Main character syndrome can be healthy or unhealthy, the main difference being how it affects one’s ability to empathize.

If you’ve been on social media lately, you may have seen content about “main character syndrome.” This relatively new term, popularized on platforms like TikTok, typically describes people who seem to see the world as their stage and themselves as the hero of the story.

But is it really a bad thing to center yourself in your own life story? Here, we talked to two licensed psychotherapists about what main character syndrome is, and whether it can be healthy.

Main character syndrome is a new colloquial term that’s used to describe someone who sees themselves as the “main character” or the protagonist, in the performance of life. People with main character syndrome tend to view their lives as a Hollywood movie in which they’re the star.

It’s important to note that, despite the word “syndrome” in its name, main character syndrome is not an actual “syndrome,” disorder, or psychiatric diagnosis. The term originated on social media platforms and is casually used to describe people with these types of narcissistic or self-absorbed tendencies.

“Main character syndrome describes the lens through which a person sees themselves. People who think they’re the main character tend to believe that they’re the most important person in most situations and interactions with people,” explained Topsie VanderBosch, LMSW, a licensed therapist and mindset coach.

In other words, people with main character syndrome see everything that happens in the world around them only through the lens of how it affects them. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can:

  • reduce empathy
  • damage relationships
  • lead to inauthentic, attention-seeking behaviors

It can be natural, to some extent, for people to center themselves in their worldviews, but it’s important to notice unhealthy signs of main character syndrome.

Because main character syndrome is not a specified diagnosis, there are no clearly defined criteria to determine if someone has it. Generally, someone may be described as having main character syndrome if they show some of the following signs:

  • attention-seeking or dramatic behaviors, like being loud in public
  • overdramatizing life events, either to come out looking like a hero or a victim
  • inflated sense of self, or feeling like you’re better than other people
  • lack of empathy for others’ struggles
  • viewing everything that happens around you through the lens of how it affects you and your life
  • high level of outward confidence, which may or may not hide underlying insecurities
  • centering yourself in every situation or conversation
  • romanticizing experiences or relationships
  • acting in ways that aren’t authentic to your true self
  • dissociation from your true values or needs
  • constant seeking of novelty to keep things exciting in life
  • being overly dependent on social media “likes” for validation
  • feeling the need to outshine others to stay in the spotlight

Main character syndrome vs. narcissism

Main character syndrome is often characterized by narcissistic and self-absorbed traits, but it’s important to note that it’s not the same thing as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

NPD is a psychiatric condition that causes people to have an unrealistically grandiose sense of self and an extreme need for admiration. People with main character syndrome can also have these traits, but not to the same extent.

To be diagnosed with NPD, you must experience such severe symptoms that it significantly affects your life, relationships, and well-being. NPD is more than just a personality trait; it’s a serious mental health condition that requires treatment.

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Experts say that viewing yourself as a main character can be healthy or unhealthy depending on the context.

VanderBosch explained that being on a journey of developing confidence and owning your life choices and decisions can be a positive effect of main character syndrome.

For instance, it can be healthy to prioritize yourself and your own needs, which can even contribute to higher self-esteem and make it easier to advocate for yourself.

However, main character syndrome is often unhealthy and causes people to behave in ways that hurt the people around them. One of the key differences between having healthy self-esteem and having main character syndrome is the extent to which you can value, respect, and empathize with others’ stories, not just your own.

“To be the protagonist of one’s own story can be seen as natural; to believe the world revolves around you is fiction,” said Natalie Rosado, LMHC, the founder and owner of Tampa Counseling Place.

When you center yourself so much that you expect others’ lives to revolve around you, then you may be entering into an unhealthy type of main character syndrome.

Rosado added that main character syndrome is synonymous with being so focused on your own story that you forget that billions of other stories are happening at the same time.

For example, if you boast about only your own abilities and downplay others’ contributions, this could be an unhealthy form of main character behavior.

It’s natural to fall into main character syndrome at times. And it’s important to note that it’s not necessarily a bad thing to center yourself in your own experiences.

Seeing yourself as the protagonist in your own story can be empowering and can help you to advocate for yourself. But, as with anything, balance is key. Try not so absorbed in your own story that you forget how to empathize with others.