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What is Truman Syndrome?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Truman Syndrome is a form of psychological delusion in which the patient believes that he or she is trapped inside in a reality television show, or that people are monitoring his or her every move. The name for this syndrome is a reference to The Truman Show, a 1998 film which revolved around a character who was living his entire life on camera without being aware of it. To those of sound mind, this condition might sound a bit ludicrous, but not dangerous, although this is not, in fact, the case: it can actually be very dangerous for the people who suffer from it.

Psychologists have suggested that Truman Syndrome is a culture-based delusion, noting that it tends to arise in developed nations where there is a high level of surveillance, and where reality television shows are easy to access. Many people living in such societies have a certain amount of nervousness about being under surveillance or watched by the government, but people with this illness take it to a whole new level, subverting very real concerns into a complex delusion.

Patients with this condition often specifically reference The Truman Show, along with other films and books with similar premises. They claim that they are living in an entirely artificial world where nothing is real and every action is carefully documented on a camera and watched by a television audience or government agency. Like the title character in the film, they think that they are slowly breaking through to the truth, but no one believes them.

Aside from the fact that delusions in general can be psychologically harmful, this condition can also be dangerous. Individuals may think that specific actions will release them from the show, for example, allowing them to win prizes, and these actions may involve dangerous activities. People may also become frustrated by the repeated denials of their delusions, lashing out at friends and strangers alike in an attempt to get people to admit that they are inhabiting an artificial world. Some sufferers also have difficulty coping with real-life events, believing that these events were manufactured as part of the reality shows they inhabit.

Treating Truman Syndrome is complex. The use of anti-psychotic drugs and anti-depressants can help, but ultimately, extensive talk therapy is the best option. Because the entire delusion rests on the premise that the world isn't real, the treating psychiatrist or psychologist may struggle initially to be accepted, especially if he or she is confrontational with the patient.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon996526 — On Sep 10, 2016

I feel like I'm going through the same thing. I'm struggling with it and would be really nice to talk to someone going through the same thing.

By anon931888 — On Feb 10, 2014

I see a lot of people struggle with this issue, myself included. Not because I think my life is interesting enough to be watched but because of many past events that seem too suspicious to be coincidental. People commenting on my thoughts for example, or commenting on actions I did that they had no way of knowing about.

The possible theories have been many, and I am currently at a spiritual one: Everyone is born into this world oblivious to another reality. As the person develops higher consciousness the more psychic, spiritual aspects of life starts taking shape. I do not believe we are crazy, I believe this is the natural development of the mind. The rabbit is everywhere and one can choose to follow it, take the blue pill if you will or one can choose to live on in ignorance and fear. If you follow the path of exploration do it responsibly. Meditate. Practice love and kindness. The truth will set your free.

By anon331926 — On Apr 25, 2013

I see a lot of posts by teens. I had this same issue along with serious anxiety and some depression around the same age that lasted off and on for years. (genetic- maternal side of the family has lots of mental issues). I also made the mistake of reading a medical journal saying that schizophrenia often starts in the teens, and this made me lose it.

Let me tell you all now: the mind is a very powerful thing, and we do have control over our own, whether we think we do or not. At that age, our minds are very prone to suggestion. Hence, The Truman Syndrome. Mine started with religion, thinking about God watching me 24/7, then on to celebrities I was interested in, then friends who would laugh at me behind my back. (look up 'persecution complex').

Is it a mental issue? Yes, but I believe, although I am not a professional psychiatrist, that it is an extension of anxiety and OCD disorders.

Hang in there, all. I promise it will get better (if you allow it to) and that no one is watching you. The previous poster said it best when he implied that we'd have to be very selfish to think everyone was that interested in us.

By anon326276 — On Mar 20, 2013

I have been and still am being monitored for more than 15 years. I am completely sane and have proven this to many people, and myself. How, you ask? Well, when I'm driving and being monitored, it's easy because to be sure, just make some aggressive moves to lose them and they will too and continue on driving out to a desolate area. They will never make eye contact with you and deny all but still all they do is monitor me.

