View Full Version : Severe Psychological Trauma

08-29-2008, 09:51 PM
So, I got the idea that it would be wise to ask about this, too, after my hypothermia question. The same character that is under consideration over there has suffered an incredible amount throughout her life and throughout the progression of the story, and I am pretty certain that by now, she's probably going to be developing post-traumatic stress disorder and possibly split personalities and/or other issues. Let me know what you think... here's a list of what she's been through.

-Born a peasant under an extremely oppressive government, she was forced to work hard from a very young age to help keep the family alive.
-Forced into an arranged marriage at the age of twelve. Her husband was conscripted shortly afterwards and died in battle a year later. No longer a virgin but without any children, she was already destined to live the rest of her life a widow.
-A terrible disease (not quite a plague) sweeps across the country while it is still engaged in war. Family members die, and her best friend catches the disease but survives. She is lucky enough not to catch it. Simultaneously, slavers begin launching raids into the now poorly-defended border (the main war is on the other side of the country) and the king refuses to send aid, leaving her and those around her to live in fear.
-A few years later, the kingdom is at peace when she finds a noble half-dead on the riverbank. She cares for him, and when he comes to he warns her and her village that a rebellion is starting. Said rebellion doesn't appreciate being leaked to the public, and her entire village, including everyone she has ever known, ends up being slaughtered. Only she and the noble escape - at the cost of not warning anyone else.
-Beasts of war are sent to hunt them down. One tears up her legs and shoulders and bites off an ear before they manage to kill it.
-When she wakes up screaming from a nightmare, the noble explodes at her for holding them back and tries to drag her along, still horribly injured, through the woods in the middle of the night.
-When they finally move again and come across a town where they think they can get word of the rebellion to the king, they discover that they are wanted and are forced to fight for their lives. They are nearly killed, only to be saved by a soldier who has become disillusioned with the rebellion.
-The noble starts falling in love with her. It is a messed-up relationship.
-She's forced to fight for her life two more times. She's rather traumatized about killing people and about being in such constant fear for her life.
-She discovers that the soldier who saved them was in the unit that wiped out her village and was the one who killed her best friend. She flips out, kills him (he's wounded at the time, broken right arm), then learns that the rebellion she's been fighting to stop was designed to free and grant equality to the peasants, flips out more and tries to kill the noble. She believes she succeeds, and his last words to her make her regret it. A lot.

Next she gets dragged off to a POW camp, where a bizarre plague sweeps through with its own psychological effects. The next part I've yet to figure out, but the guards will probably abandon it out of fear and she may be forced to resort to cannibalism or other desperate measures until she can escape.

Wow, that was long. I wish they let you write that much for a query letter.

So what do you think the result of all this would be? I'll be off doing some research on the subject myself in the meantime...

08-29-2008, 11:26 PM
You've got enough suffering in there for 3 books. She would certainly be wound pretty tight, and most anything would set her off.

08-30-2008, 02:02 AM
She's either going to learn to deal with it quickly, or get very depressed. She also sounds like she's not a very put-together person, if she's basically screaming every time she encounters a new problem....

And why does the romance need to be messed up?


08-30-2008, 02:24 AM
RJK - Have to agree with you there. Part of that's just backstory, though - the story begins with her finding the noble. Also, she learns to cope with many of these things - she's a fairly strong person - so I needed the triple helping in order to break her :D

FR - I still think a bit more than depression is in order...
As to the romance, well, several reasons: my novel uses black and grey morality (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BlackAndGrayMorality?from=Main.BlackAndGreyMoralit y), so the world is shown as a Seriously Messed Up Place. Some of my characters start out good, innocent, and kind, but also end up Seriously Messed Up. With a cast like that, it's hard to have a relationship that works out... in fact, the best one in the novel has both lovers contemplating murdering each other for their idea of the greater good, and eventually, one of them goes through with it.

Anyway, thanks to both of you for actually reading all the way through that and replying :)

08-30-2008, 09:54 AM
I have a different take on this character. If she's been through so much and survived, she must have some incredible inner strength. Unless you are painting her as totally passive throughout these traumas, and even then, it takes an ability to separate emotionally from all of the violence that she experiences. Otherwise, she might have just given up, possibly killed herself.

So, the part of the story that would be interesting to me is how she gets through all of these horrible situations. Escaping into a fantasy world maybe? Drawing on an inner belief passed down from a mother or father figure? Religion?

