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 Loved Conditionally
Conditional love has to be earned through performance or achievements. A character who has experienced love in this way is likely to develop certain habits that they believe will ensure the acceptance of others. They may also perceive their value as being tied to certain behaviors or successes. These thought patterns and actions may continue to plague the character even after they’ve recognized that this kind of love is unhealthy and they want no part of it.
What It Looks Like
Being a people pleaser
Being an overachiever
Making choices based on what other people want or like rather than on the character’s own desires
Difficulty setting or maintaining personal and emotional boundaries
Being oversensitive to signs of anger, disappointment, or disapproval from others
Being slow to open up
Building up emotional walls to keep others away
Stopping romantic relationships before they progress too far; keeping things superficial
Apologizing for the smallest of mistakes
Only expressing positive emotions (to avoid driving people away)
Needing frequent reminders of a friend or partner’s love
The character seeking approval for their thoughts, actions, and emotions
Only showing the best side of themselves to others
Staying in a toxic relationship
Being highly obedient or subservient
Being too permissive (not knowing how to love someone while also expressing criticism or correction)
Loving others unconditionally
Being highly attuned to signs of conditional love in others
Common Internal Struggles
Constantly needing to prove themselves to others
Analyzing other people to determine what must be done to earn their love
Wanting to be in a relationship but being afraid of disappointing the other party
Overthinking interactions with the other person to determine if the character is doing all they should be doing or has done anything wrong
The character doubting their own worth
The character constantly doubting where they stand with the other party
Believing they are unlovable
Vowing to never love others conditionally but worrying that this is exactly what the character is doing
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Difficulty forming intimate relationships
Getting entangled in an ongoing cycle of toxic relationships
Not knowing what true love looks or feels like
Struggling to love fully and vulnerably
The character viewing minor setbacks as major failures and defining moments
Relational friction caused by the character’s constant need for affirmation or frequent questioning of the other person’s love
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Having to interact with a parent, ex, or sibling who loved the character conditionally
Beginning a new friendship and not knowing what’s expected
Being asked out
A past abuser or manipulator asking for forgiveness
The character realizing they have loved someone conditionally
Making a mistake that hurts someone else
Falling short of the conditional standard someone has placed upon the character
Being blown off or ignored
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.