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 health condition, 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.
Fear of Humiliation
Humiliation is similar to embarrassment, but it tends to have a public angle, occurring in front of a group of people or friends. The resulting unpleasant emotion is one your character will naturally want to avoid; experiencing it enough could create a fear for the character that causes them to go to great lengths to avoid potentially humiliating situations. Closely related to this is a fear of public speaking, which will be added to our thesaurus soon.
What It Looks Like
Being easily embarrassed
The character overcompensating to prove their worth
Disassociating from persons who have caused humiliation in the past
Avoiding people who witnessed a past humiliation
Being suspicious of certain people and their motives
Being reluctant to meet new people
Taking remarks out of context (assuming humiliation was intended when it wasn’t)
Being overly cautious about not tripping, saying the wrong thing, etc.
Declining social or work opportunities where a public mistake or failure is possible
Excessive worrying about making a blunder
Staying in the background to avoid slipping up in front of others
Downplaying accomplishments or skills to avoid attention
Not becoming romantically involved with others (to keep from being turned down)
The character engaging in self-deprecating humor—making fun of themselves before others have a chance to do so
Common Internal Struggles
Having trust issues
The character feeling paranoid that someone is out to get them
Struggling with perfectionism
Wanting to build relationships and new friendships but fearing what may happen
Assuming the worst will happen despite knowing how unlikely it is
Wanting to run away from a humiliating situation instead of dealing with it head-on
Wondering if the humiliation was justified (self-blame)
Self-loathing undermining the character’s self-esteem
Feeling like there is no escape (if humiliation is frequent and ongoing, maybe as a result of bullying)
Growing feelings of resentment causing the character to consider seeking revenge
Flaws That May Emerge
Antisocial, Defensive, Gullible, Haughty, Inhibited, Insecure, Martyr, Melodramatic, Morbid, Needy, Nervous, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Perfectionist, Pessimistic, Suspicious, Timid, Withdrawn, Worrywart
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Missing out on good opportunities because they include an element of risk or a possibility of public embarrassment
The character lashing out at perceived humiliation where none was intended, causing problems in relationships
Lingering anger over past humiliations causing the character to be stuck—unable to move past the event
Avoiding places or situations where past indignities occurred
Developing a physical tic or pain from a severe humiliation in the past
The fear of humiliation progressing into an anxiety or panic disorder
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Being set up on a blind date
Having to walk in front of a group of people or down a flight of stairs to make an entrance
The character having to work with a person who once humiliated them
Someone bringing up a humiliating event from the character’s past
Having to revisit the site of a humiliating event
Seeing someone else’s embarrassing blunder on social media, TV, or in person
Being pressured by a loved one or mentor to do something that carries an element of risk
The character’s feelings about a humiliating event being minimized by others
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.