Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental illness, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life.
In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.
This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc.
A Fear of Relational Commitment
What It Looks Like
A lackadaisical attitude and approach to dating and friendships
Dating many people at once to maintain superficial relationships
Breaking things off if a relationship gets too serious
Sabotaging serious relationships (treating the other person badly so they’ll leave, picking fights, ghosting them, etc.)
Being disloyal—cheating on a romantic partner or abandoning an old friend for a new one
Abandoning a fiancé at the altar
Continually postponing a wedding date or refusing to set a date
Reluctance in making future plans
Being nonchalant about even short-term plans, such as not preparing for date night until a few hours prior
Not dating at all or investing in new friendships
A lack of excitement, passion, or interest in the relationship or the other person
Thoughts of commitment causing physical or emotional distress (shortness of breath, anxiety, hyperventilating, nausea, etc.)
Having many casual friends but few deep and long-lasting ones
Frequently canceling get-togethers with friends
Being a one-sided friend (only reaching out when the character needs something, only getting together when it’s something the character really wants to do, etc.)
Always having an “escape plan” so the character can leave an event early if they want to
Living on the outskirts of true community
Being more comfortable with strangers and acquaintances than with friends
Keeping a lot of pets to fill the void
Common Internal Struggles
Wanting connection but being unable to move past a certain point to achieve it
Experience fight-flight-or-freeze responses when commitment becomes a possibility
Doing things to push the other person away, then feeling guilt, shame, or self-loathing
The character knowing something’s wrong with them but not knowing what it is
Wanting to change (recognizing the fear and knowing the unresolved wound that’s behind it) but not being willing to do so
Flaws that May Emerge
Abrasive, Addictive, Antisocial, Dishonest, Disloyal, Evasive, Indecisive, Inflexible, Inhibited, Manipulative, Pessimistic, Rebellious, Self-Destructive, Self-Indulgent, Selfish, Stubborn, Temperamental, Uncommunicative, Uncooperative, Volatile, Withdrawn
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Spending a lot of nights alone
Being perceived as selfish and superficial by others
Being a third wheel at social events
Having no one to confide in
Experiencing a crisis and having no one to care for the character
Constantly having to explain the latest breakup to people
Unpleasant conversations with parents or siblings who see the truth and confront the character
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A romantic partner proposing marriage, suggesting they move in together, or asking to meet the character’s parents
A romantic partner saying I love you
Someone important to the character dying and reinforcing the knowledge that everyone eventually leaves so it’s best not to get too close
Playing a bonding game with friends, where personal information is shared
Being invited to vacation with friends
Being asked to play a significant role in a friend’s wedding
The character being asked point-blank by a trusted loved one about their commitment issues
Other Fear Thesaurus entries can be found here.
Need More Descriptive Help?
While this thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (16 unique thesauri and growing) is accessible through the One Stop for Writers THESAURUS database.
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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.