Fear Thesaurus Entry: Losing Autonomy

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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 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.

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Fear of Losing Autonomy

Autonomy fluctuates throughout life but will decrease with certain changes, such as getting married, having a baby, and growing old. A character who fears the loss of their independence will look for ways to maintain their freedom, sometimes at a cost to their own happiness or satisfaction.

What It Looks Like

The character moving out of their parent’s home as soon as possible
Living alone
Setting clear goals for autonomy within relationships
Maintaining superficial romantic relationships so they don’t infringe on the character’s independence
Avoiding family members who exert too much influence
Hiding signs of illness or mental struggles from loved ones

Changing the topic when the subject of assistance comes up
Refusing to use tools that are meant to help, such as a cane, hearing aid, or glasses
Refusing to move in with a relative, even if doing so makes sense
The character dismissing concerns for their safety or well-being
Being deliberately cantankerous or rude to caregivers
Continuing to engage in activities that have become dangerous (driving, drinking alcohol, running, etc.)

Common Internal Struggles

Feeling pressured to let others help despite a desire to remain independent
Fearing that a loss of autonomy will result in a loss of identity
The character wondering if they’re being selfish or stubborn for declining help
Living in denial about their need for assistance
Seeking to justify any loss of cognitive or physical abilities
The character feeling as if they’re a burden for needing any kind help
Feeling worthless
Becoming paranoid about signs of further decline
Resenting the people who are trying to help, then feeling guilty about it
Feeling as if life is no longer worth living

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers