Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Losing One’s Temper

Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

It’s our hope that this thesaurus will help you come up with meaningful and fitting conflict options for your stories. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.

Conflict: Losing One’s Temper

Category: Power struggles, increased pressure and ticking clocks, failures and mistakes, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, moral dilemmas and temptation, losing an advantage, loss of control, ego, no-win situations, miscellaneous challenges

A character can lose their temper in any circumstance, with any person. The severity of the situation (and, therefore, the fallout) will depend on a number of factors:

The Environment
At work
In the bedroom
In a media interview
In the principal’s office
At a public event that is being recorded

The Target of the Character’s Anger
A partner
One’s toddler
The boss
A police officer or other person in authority
A physically or mentally disabled person

The Severity of the Outburst
Generic yelling
Throwing, punching, or breaking things
Using insults or offensive language
Physical violence against the other party (grabbing, pushing, hitting, shaking)

The Frequency of it Happening
Does the character lose their temper often, meaning, it’s expected and is blown off as part of their volatile nature?
Was this unprecedented—a total shock and completely out of character?

Minor Complications:
Being thrown out of an establishment and forbidden from coming back
Being reprimanded at school or work
Losing the respect of others
Minor property destruction that must be fixed (breaking a knickknack, punching a hole in the wall, etc.)
The outburst causing a rift in a relationship that the character must address
The outburst being recorded and posted publicly
Being embarrassed

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Losing a friend
Being arrested
Getting fired
The situation devolving into a physical fight
Seriously injuring someone
Losing trust with the other party
The character’s insults damaging the target’s else’s self-esteem and confidence
Destroying an important piece of property (an antique, something that holds significant emotional significance for the other party, etc.)
Getting in a car wreck
Loved ones following in the character’s footsteps and repeating this abusive behavior (a child, niece/nephew, protégé, etc.)
Slipping into a dysfunctional behavior pattern of losing one’s temper when angry
Viewing the tendency as normal and acceptable rather than something that is disrespectful and damaging and needs correction
Reinforcing harmful stereotypes about the character’s occupation, race, gender, birthplace, etc.

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Feeling intensely guilty following the outburst
Knowing it’s wrong but enjoying the sense of power the outburst brings when it happens
Wanting to respond differently but feeling powerless to do so in the moment
Struggling with shame or self-loathing
The character feeling that they have let others down

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: The target of the character’s anger, onlookers, loved ones, friends, neighbors, co-workers, people who admired the character

Resulting Emotions: Anger, anguish, appalled, apprehension, conflicted, defensiveness, defiant, denial, determination, devastation, disappointment, discouraged, disillusionment, doubt, dread, embarrassment, frustration, guilt, horror, humiliation, insecurity, powerlessness, rage, regret, relief, remorse, satisfaction, schadenfreude, self-loathing, self-pity, shame

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, callous, confrontational, controlling, cruel, defensive, disrespectful, hostile, impatient, impulsive, macho, perfectionist, stubborn, violent, volatile

Positive Outcomes: 
Seeing the damaging results and vowing to be more controlled
Recognizing a dangerous pattern of behavior and determining to make a change
Achieving the desired result—getting one’s opinion across, stopping an undesirable decision from being made, regaining control, etc.—despite using a dysfunctional method to bring it about

If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.

Need More Descriptive Help?

While this conflict thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing) is available at our main site, One Stop for Writers

If you like, swing by and check out the video walkthrough, and then give our Free Trial a spin.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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