Also - I would expect that she would be carrying a lot of survival guilt from all of these situations where people around her died.

Just some thoughts.

08-30-2008, 01:40 PM
I agree with ayjay- I think your MC would be one of two things at this point in your story- either an incredibly strong person who is tired of letting other people and events determine the course of her life- or a rabbit afraid to venture out of her hole for fear of the fox eating her.

in either scenario, PTSD would be a possiblility - split personality, I'm not too sure about - but I know personaly I would want to see some strength in her soon or I would lose interest in her. (Sounds like an interesting story!)

Appalachian Writer
08-30-2008, 02:03 PM
So, we have this one-eared teenage, non-virgin, badly scarred from an animal attack, who's been ravaged in every way except one that I can figure...she ain't sick. She's grown up a peasant but through it all hasn't grown to hate the nobility and is willing to sacrifice her entire community to save one. She's willing to fight hard, but never asks who she's fighting or what she's fighting for. She spends like 90% of her life screaming in terror. She may end up having to cannibalize fellow prisoners? I think by the time you get to the end of the book, she'll either be a complete, raving lunatic, a hard-core general in the rebel army(a regular Joan of Arc), or retired to a nunnery. Split personality? I don't know. Disassociative Disorder? Maybe. She would definitely have PTSD with maybe a little paranoia thrown in to boot. I know I would.

08-30-2008, 10:59 PM
Good points, good points. Between research and what has been said here, I think she'll probably become paranoid schizophrenic with PTSD on the side (plus the suggested survivor's guilt, which she already had but I failed to mention). She will make at least a partial recovery, though - I know that the reader's going to want her to show strength, like Shea's pointing out.

Now, to clear up a few misconceptions (my fault for not being more clear):
-She actually isn't the main character, at least not in the first novel, though the focus may shift to her in the one I'm working on now.
-She doesn't spend 90% of her time screaming in terror. Though she lives in constant fear, she has gotten stronger thanks to it all, and she usually finds a way to cope with her situation. It's the constant buildup and traumatizing grand finale that cause her to truly break, then the follow-up as a POW that leads it from bad to worse.
-In this society, it's impossible to actively hate the nobility. If you speak out, you die - it's like living in a Nazi Germany supported by the Spanish Inquisition, except that no ethnic groups or religions are being targeted. Therefore, nobles are obeyed without question, because nobody wants to end up like the failed informants from chapter eleven...
-She doesn't willingly sacrifice everyone else to save the noble - he forces her into it. She later tries to go back anyway, directly disobeying him, but she gets held up and then it's too late.

For those wondering what happens afterwards - the most accurate guess is, in fact, a hard-core general in the tradition of Joan of Arc, but it's for something far more radical than a simple rebellion...

08-31-2008, 06:14 AM
A couple things. Schizophrenia is not the same as split personality. Split personality and disassociative disorder are pretty much the same thing, though a person can show signs of being disassociative without having a full-blown second or third personality.

In order for this girl to be disassociative, she would need to have very strong feelings and from a very young age, of: This is not happening to me. This is happening to someone else. Maybe that is part of her character, but from what I've read mentioned here, it doesn't seem like it.

She would definitely have post-traumatic stress disorder, it's pretty much a given with what she's been through, but the signs and symptoms she develops may not be the same as what someone else develops (traumatic stress affects people in different ways, or each person has a different way of reacting to stress). Also, PTSD can cause a person to be emotionaly numb, which would make any relationship difficult (in addition to the other factors that are already making the relationship difficult).

The last thing, is that I'd like to warn you against having too many bad things happen to this character. Mainly because a couple bad things can make the reader sympathetic with the character, but you add too many and it just becomes sort of comical, which is most likely not your intentions.

For example, there was this superhero cartoon on TV a while ago (I think it was called Static Shock). There was a girl in one episode who got a snowglobe as the last gift from her father. She loved both of her parents, but on the day she got the snowglobe, she found out that her father was leaving her mother and her, and she even witnessed the fight between her parents before her father took off. Then she found out her mother was sick, and shortly after died of cancer or something (it wasn't very clear in the show). So she runs out into some park holding the snowglobe her father got her, only she trips on the ice (it's wintertime). And the snowglobe falls out of her hands, and shatters on the ice. Now this girl has lost everything. Unfortunately, instead of feeling sympathetic for her, I've lost all interest in her character.


