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Good characters are complicated

July 13th, 2020

 

 

“I’ve always found beauty in flaws. No one is perfect. We’re all fighting a battle and Marcella is real, a mix of strength and vulnerability, doing her best which is all any of us can do.”

Anna Friel

Aristotle’s storytelling principals, derived from the Poetics of Space, shed light on the human condition and provides a framework for creating unconditional characters.

Above all create characters which make an audience feel: The audience should be able to feel pity for a tragic hero—that means you have to create a situation which the audience can understand in the context of their own lives.

How many times have you read a book or watched a movie and felt nothing for the character? Connoisseurs call this the one dimensional or cookie-cutter profile. Bland, boring, and frequently too perfect. As Anna Friel, the super-compelling actress renown for playing tough roles, says, beauty is to be found in flaws. Most recently she played the mentally-fragile murder detective Marcella in the same-named Netflix series.

 

Good characters are complicated.

Marcella is super complicated: she cares too much, suffers when someone she is protecting dies, hates it when villains get away with mayhem and murder; her husband cheated on her for over three years, her young baby died in her arms, her children love her ex’s new girlfriend and their father more than her—and she suffers from Complex-Trauma (as I’m sure many good cops do.) This plays out in uncontrollable rages, close calls with her own murderous mind, blackouts, and more.

Yep, good characters are complicated. Isn’t this something we can all relate to, in some way?

The most emotionally engaging movement, according to Aristotle, is when a good person with certain shortcomings meets with tremendous suffering. A flawed hero/heroine is someone we can all relate to, and his downfall will fill us with pity and fear.

Ultimately, we’ll be cheerleading from the sidelines, rooting for her or him to emerge triumphantly.

Like, Jenny, raised as a child by fundamentalist preachers, dragged from her extended family, and told the world was about to end. Emotional and physical abuse and profound neglect continued into her adult years. Recently she, too,  was diagnosed with complex trauma and suffers from angry outbursts and uncontrollable rages.

Or Cathy, whose narcissistic mother continually puts her down, shames her and is excessively critical. Her childhood and later adult years were plagued with chaos and upheaval. She suffers from acute self-doubt, fear of abandonment and disempowering people-pleasing. These are just some of the things she is working through in therapy.

Think, Oprah, sexually abused a child, and continually put down—even being told she would have to change her name to succeed. Through the grace of God, she says, she knew was born with a higher purpose.

Many people who suffered childhood trauma are walking wounded. They are seldom accurately diagnosed, much less treated. Complex trauma can affect children, and later, adults, in a multitude of ways. Below is an article exploring some common effects.

COMMON EFFECTS OF COMPLEX CHILDHOOD TRAUMA

Source: https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types/complex-trauma/effects

Attachment and Relationships

The importance of a child’s close relationship with a caregiver cannot be overestimated. Through relationships with important attachment figures, children learn to trust others, regulate their emotions, and interact with the world; they develop a sense of the world as safe or unsafe, and come to understand their own value as individuals. When those relationships are unstable or unpredictable, children learn that they cannot rely on others to help them. When primary caregivers exploit and abuse a child, the child learns that he or she is bad and the world is a terrible place.

The majority of abused or neglected children have difficulty developing a strong healthy attachment to a caregiver. Children who do not have healthy attachments have been shown to be more vulnerable to stress. They have trouble controlling and expressing emotions, and may react violently or inappropriately to situations. Our ability to develop healthy, supportive relationships with friends and significant others depends on our having first developed those kinds of relationships in our families. A child with a complex trauma history may have problems in romantic relationships, in friendships, and with authority figures, such as teachers or police officers.

 

Physical Health: Body and Brain

From infancy through adolescence, the body’s biology develops. Normal biological function is partly determined by environment. When a child grows up afraid or under constant or extreme stress, the immune system and body’s stress response systems may not develop normally. Later on, when the child or adult is exposed to even ordinary levels of stress, these systems may automatically respond as if the individual is under extreme stress. For example, an individual may experience significant physiological reactivity such as rapid breathing or heart pounding, or may “shut down” entirely when presented with stressful situations. These responses, while adaptive when faced with a significant threat, are out of proportion in the context of normal stress and are often perceived by others as “overreacting” or as unresponsive or detached.

