Super powers always come from somewhere.
Does your main character have super powers? If your main character has a history of abuse then you may have a super hero on your hands. This isn’t just the stuff of Marvel Comics. In real life, victims of abuse — at least those that have sought therapy, identified all facets of their past, and dealt with their pain — often display super powers that ordinary mortals don’t.
These superpowers came from years of practice.
They’re survival skills turned up to eleven. If you have a character whose past is particularly tragic, consider using some of these characteristics to portray them. Keep in mind: all abuse victims are different. Their personalities will be just as varied as anyone else. Your superhero abuse victim could only have one of these, or even ones I haven’t thought of!
These are the super powers!
- They often are great communicators. They are used to being misunderstood so they’ve taken extra effort to say the right words, be precise and clear in what they mean. This is a superpower because the average mortal may not put as much care into it as they do. This is also why so many troubled souls are in the creative arts.
- They often can size up a situation really well. Sometimes they read others’ emotional cues so that they can avoid conflict. They will see body language and facial expression nuance that others may miss. They’ve been reading their abusers for years, so they know how to observe. This is a super power because of all the practice they’ve had. It can save them, but it can also cause them to be more isolated, so tomato, tomahto.
- They think fast on their feet. If they’ve been in an abusive situation, they’ve learned how to survive by snap decisions. They can turn on a dime. Often they’d rather make a choice, even a bad one, that sit still because it means there’s hope of success. This is a super power because their fight or flight trigger is well worn, but it’s not perfect. Sometimes they find themselves in bigger messes.
- They are really empathetic. Survivors of abuse are usually tenderhearted toward others. They tear up often and show compassion to others. Rejection is a fresh wound so they can identify with others’ pain really well. This is a super power because they will be one of the first people to step up to fight for justice.
- They are creative. Their past may have required them to come up with solutions for problems with few resources. They can think outside the box well. This is a super power because it works so nicely with the other powers. You really want someone like this on your side.
They also have weaknesses!
- They have triggers, some that are even a bit weird. Victims of abuse have been repeatedly exposed to certain tones of voice, certain scenarios, certain patterns. If you have someone with an abusive past, not only will your character react to specific triggers — they may react and hide it from others. This is a complicated issue and if you want to get it right, study PTSD. This is kryptonite because it can come without warning and render them useless. You don’t want that in a crisis.
- They have trouble trusting others. Sometimes victims of abuse make a habit of keeping to themselves because they just don’t want to be hurt again. This is Kryptonite because relationships are vital to good mental health.
- They’re easily manipulated. They’ve been a victim of manipulators so sometimes they have trouble discerning who is trustworthy and who isn’t. However, you could have a survivor who is really self-aware and now can spot manipulators quickly. This is Kryptonite because they are the first to fall for predatory situations. Often this is a destructive and tragic pattern.
- They struggle with their identity and their self-acceptance. This is a life long struggle and it comes out especially in times of stress. This is Kryptonite because they may never fully see their true value, take chances or care for themselves like they should.
- They have bad memories associated with major events. Sometimes they may not handle holidays well. They may self-medicate around sentimental or emotional events that remind them of past pain. This is Kryptonite for obvious reasons. All of these super powers come with a severe cost. Being a hero isn’t often that great.
People with a history of abuse are complicated, paradoxical, and unique.
These ten qualities are far from a complete picture.
If you want to get into more detail about what drives them and what’s going on in their head, check out resources like these. Characteristics of Emotionally Abused People. Profile of an Emotionally Abused Victim. Abuse victim characteristics.
Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community.