Mental Health Monday–Life After Abuse

Cate Peace (writer and blogger) asks: I have a female character who has suffered from years of all types of abuse by a trusted female motherly archetype. What would be her response—physical and emotional—to men and women, especially a male her age when he expresses romantic interest in her?

Abuse (whatever form it takes) is a tough thing to go through. Children are especially vulnerable to it, particularly when their caregivers—the very people who are supposed to protect them—are the perpetrators.

A girl experiencing various types of abuse from a motherly figure would be very confused about the world, to say the very least. As a result, the girl would likely develop abnormal attachments to people and would approach relationships in a pathological way. This could range from being incredibly passive and accepting of anything her significant other does to being quite violent and provoking.

Children who suffer severe and prolonged abuse (most notably sexual abuse and neglect) could develop a fracturing of their primary identity allowing them to mentally separate themselves from the abuse as a means of self-preservation/protection. In some cases, a person can develop dozens of “alter” personalities that can “take over” and cause serious disruption in his or her life. Dissociative Identity Disorder (once called Multiple Personality Disorder) is an extremely rare disorder, but would be characterized by periods of “lost time” where the individual doesn’t remember periods of time (this is classically when the other alters have taken over). The sufferer could also experience depression, anxiety, mood swings, eating disorders, compulsions and rituals, substance use, sleep disturbance, suicidal ideations, several physical symptoms (headaches, etc), and even psychotic symptoms (hallucinations and delusions).

Another, more common, result of unhealthy attachments could be Borderline Personality Disorder. This is characterized by several features including, but not limited to: a pervasive and chronic pattern of unstable relationships, poor self-image, impulsivity, extreme efforts to avoid abandonment (whether real or imagined—abandonment is one of the most feared outcomes for someone who has this disorder), chronic feelings of emptiness, difficulty controlling anger, affective instability (meaning they go from fine to completely inconsolable in seconds and will little provocation), stress-induced and transient paranoia or dissociation, and recurrent suicidal ideations, gestures (cutting), and attempts.

To answer your question, your character could respond with any combination of the above examples. And her response to a male would be dependent on her own sexuality. For instance, does she prefer men or women? Has she slipped into promiscuity as a means to connect with other people? Is she severely puritanical and rigid around others?

Great question, Cate! I hope this helps.

For those of you who’d like to get to know Cate better, check out her blog here.

Don’t forget to check out Lydia’s post on Medical Monday!

Let me know if you have a question for Mental Health Monday! And, as always, the information contained in this blog series is for writing purposes only. It is NOT to be construed as medical treatment or advice.

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