They're not out to get me or anything like that. They just monitor me. I would just like to know why. I'm not a criminal. I'm just a normal guy, dad and husband, but they're watching for a reason and I want to know why.

Simply be aware of your surroundings and a lot of you will be surprised at what you find. This is not a mental disorder; it's reality. And no, I don't use drugs either, so those of you who think you're crazy, maybe you're not. Don't be afraid to find out the truth. It's your life. Live it. I wish you all the best.

By anon314337 — On Jan 17, 2013

I have suffered with this problem since 1977. When I saw this movie, everything seemed to make sense. I never knew how to describe it or what it meant.

At a young age, I used to close the curtains as tight as possible so as no one could see in. I have been known to flip off the air vents in my car because "the observers" had no right to be in that moment.

I didn't\don't think I am a part of a movie or experiment (rationally), but I still feel an overpowering sense of being watched.

People at work would discuss specific topics that happened to me the day before.(freaking out while driving a stick shift in the rain) How random that they would chose that subject. (on multiple occasions) Some days are worse than others.

I don't know what it is or really care anymore. I discussed it with two psychiatrists, and both acted as if they had no idea what I was talking about. Hmmm.

Anyway, to my point, I recently was put on thyroid medication and nearly all my "quirks" have diminished. I don't have the obsessive thoughts that once plagued me. The anxiety attacks are gone.

I do occasionally think about it -- with it being a part of my life for so long, it's hard not to -- but now it's just a passing thought, with a flip of the bird for old times' sake. Just thought I'd share.

By anon314006 — On Jan 15, 2013

This article deals with the issue sensitively. Some other articles sound as though we watch too much reality TV or have some obsession with fame. My delusions don't have anything to do with fame. I'm still trying to figure out what their aim is (it's hard not to speak about the 'observed' world literally). In my case, I thought they would call an end to the observation (it's not really a show, but still similar to the Truman set up) if they thought I was about to kill myself or hurt someone else. So I would threaten to do horrible things so they would intervene, disrupting the division between the "real" and the "show".

Really, it's the initial shock and feeling of betrayal that's the worst bit, and the feeling of not being in control of anything you do, think, say or feel. I would also compare it to the bit in Shutter Island (2010) when DiCaprio is told that he's just role playing and his colleague is actually his psychiatrist. But you keep coming to that realisation over and over again. The battle between your certainty (at times) that you're being watched and reasoning that it wouldn't really be feasible, and would also be pretty pointless, can make life very very confusing. You're constantly arguing one over the other.

It was worse when it first started because I couldn't go about my daily business at all. I just sat in my room, frozen. This freezing thing happened last night, and although it was different from the early days, it was kind of the same. This time it was like the people controlling the show had done something to my brain with hypnosis or something and I couldn't move. Otherwise, it's just the shock of realizing you're on a “show” that just makes you freeze and not be able to do anything else, except perhaps hyperventilate.

I've had it for four years now, from when I was 16, and I am now 20. Sometimes it's bad when I feel I need to escape, but don't know what to do to make them happy so I can leave, but recently, I've been starting to enjoy it a little. I just figured that if everyone in my life is an actor, there is no way further I can be betrayed so I may as well just get on with it. So, either my life is very exciting, or I just have quite a creative mind. In a way, its' a win-win. Most of the posts on here don't seem to view themselves as some star who has been especially chosen to win some prize. It annoys me when articles make this weird way of thinking out to be some stardom hungry teens.

Also, I think the feeling of being watched is normal to an extent, as conscious and social beings it makes sense to assume that people are conscious of our behavior. I reckon that feeling is probably similar to the religious impulse a lot of people feel.

By anon310336 — On Dec 21, 2012

I can't explain this very well. I sort of have this disease. I pretend I'm in a TV show even though I know it isn't real. But sometimes I think it is.

