1. yazzy
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    yazzy New Member

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    How to potray a victim of abuse.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by yazzy, Jul 29, 2011.

    My MC has gotten herself into an abusive relationship and she is basically in denial about it. always making up excuses and lets it slide. Her friends notice her mood-swing, drinking problems and yadayadayad! i was wondering, in abusive relationships, does one know they are being abused, do they deny it for reasons as pride and love, or do they accept it, the whole inner conflict and all.And what does snap them out of their deep slumber of oblivian. i want it to be as realistic as possible. also, i read about the Stockholm Syndrome and I'd like to know your ideas and how you would write about it.

    Thanks in advance:)
     
  2. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think how a person reacted would depend on the person and the relationship. When I was in that situation, my boyfriend's actions shifted so slowly from the woo phase, when he was trying to get me to date him, to the abusive a**hole phase that it kind of snuck up on me. By the time it was a full-blown abusive relationship, it was hard for me to even notice because it had happened so gradually. On some level, I knew that it was f*cked up, but by the time you're in a situation like that, it's not as simple as it seems to say "I'm in an abusive relationship, I'm going to break up with him and leave."

    I don't really want to get deeply into answering your questions here, but if you want to, you can PM me.
     
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  3. Jessica_312
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    Jessica_312 Contributing Member

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    I agree that it would depend on the person and the relationship. Depression would almost always be associated with abuse. But at the same time, some victims of abuse blame themselves and end up in denial, while others get angry at their abusers or lash out, sometimes the abused just feels trapped in the situation with no way out (when kids are involved, etc). It really all depends on the person and the situation.

    In the case of someone like your MC, living life in denial, she would probably do her best to hide her marks, end up with severe depression (in some severe cases, even turn to drugs or alcohol for escape), make up excuses for her abuser (whenever he's nice to her, it's, "oh what a great man he is, how lucky am I", but then when he turns abusive it's, "he didn't really mean to", or "I brought it on myself"). What happens with abusive relationships, that I've seen, is that the abuser makes the abused feel worthless and pitiful, plays so many mind games that the abused person feels trapped in the relationship, feels like they can't do any better and don't deserve any better.

    This is also very true. It also gets a lot more complicated if there are kids involved, as well. My father was abusive to my mother, and she went through a heck of a time when my brother and I were young, because despite her abuse, if she tried to leave state with us, it would've been considered kidnapping.
     
  4. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    There's a psychological occurance called Foot-in-the-Door effect that applies to abusive relationships (and other types of situations). What it means is that big things don't jump on someone all at once. If your boyfriend went from sweet nice guy one day to domineering asshole the next, there's no way you'd tolerate it. People who find themselves trapped usually experienced small buildups that were barely noticeable at first, and it took months or years to get to the degree of abuse it's at now.

    In public, the guy might be polite and all, but still domineering in subtler ways (i.e. ordering her food for her if they go out, or doing other things to have control all the time). She might talk to him or ask him for things there's no way in hell she should be expected to ask permission for (like going out with her friends or going to visit family)
     
  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It is usually a process, getting out of the relationship. On average, a woman in an abusive relationship leaves something like 8 to 12 times before finally getting out of it. And those times of leaving often present the greatest danger to the woman.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Also, we feel comfort in the familiar, no matter how bad it is. So those who grew up with abuse are prone to seek out relationships and living situations that echo that familiar environment.
     
  7. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    This thread came helpful for me too, in the story I'm currently writing. Now I have a little better understanding for my character and hopefully can make her reactions more logical.
     
  8. Pea
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    Pea super pea!

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    Rambling post incoming:


    It's a gradual process from what I've seen. Like Cogito said, if someone grows up in abuse they're more likely to seek out such relationships. Not that they're LOOKING for abuse as such, but they'll be less likely to leave if they get themselves in that situation and less likely to heed the 'warning signals' you get from someone who's abusive. Being in an abusive relationship is like going downhill - the longer you stay the more your confidence is chipped off little-by-little without you even realising it. There's a saying that if someone treats you just a little better than you treat yourself, you'll stay with them. A little less better than you treat yourself, and you'll leave. I'm not sure if it's as clear-cut as that but it makes sense. The relationship usually starts out good that by the time it's getting really abusive you're already waist-deep in emotional/financial commitments and like others said, gets much more complicated when kids are involved.

