Dr. Jax, do you think we’re aware of the events in our past which have shaped us? Or is it more common to simply assume you’re all right, and that you’re more or less ‘normal’?
Dr Jax: Yes, most people think they’re okay. However, the things that shape us the most are the relationships we have with other people rather than events. And the most important relationships are the ones we have in the first two years of life – these echo throughout our lives. Yet we have no episodic memory of those years – or if we do, then we usually remember them wrong because episodic memory is unreliable. Of course, we are often aware of events in childhood and we may attach importance to those events but in reality single events shape us much less than relationships do.
Jackie’s note: Here is where psychiatry and writing fiction diverges a little – as writers of course, we have to attach some importance to events as these are easily read signposts to the reader of our character’s conflict. However, I think given how important relationships are to people, it’s a good idea to examine an event that has happened in a character’s life and make sure to assess how that event related/changed the relationships the character had with others, not just how the event changed the character themselves. As an example, the character with the abusive father – obviously the first time his father hit him will be a big event that will have an impact (no pun intended!) on him, but it’s good to think about how that event affected his relationship not just with his father, but also with his mother (was she there? Did she see it? How did she react to it?) and brothers/sisters etc.
I have a question about my hero. He’s a workaholic who can’t acknowledge that he’s capable of feeling love and believes that he doesn’t want or need a permanent relationship–believes he’s better off on his own. (loss in his childhood, father had stiff uper lip attitude and wouldn’t talk about the loss so hero learnt to supress his emotions). The problem is that, going on this, this character doesn’t sound much fun (very work- focussed and buttoned up) But I don’t want him to be like that. I want him to be outgoing and full of charm. Is this inconsistent with the above? Would a man who’s closed off emotionally (and scared to love) have culitvated an outgoing, charming image? What would his unconscious psycholigical motive be?
Dr Jax: Sounds like you want your hero to be two different types of people! However, you can make his behaviour more consistent. If his father was a stiff upper lip type of guy, then you need to decide whether your hero becomes like his father, or consciously tries to do the opposite. Perhaps he has developed a charming, debonair exterior as part of a decision not to let anything matter too much to him. Emotions are painful so he won’t let himself feel too deeply, he just wants to have fun, float along the surface of life etc, etc. Unconsciously this is to protect himself from feeling because feeling equals pain, but consciously he perhaps would be telling himself it’s because he doesn’t want to be all buttoned up and stiff like his father.
Jackie’s note: My chess hero has problem with emotion too. But I’ve chosen the opposite to charming and debonair. I’ve made him very serious and logical. No, he’s not charming and flirty because he views being charming and flirty as pointless and he doesn’t need it to get girls anyway. Consciously he is contemptuous of people who are emotional because it’s logic that’s important, emotion clouds thinking (he’s like Dr Spock without the ears!). Unconsciously he is trying to protect himself from feeling because he is afraid of what happens when he lets himself feel – bad things happen when he gets angry. No, he’s not the life of the party but that’s part of his character arc – what happens when you give him a heroine who won’t let him get away with being all serious and logical, forcing him out of his comfort zone?
So, I have a question. An overriding theme present in every one of my books is self-esteem (and I wonder what that says about me!?!). And all of my characters seem to define themselves through their work (or lost job, in some cases). I wonder how big of a role work plays in other people’s lives. Is it common for people’s self-esteem to be wrapped up in their job?
Dr Jax: Yes, very common, especially if this is the only part of your life that is going well. If other aspects of your life suck (such as love/social life) then work becomes extremely important to you because it helps you feel better about yourself. It gives you validation from the outside world etc.
So big heaps of thanks to the good Dr J!! Hope that was helpful to people. If there are more questions, I can do one more post so let me know. The doc is happy to answer any more – especially as he loves talking and hates the writing up so this is the perfect balance for him. 🙂
If not, I’ll run an Ask Dr Jax post next month.
Thanks all for your fabulous questions!