Stress in an environment can impair the development of the brain and nervous system. An absence of mental stimulation in neglectful environments may limit the brain from developing to its full potential. Children with complex trauma histories may develop chronic or recurrent physical complaints, such as headaches or stomachaches. Adults with histories of trauma in childhood have been shown to have more chronic physical conditions and problems. They may engage in risky behaviors that compound these conditions (e.g., smoking, substance use, and diet and exercise habits that lead to obesity).

Complexly traumatized youth frequently suffer from body dysregulation, meaning they over-respond or under-respond to sensory stimuli. For example, they may be hypersensitive to sounds, smells, touch or light, or they may suffer from anesthesia and analgesia, in which they are unaware of pain, touch, or internal physical sensations. As a result, they may injure themselves without feeling pain, suffer from physical problems without being aware of them, or, the converse – they may complain of chronic pain in various body areas for which no physical cause can be found.

 

Emotional Responses

Children who have experienced complex trauma often have difficulty identifying, expressing, and managing emotions, and may have limited language for feeling states. They often internalize and/or externalize stress reactions and as a result may experience significant depression, anxiety, or anger. Their emotional responses may be unpredictable or explosive. A child may react to a reminder of a traumatic event with trembling, anger, sadness, or avoidance. For a child with a complex trauma history, reminders of various traumatic events may be everywhere in the environment. Such a child may react often, react powerfully, and have difficulty calming down when upset. Since the traumas are often of an interpersonal nature, even mildly stressful interactions with others may serve as trauma reminders and trigger intense emotional responses. Having learned that the world is a dangerous place where even loved ones can’t be trusted to protect you, children are often vigilant and guarded in their interactions with others and are more likely to perceive situations as stressful or dangerous. While this defensive posture is protective when an individual is under attack, it becomes problematic in situations that do not warrant such intense reactions. Alternately, many children also learn to “tune out” (emotional numbing) to threats in their environment, making them vulnerable to revictimization.

Difficulty managing emotions is pervasive and occurs in the absence of relationships as well. Having never learned how to calm themselves down once they are upset, many of these children become easily overwhelmed. For example, in school they may become so frustrated that they give up on even small tasks that present a challenge. Children who have experienced early and intense traumatic events also have an increased likelihood of being fearful all the time and in many situations. They are more likely to experience depression as well.

 

Dissociation

Dissociation is often seen in children with histories of complex trauma. When children encounter an overwhelming and terrifying experience, they may dissociate, or mentally separate themselves from the experience. They may perceive themselves as detached from their bodies, on the ceiling, or somewhere else in the room watching what is happening to their bodies. They may feel as if they are in a dream or some altered state that is not quite real or as if the experience is happening to someone else. Or they may lose all memories or sense of the experiences having happened to them, resulting in gaps in time or even gaps in their personal history. At its extreme, a child may cut off or lose touch with various aspects of the self.

Although children may not be able to purposely dissociate, once they have learned to dissociate as a defense mechanism they may automatically dissociate during other stressful situations or when faced with trauma reminders. Dissociation can affect a child’s ability to be fully present in activities of daily life and can significantly fracture a child’s sense of time and continuity. As a result, it can have adverse effects on learning, classroom behavior, and social interactions. It is not always evident to others that a child is dissociating and at times it may appear as if the child is simply “spacing out,” daydreaming, or not paying attention.

 

Behavior

A child with a complex trauma history may be easily triggered or “set off” and is more likely to react very intensely. The child may struggle with self-regulation (i.e., knowing how to calm down) and may lack impulse control or the ability to think through consequences before acting. As a result, complexly traumatized children may behave in ways that appear unpredictable, oppositional, volatile, and extreme. A child who feels powerless or who grew up fearing an abusive authority figure may react defensively and aggressively in response to perceived blame or attack, or alternately, may at times be overcontrolled, rigid, and unusually compliant with adults. If a child dissociates often, this will also affect behavior. Such a child may seem “spacey”, detached, distant, or out of touch with reality. Complexly traumatized children are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as self-harm, unsafe sexual practices, and excessive risk-taking such as operating a vehicle at high speeds. They may also engage in illegal activities, such as alcohol and substance use, assaulting others, stealing, running away, and/or prostitution, thereby making it more likely that they will enter the juvenile justice system.

 

Cognition: Thinking and Learning

Children with complex trauma histories may have problems thinking clearly, reasoning, or problem solving. They may be unable to plan ahead, anticipate the future, and act accordingly. When children grow up under conditions of constant threat, all their internal resources go toward survival. When their bodies and minds have learned to be in chronic stress response mode, they may have trouble thinking a problem through calmly and considering multiple alternatives. They may find it hard to acquire new skills or take in new information. They may struggle with sustaining attention or curiosity or be distracted by reactions to trauma reminders. They may show deficits in language development and abstract reasoning skills. Many children who have experienced complex trauma have learning difficulties that may require support in the academic environment.

 

Self-Concept and Future Orientation

Children learn their self-worth from the reactions of others, particularly those closest to them. Caregivers have the greatest influence on a child’s sense of self-worth and value. Abuse and neglect make a child feel worthless and despondent. A child who is abused will often blame him- or herself. It may feel safer to blame oneself than to recognize the parent as unreliable and dangerous. Shame, guilt, low self-esteem, and a poor self-image are common among children with complex trauma histories.

To plan for the future with a sense of hope and purpose, a child needs to value him- or herself. To plan for the future requires a sense of hope, control, and the ability to see one’s own actions as having meaning and value. Children surrounded by violence in their homes and communities learn from an early age that they cannot trust, the world is not safe, and that they are powerless to change their circumstances. Beliefs about themselves, others, and the world diminish their sense of competency. Their negative expectations interfere with positive problem-solving, and foreclose on opportunities to make a difference in their own lives. A complexly traumatized child may view himself as powerless, “damaged,” and may perceive the world as a meaningless place in which planning and positive action is futile. They have trouble feeling hopeful. Having learned to operate in “survival mode,” the child lives from moment-to-moment without pausing to think about, plan for, or even dream about a future.

 

Long-Term Health Consequences

Traumatic experiences in childhood have been linked to increased medical conditions throughout the individuals’ lives. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is a longitudinal study that explores the long-lasting impact of childhood trauma into adulthood. The ACE Study includes over 17,000 participants ranging in age from 19 to 90. Researchers gathered medical histories over time while also collecting data on the subjects’ childhood exposure to abuse, violence, and impaired caregivers. Results indicated that nearly 64% of participants experienced at least one exposure, and of those, 69% reported two or more incidents of childhood trauma. Results demonstrated the connection between childhood trauma exposure, high-risk behaviors (e.g., smoking, unprotected sex), chronic illness such as heart disease and cancer, and early death.

 

Economic Impact

The cumulative economic and social burden of complex trauma in childhood is extremely high. Based upon data from a variety of sources, a conservative annual cost of child abuse and neglect is an estimated $103.8 billion, or $284.3 million per day (in 2007 values). This number includes both direct costs—about $70.7 billion—which include the immediate needs of maltreated children (hospitalization, mental health care, child welfare systems, and law enforcement) and also indirect costs—about $33.1 billion—which are the secondary or long-term effects of child abuse and neglect (special education, juvenile delinquency, mental health and health care, adult criminal justice system, and lost productivity to society).

A recent study examining confirmed cases of child maltreatment in the United States found the estimated total lifetime costs associated with child maltreatment over a 12-month period to be $124 billion. In the 1,740 fatal cases of child maltreatment, the estimated cost per case was $1.3 million, including medical expenses and productivity loss. For the 579,000 non-fatal cases, the estimated average lifetime cost per victim of child maltreatment was $210,012, which includes costs relating to health care throughout the lifespan, productivity losses, child welfare, criminal justice, and special education. Costs for these nonfatal cases of child maltreatment are comparable to other high-cost health conditions (i.e., $159,846 for stroke victims and $181,000 to $253,000 for those with Type 2 diabetes).

In addition to these costs are the “intangible losses” of pain, sorrow, and reduced quality of life to victims and their families. Such immeasurable losses may be the most significant cost of child maltreatment.

The NCTSN is funded by the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and jointly coordinated by UCLA and Duke University.

 

Good characters are complicated—but this makes them no less lovable. With the right help, professional healing, and unconditional love, many traumatised children go on to lead significant meaningful lives.

 

I tell stories I find interesting and which deal with issues that need a light shone on them

Like, the actress Anna Friel, I tell stories I find interesting and which deal with issues that need a light shone on them.

Which is why I wrote book 8, in the Transformational Super Kids series.
“Cathartic and empowering. Not a topic often discussed, sometimes not even admitted. For those that had an upbringing that lacked empathy and love from a parent, the effects are long-lasting. Cassandra creates the perfect blend of compassion and practicality in tackling the subject which results in a gentle but powerful reminder to give ourselves as adults what we might not have received by others when we were children. Cathartic and empowering.”
Laura Virgo

Why Doesn’t Mummy Love Me?

Love yourself unconditionally. Be a magic mummy!
When Annie’s mummy is mean to her she tries harder to please her, but nothing works. She believes she’s unlovable and thinks she’s bad. Until her friend, Lulu shares her story and tells Annie that some mummies don’t know how to love.
This is a classic, empowering book that every child, teenager and adult should have the joy of reading
To enjoy your copy from Amazon:
To enjoy your copy from iBooks, Barnes & Noble and other great bookstores: https://books2read.com/u/38MdW6

Audible coming soon

 

 

 

 

Tears tell truths. Heal your heart.

Feeling angry, depressed or traumatized? There are so many reasons why you should look for the gift buried within your pain. If you need some help, look no further than this book.

Children cannot choose their parents. Unfortunately, many individuals grow up suffering the life-shaping adversities of having emotionally immature, neglectful parents. With wisdom and compassion, Cassandra Gaisford, an extremely experienced and gifted child, and adult therapist enables readers to recognize and better understand these toxic relationships and to create novel, healthy paths of healing. This book provides a powerful opportunity for self-help and is a wonderful resource for therapists to recommend to clients in need.

Former holistic therapist (BCA, Dip Psych) and best-selling author of The Little Princess, Mid-Life Career Rescue, Stress Less and How to Find Your Passion and Purpose, offers the ‘emotionally lonely’ a step-by-step journey toward self-awareness and healing. A powerful, inspiring, and practical book about boosting self-esteem, creating more resilience, overcoming obstacles and moving forward in the aftermath of toxic parenting.

Part moral allegory and part spiritual biography, The Boy Who Cried is a timeless charm which tells the story of a young boy who turns his traumatic life into golden treasure.

Finally, the book provides solid guidelines for interacting with one’s emotionally immature parents in a manner that avoids painful and damaging recreations of the past. Readers will find relief from recognizing that they are not alone and that they are understood by this remarkable clinician.

Be inspired by this journey to vulnerability, courage, transformation, radical acceptance, and self-love as he learns to overcome the vagaries of adult behaviour. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage of self-belief, passion, and purpose.

Find out what strategies are sabotaging your happiness and success. Heal your heart—find and follow your purpose and joy faster.

Bonus: Free Excerpts from the first book in the series, The Little Princess and Cassandra’s bestselling book How to Find Your Passion and Purpose. Overcome common obstacles to happiness and success easily (including the power of passion, caring deeply, fear of regret—and others)

Advance Praise

“A wonderful tool…
This book is a wonderful tool for anyone seeking to begin the journey to self-reflection and healing from difficult childhoods. Therapists will find this book useful for their patients young or old. To return as a child to discover where the source of the pain begins has always been valuable, but actually relating it to present-day is key to understanding. Highly recommended.”

~ Alma Hammond, Author

“Sadly beautiful and a real reflection of our current society…
Which if we are really honest has lost direction, particularly with regards to family values. Training in family values is an absolute pre-requisite before change will occur. I took pleasure in finding out the Boy who Cried not only survived but was blessed following the day the tears stopped and he found contentment, grace, and peace. My prayer is we can only attempt to save many more such boys.”

~ Kenn Butler, CEO

 

To enjoy your copy from Amazon: getbook.at/TheBoyWhoCried

To enjoy your copy from iBooks, Barnes & Noble and other great bookstores: https://books2read.com/u/bPR1Dj

To enjoy your copy from Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ebook/the-boy-who-cried-1

AUDIOBOOK

AUDIBLE

USA

https://www.amazon.com/Boy-Who-Cried-Transformational-Super/dp/B07VTRNT61

UK

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Boy-Who-Cried-Transformational-Super/dp/B07VWCX163

AU

https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B07VB6G6VK

KOBO

Coming soon

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