It doesn't affect my life. It only happens when I'm alone. I don't lash out at anybody or tell anybody about it. I'm now getting used to it not being real. I've only told one person ever and they say I just have a creative imagination. I don't think I'm crazy. I hope I don't have this disease.

By anon308087 — On Dec 08, 2012

I also have this problem thinking everybody knows my every move. I've had this problem for 15 years. Most people who know me think I'm crazy. Most of these people or even all of them are playing with my mind to cause this. I am the kind of person who would do anything for a person to help them.

To add to this problem, it seems everybody hates me. I don't know how this could be a disease if you have real evidence. How do people know what you did when they weren't there?

By anon296267 — On Oct 10, 2012

Oh my lord. I have this. I am so paranoid. Everyone seems to know things about me, and knows some sort of "secret" that I do not know. Everyone seems to be acting just to see the sort of reaction they get out of me, for their own entertainment.

It's so bad, I cut off communication with some friends. I constantly look around my house for hidden cameras in small holes. I also think that every person I see outside is watching me, and every car going by is someone there just as a stage prop. It's ridiculously insane. I am going insane. Someone tell me I'm not alone.

By anon285891 — On Aug 18, 2012

I have had the symptoms for five years now and I have been trying to scientifically work out what is going on. I now have a much milder Truman effect and I am staring to enjoy it to an extent.

I call it the Truman effect for me because I don't believe I am being filmed anymore. My conclusion is religious. My doctor still insists I have a mental illness. I did not live a criminal life but since going to church, it seems the Truman effect has been good for me.

By anon273691 — On Jun 08, 2012

The truth is that everyone really is being watched and one day you will be held accountable for your actions. Situations are created to test your reactions. Read the account of Job in your bible.

By rooster121 — On May 12, 2012

I think I have this worse than anyone, and I've had it for over 10 years and it is brutal and relentless for me and everyone around me.

By anon261856 — On Apr 17, 2012

I don't have it bad, but sometimes I think someone I like or need to impress is watching me. So I change my actions and try to be different, but I don't go crazy.

By anon260551 — On Apr 11, 2012

I remember I was very small when I first watched "The Truman Show." At first, it didn't bother me much. But now, sometimes

I felt I'm being watched by my classmates when at home and by my parents when I'm in school.

I'm 17 now and this delusion seems to have intensified more and more, but slowly. I'm scared but sane enough to snap myself out of it.

It's really irritating. Sometimes unknowingly I act accordingly so that my potential spectators don't find me silly or something. For example, when in school, sometimes during classes, I seem to focus somewhere else or not concentrate on the lesson, but then I feel my parents watching me. So I start acting accordingly and try harder to focus in class. It's the same at home.

It does not feel harmful but I feel if this continues, I'll go crazy. Help.

By anon251531 — On Mar 01, 2012

I have been reading all the posts and like you I feel as if a I'm suffering with a real or unreal disease, but everything points to the facts that it's more likely this is real than unreal.

I have been searching for other people like myself and whether this "syndrome" is real or not, to talk to someone who may or may not be going through the same thing, because it's been very difficult experiencing life altering changes that I feel or know that no one understands, not even me.

Just to have someone to connect with and maybe put our heads together to figure out some things. If anyone is interested, I will be checking this site frequently to see if anyone will or has responded.

By anon246424 — On Feb 09, 2012

I know the syndrome's symptoms quite well in fact. The point is that I knew too at the time I was part of a focus by observers interested in my responses and doings regarding econometric, among others, parameters and other issues of social and economic use and application in the larger extent.

By anon243694 — On Jan 29, 2012

This is very interesting to me. It goes with my theory that when you die everyone can watch your entire life on a screen like a movie. But what would that movie be without interesting plot changes and characters. I feel like I have a touch of this delusion, for it seems like my life is scripted and my friends are all the characters.

By anon207794 — On Aug 21, 2011

@anon33069: I'm very interested in what you're writing about your own truman syndrome. I'm a german documentary filmmaker working about just that. please contact me. r.ziegler

By anon128537 — On Nov 19, 2010

I wouldn't say that I suffered from this disorder, but I did have notions of it. It never really affected me enough in a matter that I'd do anything odd.