    Going back to the familiarity angle, the one being abused at least knows how things go (sounds horrible) in that kind of life and knows they can deal with it, they're used to it. Leaving and getting by yourself is a bigger unknown, especially if you have no family/friends to rely on for help. Then, there's always that hope that things will get better, when they come to you all "I'm sorry, it'll never happen again" etc. They start blaming themselves for not realising how bad it got, for not getting out sooner... anything really, and there's the abuser's favourite line of "If you weren't so...???... I wouldn't have to do this" "You made me angry" etc with totally random grievences that make no sense to a rational person, but still manages to make the abused feel like an idiot and give the abuser even more control.

    There's always that ingrained response that people have when hearing about abuse, "that couldn't happen, he's such a nice guy" so it's sometimes a problem even getting others to believe you. Even if they do, our society eschews weakness so there's always that feeling (I hate to use the term 'broken goods' but it fits) We always hear how people talk about others being abused and wonder why they didn't just get the hell out (after all, it's the obvious thing to do, right?) but... not that simple. I probably covered like four things but there's hundreds of interlocking reasons of why this happens. Oy...
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    A lot of times, the abused person isn't the one to initiate getting out of the relationship. It often requires the intervention of someone else. It might be the support of a good friend who can't stand seeing the person abused who urges her/him to get help, or it might be a professional person who recognizes the signs of abuse.

    There are also different kinds of abuse. Not all abuse is physical. Mal mentioned domineering behavior, and that runs a whole spectrum of possibilities. A lot of abuse is psychological/emotional, and abusers in general are extraordinarily manipulative. The film "Waitress" is emotionally satisfying, but things rarely play out that way.
     
  10. EMSchell2009
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    EMSchell2009 Member

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    From the abused

    Let me begin by saying that there are no logical responses in an abusive relationship. THe best way to proceed is to picture yourself as trapped. My ex-husband would not let me do anything that he thought made me feel happy. THe only time I felt safe was when I was at work. He wouldn't let me write because I needed it for my own sanity. He would have broken my fingers if he had thought it would have stopped me. Being in an abusive relationship is like being on a roller coaster that doesn't ever stop. At first everything about the person seems fun, but the longer it goes ont he scarier it is.

    In an abusive relationship you are not allowed to have oyur own mind. I thought I was going crazy. Something that i thought was completely logical would be twisted into something that wasn't what i thought at all. A good example was a birthday wish that I had. I wanted a cake for my Birthday. I asked him for one. He forgot about it...my whole birthday actually. I was upset. By the time he was done with the arguement we had I felt that it was completely my fault that I hadn't gotten a cake. I was up scrubbing and cleaning the entire night. I was exhausted the next morning and he had gotten exactly what he wanted.

    Abuse is about not having any of yourself left.
     
  11. pyrosama
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    pyrosama Member

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    I've known people in abusive situations and their reactions are all different dependent upon how you respond to them.

    The lady that cleans my house came over with a black eye on 2 occasions in a period of two months. Each time, I asked her in surprise as to what happened. Each time she told me a story about getting into a fight in a bar or falling.

    The third time it happened, I didn't ignore her. I asked again in my usual curious self and she said, "Oh, my boyfriend hit me." She bowed her head in embarrassment and I asked her, "Did you hit that bastard back?"

    You'd be surprised that she said she jumped his ass first because she wasn't going to let him push her around anymore. :D

    Every situation is different. Just don't always think the girl is a weakling.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Abuse is about control and domination. Emotional abuse is always a component. The abuser attacks the abused's self-esteem. At the same time, he or she isolates the abused from any external support system to tighten the control. The abused is made to feel that he or she has no choices and no escape, and that he or she is a failure, undeserving of any relief. The abused is also made to feel that he or she could not manage outside the relationship.
     
  13. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    This just about sums it up in my mind. That's exactly how I felt when I finally got out of my relationship for good...like I was just a shell, I had no idea who I was anymore.

    I would like to remove the "always" there and just say don't think the girl is a weakling, period. I know a lot of people who have a tendency to look down on someone in an abusive relationship, and coming from the position of someone who has been in one, that really hurts. People who haven't been there (not making a judgment on whether you have or not, just saying the people that I know) have no idea how hard it is and what a complete mindf*ck of a situation you find yourself in. People who stay in abusive relationships aren't weak...they're just in a terrible situation that's incredibly difficult to navigate.

    THIS! That's exactly how I felt. Even in the moments where I pulled myself together enough to realize that I needed to change my situation, I always ended up getting sucked back in because it freaked me out to not be in a relationship with him...I felt like I couldn't exist without him.
     
  14. Blue_Lotus
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    Blue_Lotus Senior Member

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    Might I suggest that you do more research before penning this section or this charater.
    You can contact a local womens shelter or even the Rainn group and ask some questions about how people find themselves in these situations, and how they handel it, why they stay, and how they break the cycle.

    Its a really sad fact that about 50% of ladies will be abused in so way shape or form before the age of 55.
    By the time we reach our 80's the number jumps from 50% to something like 3 n 4...
    Lots of us end up trying to comit suicide, jobs, school, everything is effected.

    Many of them find themselves in a kill or be killed situation.
    Once you are abused you are more likely to get into a relationship that is abusive, that is just statistics.
     
  15. SeverinR
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    SeverinR Contributing Member

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    There is no better way to get to know how someone feels in an abusive relationship then to read about them.
    I am sure there are websights with stories of abuse. Getting several personal stories will allow you to pick the right aspects for your character. Because like everything else there is no one size fits all abuse.

    Just to remind people, men can be the abused too. Story is usually the same, just reversed roles. I have heard of smaller woman abusing men and threatening to call the police and say the male is abusing her. How about that for trapped?
    Size doesn't matter, the abuser can be the smaller/weaker.

    I do recall a common ploy was to make the abused feel like its their fault that they are abused. "Why do you make me do this?" Type of thing.
     
  16. Pea
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    Pea super pea!

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    Definitely. It's usually worse in these situations because no one will expect/believe it and usually if you try to get help the cops will ridicule you rather than help you.
     
  17. J.P.Clyde
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    J.P.Clyde Prince of Melancholy Contributor

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    I don't think you ever fully recover from an abusive relationship. Either you seek the same abuse somewhere else. Or you become more mild and reserved, shrunk back. Don't go out any more. Don't date any more.
     
  18. CosmicHallux
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    CosmicHallux Senior Member

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    A couple of my characters are also in abusive relationships.

    This is my opinion: Abusers are very manipulative liars. They also tend to strategically erode self esteem of the victim, and to isolate the victim from others (who would offer a perspective of the abuse.)

    Also, victims often feel embarrassed that they (what is wrong with them?) would end up in an abusive situation. They often feel conflicting loyalty--if they tell someone, then they are basically giving up on their relationship because they are admitting that it is abusive and will have to end.

    Victims will sometimes compartmentalize the abuse--they have trouble remembering it when the abuser is being nice. This is some kind of weird psychological survival technique...

    Often times abusers are very charming--they are very good actors and have a good community reputation. This causes the victim to question their own reality..."if everyone else thinks he's so great, then maybe I'm the problem--maybe I'm causing this."

    Abusers can also engage in "gas-lighting." Which can further confuse the victim. Abusers almost always spread rumors of the victim being abusive or emotionally unstable/crazy-ish. They keep track of all the mistakes that the victim has made in the relationship, and they are often very good at convincing acquaintances that the relationship is "mutually abusive" or that the victim shares some responsibility for their abuse.

    This further confuses the victim, because again--everyone else is saying that she is the crazy one--she is the abusive one. Plus, she probably doesn't have many friends to stick up for her anyway, they are probably all the abuser's friends (because he socially isolated her slowly, in small steps.)

    Also, usually abusers wait for a bond to form before starting the abuse sessions (abuse is a kind of training of the victim, though the victim can never be fully trained and escape the abuse). They often tell the victim that they love them very early on, and they want to get very serious quickly.

    Then, they don't go all out and do the worst of the abuse. They push a little, when that boundary is gone, they push a little more. All the while, they erode the victim's self esteem and confidence in reality. The victim ends up slowly finding herself in an abusive situation, but questioning her own self worth and her own grasp of reality. She has no one to talk to, who will help her get a better understanding of the situation, except her abuser. She has endured so much psychological and physical manipulation--that she is kind of "shell shocked" and has very little self esteem.

    (Basically what Cogito said, only he said it more concisely.)

    Hope this helps! I know it was super long. Stockholm is really interesting. You can look up Lundy Bancroft too--he has some free articles that show how abusers get their victims hooked--and keep them that way.

    There are also forums online, where abused (usually women) go to get help and support. If you look at some of their posts, you'll get a good idea of why many women don't immediately leave.
     
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  19. jso7m3711
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    jso7m3711 Member

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    hmmm i'm new at this, but i must add that sometimes the victim doesn't leave the relationship because of some sort of messed up loyalty. I was forced to leave by my parents (thank goodness) after being physically injured, but the emotional abuse and lesser physical abuse had gone on for years by then. (he/she was a private music teacher.) I still feel miserable when i see the person and i want to go back, even though i understand the person's awful. I have to tell myself it's not my fault, that i'm safer not interacting. When someone says something negative about the other person i get really defensive. i still get sick when i hear the instrument he/she taught me (especially live) and it's been years since leaving. People are taught to respect adults and i had an overbearing sense that no adult could be wrong, that any issue had to reside in me. never teach a child that. not all adults are "good guys."
     
