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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Character Clinic: Tanner Sheppard

Today's character on the couch is Tanner Sheppard, the brainchild of author L. Blankenship. Tanner resides in a science fiction book as an ex-pirate (think spaceships instead of ships). He's killed, betrayed, and slaved people. He was sentenced to fifteen years of inpatient therapy under new PTSD treatment modalities (re-recording the memories and taking the stress out of them so they aren't "panic on tap"), but his friend Maggie broke him out after a year.

Louise wants to know: I’ve done a little reading and I got some helpful feedback from an abuse survivor, but when it comes down to it I have zero experience with the kind of sustained, violent (maybe sexual) abuse Tanner went through… I want to represent it honestly, make his progress an honest fight and not a miraculous recovery. So I’m looking for thoughts on what he’s like when he’s still new to wrestling with the idea of being worth something, of being different. And what sort of steps he may be able to take on his own.

Tanner -

Depending on your age when you had the brunt of the traumatic beatings, whether just physical or sexual, that could have some impact on how you present with traumatic symptoms in therapy and in the present day. The tender psyche of a young child going through those types of things can split into multiple personas as a way to protect the main identity. Later, something can trigger these personas to show up (such as the murder of your dad). This is just FYI.

But as to having a particular formula to follow for abuse victims--that'd be impossible. Based on my experience with clients who suffer from sustained violence or trauma, it's a constant battle, one they never "arrive" from. They can be doing really well and then one memory triggers them into their panicked state and damage control is needed to get them back on track.

For Tanner to even contemplate that he's worth something, he'll have to have someone show him through actions that he is. Whether this is Maggie or one of his sisters or some other mentor-type person...they will have to be patient and consistent with him to help him help himself. If they believe it in, then he will have a less-hard time believing in himself (notice I didn't say easier time). It's an uphill battle.

I'm not familiar with the re-recordings of PTSD memories...unless you mean working with trauma survivors using EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). This theory is controversial, but some swear by it. I've never used it myself, as it requires specialized training in just that theory. It has similarities with exposure therapy (essentially repeatedly exposing a client to what they fear until they become less sensitized to it) and cognitive-behavioral therapy. The idea is that by reprocessing an upsetting emotion/event while bilaterally stimulating the brain (tapping meridians on both sides of the body on the chest, head, face, etc) moves the upsetting emotion that has been stored in the right side of the brain into the left side, where they are processed theory, taking the disturbing feeling away from the memory, which doesn't go away, but remains, just processed differently. (Hopefully this makes's a video that demonstrates it.)

Hope that this helps some. I'll gladly welcome additional questions in the comments section. if you want to take him deeper, click here.

For a chance to win Julie Lessman's newest release, A Heart Revealed, click here!


Shilpa Mudiganti said...

Very helpful post. It helps to actually know your character as intimately as this while writing. So much better than the miraculous recovery!

Miss Sharp said...

So, he's an ex-pirate. Was he forced to be one?

The whole nature vs. nurture issue comes to mind. In order to know "what he’s like when he’s still new to wrestling with the idea" wouldn't we need to know what he was really like, deep down, prior?

Sounds like a very interesting study in human behavior. Great post!

Jeff King said...

Great post... thx.

Sorry, I haven’t had internet for a while, I am trying to catch up with all the blogs I follow.

Anonymous said...

Great advice. I agree with Miss Sharp. Perhaps something happened in his pirate life that is adding to the stress of having been abused.

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