Update – On July 4th, 2022, this rentry was rewritten, as I was not happy with how I wrote it initially. However it retained all of the original information. As of October 8th, 2022, it has been given a slight revamp, but not much has changed.
- IRL ≠ Delusion.
IRL ≠ Delusion.
“Hey, I thought IRL meant you had a delusion of being a character!”
This is a very, very common misconception unfortunately. The reason why this is so widely believed is due to the amount of individuals in this community who struggle with psychosis, specifically delusions, and claim that their delusion is real. This isn’t surprising at all, because obviously, delusions are delusions – those who experiencing them believe them to be true. But during its coining, the "term" IRL was not used to refer to delusional identities, or psychosis at all, actually. Nor was it used as a noun. It was used to suffix people’s highest kintypes, which are not a part of mental illness in the slightest, as they tend to primarily be spiritual experiences, unlike cases of psychosis.
Psychosis, as is widely known, is not its own mental illness – it is a symptom. Though, it is a unique sort of symptom; there are many things that, depending on the situation, are considered to be a part of psychosis – such as hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, disorganized speech and thought patterns, and social isolation. It could be described as an umbrella of symptoms in a way, and can be caused by many factors. You can read more in-depth about psychosis here.
From a community standpoint, those who use the illegitimate term "delusional attachment" are heavily misinterpreting what makes a delusion a delusion. No, it is not just a false or impossible belief, it is much more than that. Delusions always cause some sort of significant impairment to an individual's life, whether it be socially, academically, psychologically, and whatever else I may be missing. This is due to the fact that delusions are disordered in nature. According to the DSM-5, mental illnesses/disorders require clinically significant distress to even be classified as illnesses/disorders. Having a fictional or otherwise external identity that doesn’t cause any problems for you is not a part of that. It’s not a delusion, it’s an identity. The medicalization of these experiences is not only useless, but potentially harmful, as it misinforms outsiders on what is and isn't psychosis, and can lead to people misinterpreting their experiences as negative symptoms and misdiagnosing themselves with an illness.
”Okay, then what are IRLs? Why do they exist?”
IRL, which stands for “In Real Life”, has various meanings. Though, the definition that this rentry is referring to is the one related to an internal identity within oneself. To put it simply, some people have very intense connections to certain fictional or factual characters/people/species/things, and refer to themselves as that connection, followed by “in real life”/IRL. As an example, let's say you have a friend who has one of these connections to Harvey from Stardew Valley. This person may go by the name Harvey publicly, use icons of Harvey on social media, and refer to Harvey as themselves in the first person. When expressing their sourceself to others, they'll likely say something along the lines of "I am Harvey from Stardew Valley IRL/in real life". IRL is occasionally used as a noun (e.g. "They're a Harvey IRL"), and even as a verb (e.g. They IRL Harvey), however these aren't exactly correct uses of the term, since it is simply an acronym.
As for why people have these connections – there is not exactly one standalone reason, neither is there one standalone experience. For some, there’s no deep explanation to it at all, they claim that they simply are [x]. For others, it might be a spiritual or psychological phenomenon. Spiritual experiences of this sort tend to involve past lives or lives in parallel universes, in which the multiverse theory is incorporated into the belief. Both of these fit the definitions of spiritual ‘kin. As for the psychological aspect of it, it’s pretty self-explanitory. The person in media (alternative way to say IRL in a noun-sense) in question simply believes their experience is caused by psychological means, whether it's an emotional connection of some sort or a mental resonance that can't be explained otherwise. This fits the definition of a psychological 'kin. Lastly, though, there are introjects in systems. I’m gonna assume you know what introjects are, but if not, you can read about them here. Some introjects identify with their sourceselves, and call themselves who they’re an introject of IRL, just like any other person in media would. Introjects have just as much as a right to use the term as anyone else.
”What do I do if my ‘media representation’ is distressing to me?”
Firstly, good on you for recognizing that. That takes a lot of courage to do. You most likely are experiencing a delusion of some sort in that case, and by challenging it, you’re already taking a step into recovery. As someone who has dealt with delusions of this sort (which are called delusional misidentifications, not attachments), the best thing I ever could’ve done for myself is learn to let go. Obviously this is much easier said than done, especially without access to medical professionals, but there are things you can do on your own to try and recover. Firstly, don’t go by the name of your delusional misidentification. This is very important. You may think that going by that name doesn’t worsen your delusion, but trust me, it makes your brain associate yourself with that character even further. Ask your friends to call you by another name for the time being. Secondly, I recommend not using profile pictures of the character, or basing your social media around them. But something else that I found to be helpful was distancing myself from the source for a while. Good luck.
”I don’t think I’m ready to recover from my delusional misidentification.”
That’s okay. I’ve been there too, and so have thousands of others who struggle with psychosis. Please don’t force yourself to take steps you’re not ready to take yet. Try and keep yourself in a neutral zone for now – a state of acceptance that you are struggling. Just try not to actively encourage the delusion, as it can worsen overtime, making it harder to recover when you’re ready. If you have any non-distressing appearances in media, or any kintypes, try and project your identity onto them instead. That’s all the advice I can give.
”Isn’t ‘IRL’ a psychosis-exclusive term?”
As mentioned earlier, IRL was not first used with psychosis/delusions in mind. It was simply an acronym used to indicate a very strong external identity that a person has. It definitely has migrated to the psychotic community, but also note that it is a widely acceptable term for introjects to use for themselves too, if they want to. This includes introjects in non-psychotic systems. I (the person writing this) personally am an introject in a psychotic system, so I can’t really speak for those who aren’t, but it doesn’t feel right at all to exclude non-psychotic systems from being able to identify with their sourceselves and see themselves as them ‘In Real Life’, and it especially isn't right to exclude those with traditional kintypes from using the term, since it originated in the 'kin community in the first place. You can learn more about 'kin here.
Writer's Note – Thank you for listening. If you disagree, that’s okay. I tried my best to give sources when applicable, and this topic is pretty controversial. I just thought I’d give my two cents on it, since I’ve been in both the ‘kin community and “IRL” community for years now. Please don’t harass anyone who agrees with me, or uses this rentry to inform others, because that’s very close-minded and uncool. Keep your opinions if you want. It’s your decision to change your mind.