- Character bonding is when we start to emulate the personality traits of fictional characters that we admire and/or feel drawn to.
- There’s nothing inherently harmful about character bonding; just remember that there is a distinction between them and you.
- While people may be drawn towards different fictional characters based on their own likes and dislikes, there are three main archetypes that we bond with: superhumans, the everyperson, and villains.
- Even though fictional characters can be attractive, finding a fictitious individual sexually appealing is different and is known as fictiophilia, a sexual preference.
- To understand more, and to successfully empower yourself, determine what you enjoy about a character, and start to implement those traits when you have the opportunity.
- A hero might prompt you to behave more altruistically, while a villain might encourage you to care a bit less about what other people think.
Ask anyone headed to watch the next Marvel flick: It’s hard not to idolize the heroines and heroes within the realms of popular fiction. Whether they’re on the silver screen, in books, TV series, or even video games, many of us admire these depictions of larger-than-life characters. But, even though we know that we’re viewing and dealing with fictional personalities, there’s a common psychological phenomenon that can occur known as character bonding.
Character bonding happens when we identify with and emulate traits that we admire in our favorite fictional characters. There’s nothing embarrassing, wrong, or even harmful about absorbing the qualities of fictitious people. But why do we do it in the first place?
Breaking Down the Elements of Character Bonding
Character bonding may occur as a way to strengthen our ego, but not in a bad sense. Character bonding can offer us ways to live vicariously, grow emotionally, or even process trauma. The reasons why a person might be drawn to a fictional character can be somewhat complex. Usually, there are three types of fictional individuals that people of all ages character bond with:
- Superhuman characters: Usually superheroes, their role within a plot or story is unbound by laws, physics, or societal expectations. These characters are typically beyond human, whether it be physically or mentally. Superheroes or superheroines can represent an intrinsic desire to be something more, to be limitless. Superhuman characters often receive a large amount of recognition for their abilities—and who wouldn’t want more of that?
- The “everyperson” characters: Walter White from AMC’s Breaking Bad and Rue Bennett from HBO’s Euphoria are prime examples of the “everyperson”. Our attraction to this type of character lies within their sympathizable nature. The everyperson is more complex and flawed than a hero or heroine—yet sometimes they’re miraculously heroic and are forced to make uncharacteristically bold decisions. Yet on other occasions, they have to (or choose to) commit immoral, or villainous acts because of the pressures that an unjust society places on their shoulders. From the safety of our couches, we’re offered a way to live vicariously through their tribulations and can shed the invisible shackles of our reality for a brief time.
- Villains and anti-heroes: Character bonding with the baddies of pop culture taps into the darkest regions of our personalities; we love villains because they can act on the impulses that we’re forced to hold inside. Unlike the morally ambiguous decisions made by the everyperson, the wrongdoing that a villain commits is on purpose—they don’t give a damn. They’re having fun, reveling in the chaos as everyone else scrambles to take cover. On our bad days, who wouldn’t want the freedom granted by being a villain? To add to their appeal, many malevolent characters have a tragic backstory, which makes them not only more relatable but more sympathizable, too.
The common core shared between all of these character archetypes is empowerment. People primarily bond with characters to feel empowered beyond their limits, real or perceived.
Fictiophilia vs. Character Bonding
Many actors who portray our favorite characters are good-looking, but being romantically attracted to a fictional character is known as fictiophilia, and this isn’t the same as character bonding. Fictiophilia is a sexual preference for exclusively fictional individuals. While character bonding might feel like sexual attraction (and there may be a little bit of that going on sometimes, let’s be honest), the overall purpose, subconsciously or not, is to absorb character traits that we find admirable.
Some of those traits might include:
- Sex appeal or sexual confidence
- Power, whether it’s used for malicious or benevolent intentions
As you can tell, not every trait that we might admire will be morally just—we might lock in with a villain because of their ability to do whatever they want. Often, the best shows, books, video games, or plays are so good because they suck us into another world for a brief while. So when we come back to ourselves, there’s nothing wrong with bringing some of what we experienced back with us, especially if it makes us feel empowered.
Are There Any Benefits to Character Bonding?
Obviously, it’s not possible to expect ourselves or anyone else to live up to the scripted bravado or badassery of fictional characters, but character bonding can be a lowkey way to improve our self-image. By doing so, we may learn to identify traits that we appreciate and take steps to cultivate those empowering traits within ourselves.
The next time you start reading, watching, playing something that really draws you toward a fictional character’s personality, you might be able to:
- Recognize what it is about their role in the story or their dialogue that intrigues or attracts you to them. We might point out characters to our friends and family, remarking that we enjoy the actor’s performance or the way that a novelized character is portrayed by an author. But consciously evaluating what you like about them can help you to understand their appeal, and to recognize traits within yourself and others that you enjoy.
- Start taking on the traits from the character that you’ve bonded with, but remember—you aren’t them. If the character is assertive, try speaking your mind more. If they’re heroic, you might find opportunities to step out of your comfort zone when they arise. If they’re a villain, don’t go full-on Cruella Deville—but it could be a sign that you want or need to care less about what other people think.
- Compare yourself to them (in a healthy way). As stated before, no one, not even the actors who portray them, can be Captain America or Wonder Woman in real life. That’s why they’re fictional—but their storyline and personal development allow audiences to relate to their struggles and envy the way they overcome them. You might think a bit about how your own journey and personal truths relate to the essence of the fictitious person that you’ve character bonded with.
Myths are an integral part of the human experience; countless generations have looked for aspects of themselves within the greatest stories of their respective culture. Fictional characters may fail and succeed on a larger scale than we’re able to in real life, but it’s all a matter of perspective. Character bonding helps us live vicariously, and as a result, we might be able to take on some of the traits we love seeing played out on the big screen or within the pages of our favorite novel.