Why I become emotionally attached to fictional characters

I become emotionally attached to characters in the books I read and the TV series I watch.

Not all books or series, they don’t all elicit deep feelings for me, but the characters who do are very real for me.

And even to me that sounds strange.

For example, when my life gets too stressful for me and I feel as if things are out of control and I’m feeling anxious, I watch Star Trek: The Next Generation or Midsomer Murders. And I feel very safe watching those shows because I know that the main characters will prevail and stay more or less on an even keel, facing their fictional challenges predictably, and that makes me feel safer in my own life. In other words, their ability to weather their storms helps me reduce the anxiety I feel about mine.

I just started watching a movie, which is the continuation of a show I love called Bordertown, and as I began watching it feelings of coming home moved throughout my body. Then I realized I had missed some of the characters, so much so that seeing them brought me reassurance and peace of mind. It was then that it struck me. My attachment to books and certain TV shows and movies is very profound. So much so that reading or watching them can be akin to a spiritual experience for me. They are cathartic and centering, like any deep spiritual practice can be.

So I am looking back in my mind to how my need for these connections may have begun, and I believe, for me, it was about escape and reassurance.

I needed to find a place where my mind could rest safely and establish an equilibrium away from the psychological abuse I lived with from a young age. Growing up with a narcissistic parent who actively engaged in gaslighting and bullying with me from the age of 4 years old created a storm in my mind that I had to learn to calm and control to survive.

And I could read by the age of four, which now I see is no coincidence, I needed those characters to stop myself from going mad, to believe that there was good in the world, to help me learn that there are safe places to be, even if they are fictional. And I continue to do it because it continues to help me, and there is a part of my mind still that can become a storm that I need to calm. I don’t think that part of me will ever go away.

And as I sat there watching the characters who I’ve come to care about and even love, I knew that for me books, TV series and movies are what I use to bring myself back to myself. To continue to reassure myself that I am okay and that it was my parent who was not.

I don’t know if other people experience this need or connection the way I do, but I’m really lucky to have learned this at a young age and been able to use it to keep me as healthy mentally as I possibly could. The fact that I am a writer now makes all the more sense to me because that is another way I reassure myself and find myself on a daily basis.

I’m going back to my movie with the thrill of knowing I will learn more about the characters I’ve grown so attached to and that I can settle into their lives and calm my storm as I do.


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