Mental Health Monday–Conscious vs Unconscious

Character development requires a lot of thought and attention to detail. We writers must be aware of our characters’ motivations, dreams, and desires. This intimate knowledge allows us to determine how they respond to certain situations and how they go about solving problems.

Just like us, our characters have conscious and unconscious thoughts.

Conscious thoughts are the ones they are aware of. For instance, a character can think: Geez, I knew taffeta was a tough fabric to wear, but I didn’t think it would make me look *this* fat.

Unconscious thoughts are the ones they are NOT aware of. For instance, why does this character think she’s fat? What experiences helped shape this self-perception? What emotions are evoked when she confronts something that reminds her of this?

Unconscious thoughts often act as invisible puppet masters, driving our (and our characters’) behaviors and actions. Maybe this character only wears black because she thinks it’s slimming. Maybe she shies away from asking a cute guy out on a date because she assumes he wouldn’t like her. Maybe she “distracts” people from looking at her mid-section by wearing revealing, low-cut tops or super-short skirts. Maybe she acts overly demure or overly provocative in order to hide her insecurities.

So, the next time you’re tapping into your characters’ inner dialogue, consider the unconscious thoughts underlying them and see how that affects their actions.

Remember, these posts are for writing purposes ONLY and are NOT meant to be medical treatment or advice.

If you have any questions you’d like me to address, please comment below, Tweet me, or Facebook me and I’d be happy to feature your question on a Mental Health Monday! 😉

Be sure to check out Lydia’s post on Medical Monday.

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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Mental Health Monday–Teen Guilt

This week, Kimmy (a writer of YA paranormal and QueryTracker forum bud) asks:

My seventeen-year-old protagonist lives with the guilt of her father’s death and mother’s car accident (she feels she caused both and she doesn’t really know how to handle her feelings). What type of behaviors can we expect from a teen carrying this type of grief inside?

Great question, Kimmy! Striving for authenticity and accuracy is BIG in the Young Adult genre. If a character’s reaction seems forced, contrived, or flat, a teen will pick it up in seconds.

That being said, each person reacts to situations in their own individual way. Because of this, the best advice I can give is to really “research” your character. Know her inside and out. To do this, some writers use “interviews.” Others use character sketches. I write a whole novel, then start over when I finally figure my characters out. (Um, yeah, that was sort of a joke, but totally true, LOL!)

But seriously, knowing—like really KNOWING—your character will show you what response she’d have.

Now (if you allow me some artistic license to bring this to the mental health arena), someone carrying around guilt could experience it to the extent where it significantly interferes with their functioning.

A teen grieving the death of her father—especially if she thinks she caused it—could be experiencing a range of diagnoses from bereavement (a sorta fancy term for grieving), complicated bereavement, or even major depression, sometimes with psychotic features and suicidal ideations if severe enough.

In bereavement, one could see any range of emotional, physical, social, cognitive, even philosophic responses. Crying, expressions of anger, nightmares, appetite problems, and even hallucinations (generally in the form of hearing the deceased call the person’s name) can be normal.

In complicated bereavement, there is an added time component. For example, if the death occurred a year or two ago and the person starts to worsen.

Major depression is a constellation of symptoms, usually including depressed mood (for a majority of the day) for at least two weeks, change in appetite and sleep, feelings of GUILT, worthlessness, hopelessness, helplessness, decreased (or increased) energy, anhedonia (loss of pleasure or ordinarily enjoyable activities), and suicidal ideations.

Teenagers have a much higher risk of attempting suicide as a reaction to grief. They also may display sudden changes of behavior such as becoming a delinquent or an over-achiever. Some will engage in repetitive behaviors or mind-numbing type things like playing video games (my apologies to those of you who enjoy gaming) as a means to drown out the emotions.

Thanks, Kimmy, for such a thought-provoking topic!


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.

Be sure to check out Lydia’s post on Medical Monday.

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