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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - When All is Not as it Seems

This week's assessment comes from Shannon. She's writing a historical fantasy about Justin*, who grew up in Rosentia Manor, a manor house where some really strange stuff happens. He thought his father killed his mother, but found out later she was an adoptive mother. His real father had felt unable to protect his son and sought to "hide" him as the son of a woman who had given birth to a newborn. Justin witnesses who he thought was his dad kill his adoptive mother and he was adopted by the nurse. She later tries to kill him when he was 12 because she thought he was a monster.

Justin flees the house with friends to a far-away city and becomes the makeshift leader of his group. Justin spent time with monks before being kidnapped by a cult at 13. At 14, he's a bit of a control freak about his emotions for fear he'll lose everything. He's also very manipulating with great charisma. He ends up being sheltered by the Rosentia family he originally loathed: his real father, who is self-hating, verbally abusive, vicious when drunk, and a former drug abuser and sexually abused teenager; his uncle, who is stern, emotionally flat, and kinda turns into a wolfman when angry; and his real mother, who is his father's closest servant pretending to be a traumatized mute because she's from a noble house who are the enemies of the Rosentias.

Shanon wants to know: What sort of issues will Justin have during his teenage years?

You've got so much going on here that it was a bit difficult to make head or tails of it, but I'll just start with the most important thing first.

This is not the first plot I've read about that features a hero or heroine who grew up thinking one thing about his parents and learning later in life that it was all a lie. What's even more disturbing is that I've met and counseled a young woman who was in the same situation, and the effects are utterly devastating.

Think of the tired cliche of pulling the rug out from under someone's feet. They fall, sputter, injure themselves. Well, Justin would be doing all of these things, but in emotional and behavioral terms instead of physical ailments.

The young girl I'm thinking of was around 12 when she found out her sister was actually her mother, and that who she thought was her mother was actually her grandmother. This young girl spun out of control and ended up hitting the streets, unable to come to terms with the different reality she was presented with. She was physically volatile, unable to control her emotions, and mentally unstable. (But that's not to say everyone presented with something similar would turn out the same. If there's one thing I overly caution about on this blog it's that people are individuals, and formulas don't really work in the mental health field. It's not an exact science.)

Justin would feel no security being in the presence of his real family. Likely he'd feel let down, disappointed, resentful, angry, and possibly even in denial. Depending on how you're going to make him take on the Rosentia curse, Justin would likely react against any characteristic or part of himself that would define him as part of that family or align him with them. Teens are rebellious by nature, and his earlier hurt of finding out all was not as it seems would carry on through his teenage years like a burning torch. But if the curse is drastic enough, one during which he'll need the guiding hand of his father to help him through it, that could nicely overcome the resistance Justin feels.

I'm reminded of the show True Blood on HBO, because I love that show. Sam Merlotte is a shapeshifter (look at is like Justin's curse) and he found out at 15 that he could turn into animals at the full moon. He had no one to guide him into this discovery because he was given up for adoption by his shapeshifter mother, and later, when presented with the chance to meet his mother, grabs it, longing to have connection yet still resentful that he had to learn who and what he was by himself. Justin could very well be like Sam, feeling both of those diametrically opposed feelings like two sides of a coin.

You've also mentioned that Justin lived with monks for a while and gets kidnapped by a cult, but you didn't go into detail. Both of those events could be life-altering for a young preteen. Since you kind of glossed over it in the sketch, I'll gloss over it here, but depending on what happens to him under both circumstances, he could potentially carry that well into his teenage (and adult) years, particularly if there was any kind of abuse, either of the legalistic emotional kind (stereotypically would come from the monks) or physical/sexual/emotional kind (stereotypically from the cult).

If more clarification is needed, just send me some more info in the comment section to work with and I'll do my best. Good luck!

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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Angela R. Sasser said...

Jeannie, I think I love you even more now for watching True Blood. It's one of my favorite shows!

That aside, this sounds like an interesting premise that Shannon is already handling well. Stories of coming of age and loss of innocence are some of the most intriguing and relate-able. I'm especially intrigued by an emotionally flat uncle who has to keep his emotions in check lest he become a wolfman.

Sounds like an interesting family and one I'd like to read about.

Excellent reading and best of luck to Shannon with this! Sounds like there's lots of tension and webs to weave.

Tara McClendon said...

Wow. The young girl's story sure pulls at my heartstrings. I think if the author is able to pull this together it has the potential to be a real tear jerker.

Shannon said...

Thanks! That's so nice of you guys to say. Here's hoping I pull it off ... I've sure been editing it over and over again to try and pull out the threads of the various characters' personalities / reactions to add some depth to it.

As for Justin, well, the monastery wasn't cruel. It kind of went for the whole love-bombing, rules-following sanctuary-style of thing. They aimed for a one big happy family style of living and quite literally worshipped the Divine Family. It also wasn't sex-segregated but any romance in the teenagers would have been firmly pointed towards marriage. Justin didn't have to deal with any of that as he was too young to even spend time with the novitiates (first vows are taken at 14). Justin was never a religious character but he almost buys into it just for the wuv factor. Would this help stabilize him or could it have unforseen side effects?

As for the cult, he literally spent one night with them when they demanded he murder the demoness. The worst part of it was simply that he originally thought the cult were the good guys... So more 'rug-pulled-out-from-under-him'.

I guess the two main traits that might come out of this could be parentification (he's always felt like the responsible one for his friends) and tailspinning out of control. How might he try to reconcile this? What sort of insanities / ailments might he experience due to these two separate tugs?

Also, thanks for the character examination! Already you've given me so many ideas.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

sorry shannon....i am just now seeing this response. i think if you've read by post on parentification, you can see that as adults, these children can swing one of two ways: either wanting to keep control or wanting to give it up. sounds like you've got him in that quandary...being responsible or tailspinning. guess what? YOU get to make the choice how you want him to end up. gotta love being a writer....lots of power in the pen. :)

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