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 Infidelity
Relationships are built on trust, and when one partner cannot trust the other, the entire relationship is jeopardized. In some cases, the partner may have a history of cheating or questionable relationships. In other situations, the character may be projecting their own self-doubt and insecurities onto their partner. This fear could become so great in the character’s mind that, despite a desire or need for romantic relationships, they’re avoided altogether.
What It Looks Like
The character doubting their own abilities and attractiveness
Being overly jealous or territorial
Secretly checking up on a partner—accessing their phone without permission, following them, etc.
Trying to “trick” a partner into confessing to suspected indiscretions
Enlisting friends to spy on the other party
The character overcompensating to impress their partner
Worrying excessively if a partner is late or doesn’t call
Checking in obsessively via texts or phone calls
Making unfounded accusations about a lover’s faithfulness
Being overly needy
Forbidding a partner to have relationships that aren’t sanctioned by the character
“Catfishing” a significant other online (or having a friend do it)
Bending over backwards to please a lover
The character agreeing to bedroom activities they’re not comfortable with to appease their partner
Common Internal Struggles
The character wanting to trust their partner but being unable to do so
The character worrying that the partner is disappointed in them (physically, intellectually, etc.)
Experiencing soaring anxiety despite having no tangible reason for it
The character questioning their suspicions (Is this real or am I being paranoid?)
Feeling guilty about spying on or checking up on a partner
The character wanting to discuss their suspicions but also being afraid to find out the truth
Flaws That May Emerge
Childish, Confrontational, Defensive, Dishonest, Foolish, Insecure, Irrational, Jealous, Martyr, Melodramatic, Nagging, Needy, Nervous, Obsessive, Paranoid, Possessive, Prejudiced, Suspicious, Unethical, Worrywart
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Relationships ending due to unfounded accusations or spying
Being unable to enjoy relationships because of overwhelming worry
The character’s pushy or suspicious behavior pushing their partner into an affair (creating a self-fulfilling prophecy)
The character avoiding close romantic relationships
Having difficulty maintaining stable romances
The character becoming obsessed with maintaining their physical appearance (to keep their partner interested)
Competing with perceived rivals
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
The character’s lover starting a project with an attractive or aggressive co-worker
A friend’s relationship falling apart due to cheating
The character finding suspicious texts or emails
Noticing sudden changes in the significant other (personal grooming habits, a change in schedule, going out with friends more often, etc.)
Catching a partner in a lie
A lover becoming more secretive—hiding a cell phone, locking their computer, being uncommunicative about new friends, etc.
The character’s spouse requesting more time to themselves
Decreased affection, attention, and physical closeness from a significant other
The character’s spouse forgetting an important date, like an anniversary or birthday
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.