Updated: Oct 10, 2021
Do you feel like the central star in the film of your life?
Are you the main protagonist in the simulation of reality?
Does life feel like a game you're playing, while the lives of others feel meaningless, almost as if everyone else is an NPC?
If so, then maybe you're experiencing main character syndrome. Main character syndrome is a non-scientific term, originally born as a meme on TikTok, and it describes either the sense that you are the central character in the story of your life, or suggests manipulating your behaviour in ways to create the illusion that you are the centre of your own private story.
Dr. Phil Reed, a professor of psychology at Swansea University, writes in Psychology Today
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, themselves 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.
Main Character Syndrome is nothing new
Main Character Syndrome is an inevitable consequence of human psychology, the natural sense of feeling central to the story of your life. Your subjective experience of the world demands this, because, from your perspective, you ARE the central character.
There is nothing wrong with valuing the importance of your life's story, indeed all healthy individuals do this. However, the trouble starts to brew when you go beyond the natural focus on your own affairs, and fall into the realm of believing that you are somehow unique and special -- one of a kind.
When this occurs, it is easy to slip from a healthy sense of self-worth into solipsism and narcissistic thinking. When you start to devalue the lives, experiences, and inner-worlds of others, and start to see them as lesser, as NPCs, or as bit part players in the story of your life, then you know you've gone too far.
If you secretly harbour thoughts that your life is something akin to The Trueman Show, or wonder if life is just a simulation, with you as the main protagonist, well, then you know you've fallen far down the rabbit hole of Main Character Syndrome.
Social Media Breeds Narcissism
The rise of social media sites such as Instagram and TikTok have thrown fuel to the fire of self-obsession and narcissistic behaviours.
Today we can all live comfortably under the illusion that our personal lives are interesting to others, that the "show" of our lives is somehow worth shouting about.
Sadly, in this realm of self-absorption, there is an awful lot of shouting about oneself and very little listening.
Furthermore, the illusory characters people paint for themselves on social media are little more than handpicked highlights, a shoddy collage of the "best bits", often ignoring all that awkward and inconvenient reality that fills the majority of everyone's day.
Worse still, these illusions play into our insecurities, and a crazed self-deluded spiral of mimicry commences. With individuals aping the polished illusions of others.
In other words, a never ending hall-of-mirrors of fakes copying fakes, inspiring fakers, ensues.
Signs of Main Character Syndrome
Main Character Syndrome is really little more than a modern-day take on egocentrism, narcissism, and our primitive primate hierarchical urges -- the need to fit in.
Some have claimed that acting as if one is the centre of the universe is somehow akin to mindfulness, helping individuals to make the most out of life by valuing themselves and focusing on what is good. This couldn't be further from the truth.
Mindfulness is never about self-absorption, in fact it is quite the opposite.
Many Buddhist traditions have built-in mechanisms to keep the ego in check, and meditation practices are often designed to engage empathy, to focus on the needs of others.
There are certain traits that show an underlying and unhealthy belief in one's self-importance, these include:
Superstitious thinking (horoscopes, fortune telling, lucky charms etc.)
Belief that "everything has a reason"
Belief that life is a simulation
Being unable to empathise with the feelings of others
A lack of charitable and giving behaviours
A belief that nobody feels as strongly as you (your love affairs are the most meaningful, while those of your friends are just "flings") Indeed, it comes as little surprise that TikTok was the birthplace of both outlandish concept of "Reality Shifting" (the belief that one can travel to other dimensions to live out one's fantasies) and the origin of Main Character Syndrome meme.
Reality Shifting is perhaps the most extreme example of Main Character Syndrome one can imagine -- the belief that an entire multiverse exists solely for your entertainment.
Does Lucid Dreaming Induce Main Character Syndrome?
It's certainly no secret that the lucid dreaming community is full of some rather egotistical characters and wacky and ridiculous claims - the in-fighting and race to be the "expert" drips with this way of thinking. A subject which promises to put you at the centre of your own universe, with all the powers of a god, is likely to draw a self-selected crowd of semi-control-freaks.
And it is certainly important for lucid dreamers to keep their egos in check both during dreams and in the waking world.
Lucid dreaming offers one of the most compelling illusions of being the main character, because in dreams you most certainly are! Often those who combine lucid dreaming with spiritual practices have a potentially double whammy of self-important thinking
"I'm a god in my dreams, and in my waking life I'm on the path to enlightenment"
Fortunately, lucid dreaming is often difficult to attain for those with a very self-absorbed mindset, who become wrapped up in their self-importance and ego. These ways of thinking act as a barrier to the critical and objective mind that is required to induce lucid awareness. After all, the first step to lucidity is being able to accept just how wrong you can be.
As the Taoists and Buddhists discovered long ago, developing humility, empathy, and invisibly selfless thinking, and not as some kind of trick or in a self-serving, "I'm so great" virtue signal, will lead to the ability to observe the cosmos as it truly is -- a place in which you are an amazing but virtually insignificant pixel in a vast expansive mystery.
So, if you're interested in self-exploration, and want to avoid the traps of narcissism, ego, Main Character Syndrome, then the first step is to reject that which places you on a pedestal or appeals to your sense of self-importance, and to look outwards.
Engage humility and remember that you are a very young and VERY small creature, in a universe far vaster and more ancient that you can even fathom. The chances of you ever understanding your place in the universe are close to zero.
In other words, you're nowhere near as important as you think you are -- but that's a good thing.