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 Being Touched
While many people are sensitive to physical contact, an actual fear of being touched can lead to a host of difficulties. It can come about from a past trauma, learned experiences (through growing up in a family where touch was discouraged or punished), a physical sensitivity, or a mental health condition, to name just a few possible causes.
What It Looks Like
Backing away from handshakes, kisses, or other cultural greetings
Sticking to the fringes of crowds
Avoiding romantic relationships
Not eating certain foods due to their texture
Not participating in contact sports, dancing, and other activities that require touch
Difficulty making new friends
Only being able to wear certain kinds of clothing that don’t chafe or irritate the skin
The character keeping their hands in their pockets
Flinching away from physical contact
Stiffening when hugged or patted
Being comfortable with touch from a select few people
Becoming irritated when they’re hugged or touched without consent
The character wearing a badge or sticker that tells people they’re not comfortable being hugged
Sticking close to people who know the character and respect their boundaries
Avoiding doctors and dentists
Common Internal Struggles
The character feeling uncomfortable when their personal space is invaded
Desiring sex or other forms of intimacy but being unable to endure the physical contact
Distrusting men or women (if this was part of a traumatizing event that spawned the fear)
Wishing they could be “normal” like other people
Wanting to attend a crowded event but being unable to do so
Feeling uncomfortable in their own skin
Struggling with shame or self-loathing because of their affliction
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Having just a small circle of friends or loved ones
Having panic attacks at the thought of being touched sexually
Constantly feeling “othered” because people think the character is weird
Not being able to hug their children, parents, or other loved ones
Suffering through medical difficulties because the character won’t see a doctor
Being constantly misunderstood because others assume the character is standoffish or unfriendly
Enduring daily physical discomfort
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Getting into a relationship with someone whose love language is physical touch
Having to visit a doctor
Getting caught in a crowd
An unwanted sexual advance
Being attacked or assaulted
Another character becoming offended when their attempts at affection are rebuffed
Family members expecting a hug or kiss
Being given an opportunity that requires the character to step out of their physical comfort zone
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.