Main Character Syndrome is taking over social media but, for some women, being a ‘supporting character’ is a far more fulfilling way to live. We spoke to three women who are rejecting Main Character Syndrome about how it has benefitted them.
If you have spent any time on TikTok over the past few months, you’ve probably encountered something called Main Character Syndrome. This phenomenon sees young people creating content that positions themselves as the main character of a film, which is sometimes staged and, other times, a careful curation of authentic moments from their lives.
But Main Character Syndrome goes far past TikTok, far past social media altogether, as the people creating this content and many of the people watching it explain that this is how they live their life. In their minds, their life is a feature film and they are the main character.
Main Character Syndrome is coupled with another social media trend, that of romanticising your life, which encourages people to look at their life through rose tinted glasses and find positive ways to look at everything they do. It may sound narcissistic – most social media trends do, at first glance, in fairness – but teens, 20-somethings and people much older have claimed that this way of living their lives has allowed them to adopt a more optimistic outlook towards life.
“On social media over the past few years, people have really felt encouraged to put aside limiting beliefs they may have about themselves,” says Dr Lucinda Gordon Lennox, a psychologist at the TRC group. “Being the main character in your own life can be healthy but it probably also means you’re looking for external validation, which can easily lead to insecurity,” she says of Main Character Syndrome.
A new TikTok trend that has developed off the back of Main Character Syndrome sees people identifying with supporting characters from films. This is known as the, “I’m not the Main Character I’m the…” trend. It involves people choosing unusual stereotypes from films to identify with. For example, ‘the older sibling with no friends’, ‘the super dramatic and sensitive little sister’ or, ‘the lowkey mean but supportive best friend.’
This new take on the Main Character trend suggests that there are many people who don’t find Main Character Syndrome relatable whatsoever and, niche stereotypes aside, aren’t interested in romanticising their lives in order to fit into that role in their head. In fact, they might even consider themselves as a supporting character in their own lives.
And this doesn’t mean that they can only exist in relation to someone else or that they don’t have a sense of individuality. Think about all the iconic supporting characters from your favourite films whose lives were just as enriched as the main characters, if not more so, even if we didn’t get to see as much of them.
Dionne from Clueless is arguably more of a style icon than the film’s main character, Cher, and isn’t everyone watching The Devil Wear’s Prada for Emily rather than Andy? Your favourite Mean Girls character is probably Gretchen or Karen (or Damian or Janis) and there was definitely more than one episode of New Girl when you wished the show was about Cece’s life rather than Jess’.
All the ‘villains’ in your favourite rom coms who play supporting roles often have more complex storylines and psyches than the main characters too. Sandy’s Hopelessly Devoted has nothing on Rizzo’s There Are Worse Things I Could Do and, surely, the only reason you ever watched the classic series, Dynasty was for Joan Collins’ Alexis.
Being a supporting character certainly seems to be a more stress-free to live too. Rosie and Tanya have all the fun in Mamma Mia while Meryl Streep’s Donna is left up a hill forced to argue via song with Pierce Brosnan’s Sam. The same is true for ‘Fat Amy’ of Pitch Perfect who is almost always carefree, unlike her friend and the protagonist of the film, Beca.
So what is it like to be a supporting character in your own life?
“As long as you’re comfortable in yourself, supporting other people is a really positive thing to do for everyone involved,” Dr Gordon says, of people who are uninterested in Main Character Syndrome.
To understand more about what it means to reject Main Character Syndrome, we spoke to three women who identify as supporting characters in their own lives to get their perspectives on how they think it’s benefitted them. Here’s what they said…
“I’d prefer not to be the main character because it allows me to live a simpler and less pressured life. I feel that main character syndrome can put a lot of pressure on people that they should always be behaving a certain way or living a certain lifestyle. I enjoy not having that pressure on myself.
There may be days where I do have ‘main character energy’, but most of the time, I’m happy to be in the background and to just observe. I think being a ‘supporting character’ allows me the freedom to behave how I wish and live life more authentically.
As an empathetic and family orientated person, I also find it quite difficult to envisage myself as the main character, when a large proportion of my life is focused around other people. A lot of the drama in my life is other peoples so it is difficult to imagine myself as the main character.
I am quite happy not having a life that society considers worthy of a feature film. I’d prefer a much simpler lifestyle where there is less pressure on me to achieve so much. I’m happy to see where things go and if there becomes a stage when I accidentally become the feature of the film, then that’s also fine.”
“The most important connection, moments and memories, for me, are with loved ones so instead of everything revolving around me, I’d like it to be a bit more holistic and unified.
It also helps me to ground myself and regain focus on what’s really important because it’s so easy to lose sight of that. Especially in a city like London, I feel like ‘main character energy’ is forced onto you even if that’s not what you want personally.
I think individualism can still be maintained in a ‘supporting role’ too. It doesn’t mean I neglect yourself, just that not everything revolves around me. I like being a part of the bigger picture.
It helps me to widen my perspective instead of viewing everything from a kind of tunnel vision perspective. This approach also helps me to learn more about other people and be more interested in people, places and things other than myself.
I think it’s important to try and be more like a sponge and absorb things, just like you did as a child. I think that being self-centred can prevent that because you become quite set in your identity. I’m shaped by all the experiences and people around me, which I think is more helpful than being shaped by my own subjective and sometimes, inevitably, rigid beliefs.”
“I love the idea of being a supporting character and living vicariously through my friends who give off main character energy without the faff of having to be the main character. It’s an easier way of life for sure and it’s more rewarding too because I think I’m more aware of how my actions affect others.
I’m not motivated by the need to be loved or liked by everyone, I just do things because I want to. For example, on a night out, I want to make sure that everyone is having a good time because I’d rather that than be the only one having fun.
Last weekend I was out with my friends one of them was flirting with the barman all night. At the end of the night, I wrote her number on a receipt with some lipstick and gave it to him. In that moment it felt like I was some best friend role in a film and it was nice to live through her vision of herself.
Being the main character itself seems like too much effort. Romanticising every aspect of your life is about finding the beauty in every day. But in reality, who has a good day every day? I think viewing your life through rose tinted glasses can make you feel pressured which might lead to comparing yourself to others more. I’m happy with having an average days sometimes – it makes the good days extra special.
I also think it’s nice being a supporting character because you’re living in the moment rather than living in some imaginary world that you’ve conjured up for yourself. At the end of the day, you probably end up having a better time if you’re not trying to have a good time.”