How do you cope with a deformed character?

No, it’s not a typo. I don’t mean a reformed character. I mean a DEformed one. What I’m going to try to write about today are characters who have been emotionally and psychologically deformed by the appalling and often cruel way they’ve been treated as children. Child abuse is no longer taboo nowadays, so it is possible for the subject to be  discussed and that means we’re beginning to understand that abuse varies from family to family and affects abused children in different ways. I’m going to concentrate on one particular example, which I call the spoilt brat – hence the picture of Violet Elizabeth Bott.

I’ve been inspired by an excellent and revealing article in the Family section of yesterday’s Observer. Do get hold of a copy if you can. Written by Joanna Moorhead, it examines the work being done by two pioneering women, a psychologist called Alyson Corner and Angela Levin who is a journalist, who have set up a website  to help the victims of childhood abuse to survive. In it, they offer seven practical suggestions that might help teenagers and adults to come to terms with what has been done to them and move on. Stay calm: learn to accept your situation: don’t retaliate: look to your future with hope: believe in yourself: talk to someone you trust; look after yourself. All very sensible but no use at all to a small child stuck at home with an abuser. They have to accept their situations. There’s nothing else they can do. The can’t retaliate, their adversary is too big and too strong. They can’t look after themselves. Often they’re not allowed to talk to anyone about what’s being done to them. They are stuck.

So I’m sticking my oar in on their behalf.

I spent the first nineteen years of my life with a ‘spoilt brat’ physical abuser and, as there was nothing I could do except accept the situation I was in, and wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone about it, I tried to make sense of it by keeping a diary which I began when I was seven. Years later, when I read it as an adult I could see the patterns. So what had I learnt? Let me list it.

  1. Spoilt brat abusers  – like all abusers – are full of ugly negative emotions, like hatred, jealousy and a sense of grievance, which boil up into cruelty at hideously regular intervals. The psychologists are spot on about that.
  2. They belittle their victims and blame them for what is being done to them.
  3. They live in a fantasy world in which they are perfect and believe in it so thoroughly that it is easy for them to convince other people that it is true.
  4. Because they are so firmly locked into their fantasy, they have no ability to relate to or understand other people.
  5. They lie effortlessly because they have convinced themselves that what they say must be true because they are perfect.
  6. They are lazy. Other people exist to wait on them and look after them.
  7. If they don’t get their own way they throw temper tantrums or – even better – make themselves ill.

I have no idea how you can turn such a personality round so that they can face the sort of people they really are. But it is becoming increasingly clear that there are a lot of spoilt brats out there  and that some of them are not jokes like Violet Elizabeth but are men and women in powerful positions who are capable of doing an enormous amount of damage. Are there any psychologists out there who can advise us?

And for those of you who would like to read what I made of those diaries the link is



5 thoughts on “How do you cope with a deformed character?

  1. As someone who grew up with an abusive parents (emotional and verbal) in a time when such things were laughed off as ‘you have no sense of humour’ this article made me weep. What ‘right’ does anybody have to subject a child to endless persecution just because they (the parents) have had ‘problems’? I made sure ( as did you) that my daughter NEVER underwent the excoriating comments or denial of food that I went through. As for my two adorable grandchildren, I’d walk over burning glass for them. I think this would make a fascinating novel…tho’ you’d have to keep it from turning into one of the ubiquitous ‘misery me’ things. Could one write it though? I’m not sure.


  2. As Cat says – I don’t need to say anything, either. I’ve known you a long time, now, Beryl! However, as a child with a positively idyllic childhood compared to those portrayed, even though we lived in a rented flat in a London suburb (now Inner London), this is particularly relevant to the crime writer side of me right now, so thank you. I’ve been stuck on this book for a while, and maybe this will be the breakthrough.


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