth? Make her internal/external motivation solid enough so that the reader will stay with you as she goes through romantic encounter after romantic encounter essentially being a blind dolt. :)

I'm afraid I didn't get around to the boss...that'll have to be in another post. Send me some more on him and I'd be happy to help. Hope this got you thinking about where you want to go with Sonya.

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.

Q4U: Any of you have critical parents in your books? You might want to take a look at the series I'm doing right now on parenting styles, in particular, click here for the Micromanager style. Sounds like Sonya's mom fits perfectly in that category.

Wordle: signature

6 comments:

trubyjohnsonwrites said...

Thank you so much!! This helps clear things up in my head and creates such a better sense of a REAL character. I also think forgiveness is going to the be the key that unlocks Sonya - she needs to forgive her parents for not accepting her just as she is - flaws and all.

Mary Aalgaard said...

Some children learn that it is deeds that earn them attention, and in their minds, love. They've never been told "I love you just because you are." That feeling of "not good enough" is a serious illness throughout our culture. This assessment was great to read!

Jen said...

What a great post! I just found your blog and now have to follow so I can keep up on the great information!!!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

thanks, ladies.

ruby - i think you nailed it.

mary - thanks for taking the time to come by and read my posts and comment. i really appreciate it. :)

jen - glad you found me and i went to your site and found you, too! thanks for the follow.

trubyjohnsonwrites said...

I just have to stop in and say, thanks - again!

I just got stuck in my WIP until I thought from Sonya's perspective based on this therapy session. Once I did that, I knew EXACTLY what had to come next. It was great!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

that's great to hear, ruby. glad this has been helpful. :)

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