  20. EMSchell2009
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    EMSchell2009 Member

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    In a way I think this is true, but no tin the way that you mean. I think that recovery is about finding yourself again. It usually involves lots of tears and in my personal experience it has involved many many friends and learning to fly on my own again. I do not necessarily think that previously abused women and men have a tendency not to date because they are shrinking back, but because they are learning who they are so that they can find a relationship that they are truly comfortable in. I do not date because I am actually looking for a partner, a friend and someone who compliments me. I am guessing that whomever I choose will be a friend first.

    As a side note, if you want your character to heal, they will not go back into an abusive relationship they will wait.
     
  21. JeffS65
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    JeffS65 Contributing Member

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    While certainly not always the case, people in abusive relationships can come from a history of abuse and in way, seek out the kind of person that can be abusive. So to speak, it is the normal for that person.

    This is not universal but it seems that people who find themselves staying in this kind of relationship may see the abuse as more 'normal'. Even though from a logical standpoint, they know it's not right. From an emotional standpoint, it is more 'normal' to the abused than it would be for someone who historically has not been abused.
     
  22. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Google it - you'll find articles and even people talking about their experiences.

    I've never been abused so this isn't first hand, but from what I've read, around the internet, relationship forums, movies - the impression I get is this...

    You tend to blame yourself. You defend your partner to the end. The oppressor eventually makes you feel like you deserve it. The oppressor isolates you and makes sure you have no friends to turn to - they gain your trust and make you feel insecure about yourself.

    I had a friend who played many mind games with people - probably the closest I ever got to being manipulated and slightly brainwashed over things. Nothing too serious. I got rid of him, but only after a year. He used wordings such as this: "I'm only saying this because I'm your friend..." or "Everyone thinks this, but I'm your best friend so I feel it's my duty to look out for you, which is why I'm telling you. You've gotta change." I kept wondering what was wrong with me, I felt guilty - guilt is a major one in my case - I felt like I did something wrong and I should try and correct it. Except there was simply no pleasing him. I questioned myself, my judgement - I didn't trust myself anymore, I trusted him. The oppressor will try and shut off any avenue of communication. In my case - which I don't even think of as an "abusive relationship" - but there was certainly lots of mind games - this friend did well to stop me from telling anyone what he'd said. He played it out as if he was the only one who understood me, who gave me a chance and tolerated my "mistakes" and shortcomings, and that everyone else is talking behind my back, hated me, and were just being fake to me. He made himself out to be the only one who was honest to me.

    Thank goodness he was only a friend, and not a boyfriend. And I had a very close friend within this circle (who was also hurt deeply by this crazy guy) and she's Latin, so she's much more open than us British people. She and her boyfriend got me into their room one day and told me there's something they're not happy with and they really wanna work it out. From that, I realised that they will always be honest with me. So I started asking questions. When this "friend" would say "everyone thinks this" I went back to my close friend and asked her directly, "Did you say/do that?" Thanks to her openness, I trusted her (and I was always closer to her anyway). And after a year, finally woke up from it all because it was actually this Latin friend who took the initiative at cutting contact with the crazy "friend" first, and then I followed suit. But I was very confused at the time, I couldn't think straight, and I kept wondering if I was overreacting. My Latin friend's response gave me the confidence I needed to follow suit.

    The oppressor may fool you into thinking you have a "special" relationship with him - say, when a child is sexually abused. "This is our little secret" - to keep the child from telling anyone who might protect him. Or threats such as, "Oh what would so and so think if they knew?" That crazy friend above is similar - no sexual abuse, thank God - but definitely played on the "special friendship" thing. You feel like you'd be betraying his trust, after all the trust he's given you, if you told anyone. You feel like you'd be betraying him if you doubted him and so much as questioned him, and you don't wanna lose the "privilege".

    Or watch The Lives of Others - a brilliant German film. The female MC got herself into a corner where one of the heads of the secret police basically raped her and stalked her and she kept silent about all of this, because she felt helpless. Later because she rejects his advances, he arrests her because he knows she's addicted to pills. And when she agrees to betray her partner, the police gives her a bottle of pills and says "You're a valuable asset to the country, this is just one of the benefits you'll get."

