As registered psychotherapist Meghan Watson sees it, a supporting character embodies that title by showing up for their friends when they need it: “Whether that’s expressing your care, love, or support verbally; challenging [your friend] to be their best self; being there when they’re feeling low; or celebrating their successes—supporting your friends and the people you care about is meaningful,” says Watson. “That connection is invaluable to our mental health as social beings.” And that couldn’t be more true now, as we all manage the collective trauma of the pandemic era.
“Someone with supporting character energy likely understands that not everything revolves around them, and that they’re one part of a bigger picture.” —Abby Rawlinson, MBACP
Another reason to embrace your supporting-character vibes? Supporting character energy typically comes with a sense of healthy self-awareness. “Someone with supporting character energy likely understands that not everything revolves around them, and that they’re one part of a bigger picture,” says psychotherapist Abby Rawlinson, MBACP.
Not to mention, steering clear of the “main character” label can also free you from the pressures inherent in that title. “Letting go of the idea that your life needs to be worthy of a feature film to be worthwhile can liberate you to pursue the kind of life you actually want to live, rather than the one you think you should be living,” says Rawlinson. “With this energy, you can appreciate life’s more simple experiences, like the joy in being part of a community.”
It’s only when you take that supportive role so far as to lose sight of your own plot line that it becomes a danger to your personal growth. Below, experts share the key signs that it may be time to drop the supporting role and make yourself the verifiable main character in your life.
How to know if you’ve leaned *too* far into a supporting character role in your own life
Diving wholeheartedly into the supporting character role could mean relegating yourself to the shadow of your main-character friend’s successes (or embodying the burden of their struggles). “The energy you spend on others must come from an abundance within,” says Watson. “If you don’t spend time doing your own thing and replenishing that energy, you’ll lose the ability to effectively be there for others without also losing yourself.”
How can you tell when your supporting character arc veers into unhealthy territory? Look out for your tendency towards two behaviors: overt people-pleasing or fruitless “rescuing.” According to Rawlinson, the former looks like neglecting your own needs, desires, or preferences to make another person happy. And the latter looks like trying to fix or resolve other people’s problems (or other people, for that matter) in order to feel needed, loved, or as if you have an important purpose to serve. In both cases, you’re likely to end up prioritizing other peoples’ issues or decisions over your own.
“When you’re not tending to yourself, feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem often show up,” says Watson. From there, it’s easy to start resenting time spent with the people whom you care so deeply about, as your drive to fix, rescue, or please them puts a drain on your relationship. “This will feel fairly empty over time,” says Watson. Not to mention, it’s a slippery slope toward losing track of your own goals, which can hinder your personal growth.
To avoid that scenario, it’s essential to strike a balance between supporting others and starring in your own show. “There’s definitely a dance we do in healthy, balanced relationships where sometimes we step back and lift other people up—but when we need to, we're still able to step forward into the spotlight,” says Rawlinson.
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