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Who is pulling the strings in your personal success story?

I discovered something interesting when I first started writing fiction. The more I developed a character, the more he would develop a mind of his own about what he would do or not do. 

Many times a direction I initially imagined the character would take was no longer possible based on the character’s values. If I tried to force it, it would seem contrived, and, the reader would no longer find my character believable.

When that happens, I either have to rework my character or change the direction of my plot. 

If I don’t, my reader will lose interest and put down the book. 

And that is the last thing I want.

Later on in life, I was shocked to learn there was something else creating the motivation for my characters – my subconscious.

Sometimes a writer’s stories are guided by his deepest unsatisfied needs. 

I’m not talking about the fact that most first novels are biographical and written from an author’s own experience and knowledge. 

I’m talking about how his unresolved issues, ones that hark back to his childhood, will emerge as traits in his characters. 

What shocked me, when I recently revisited some of my earliest writings, was that I, too, had done this.

I first read about this in the book, The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Hurtful Parenting by psychotherapist Alice Miller. She writes of how the pain and suffering parents inflict on their children is retained in the psyche of the individual into adulthood. When the adult continues to repress the trauma he or she received, it causes illness.

She illustrates this by comparing several famous writers. She notes that despite these writers’ attempts to suppress their memories of being abused, the need to address their suffering and deal with it tended to emerge somewhere in their writing.

According to Miller, most people feel bound by the commandment to “Honour thy mother and father,” despite how badly they were treated by their parents. 

Many of us, because of the love and caring we also received from our parents, suppress the memories of their mistreatment. 

Suppressing those memories causes stress, and stress eventually causes illness. According to David Eagleman, a neuroscientist, and author of Incognito: The Secret Lives Of The Brain, your brain does not like to keep things secret. It also does not like stress hormones. 
When you keep something secret, it increases the level of stress hormones in the body. The stress is created by the infighting between the part of your brain that wants to keep the secret, and the part that wants to reveal it. 

If you tell the secret  – even by writing it in a private journal or sharing it in privileged conversation with a doctor or lawyer – it relieves its burden on your brain.

After reading those two books, I went back and reread an unpublished novel I wrote in my twenties. 

I recognized that the traits I gave to the main character’s father resembled those of my mother. 

As a child, I was alternately abused or engulfed by my mother.

As adults, my sister and I have joked that we never understood the proverb, “Don’t cry over spilt milk” because as children we literally always cried over it. 

Our mother would punish us severely for even accidentally spilling some on her clean floor. 

Subsequently, the father character in my book would beat his teenage son and scream at him for the mildest of infractions or accidents.
As a teenager, I found that I was enamoured of my friend’s mother. 

She was always gentle and calm. Even though she had five boisterous kids, she never lost her temper. I enjoyed hanging out at my friend’s house instead of mine, because of the fear-free environment created by that woman. 

In my teenage opinion, she was the ideal mother. The one I wished I had. My mother’s name was Barbara, so I would refer to my friend’s mom as the Anti-Barbara.

In my novel, an abused teenager found a replacement father-figure in an older boy who always treated him with respect. 
When I reread my book, I recognized my friend’s mom.

After my divorce, I went into therapy to understand the roots of my depression which seemed to go beyond losing my spouse. 
I learned that many of my issues were fallout from the abuse I suffered as a child. 

With that knowledge, I believe I can now go back to that novel I wrote so many years ago and rework the traits of my characters to make them more believable.

In revisiting my early work, I realized that in writing it, I was motivated by unresolved issues in my past. I was unconsciously expressing the effect my childhood trauma had on my life. 

What unresolved issues are unconsciously motivating your actions and directing your life?
                                                                                                                                                                 – Robert Wilson

• Robert Wilson is an author, humorist and  innovation consultant. He is also the author of the children’s book, The Annoying Ghost Kid. For info, visit www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com.

Posted: Feb 4, 2014

July 2019

Centennial College

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