AZ Unlearns: Main Character Syndrome

Main character syndrome is a relatively new phenomenon that has risen to notoriety in internet (and thus popular) cultures. It refers to the self-delusion (often represented online) of being the protagonist in the ongoing, overly-dramatised saga that is one’s life. It’s a mentality that most social media users have a tendency to indulge in and it’s not always a terrible thing. The ‘syndrome’ of it all may suggest otherwise but it isn’t actually a condition recognised by science or mental-health practitioners. In small doses, main character syndrome can be an avenue for people to reclaim their confidence and assert healthy boundaries in their lives because all deserve to prioritise ourselves and our feelings as the main driver of our decision-making and the main beneficiary of the experiences we choose to partake in. 

Where things get messy is when main character syndrome is used to excuse narcissistic or machiavellian behaviours. An individual’s commitment to being the main character can cause them to develop a victim complex, limit their personal growth and their ability to maintain fulfilling, close relationships as they’re too wrapped up in the perceived or imagined plot of their lives. When MCS is being played out online, it can look like the careful crafting of fictional realities portrayed through posts, stories, tweets etc. The obsession with making one’s life appear more exciting than it actually is can cause a detachment from real responsibilities which leads to procrastination and ill-advised impulsivity while chasing the next juicy post. 

According to psychologist, Phil Reed, MCS at its worst mimics personality disorders and “may be a severe problem for those vulnerable to developing psychological issues, like anxiety and depression”. When you position yourself as the centre of a sensationalised storyline, it becomes very easy to develop a paranoid mindset that says ‘everybody and everything is against me.  At the core of online manifestations of main character syndrome is the idea that strangers are (justifiably) invested in the day-to-day goings on of your life which is enough to inspire dread in even the calmest and most gathered amongst us, let alone those of us who regularly tussle with obsessive and paranoid thought-patterns. 

If you’re unsure what main character syndrome looks like IRL, the most notable fictional examples that come to mind are Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessic Parker in Sex and the City)  and Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham in Girls) and they are whiney, self-centered, often referring to themselves in the third person and catastrophising the most minor inconveniences in their lives- literally two of the most intolerable characters in television history. Actual instances of MCS as displayed by actual people include Anna Delvey’s long-con, Thandiwe Newton’s (entirely unprovoked) apology to dark-skinned women for constantly being “chosen” over them; Scarlett Johannsen’s insistence that she can play any race she wants and Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s commitment to letting their entire divorce playout on our timelines & TVs. 

The only way to avoid falling into harmful patterns of MCS is through self-reflection. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you find yourself embellishing aspects of your life on social media or IRL?
  • Do you seekout or avoid particular experiences because of how they might be perceived online?
  • Do you have an idealistic view of yourself or struggle to come to terms with your flaws?
  • Have you ever cut somebody off because they contradict your rosy self-image?
  • Do you frequently overshare both online and in-person?
  • Are you often seeking emotional support/ validation from friends without leaving room for others to vent about their issues?

If you answered yes to four or more of those questions, you’re probably dealing with main character syndrome. That doesn’t make you a terrible person, just somebody in need of a major reality check which can be provided through several means including (but not limited to) \, taking a social media break, seeking therapy and making a conscious effort to listen with intent when others are speaking . If this doesn’t sound like you but you know somebody who could use the advice, drop them a link to this article (in as gentle a way as possible so you don’t end up framed as the overly-critical/ jealous villain in the Hollywood blockbuster that is their life). 

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