How to Recognize Signs of “protagonist Syndrome”

It can be easy to get bogged down in your own life, especially after a year of limited opportunities to connect in person. Surviving a global pandemic was strange: everyone knows that there is a lot going on in the world, but prolonged isolation can make us feel like we are the only people around.

Some people take it one step further by living as if their life was a movie and they were in the lead role. While not an official psychological diagnosis or disorder, it is what has come to be known as “protagonist syndrome.” Here’s what you need to know about this type of behavior, including how to recognize signs that you or someone you know might fall under the pattern.

What is protagonist syndrome?

As Dr. Phil Reed, a professor of psychology at Swansea University, writes in his book Psychology Today , “protagonist syndrome” is the latest example of a specific symptom that has surfaced on social media. Here’s his take on it:

Nowadays, protagonist syndrome is a vague term that is used more often in the media and social media than in scientific ones. This term refers to a wide range of actions and thoughts, but in essence it is when someone imagines or imagines themselves leading in a kind of fictional version of their life (usually their own, although sometimes it is disturbing that someone else’s) and presents this “life” through social networks.

Of course, this egocentric behavior is nothing new. We all know people who seem to genuinely believe that the world revolves around them and their needs, and everyone else exists to benefit them. Social media then provides them with a vehicle to broadcast their story to the world, that is, to their audience.

Protagonist Syndrome is “an inevitable consequence of the natural human desire to be recognized and validated, merged with rapidly advancing technology that allows immediate and widespread self-promotion,” clinical psychologist Dr. Michael Vetter told Newsweek .

How to recognize signs of protagonist syndrome

So how can you tell if you or someone you know has fallen into a behavior pattern associated with protagonist syndrome? Here are some signs, courtesy of Reed and Vetter, both interviewed for the Newsweek article :

  • Create a narrative that depends on the audience to validate your story and your life.
  • Creation and life in an alternate version of reality
  • Watching videos on social media triggers a loop of comparisons, making you wonder why you don’t look like the people in the clips and why you aren’t as happy as they are (even if their content is carefully curated)

While some have compared protagonist syndrome to mindfulness, Reed said that while interesting, the theory is wrong.

“Mindfulness is about being aware of the realities of your present, observing your environment and letting go of past influences, ” he told Newsweek . “In the case of the protagonist syndrome, you remove yourself from reality.”


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