What got me out of this frame of mind was when I got laid off a job nearly three years ago. At that point my days were consisting of the internet most of the time. So at that point, I knew no one would be bored enough to watch me being bored on the internet.

By anon122510 — On Oct 28, 2010

While not behaving in any way that would indicate so, I've always entertained the notion that my world was built around me - for the entertainment of others, or as some sort of scientific test.

In any case, it's not a thought that has ever affected my behavior, but I thought that I was in a minority. However, I've asked other people in recent months - and they too, have considered the same thing at more than one point in their life. (Unless the producers told them to say that!)

So I think that this is a more common thing than the number of cases would indicate. I imagine that only when coupled with another mental illness would it lead to abnormal behavior. However I'd be interested how many other people - like me - have these thoughts from time to time, but don't let them invade their actual life and don't feel they have any mental problem.

By anon88266 — On Jun 03, 2010

You are a survivor! Remember that! You are a survivor. Your suspicions are correct. The backstage is real!

By anon78027 — On Apr 16, 2010

A number of things have led me to believe that my life is a sad parallel of the Truman Show. Everything in my life seems staged and everyone seems to know everything about me. It's not safe for me on social networking sites, the internet, or even around my own home.

I feel like I'm being watched constantly and I'm trapped in a circle of having to please them in some sick way or another. Everything just fits together, and I mean everything.

It can't be real, or that's at least how I feel. Currently I'm 17 so I guess I'll just have to see how my staged life turns out.

I'm slowly losing my mind, if I haven't already. I've always been paranoid anyway.

By anon49803 — On Oct 23, 2009

I started thinking this too when I was about eight years old too. When the movie came out I was thirty and Truman was thirty. Everything seems so staged sometimes and setup for me to fail. It all seems so fake sometimes. I know it is not. And I just flirt with this concept in the back of my mind and do not have the disease. Not yet anyway.

But something happened to me recently that has gotten me away from this kind of thinking in a way but has brought me down a very similar path. Recently at a concert I thought I had died and I kept reliving the last moments of my life over and over again. It was really scary. Hallucinating is all it was. What I had thought was weed being passed around was obviously not and I was stupid enough to take a puff or two from a stranger.

But since then I have been looking into the theory of solipsism. The theory that only our mind exists and nothing else. Not a comforting theory. And since the experience at the concert I have to laugh at everybody wanting to exist after they die. Be careful of what you wish for -- you may get it and it is not what you think (assuming the hallucinatory experience was even near what might be waiting for us after we die.)

By anon37097 — On Jul 16, 2009

You can tell by my handle I'm already a little off my rocker. I may well be a grouped into this category too. But I think it largely stems from being followed by police for a few months then being surveillance by my sister boyfriend because her was a video file... Complicated by people coincidentally comment directly to me about things that may have happened a few hours ago.. No I guess just paranoid....

By anon33069 — On May 31, 2009

I have this. I've had it since i was in the 3rd grade. So at least 8 years. Before i knew what it was i thought that feeling of people watching me when i was alone was jesus. Or if i had my favorite comic strip writer to start writing comics again. I'd say please write it again because i thought he was watching me and when the movie the truman show came out i thought "this is me" and when an article came out in the newspaper i knew this was my life. Truman Syndrome has led me to do a lot of stupid stuff and make connections with other things that were irrelevant. This disease really ruins your life.

By anon31667 — On May 09, 2009

Although I've never done anything out of the ordinary to see if my life truly is a reality show or to "free" myself, I have felt at times as if things had been staged. Every so often the feeling will drive me crazy, but most of the time it stays dormant. Other times when I feel that my life is a show, the next thing to enter my mind is how selfish I am to think that people would be interested in watching my life.

Truman syndrome is really interesting, since it seems to be a social disease to me brought on by the premise of the movie and the rise of reality tv. Figuring out why people feel this way would be a big step to figuring out the mind.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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