Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Public Humiliation

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: Public Humiliation

Category: Power struggles, failures and mistakes, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, moral dilemmas and temptation, losing an advantage, loss of control, ego

Infidelity being made public (through a sign on the lawn, a billboard ad, announcing it at a wedding or family event, in a mass email, or on social media)
Having private letters, images, or video shared online
The character being negatively singled out in front of peers
Being ridiculed by family or friends at a group event
Having their dirty laundry aired publically
An explosive secret coming out (drug use, sexual fetishes, criminal behavior, etc.)
Being put on the spot when the character is unprepared or at a disadvantage
Guilt by association (a spouse’s drunkenness at a company event, an adult child who has a very public arrest, a family scandal coming out, etc.)
Having a lie publically exposed or fraudulent behavior called out
Being forced to do something in public that the character believes is beneath them (due to their status, prestige, wealth, etc.)
Serving a punishment for a transgression that puts one’s act on display (being forced to hold a sign about bullying by one’s parents on a street corner, etc.)

Minor Complications:
Embarrassment, guilt, or shame (or all three)
Friends and connections who distance themselves, leaving the character to deal with the fallout alone
The rumor mill spinning, adding to the drama
Not knowing who to trust
Being shunned by neighbors or coworkers
Having to explain what happened over and over
Paying for legal advice
Changing a routine to avoid being harassed or ridiculed
Pulling back from activities to protect one’s privacy
Feeling trapped at home because of reporters, protesters, etc.
Having to disguise oneself in public
The character’s family members being inconvenienced or harassed
The character’s words being twisted in the media to fit a certain narrative to make things more “news-worthy”
Feeling watched
Having one’s other past actions examined and scrutinized
Damage to the character’s reputation
Having a membership revoked or an award taken back
Feeling uncomfortable around others due to being judged
Being unwelcome at a club, event, or establishment
Being threatened and harrassed
Being bullied or targeted online

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Being scrutinized to the point that other secrets come to light
A marriage breakdown
Being abandoned by family, friends, employers, etc.
Losing important allies
Being falsely blamed or scapegoated
Criminal charges being laid
Losing key support or funding
Losing a job
The character’s business having to close down
Being forced to move, relocate, or change one’s name
Family members being caught in the crossfire and having their lives ruined
Being innocent of an accusation but having no proof
Being incarcerated or put on a watch list
Having to give up on a dream
Developing PTSD, an anxiety disorder, or other conditions
Turning to drugs or alcohol to cope and developing an addiction

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Self-directed anger at a mistake or shortcoming warring against anger at others for exploiting it
Self-pity facing off against acknowledging they knew the risks and have only themselves to blame
Wishing one wasn’t caught yet being relieved that the secret no longer needs to be kept
Feeling betrayed yet being glad to know someone’s true colors so they are no longer in a position to cause pain and heartache
Letting go of a relationship due to a betrayal yet mourning the loss of it
Feeling shame yet also victimized
Wanting to fit in and hating oneself for being weak enough to still want it after what happened
Desiring revenge but knowing integrity means being the bigger person
Being pressured to forgive and forget yet believing others should be held accountable for their actions

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: The character, their family and friends, the business they work for, any groups, organizations, or connections they have that may be negatively affected by the publicity

Resulting Emotions: anger, anguish, anxiety, betrayed, bitterness, defensiveness, despair, devastation, disbelief, disillusionment, dread, emasculated, fear, grief, guilt, humiliation, hurt, inadequate, intimidated, loneliness, panic, paranoia, powerlessness, rage, regret, remorse, resentment, self-loathing, self-pity, shame, shock, tormented, unappreciated, vulnerability, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, addictive, compulsive, confrontational, cruel, evil, gullible, inhibited, insecure, martyr, needy, oversensitive, paranoid, perfectionist, rebellious, reckless, self-destructive, vindictive, violent

Positive Outcomes: 
If a secret is holding the character back, having it in the open at last might create a pathway to acknowledging the pain surrounding it, taking accountability (if this is a factor), and taking steps to finally move past it
Humiliation can open the character’s eyes to the true nature of others, helping them to take the step to cut toxic forces from their life
While humiliation is terrible to live through, sometimes hitting rock bottom is what will trigger the realization that something must change. This can lead to change, growth, and regaining control over the future.

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.


Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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5 months ago

Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” is a prime example of this EXCELLENT conflict source. Thanks for sharing.


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