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 Someone Taking Advantage of Them
A character with this fear may worry about potential situations where they might be taken advantage or exploited. These could be serious crimes, such as sexual abuse and identity theft or a simpler occurrence, like being used by a friend for some larger gain.
What It Looks Like
Questioning people’s motives
Believing that other people can’t be trusted
Highly valuing privacy
Not volunteering information
Being very independent
Doing extensive research (to avoid scams, find out if someone is reliable, etc.)
Avoiding vulnerable situations, such as walking at night or being alone with someone
Setting boundaries that keep others at a distance
Avoiding situations where the character has been burned in the past, such as dating, shopping online, or sharing their creative work with others
Not trusting certain types of people (politicians, salespeople, women, etc.)
Pulling away when people try to get too close
Seeing exploitation where there is none
Taking careful security measures (locking up documents, changing passwords frequently, giving a false name, etc.)
Demanding payment up front before offering services
Difficulty working with a team
Resisting new technologies or advances that carry an element of risk
Being standoffish with strangers and new acquaintances
The character being reluctant to help someone outside their inner circle who asks for help
Common Internal Struggles
The character worrying about a person’s trustworthiness, then wondering if they’re being paranoid
Second-guessing the motives of others
Living in a constant fear of betrayal
Feeling unnoticed and underappreciated
The character doubting their own judgment (because they’ve been wrong about people before)
The character mentally warring with their body’s fight-flight-or-freeze instincts
Flaws That May Emerge
Abrasive, Antisocial, Callous, Confrontational, Controlling, Cowardly, Cynical, Evasive, Fussy, Martyr, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Stingy, Suspicious, Uncommunicative, Withdrawn
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Allowing career advancement opportunities to pass them by because the character fears they’ll be taken advantage of in some way
Being unable to develop meaningful relationship outside of a tight inner circle
Being perceived as paranoid, confrontational, and difficult to work with
Frequently making false assumptions about people
Missing out on friendships or romantic relationships because the character is too afraid to be vulnerable
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Being asked for a favor
Someone testing the character’s boundaries
Being pressured for information, a commitment, or a purchase
Reuniting with someone who has taken advantage of the character in the past
Catching someone in a lie
Being stalked or followed
Situations where vulnerability is expected (therapy, a Bible study, a game of truth or dare, etc.)
A loved one falling victim to a scam
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.
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