There are moments in our lives that feel like they’re straight out of a movie. We’re not talking about serendipitous encounters or grand gestures, but rather the quiet instances where we romanticise an ordinary moment. Think about that time you’re on a road trip. As you pass by the countryside, you dramatically stare out the window and a song plays in your head. Just like that, you’re now the star of your own movie montage.
As it turns out, the internet has a name for this — Main Character Syndrome (MCS). It’s when you imagine yourself playing the lead role in a fictionalised version of your life.
It turns out that a lot of us love to indulge in the fantasy that we’re the main character. In fact, on TikTok, the hashtag #MainCharacter has tons of posts where people showcase moments when they felt like a protagonist — these have collectively garnered billions of views.
existential moment from staring at birds fly for too long #maincharacter♬ Mad World Postmodern Jukebox - cly b
YouTube videos giving advice on how to romanticise your life and be the main character have also popped up recently. The dominant sentiment is that Main Character Syndrome is a good thing and something to strive for. It’s about making the best out of your situation and seeing ordinary things as magical. "You have to start romanticising your life. You have to start thinking about yourself as the main character. ‘Cause if you don't, life will continue to pass you by and all the things that make it so beautiful will continue to go unnoticed," says a popular TikTok audio track.
However, some have pointed out that this phenomenon can sometimes be narcissistic, especially if people begin to act like they’re the centre of the universe. At best, the behaviour can be annoying, at worst it can be delusional. As a result, people started to mock Main Character Syndrome via self-deprecating posts and sharing of MCS moments gone wrong.
This brings us to the question: Is Main Character Syndrome good or bad?
A daydream a day keeps the bad vibes away
It’s no coincidence that the term Main Character Syndrome gained popularity at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. At its core, Main Character Syndrome is a form of escapism. And in the context of a worldwide pandemic, it can be seen as a coping mechanism to deal with a harsh reality.
When you’re stuck at home with lots of time to yourself with nothing to do about your situation, it can be comforting to fantasise about having a better life. Some argue that it’s actually the rational thing to do and can help to “maintain effectiveness” in our day-to-day lives, whereas the alternative would be to “succumb to despair.”
Young adults, in particular, are missing out on traditional milestones like going to prom and celebrating finishing college. Not to mention that newly graduates are entering a tumultuous job market riddled with pay cuts and retrenchments. If your coming-of-age story is both boring and woeful, imagining a better narrative for yourself and holding out hope that this part of your life is just a bad chapter can keep you going.
While some would be content with daydreaming, others take a further step and romanticise their lives by adopting an aesthetic. It can come in the form of interior decorating or through fashion, but it can also just be as simple as listening to a curated playlist that will transport you to an alternate reality.
Simply put, Main Character Syndrome is one of the ways you can “protect your vibe” so you can continue to deal with unpleasant things with minimal languishing. In healthy doses, it’s a good thing. But when does it become too much?
The blurred lines of fantasy and reality
Before it gained mainstream traction, the term Main Character Syndrome was commonly used by those who play Dungeons & Dragons, a storytelling game in which players are assigned a character in a fantasy world. Players will roll the dice to determine their character’s fate and they have to react the way their character would. Sometimes, one of the players would feel like they are the main character and would sideline everyone else including their own teammates. As you can imagine, this can build up annoyance and resentment.
In a way, indulging in Main Character Syndrome in real life can have the same consequences. It can lead you to designating other people into tropes instead of seeing them as real people. That person who annoys you? He’s now the insignificant weirdo. Other girls who are crushing on your oppa? They’re your unworthy competition. Your best friend? She’s now the supporting side-character who’s not allowed to outshine you in any way.
It can also lull you into a false sense of self-importance and blind you from other people’s concerns. As Serena once said to Blair in an episode of Gossip Girl, “You act like you're in this movie about your perfect life and then I have to remind you the only one watching that movie is you.”
However, it should be noted that excessive daydreaming can be a symptom of a deeper mental health issue like maladaptive daydreaming where fantasies interfere with one’s ability to function in real life. We’re not here to diagnose anyone. But if you notice that it’s hard for you to concentrate on tasks because of fantasising and find it to be worrisome, perhaps it’s best to seek a professional’s help.
All in all, while Main Character Syndrome can be an effective way to cope with an unpleasant chapter in your life, indulging in it could lead you to lose grip on reality. As in all things, balance is key.
Feel free to romanticise your surroundings — your living space, your breakfast, the view from your window — because it does help us to appreciate the little things in life. Go ahead, adopt an aesthetic if it will make you feel better. But draw the line in trying to manifest your daydream by pigeonholing other people into roles. Remember, they are also the main characters in their lives with their own story to tell.
(Cover photo from: Hisu Lee via Unsplash)
Next, read about how three women practise self-care as adults.