LinkedinTwitterThe DetailsConnectBlog Facebook Meet the TherapistHome For Writers

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - Reactive Attachment Disorder

Photo by bricolage.108

Today’s assessment comes from Jaime, focusing on her heroine Goldie.* To give a little backstory, Goldie is a 20-year-old daughter of a wealthy shipping company owner living in Michigan during 1870. She was named Goldie because her father’s dream is to be a miner. Even though she is a living “mascot” of his dream, he rarely has time for her other than to harp on her shenanigans, which she performs to get his attention. Goldie doesn’t like her name or being a symbol, but wants to be loved unconditionally for who she is as a person. Her mother only wanted to use Goldie as a “social beauty toy to gain status with.” Goldie does have an older brother, Lance,* who was the only person to spend time with her and be affectionate, but he left home at the age of 11 to join the Civil War and when he returned, he wanted no reminder of his past.

Enter Conner,* a haunted hero running from a history he greatly regrets but finding himself falling in love with the spitfire Goldie who cannot trust him or his love because she finds no value in herself.

*Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Jaime writes, “I think Goldie is primarily struggling with a deep desire to have personal value beyond her name and to have unconditional love, yet she cannot trust it when it is presented to her.” She wanted to know my thoughts on this subject.

Goldie’s emotional issues are definitely a product of her family of origin (by this I mean her immediate family). She’s in this weird triangle relationship between her father, who doesn’t spend time with her, and her mother, who only wants to use her. Her brother, the one person she had a connection with left her (read: abandoned…as this probably would be how Goldie would feel), and then added insult to injury in wanting nothing to do with her when he returned (which could seriously send the girl into a depression).

Goldie could very easily suffer from Reactive Attachment Disorder of Early Childhood, mainly because both her parents have persistently disregarded her basic emotional needs for comfort and affection. There could be two ways Goldie would behave as a result of this deficit, so you have to ask yourself how you want Goldie to initially interact with everyone else in the book until her internal healing comes. She could 1) have a failure to initiate or respond appropriately to most social interactions by being overly inhibited, hypervigilant or ambivalent/contradictory responses—approach/avoidance/resistance—to others, or 2) be overly familiar with strangers or lacking selectivity in who she chooses to try to bond to. These types can be called inhibited or disinhibited, respectively.

Personally, disinhibited might have more to work with. Goldie could naturally seek love anywhere she could find it, and that might mean less-than-savory sources, which lands her in more trouble. This would set up the hero, even though haunted with his own history, to feel protective of her.

But to make your story really pop with reality, you’ve got to give Goldie some role model of what true, unconditional love really is. She doesn’t have that in her parents or even her brother, so how would she recognize it when Lance presents it to her, much less trust him? In reality, she probably wouldn’t…unless she had something to compare it to. Some other couple in the book, perhaps? Or maybe even in an old collection of love letters from her grandparents? (This way you wouldn’t have to create a new character.) Something to guide her to a Scriptural understanding of what true love really is? Her inability to trust will have to be overcome by some big event in the structure of the book that helps her see Lance isn’t going to ignore her like her father, abandon her like her brother, or use her like her mother. Do you have something up your sleeve?

Anyway, these are just my initial thoughts. As always, I welcome writers with assessments to feel free to email me with any further questions or to throw additional light on the subject.

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

Wordle: signature


Katie said...

Well, hello friend! You're up bright and early this morning! I'm on my way to work... fun! Loved your post. Jaime - if you want to take a poll - I vote for disinhibited too! That sounds like a doorway to all sorts of conflict. And the love letters between her grandparents is an excellent suggestion for an example of unconditional love. Sounds like a great story! And as always Jeannie - your expertise is wonderful!

Liana Brooks said...

Oh! I have a character like that! She expresses (is that the right word?) through a disinhibited mode. And the person who shows her unconditional that may be a sticking point. It's either her roommate, or the guy that's been ordered to assassinate her.

Well, at least I know what's wrong with my character now :o)

Ralene said...

A good example of a disinhibited person is the woman in Redeeming Love (by Francine Rivers). When she is swept away from her life as a prostitute by a man who shows her unconditional love, she actually runs away and returns to that life, b/c she doesn't understand the kind of love and patience he's showing her.

Anyway, great post, Jeannie!

Jaime said...

thnx Jeannie - you've helped my book immensely! :)

Jill Kemerer said...

Sounds like a great premise for a book with loads of internal conflict!

I'm learning all these big words, Jeannie; do you think my family will roll their eyes when I start talking about Reactive Attachment Disorder? Ha! Ha!

Thanks for another eye-opening post with great advice!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Wow! I feel like I've been lying on a leather couch, having wise words of wisdom spoken to me by my therapist--along with plotting help. That's so cool. Perhaps I'll have to get you to psychoanalyse one of my characters some day soon.

Tess said...

I have to dig through my mansucript and figure this out..hmmm *wondering*

T. Anne said...

Sounds like a great plot sub structure. Great assessment as always.

Jessica said...

I def. want to send you my characters profiles. But which one? LOL I can't make up my mind. We'll see.
Great post though. You really have a knack for explaining these clinical terms to us non-clinical peeps. LOL

Jody Hedlund said...

Thanks for your words of wisdom and your insight! You're doing a great job building your platform!

Lady Glamis said...

This is so great! Exactly what I need when I get back to revisions on my first book. Thank you!

Jennifer Shirk said...

Whoa. What a cool diagnosis. :)

Sue said...

good work! love the diagnosis.

Post a Comment

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