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 Love
Being loved (and loving others) is a basic need that’s universal to all humans. Yet there are people who fear this kind of true connection and actively or subconsciously avoid it. This fear may emerge in the wake of past negative experiences with the people who should have loved the character most. It can also come about from witnessing harm done to others in the name of love.
What It Looks Like
Being the life of the party but not connecting with people on a deep level
Engaging in romantic relationships that don’t go anywhere
Avoiding any romantic relationships
Dodging deep and meaningful conversations with others
The character overworking themselves to avoid personal commitments
Being inclined to distrust others
Being jaded about love (believing it’s a fallacy, it’s harmful, etc.)
Being harsh, hardened, or abrasive
Choosing unhealthy or toxic relationships
Picking fights to avoid intimacy
Engaging in negative coping behaviors, such as drug or alcohol abuse
Common Internal Struggles
Craving intimacy but being unable to allow themselves to be that vulnerable
Having powerful feelings for someone but being too afraid to act on them
Desiring close relationships but being unable to trust others
Wanting to open up to others but being too scared of disappointing them
The character desiring love but not if it means giving up their personal power
Experiencing flashbacks to past wounding events with people who were supposed to love them
The character knowing they should forgive an -ex for a past hurt but struggling to do so
Engaging in an endless loop of negative self-talk
Suffering with depression or dissociation
Flaws That May Emerge
Abrasive, Addictive, Antisocial, Cynical, Evasive, Hostile, Impulsive, Inattentive, Inhibited, Insecure, Irrational, Nervous, Oversensitive, Reckless, Self-Destructive, Timid, Uncommunicative, Violent, Volatile, Withdrawn, Workaholic
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Consistently responding inappropriately to conflict (which results in more problems)
Potential relationships failing due to the character’s unconscious self-sabotage
Unrealistic partner expectations leading to disappointing relationships
The character being unable to express their needs and desires
Being viewed by others as superficial or emotionally unavailable
Engaging in unhealthy relationships because they feel “normal”
Living in isolation (having given up on love)
Ongoing substance abuse
Engaging in activities that temporarily satisfy a need for connection (joining clubs or volunteer groups, having a string of one-night stands, etc.)
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A romantic partner’s infidelity
Witnessing abuse (that reawakens memories of the character’s trauma or makes them leery of love)
Being rejected by a potential love interest
Losing a loved one through tragic circumstances
A gay character being rejected by their parents
Being abandoned by a partner, sibling, or guardian
The character’s parents divorcing
The character discovering that their spouse has a separate, secret family
The character being victimized by someone close to them
A romantic relationship progressing toward something significant (which makes the character uncomfortable)
Discovering a friendship wasn’t real—that the “friend” was using the character in some way
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.
If you like, swing by and check out the video walkthrough for this site, and then give our Free Trial a spin.
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.