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How to Develop Characters with Psychological Disorders

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Last Updated on February 11, 2021 by Mileva Stankovic

You finally got to were you wanted. Your fictional character has a name, a personality, a whole life within the pages of your book. But you are still missing something. Then it hits you. You recall watching a movie and you know that fictional characters with psychological disorders is what you miss in your book!

Fictional characters with mental illness are catchy, and you realize your readers might enjoy just a perfect amount of spiced up emotional roller coaster, but where do you start?

Sometimes a fictional character’s main trait can be exactly this – a mental illness. These often show the reader that the character is human, vulnerable and sensitive, and help the reader empathize with the character. Mental illness can be the unique thing that shows that the character is present in the scene without having to use a lot of description to point it out.

Mental illnesses can help you differentiate the character in many ways and make him memorable, sometimes lovable.

Now, we’re talking about loving the craziest guy out there – we’ve all been there as readers for sure! We tend to fall for characters with psychological disorders and enjoy their journey of self-discovery.

Without further ado, let’s dig into the variety of mental illnesses and help you pin some to your characters with psychological disorders.

Most common disorders are:

These are the most common mental illnesses that you can use to develop fictional characters with psychological disorders. While these are not fun to read about, they might be fun to incorporate in your book.

Anxiety disorders

These type of disorders will do just fine if you want fictional characters with psychological disorders that aren’t over the top.

  • Any disorder that affects the everyday functions can be classified here.
  • Panic disorder – these are sudden fears manifested in physical symptoms like sweating and heart racing.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder – a person has to do something repeatedly or thinks something repeatedly while losing control.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder – develops after a person has been exposed to certain negative events.
  • Phobias – “persistent and excessive fear of an object or situation” Always remember – I was running away from spiders before I could walk.

(Phobia fun facts)

  • And general anxiety – “characterized by excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational worry about events or activities”

Mood disorders

Most common being bipolar disorder, manifesting as moments of high mood followed by depressed mood. As a standalone or in a mix, these disorders will make your fictional character with mental illness a bit melancholic.

Eating disorders

We are well familiar with anorexia, restrictive eating, binge eating, and bulimia, but many people don’t know what Pica is.

If a person starts eating non-nutritive objects at least for a month without any relation to religious practices, they can be diagnosed with the Pica disorder. Imagine having a character eating light bulbs thinking how it’s normal and everyone does it, until one day he ends up on ER where the doctor tells him he needs to stop.

fictional characters with Psychological Disorders
Image by Vinson Tan ( 楊 祖 武 ) from Pixabay

Personality disorders

These are a little heavier to consider adding to your fictional characters with psychological disorder, as you might need to conduct in-depth research to understand how people with these mental illnesses function in daily life.

Psychotic disorders are possibly the “hardest” ones to write about because many people don’t really know what it’s like to have those, and no matter how long we research we always might miss some aspect of the disorder.

But don’t let it stop you from writing a psychotic fictional character. After all, it is fiction and you should be free to do what you want.

  • Brief psychotic disorder – tied in with a stressful event, manifests as a brief display of psychotic behavior.
  • Delusional disorder – a person has delusions but no hallucinations.
  • Substance-induced psychotic disorder – alcohol or drug-induced psychosis.
  • Psychotic disorder due to a medical condition – caused by tumors, stroke and endocrine disorders.

Psychopaths as Characters with Psychological Disorders

“Psychopathy is traditionally a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits.”

Another character trait that is hard to write about because we lack experience.

However, wanting to invest your time in writing a psychopath is totally worth it. They can come off as charming and loving, only to reveal their dark side later on.

The following is a real-life story:

There was a man who entered a random house one night to steal money and killed a three-year-old just because he saw her. He was sentenced for 40 years (maximum in the country) and when a researcher came in to interview him, he stated that he knows what he did, he’s okay with being in prison, but he can’t feel sorry for the kid or the parents.

The only thing he wanted in his cell was a TV and to be allowed to have garlic with his meals.

Once his TV broke and nobody was there to fix it or change it and he got furious. His emotional reaction happened for the TV, not anything else. Almost as if he felt endangered by not having the TV to hear the news.

There’s a theory out there that psychopaths are not a “mistake in nature” but nature’s way of keeping humanity safe in case of severe destruction. They are the only ones who would be able to survive. Psychopaths are something else.

Final note on Characters with Psychological Disorders

We hope this helped you a bit in deciding what disorder you want to assign to your fictional character – if any. Still, this list is just the beginning. Your exploration should go further, but you can use the list to start developing your fictional characters with psychological disorders.

If this helped you in any way, feel free to share it with your friends.

Characters with Psychological Disorders
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