Fear Thesaurus Entry: Criticism

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 Criticism

Notes
No one likes to be criticized, but for some people, it can be very intimidating and even demoralizing, leading to an avoidance of any kind of well-intended feedback or critique. A fear like this can also be linked to a fear of rejection. It might be generalized, affecting many areas of life, or be localized to one person or environment.

What It Looks Like
Hesitancy to share their work 
Double- and triple-checking completed tasks
Striving for perfection
Conforming to societal norms
Being highly self-disciplined
The character being very hard on themselves
Asking a lot of questions before starting a new project
Going above and beyond what was asked
Choosing words carefully
Compensating for a perceived inferiority by bragging, exaggerating, etc.
Self-deprecation
Repeatedly apologizing for perceived wrongdoing
Seeking approval and validation 
Being uncomfortable in new environments and activities
Procrastinating or missing deadlines
Never taking initiative
Preferring to be alone
Avoiding risks
Becoming defensive when advice is offered
Avoiding people who might offer feedback
Reading criticism into every instance where advice is given
Taking things personally
Misreading people’s intentions—believing that someone is on a power trip when they’re only trying to help
Not taking advantage of opportunities where criticism is likely
Being unable to differentiate between constructive feedback that should be ignored

Common Internal Struggles
The character always feeling on edge, afraid of making a mistake
Having ideas to share but being too afraid of they not being received
Feeling like a failure
Struggling with low self-esteem
Believing they are inferior or worth less than their peers
Feeling inadequate or incapable
Becoming obsessed with negative feedback
Believing people are waiting for them to make a mistake
Being ashamed of a part of themselves (a physical characteristic, a weakness, etc.)

Flaws That May Emerge
Antisocial, Defensive, Evasive, Haughty, Inhibited, Insecure, Jealous, Know-It-All, Nervous, Perfectionist, Pretentious, Timid, Verbose

Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
The character stagnating because they’re unable to accept feedback
Being limited professionally because of an unwillingness to change
Never being able to truly express themselves
Giving up a passion because of criticism in that area
Gaining a reputation for being easily offended, uncooperative, or uninterested in self-improvement
Living with relationship friction due to the character misreading a spouse or parent’s intentions or character (accusing them of being overly critical or believing the other person thinks poorly of the character, etc.)
A lack of self-awareness keeping the character from growing and improving

Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Having to change jobs and start over with a new supervisor
Being put in a situation where the character or their skills are on display
Being assigned a job that is beyond the character’s abilities (being set up to fail)
Being rejected (in an interview, on a date, when sharing an idea, etc.)
Being paired with someone whose performance is always lauded
Receiving harsh criticism from a trusted individual
The character’s skills being brushed aside or devalued
Encountering a loved one whose desire to help looks a lot like criticism.

By BECCA PUGLISI

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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