    A friend of mine - his parents got divorced and apparently, all these years, his mother blamed herself throughout the marriage, thinking it didn't work because of her. And then eventually woke up to the truth and divorced the guy. This is not physical abuse but certainly emotional.

    My fiance's friend's girlfriend - that's another abusive relationship. The girl is madly in love with him, says she would die for him. He treats her like trash. She cleans up his vomit after he's horribly drunk, gives him money to squander on drinks. She herself doesn't see any friends, answers to every beck and call of her boyfriend. He boarders on raping her - she doesn't reject him, but she keeps saying "No! Get off!" - but she never physically gets out of the bed (though she definitely can - the guy wouldn't actually tie her up and force her) - in any case, she's protest to the point of kicking him and biting him. And he stays, groping her. I saw them - he thinks she's joking. But the girl tells me she'd die for him. He tells her how she knows nothing, how he's so much more experienced than her, how he's seen so much. He justified his insulting and disrespectful behaviour by telling her (and telling my fiance whenever he tried to defend the girlfriend) that he is only "trying to educate her" and "make her a better person" because she was just this naive, stupid, immoral girl with no values when he found her and he "saved" her. There's nothing directly physically abusive about this - and she happily follows him around. But this is definitely emotional abuse.

    Sometimes the abused thinks the oppressor isn't really so bad. The oppressor apologises and begs for forgiveness sometimes - and the abused thinks that the oppressor didn't really mean it. You make excuses - oh he can't help it! He didn't mean it! - and I think somewhere, sometimes we think we can change him. You feel as if you're privileged - that only you know his real self.

    On a much milder and probably not very realistic example - the Disney film Tangled is kinda based on an abusive relationship. Rapunzel is trapped in her tower under the illusion that she is being protected, and as soon as she asks to go outside, the mother starts telling her how she's clumsy and chubby and immature and fragile etc etc etc. Later when Rapunzel tells her she found a guy, the mother straight away asks her, "Why would you think that? Look at you!" Then later the mother stabs the male MC and immediately follows that with, "Now look at what you've done Rapunzel!" They make the abused feel like it's their own fault.

    For a Disney film that's geared for children to understand, I'd say the relationship was actually fairly complex. And since it really is an example that even children would understand (it's Disney, after all), it might be worth studying the dialogue there because they would've brought out the most obvious, tell-tale language in an abusive relationship.

    I'm not really sure why I know so much about this... :rolleyes: Anyway, the above are all speculation. I've never been abused, so of course I could be wrong on many fronts.

    Oh and one last thing - the oppressor makes you think that you NEED him, that you'd never survive without him, and that he's the only one you have and the only one you can trust.
     
  23. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Sexual Abuse

    How do you write it? For that matter, how do many write it? Do you show it, or do you hint it? What if it's from someone's repressed memories, from when they were a child?
     
  24. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    There are a number of ways one can go about this.

    I have a character named Dan who has been sexually abused as a child. I never show it, because the story takes place in his teens, after all the abuse. So, I have him confiding in someone else.

    Another thought I have toyed with is ending a chapter with it, so that I do not have to describe it. If you want your work to be for a broader audience, I suggest this option. I do not think a detailed approach is the best because some readers may frown upon it or feel uncomfortable. I do at times, if it is too detailed. I don't think it's necessary.

    So, you could end a chapter with something like "as he forced me to unbutton my shirt, I knew this would be the worst night of my life..." or something like that.

    Hope I helped.
     
  25. CosmicHallux
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    CosmicHallux Senior Member

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    I think it's pretty easy for the reader to pick up on hints. I am generally suspicious, so I pick up on hints about sexual abuse etc.

    Sexual abuse is usually kept hushed up too, so a reader might appreciate having to piece together hints on their own because that's usually how it is in reality, until the person actually confides in you and confirms your fears or concerns.

    Just to clarify, I'm not saying that everyone who has been sexually abused drops hints or somehow shows their abuse unconsciously--many people who have been sexually abused don't show it outwardly at all.

    IMO, someone who's worked through their trauma would be more likely to be able to show it (in their memory) or tell it completely (or pick and choose the details or an intact narrative).

    Someone who hasn't healed might just be able to reveal fragments or contemporary feelings or fears that revolve around the buried trauma. Since they wouldn't have worked through all the emotions and memories, they might not be able to accept the event in its entirety, and it might seem fractured from their awareness and inaccessible at times, and then take control of their awareness at other times.
    This is just speculation and assumptions by me. If I was writing about this I would do more research into processing trauma, especially sexual abuse.
     

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