Surviving Abuse is Like Playing Dungeons & Dragons

Caitlin Fisher
9 min readNov 19, 2018
Photo by Alex Chambers on Unsplash

In my ongoing quest to help people understand mental health struggles and triggers, I came up with this idea based on role playing games for people who easily understand the concepts of stats, critical hits and failures, hit points, levels, and character weaknesses. Even if you’re not a tabletop role playing gamer, this idea applies to basically anyone who has ever watched Pokemon cartoons or played any video game. I’ll mostly be discussing emotional abuse by a parent, but these ideas can apply to many types of emotional manipulation in a variety of relationships and throughout a person’s lifetime.

Stats and Classes

At the onset of most role playing games (RPG) like D&D, you’ll determine your character’s attributes, which usually go something like this:

  • Strength — Raw physical strength
  • Dexterity — Agility and grace
  • Constitution — Health and hardiness
  • Intelligence — IQ/raw intelligence and education
  • Wisdom — Common sense and spirituality
  • Charisma — Strength of personality and leadership abilities

Have you ever noticed that people tend to praise children with traumatic pasts for being wise beyond their years, great in school, or particularly mature? These kids have usually leaned into wisdom and charisma as coping mechanisms, often relying on their raw intelligence to garner praise and attention at school while they lack support at home. It’s possible that abused children put on a charismatic face at school or in public to keep the secret of abuse.

It’s pretty easy to make the leap into assessing your childhood self in similar terms. Your childhood intelligence and wisdom focused on seeing trends and patterns in your abuser’s behavior and avoid incidents, while your childhood charisma may have taken the brunt of the attacks, wearing your personality and confidence down over time. Compare these attributes to your adult self now and see the ways in which you’ve embraced your creative passions and overcome the damage to your mental and spiritual wellness. Or perhaps your mother harshly judged your body image as a child and now as an adult you focus a lot of time on your health and fitness, by prioritizing strength…



Caitlin Fisher

Prone to sudden bursts of encouragement. They/them. Queer, autistic author of