How do I show a character going from being unhinged as he gets desperate to heal and isolate himself from his trauma (yes, this happens) to actually healing from it?

My story features people who are gifted this responsibility to look after the welfare of humans and are provided with the powers, too. These self-proclaimed demigods have a leader, a king, who desires an heir who is superior to him. He has multiple children, of whom only two survive. The older boy has already developed his powers (he’s kind of useless to him) so his father tries to be more psychologically abusive to him. All the anger the father had accumulated from the other children who fled is unleashed on the youngest in the form of physical abuse. The youngest- after a month of planning- decides to leave. Note that in my story, I want to portray the fact that this boy has the capacity to outlive his trauma. The older one feels betrayed and abandoned, and they have a huge fight, and the younger one leaves.

Now in the present, both the brothers (adults) and another character come together for various reasons (they have different goals and the same enemies.) The arrival of his older brother causes the younger one to slowly revert back to his trauma (sorry if it sounds weird) and note that he had made a lot of progress on his own. His condition gets worse with every chapter. That is until he leaves for a while, and when he comes back, he is somehow better than ever. He even decides to help his older brother come out of the past and live.

Now the problem is, isn’t it sacrilegious to portray a character magically healing from some awful things in a few weeks on his own? How do I portray the more psychological aspect of him deciding to and being able to heal without it sounding impossible?

I’ll give more info if required.

1 Answer 1


Okay, very briefly (and leaving out many relevant aspects):

In PTSD, the pathological mechanism is repression of the traumatic event(s). Therapy of PTSD always involves exposing the patient to the traumatic memories to integrate them into that persons's memories as well as reducing avoidance of triggers (e.g. places). Through exposition to the memory of the trauma and the places and other circumstances of the traumatic event(s), patients habituate to the traumatic memory (in the same way that phobic patients habituate to the phobic stimulus) so that it no longer causes anxiety. Integrating the even(s) into the personal history helps the patient leave the event(s) in the past and no longer experience them as danger in the present.

A central part of the therapy is repeated recounting of the events either in written form (e.g. Narrative Exposure Therapy) or verbally. In some therapies the imaginary disempowerment of the perpetrator is a key aspect (e.g. Imagery Rescripting & Reprocessing Therapy).

When a patient is able and willing to fully commit to the therapy, the core part of trauma therapy takes no longer than a few weeks. The core part, as I said, is giving up avoidance of traumatic memories and exposing oneself to them (in a safe environment and under qualified guidance!!!).

Unfortunately, many patients find themselves unable to directly face the traumatic events. Often these patients suffer from dissociation, that is, they "go away" mentally or are completely overwhelmed by the memories and "break down". These patients need to develop certain skills (e.g. a mental safe space) before they can begin trauma therapy. But from your description it seems that your protagonist is not one of these.

Other patients seem at least partially unwilling to give up that part of their identity. They have lived with being traumatized and the effects it has on them for so long, that being traumatized has become a central part of who they are. Often these patients insist that it is impossible for others to understand what it means to be traumatised and they reject attempts to empathise and react in an aggressive manner to offers of help. These patients need to be motivated and find a reason to overcome their trauma first and develop a concept of what their life might be like without defining themselves through their trauma. These, I find, are the most difficult patients to help.

Trauma therapy cannot undo events, and sorrow (e.g. depression) or anger (e.g. aggressive revenge fantasies) often remain afterwards and need to be dealt with in a subsequent phase of the therapy.

I hope that helps.

  • So it is possible for a person like him to heal from the trauma as long as he is truly willing to do so. So it will not seem outlandish if they meet each other a few weeks later and the younger brother has finally cleared his mind up. What kind of hurdles would he face, especially when trying to help his brother out whilst dealing with his own fears? I have never been exposed to such experiences, and I have no clue about the realistic side of abuse from a parent, and my research is not giving me any info on the real-world effects apart from a list of symptoms.
    – Christiana
    Mar 15, 2023 at 7:40
  • @Christiana The effects of childhood abuse can be varied. Low self-esteem, callousness, learned helplessness (google that term), anxiety, depression, dependent or borderline personality disorder are possible negative outcomes, but victims might develop heightened empathy or self-reflection, as well. There is no direct and unchanging path from one experience to one disorder. Different people process and cope with the same experience in different ways. What I described is the treatment of PTSD. But not everyone comes out of a "traumatic" incident with a post-traumatic stress disorder!
    – user55858
    Mar 15, 2023 at 9:03

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