Are You Suffering From Main Character Syndrome?

A new condition whereby millennials try to showcase their lives like one big drama is on the rise and all over our feeds.

‘You have to start thinking of yourself as the main character, because if you don’t, life will continue to pass you by,’ these are the words of a viral audio clip that has been encouraging people to start “romanticising” their lives for the past year. A trend first started by a TikTok user named Ashla Ward, the audio has been continuously used over videos of people showcasing their lives – in a way that’s more often staged than real – t0 make it look like they’re playing a main character in a movie, where everyone else around them is an extra. The problem with this trend, however, is that unlike The Truman Show, those who are getting wrapped up in striving to be the main character want to see their real life a drama, like a Hollywood movie and it’s pretty dangerous.

With over 5.5 billion views on the hashtag main character on TikTok and millions of videos showcasing people doing every day tasks but with “main character energy”, it’s safe to say people are getting wrapped up in this self-promotional behaviour whereby they need validation that the way they’re doing things is worthy of acknowledgement.

The danger with trends like this is the competitive side that they generate causing people to try and trump others to be in the spotlight. “Returning from New York City and having everyone stare at me because I’m the main character in this town,” wrote one user on her video, while another chimed in by saying, “You know you’re the main character when you’re drinking wine on your balcony overlooking the beach.” By trying to drum up this idea that they’re only doing it right if they’re living life like the leading star in a narcissistic film (Carrie Bradshaw, who?), many users are starting to have a skewed concept of how to *actually* live life, losing touch with reality as they’re consumed by their own world.

Cue the term, Main Character Syndrome.

“We are already in a place where so many of us are caught up in a state of comparing ourselves with others which so often contributes to us feeling like we’re lacking in some way. The notion that our lives need to seem ‘movie worthy’ or perfect in some way in order appear aspirational, is a harmful idea to perpetuate,” explains Emmy Brunner, psychotherapist, founder of the Recover Clinic and author of Find Your True Voice. Explaining that the trend has become a total phenomenon among Gen-Zers and Millennials, Emmy explains that the trend actually had some positive potential at the beginning, encouraging people to see themselves as a primary role in their own lives, “but in reality it has just served to encourage young people in particular to present a romanticised version of themselves which ultimately leaves them feeling that the ‘real them’ is in some way lacking.”

As a lover of TikTok for videos of pasta, storage hacks and lockdown dance routines – although, I’m happy they’re over – it was upsetting for me to hear about the darker side to TikTok. A side that with a little bit of investigating, became a lot more apparent in a short space of time. I found that not only does the main character trend showcase people trying to make their lives as picture perfect as possible, but comments telling them they’re a “wannabe main character” or “the best friend” – a dig that you’re an “accomplice” to the main character, think Batman and Robin, or the likes of Harry Potter and Ron Weasley – are littered all over these videos. For the record, I personally think Robin and Ron are pretty damn great, but you can tell that people are on a mission to chip at the self esteem of others, especially when they put themselves out there on the hunt for credit.

The vicious cycle of women putting each other down became even clearer during my TikTok research when I came across the “Pick Me Girl” trend. A “pick me girl” has been described online as someone who insinuates that she’s “not like other girls” – yes, that cliched movie line – by doing things that would commonly go against the grain and garner reaction.

The trend first started by calling out internalised mysogyny with users creating spoof videos of the “pick me girl” characters you’d regularly see, but the trend has since turned sour, with women trolling and needlessly criticising each other for seeking attention online. Comments that write ” stop being a pick me girl” are plastered under videos that have absolutely no affiliation with the trend, with women trolling women for myriad behaviours and interests in a hope to knock each other down. I mean, where’s the winning in that?

Social media is tough and the need for more validation, more likes and more clout (another term to define online influence) is becoming clearer with every generation, the growth in technology and rise of new apps.

“In a social media world where the ‘girl next door’ can suddenly become ‘somebody’, we’re now in a place where we’re being encouraged to force ourselves to centre stage and in direct competition with one another,” explains psychotherapist Emmy Brunner. Continuing, Emmy notes that the issue lies with people being desperate be seen, but fearing rejection so, they put forward a version of themselves that they hope will garner the attention and respect of others, without showing who they really are. “Hiding behind a curated character is often a lot less scary, it just also happens to be lonely,” adds Emmy.

So, with social media enticing people to build a character others would like to see, similar to a comedian on stage trying to rally up laughs from the audience, it’s no wonder Main Character Syndrome has become a byproduct of modern life. Especially nowadays, in an era where reality is all too scary and we find ourselves over a year into a global pandemic, escaping reality can feel idealistic and needed from time to time, but it’s knowing where to draw the line so it doesn’t become all-consuming that’s important.

So what should someone do if they find that they’re becoming overly obsessed with doing protagonist-style stunts in a hope of gaining the recognition of others? “Be curious about what you’re scared about people seeing. Why aren’t you enough?” Explains Emmy. “Think about the story that you’re already telling yourself about who you are and consider what it means to be human… the vulnerable parts of you are always what people are most drawn to. It takes courage to show up as who you really are, but the pay offs are way greater than presenting a filtered version of yourself.”

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