Fear Thesaurus Entry: Abandonment

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From Writers Helping Writers:

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 illness, 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 Abandonment

While death and loss are a part of life, they’re incredibly difficult to deal with. Being left behind (whether the leaving is voluntary or a choice) by someone important is something that many people and characters can worry about, even to the point of it becoming a fear that takes over their life.

This is one of the worst feelings to experience and it can be inflicted by anyone close to the character—a family member (parent, spouse, sibling, child), lover or romantic interest, best friend, mentor, etc. Someone who has experienced abandonment may develop a debilitating fear of it occurring again, but so can people who have never gone through it because they know the anguish it causes and don’t want it to happen to them.

Whether it looks like guardedness or holding on too tightly, a fear of abandonment can manifest in a number of ways.

What It Looks Like

  • Maintaining shallow relationships (so the character never grows close to someone who could leave them)
  • Reluctance to fully commit to a relationship
  • Sabotaging promising relationships by pushing the other person away, treating them badly, cheating on them, abandoning them first, etc.
  • Believing that people are going to leave (due to insecurity, feeling unworthy of love, etc.)
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Becoming possessive or manipulative as a way of controlling the other person and keeping them from close
  • Staying in an unhealthy relationship because the character believes it’s better than being alone
  • Attaching too quickly to a partner, friend, etc.
  • Seeking frequent reassurance of the other person’s loyalty or love
  • Making demands of the other party that will “prove” their love or loyalty
  • Separation anxiety
  • Being extremely sensitive to criticism
  • Seeking to please and appease
  • Struggling with emotional intimacy
  • Reading too much into the other person’s words or actions
  • Common Internal Struggles
  • The character blaming themselves for things that aren’t their fault
  • Struggling with anxiety or depression
  • Being tempted to do something they don’t want to to keep the other party happy
  • Feeling worthless or unlovable
  • The character wondering what’s wrong with them (that causes people to leave)
  • Wanting reassurance from the other person but not wanting to come off as clingy or desperate
  • Feeling defective and unfixable
  • Worrying that they will never be happy

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers