From a young man in the U.S. : My obsession with a fictional character is interfering with family time and my daily life.
Some background before I start. I recently graduated from university and have since been staying at home with close family due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation. Because of this, it has exacerbated a problem that I’ve been dealing with for the past couple years.
I’e become obsessed with an anime character, almost to the point of unreciprocated love because, well, she’s a fictional character. She is everything that I admire in a girl: cute and eccentric, but with a huge heart. Now, unlike other fictional characters that I also enjoy, I feel like this has gone beyond typical love for a character.
For one, I get irrationally bothered when she is insulted or hurt in either fan art, fan fiction, or even the show she comes from itself; These instances could linger in my head for days, even weeks before a new instance would replace the old one. Because of her generally friendly and sweet personality, I get unusually overprotective over a character that doesn’t even exist.
Additionally, my defensiveness regarding her also extends into real life, where I tend to put too much stock into who likes or dislikes her as a character. Because of my poor self-control, I’ll browse sites such as Reddit and practically document other people’s opinions on her, sometimes even when I was in the middle of something such as watching TV or playing video games. Getting caught up in searching her name on websites and/or simply reading comments about her has caused me to become distracted from things in real life such as hanging out with my family, helping with household chores such as dishes, and tending to my aquariums.
It’s gotten to the point that my family is sick of hearing me bring her up constantly, but the ongoing quarantine has prevented me from doing one of the few things that helped: actually getting out of the house and doing something. I constantly get distracted by thoughts about her, and even what other people say about her on a daily basis. I just want to enjoy her as a character without her or opinions about her incessantly lingering on my mind and interfering with my daily life. Lastly, I also want to go back to consistently spending time with the family. Any advice or suggestions?
I know this one’s kind of out there, but thanks in advance.
You are not alone. In fact, there are enough other people with this problem that it has a name: anime otaku. Otaku is defined as: Someone with an obsessive interest in something, particularly anime or manga. But knowing that you are part of a dysfunctional group isn’t very helpful, is it?
Being intensely interested in something isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But as you point out, it becomes a problem when it interferes with relationships and with getting on with daily life. By that criteria, yes, you have a problem.
Apparently, you were able to confine your interest in this character to the level of a really interesting hobby until COVID hit and you were prevented from doing other things. I’m also going to guess that finishing college at the same time that we all went into quarantine put additional pressure on you. Job prospects for your graduating class have been significantly reduced. At 34, you should be thinking about getting out on your own but you probably don’t have the cash to do it. And being back in the family fold at 34 can be challenging in the best of times.
It makes sense to me that you’d want to avoid it all — and anime gives you the perfect “world” to jump into to do it. Your character doesn’t argue with you. She doesn’t have expectations about what you should be doing. Since she is your creation, she knows exactly what to do to distract you, comfort you, and make you happy. In that sense, she’s like a happy drug. Spending time with her is the perfect escape.
Getting back to real life is a decision. But shaking any obsession/addiction isn’t as easy as “just say no’. It takes self-compassion, self-discipline, and a commitment to the process. As with any “drug”, there will be a period of withdrawal. As with any “drug”, you’ll need to find other more productive things to do with your time.
I suggest you start with doing several things:
- Limit the time you spend with your character to a couple of designated, short periods per day. You may not have to give up your character entirely if you can simply enjoy her as you would any friend you see for coffee now and then. Visit. Don’t obsess.
- At the same time, get on some video call platform to reconnect with old friends. Talk about anything but anime – a hobby, a book, the news, – anything. Talk about old times. Talk about your concerns for your futures and how you are all dealing. Plan your topics for discussion ahead of time. Ask your friends to help you by not getting caught up in your anime world.
- Start making a plan for what your life. You can start a job hunt. You may not be able to go out to interviews yet but you can get yourself on linkedIn. BTW: Some companies are interviewing virtually. You can see if there are some online jobs you can do to start building a resume and make a little cash. You may be able to start a “quarantine bubble” – a group of friends who agree to the same safety standards for seeing each other during COVID so they can get together now and then while observing social distancing. In your case, the bubble could be more than social. You could also look for friends who need to help and support each other as you deal with the job market. You can figure out how much money you will need to have a place of your own and create a budget. You can develop any skills you’ll need but don’t currently have to manage independent life. Do you need to learn more about cooking? Doing your laundry? Cleaning? Money management? There may be someone at home who would be happy to tutor you.
There’s an old saying: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”. In your case, an idle brain has latched onto what is easy and interesting, not what will move you forward into adult life. COVID life isn’t going to last forever. What you do now will decide whether you are prepared for real life when the time comes to get into whatever our “new normal” is going to be.
I wish you well.