08-31-2008, 06:48 AM
I have a different take on this character. If she's been through so much and survived, she must have some incredible inner strength. Unless you are painting her as totally passive throughout these traumas, and even then, it takes an ability to separate emotionally from all of the violence that she experiences. Otherwise, she might have just given up, possibly killed herself.

So, the part of the story that would be interesting to me is how she gets through all of these horrible situations. Escaping into a fantasy world maybe? Drawing on an inner belief passed down from a mother or father figure? Religion?

Also - I would expect that she would be carrying a lot of survival guilt from all of these situations where people around her died.

Just some thoughts.

I agree with this. IMHO, I think your character is a tough cookie, who also wouldn't be a likely candidate for DID. (See next paragraph.) Maybe depression and/or PTSD and/or dissociative fugue as a result of the adult traumas in your story (childhood poverty is not considered childhood 'trauma' psychologically. DID with multiple personalities results from major severe and often repeated experiences of trauma--most often sexual and/or personally assaultive--as a child.) Dissociative fugue results from adult traumas and would be where she would forget who she was, and go off and create a new identity somewhere else...slightly different from the multiple personality disorder or DID, where the person slides in and out of the various personalities for a long period of time, until the repressed childhood trauma is remembered.

DID (Dissociative identity or multiple personality disorder) with the multiple personalities happens as a result of severe traumatic childhood experience, not a lifetime of grief or calamity. It is a denial/defense mechanism that sets in as a result of personally experienced childhood trauma (often suppressed and not remembered--which also makes it often different from PTSD, which includes frequent, unbidden flashbacks).

08-31-2008, 06:07 PM
I do know the difference between MPD/DID and schizophrenia, and, like I said, am choosing to use the latter based on the previous comments and research. Thank you both, though, for making sure that was clear to me, and I can certainly see now that she has not gone through the right experiences for MPD/DID.

Yttar - You're certainly right about. I think I'm fairly safe, though - betas so far have generally cared more about her as the story progressed, rather than less. Also, with all the bad things going on in the world in general to compare her life to, it doesn't create the feeling that the universe is out to get her, specifically.
As to the relationship, well, no worries there - she thinks she killed him.

Pat - Thanks for mentioning dissociative fugue - I'll look into that. However, I'm mostly leaning toward paranoid and/or catatonic schizophrenia alongside PTSD, both of which I will now be doing serious research into.

Thank you to everyone for helping me with this! :)

Tsu Dho Nimh
08-31-2008, 06:36 PM
I've seen schizophrenics, worked with schizophrenics, and they are so controlled by their inner world that they are dysfunctional in this one.

The mathmetician in "A Beautiful Mind" was a high-functioning schizophrenic with a support system that was trying to keeping him alive and he barely made it. Put him in a medievalsettingas partof the peasantry and he'd be dead real fast.

A catatonic schizophrenic is not capable of taking care of themselves, period. Think wax dummy and you have it.

Adding: schizophrenia is not trauma-induced, it's biological.

09-02-2008, 12:14 AM
My son is a schizophrenic - paranoid type. He has associated conduct disorder, depression and anxiety related disorders with it. He has auditory and visual hallucinations and can be violent when not medicated. He goes to school and is functional in society (for now).

I have PTSD from childhood abuse. Combined with my PTSD (possibly a resulting symptom of issues that caused the PTSD) I used to self mutilate (cutting), have an extreme startle response, flashbacks and nightmares are common. I also have OCD wherein I check things. This does not necessarily have to go with PTSD but I check locked doors and make sure they are locked so no one can get at me. Thus, this part of my OCD is related to my PTSD.

If you need to ask specific questions and get a live perspective on these disorders you can PM me and I will tell you what I can in response to your questions. Of course, responses in people vary, but you would have a live person and their experiences to use with your reading reference material should you wish to avail yourself and contact me.

Good luck with your story!


09-06-2008, 07:59 AM
Tsu Dho Nimh - Thank you for pointing out that it isn't trauma-induced - most of the reading I've done was very vague on that, but recently (today) I've read a lot that says that. Glad to get some confirmation - it sounds like I'll have to choose something else. While I could say that she has the genes and the stress is triggering it, that just feels... cheap.

Wilfulone - Talking to someone with your experience is what I've been looking for for some time now. Thank you very much for the offer - I'll come up with some questions for you in the very near future :-)