My main character is going to be readily exposed to death in my story, and I'm not sure when it is she will stop feeling so affected by each body. She's gone through a decent amount of trauma and lived through it without serious mental damage so she's not dainty by any means. However, she will experience seeing her first dead body in the story line followed by many more.

How many dead bodies will it take for her to become "desensitized" or used to seeing them?

She will also be killing a few herself through self defense. How many kills will it take for her to become used to killing?


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    $\begingroup$ has she taken a sociopath test? I recommend a preliminary by watching pranks gone wrong on youtube to get a feel, if any... $\endgroup$ – user6760 Nov 14 '17 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ It entirely depends on who she is, this is a matter of individual psychology not something to which a blanket answer can be applied. $\endgroup$ – Ash Nov 14 '17 at 10:46
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    $\begingroup$ Western militaries do not 'desensitize' - they use compartmentalization, training, peer support, and follow-up treatment to prevent Soldiers from developing crippling behavioral health problems. Fighting another human to the death is a life-changing experience regardless of your preparation. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Nov 14 '17 at 13:18

To be blunt, the answer to this question is dependent on so many different variables it's impossible to give a precise answer. What was her upbringing? Did she live on a farm where animal death was a way of life? Was she brought up in a specific religion that extolled the sacredness of all life? Was she a conscientious vegetarian? Has she grown up in a world (or even a land) where capital punishment is still practised? If yes, are the executions public or private? If public, has she ever seen someone she cared about executed?

Does she suffer from some degree of pyschopathy? How intelligent is she? How well does she rationalise actions she finds morally reprehensible?

What is her support network like? How has she coped with the stresses of the past? Is she dependent on any legal or illicit drugs already?

The list goes on.

Put simply, just because someone has seen trauma before and dealt with it, it doesn't necessarily imply that she won't crack with new disruptive stimuli. Also, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs also has a role to play here. Having to kill for your own survival will not have the same impact on one's psyche as killing to get that corner office you crave (unless you really are a psychopath to some degree).

When you talk to people who work in emergency service fields who see this kind of thing every day, they'll tell you that there are 2 types of people who go the distance and become great;

1) Those who can distance their emotions from their intellect
2) Those who feel the emotions but convert that energy to action

The simple truth is everyone is different. Those with a fight response (as opposed to flight) will probably fare better. Those who are exposed to this material constantly as a matter of survival will operate because they have no choice, but may fall apart later. Finally, there will always be those who are permanently scarred and will never be able to function under these kinds of stress. Your character? You really get to decide.


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