What Is So Problematic about Main Character Syndrome?
We’ve all done it before.
After experiencing a big moment, and sharing the news on social media, you unwittingly tally the number of responders in your head. Perhaps your best friend has seen your post and not reached out, or your sibling hasn’t reacted as enthusiastically as you’d hoped?
Whatever it is, your frustration begins to rise as you haven't received the validation you think you’ve earned. Rather than meeting your loved ones where they are and acknowledging that they have their own lives to live, you get angry at them for not being focused on you.
Though not actually a diagnosable mental illness, Main Character Syndrome (MSC) can be attributed to the instances an individual imagines or presents themselves as the lead protagonist of a fictional version of their lives. It is also sometimes used to describe people who assume others are as obsessed with them as they are with themselves.
With the "main character" in the leading role, other people in their lives become supporting characters and background extras.
The first digital reference to MCS is thought to be from TikToker @ashlaward, who at the start of the pandemic made a video saying, “You have to start thinking of yourself as the main character… if you don’t, life will continue to pass you by.” Since then, more people have shared satirical videos of themselves engaging with the monotony of life as if they were stars of a show.
As for why these behaviors come about, some have attributed it to narcissism, and how digital platforms promote “life curation” and self-promotion. For others, MSC is a continuation of the behaviors humans have always embodied and explored through writing fanfiction, storytelling, and creating myths.
So what is the problem with it? Especially when it seems to have emerged as a means to help people cope with the mental anguish of the pandemic?
With the current focus on "self-care," many wellness spaces have pushed people to prioritize their own mental health. @ashlaward's TikTok clip, which actively encourages people to romanticize their lives, seems to be a continuation of this trend.
However, while MSC can be seen as a form of empowerment, removing yourself from reality and fictionalizing your life is detrimental to your long-term mental health. Furthermore, while it is possible to be well-adjusted as the main character of your universe, it is harmful to think of yourself as the main character in other people’s lives. After all, being the “leading actor” means that everyone else serves as plot devices, not people with their own lives and dreams.
As you can see, there is nothing wrong with laughing at the memes or feeling “seen” by MCS. However, while MSC may temporarily boost your self-esteem, it has the potential to do more harm than good. Therefore, we must remain tethered to reality and check ourselves whenever we start to slip into fantasy.