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. Please note that this isn’t a self-diagnosis tool. Fears are common in the real world, and while we may at times share similar tendencies as characters, the entry below is for fiction writing purposes only.
Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that causes people to be afraid of the places or situations that could bring on a panic attack. Their fear of being unable to get help or escape during one of these attacks can make it difficult for them to navigate open spaces, elevators, crowds, concerts, church services, movie theaters, or any place where a panic attack might come on. In extreme cases, a character suffering from agoraphobia may reach the point where they’re uncomfortable leaving their home at all.
What It Looks Like
Frequent panic attacks or elevated anxiety in certain places
Consistently avoiding certain locations or situations
Making choices that enable the character to stay at home (working from home, having groceries delivered, etc.)
The character often declining social invitations to certain places (amusements parks, church services, weddings, etc.)
Only venturing outside with a companion
Clinging to the friends or family members who are supportive
Common Internal Struggles
Wanting to not be limited by a fear but it being too strong to ignore
Knowing the fear is irrational but being being compelled to give in to it
Feeling guilty for making excuses about not being able to attend certain events
The character feeling like they can’t trust their own mind or emotions
Feeling defective or broken
Slipping into despair—believing that things will never change or get better
Wanting to seek help but feeling too overwhelmed or incapable
Feeling misunderstood and alone, as if the character is alone in their suffering
Worrying about what others think
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Being unable to do things the character would like to do
Having to lie or make excuses for why they can’t attend an event
Missing out on interactions with others
Not being offered (or not being able to accept) job advancement opportunities
Settling for a career that isn’t exactly what the character wants because it enables them to work from home or a certain location
The character’s outings being contained to a finite area because they’re unable to drive or use public transportation
Being dependent on medications with undesirable side effects
Depending on others; the character having to arrange their day and outings around the people who can go places with them
Being exhausted and mentally depleted after an outing
The fear of a panic attack bringing on panic attacks
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Losing someone who understood and cared for the character
Experiencing a stressor (getting in a car accident, being victimized, losing a job, etc.)
Having to go to a location that is a known stressor for the character
A change in circumstance that makes it harder to avoid stressors—totaling a car and having to rely on public transportation, for instance
Feeling the beginnings of panic or an elevation in anxiety
Seeing looks of pity or disdain from others when the character is struggling with panic or anxiety
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.