How to Recognise the Signs of ‘Main Character Syndrome’

How to Recognise the Signs of ‘Main Character Syndrome’
Photo: Kiselev Andrey Valerevich, Shutterstock

It can be easy to get caught up in your own life — especially after a year of limited opportunities to socialise in person. Living through a global pandemic has been strange: Everyone is aware that there is a lot going on around the world, but the prolonged isolation can make us feel as though we’re the only people around.

Some people take this one step further, living as though their life was a movie, and they were in the starring role. Though this isn’t an official psychological diagnosis or disorder, it’s something that has come to be known as “main character syndrome.” Here’s what to know about this type of behaviour, including how to recognise the signs that you or someone you know may be falling into the pattern.

What is ‘main character syndrome’?

As Dr. Phil Reed, a professor of psychology at Swansea University, writes in Psychology Today, “main character syndrome” is the latest example of a specific symptom that has emerged as a result of social media. Here’s his take on it:

Currently, main character syndrome is a vague term, which has more media, and social media, usage than scientific. The term refers to a wide range of behaviours and thoughts, but, at root, it is when somebody presents, or imagines, themself as the lead in a sort of fictional version of their life (usually their own, although sometimes, disturbingly, somebody else’s), and presents that “life” through social media.

Of course, this type of egocentric behaviour is nothing new. We all know people who truly seem to believe that the world revolves around them and their needs, and everyone else is there to benefit them in some way. Social media then provides them with a medium to broadcast their narrative to the world — aka, their audience.

Main character syndrome is “the inevitable consequence of the natural human desire to be recognised and validated merging with the rapidly evolving technology that allows for immediate and widespread self-promotion,” clinical psychologist Dr. Michael G. Wetter said in an interview with Newsweek.

How to spot the signs of main character syndrome

So how can you tell if you or someone you know has fallen into the pattern of behaviour associated with main character syndrome? Here are a few of the signs, courtesy of Reed and Wetter, who were both interviewed for the Newsweek article:

  • Creating a narrative that is dependent on an audience to validate your story and your life
  • Creating and living in an alternate version of reality
  • Watching videos on social media videos prompts a cycle of comparisons, causing you to wonder why you don’t look like the people in the clips and why you aren’t as happy as they are (even though their content is highly curated)

Though some have compared main character syndrome to mindfulness, Reed said that while interesting, that theory is wrong.

“Mindfulness is about being aware of the realities of your present, noticing your environment, and freeing yourself from past influences,” he told Newsweek. “In the case of main character syndrome, you are removing yourself from the reality.”

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