Does My Main Character Syndrome Make Me a Narcissist?
I once Googled a question about Narcissistic Personality Disorder for a poem I was writing. Now, multiple times a week, I receive emails from Quora that attempt to capture my clicks with answers to questions like, "What is narcissistic collapse?" and "Do narcissists ruin all their partners?"
Much to my dismay, these emails are often successful in baiting me, leading to even more emails. The more I read about narcissists, though, the more I've suspected that I know some narcissists in my life. I began to wonder: do we all have tendencies of narcissists? Do I?
A non-medical phrase has recently seeped into public consciousness: Main Character Syndrome, born from Tik Tok during the months of lockdown. Sources offer varying definitions. Urban Dictionary describes it as: “A type of condition characterized by one feeling as though they are destined to become... like the protagonist of any fictional story.”
Other sources have defined it as “a non-scientific term experts are using to describe a semi-narcissistic tendency to act like your life is a film in which you play the lead role.”
For as long as I can remember, I've practiced the habit of living so deeply in my head that I see the outside world as a narrative. I distinctly remember narrating my experiences in my own mind in elementary school, casting myself as a character from one of my novels.
My habit was not a removal from life, but a way of fitting myself into it. I never thought of this habit as a coping mechanism, but rather, as a way of seeing the world. As an adult, I’ve learned that other individuals who now identify as writers had a similar mindset. For example, my boyfriend told me that his earliest memory of self-awareness consisted of asking his dad, “Why does the camera always follow me?” Even as a child, long before Tik Tok and COVID, he saw himself as a character; the main character.
Some studies have also suggested that narcissists are more likely to engage in creative activities. I guess this makes sense. Those with an inflated sense of self-importance may be more likely to believe that other people of the world thirst for their ideas.
Though the term “Main Character Syndrome” is new, the attitude is familiar. We’ve all met people who view themselves as the Harry Potter of the film, the Lizzie Maguire of the show, and categorize the rest of us according to how we relate to them: friend, stranger, enemy, pest, etc. This overlaps with narcissists, whose inflated sense of self-importance renders them incapable of empathy.
But narcissists aren’t the main characters, right? Narcissists are the Draco Malfoys of the story, not the leaders, whose sense of inflated self-importance we deem warranted. In our day-to-day understandings of others, though, it’s natural to think of others according to how they’re relevant to ourselves, and from such a close vantage point, I’d dare say it’s difficult to tell whose self-importance is valid and whose is not.
Is it wrong to be the main character of your own life? I’m reminded of a scene in The Holiday, in which Iris (Kate Winslet) accounts her romantic woes to a seasoned Hollywood screenwriter. He points out that in life there are two roles, that of the leading lady, and that of the best friend. He charges her with behaving as a best friend, even though he knows her to truly be a leading lady. She responds with, “You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your life, for God’s sake.”
This sentiment makes sense to me. What good would it do to sit on the sidelines of one's own life? Each person holds agency over themselves and themselves only, so why should they be faulted for owning it? As someone who has always seen her own life as a series of stories, I don't see any harm in casting myself as the main character of those in which I live. Is it "semi-narcissistic" to put me in the center of my own life? I can be my own main character, just as everyone else can be theirs.
So, can one have narcissistic tendencies without having narcissistic personality disorder? Surely most of us do. Main Character Syndrome might be one of mine, or it might just be the outlook of the writer. Anyone who frames their life into narratives has to see themselves as the main character— no one else deserves to star in my life.