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Parasocial Relationships: Are They Healthy?


Parasocial Relationships: Are They Healthy?

Have you ever found yourself obsessed with the life of a celebrity, followed them on social media, celebrated their wins and saddened by their losses or struggles? If yes, then you have been in a parasocial relationship.

Wait! What is a parasocial relationship? Parasocial relationships occur when one party extends energy, interest, and time and the other party is unaware of the relationship.


The term was first used in 1956 when two researchers noted that a new kind of relationship was forming between audiences and celebrities.

People who have parasocial relationships with celebrities or media figures may begin to feel as though they know them very well despite never having met them.


They grow closer and more emotionally connected, almost as if they were more than just friends. It's important to keep in mind that this connection is primarily one-sided.


The individual feels this way due to the media figure's constant presence in their lives via TV, social media, and other platforms, the individual feels this way. Even though it's not a true connection, this sense of intimacy has the capacity to make people feel like they have a special bond.


Levels of Parasocial Relationships


There are three levels of parasocial relationships with varying intensities of belief in a personal relationship with the celebrity.


Entertainment-Social Relationships


Entertainment-Social Relationships


It's the least intense level. In this kind of parasocial relationship, people are drawn to specific celebrities because they find them entertaining, and these celebrities serve as a source of social interaction and gossip among their friends.

At this point, the parasocial relationship may appear impersonal, similar to being a casual fan of a star. I'm sure a lot of us are in an entertainment-social relationship with some celebrities.


Intense-Personal Parasocial Relationship


Intense-Personal Parasocial Relationship

The next level of the parasocial relationship is what they call "intense-personal" or celebrity worship. It goes beyond just being a fan and involves having really intense and almost obsessive feelings about the celebrity.

For instance, someone in this kind of relationship might even see the celebrity as their soul-mate. It's like taking the admiration to a whole new level.


Borderline-Pathological Parasocial Relationship


This is the most intense level of a parasocial relationship. People begin behaving in unpredictable ways and thinking about their favourite celebrities in intricate and sometimes absurd settings.


It can feel as though they've crossed the line into their own universe, believing things that may or may not be true. This level of intensity is often seen in stalker fans. They tend to believe that their favourite celebrity would be happy to see them.



Are Parasocial Relationships Healthy?


Parasocial relationships are normal and common. They can be helpful in a lot of ways:


Inspires You to Better Yourself


Inspires You to Better Yourself

Sometimes, people look up to certain celebrities and try to improve their lives. For instance, one might look up to a star like Keanu Reeves who is known to be very humble and kind and aspire to be more like him. Or one might look admire a star who works out a lot and try to spend a substantial amount of time at the gym.

It is not uncommon for people to consider the star they have a parasocial relationship with as their role model.


Makes You Feel More Confident


confident


Don't you feel proud when someone from your hometown or country achieves an amazing feat? Similarly, fans feel proud and confident in themselves due to their attachment to certain celebrities.


Shira Gabriel, a professor at the University at Buffalo says, "Celebrities provide a way for people who want to feel a certain way about themselves to feel that way just by linking the celebrity to the self."


Is Validating


If you are suffering from some illness or simply can't fit in, knowing that certain celebrities or influencers have similar issues can prove to be validating.


For example, Selena Gomez's openness about dealing with bipolar disorder might help someone with the same disorder to come to terms with their diagnosis.


When Does A Parasocial Relationship Turn Unhealthy?

While parasocial relationships are not harmful and can be beneficial, they can turn unhealthy sometimes.


One of the main reasons for developing a parasocial relationship with someone is the desire for belongingness and connection. People who tend to be alone or are unable to establish connections in real life can turn to stars or influencers to boost their self-esteem and get some form of social interaction.

Turning to parasocial relationships for self-esteem boost or social interaction is not wrong but replacing real-life interactions with parasocial behaviours is truly unhealthy. This kind of friendship is imaginary and might cause even more loneliness in the real world.


Parasocial relationships can be said to be toxic if they take too much of your time or if your behaviour or feelings towards the relationship becomes too intense.


If one becomes too obsessed with a celebrity to the point that they can't seem to differentiate reality from their imagination, they can pose a danger to themselves as well as the celebrity. Such kind of obsession leads to stalkerish behaviours.


Conclusion


Parasocial relationships are not inherently harmful or unhealthy. They can be a medium of motivation and can have a positive influence on people. However, they shouldn't replace real-life social interactions.


If you find yourself investing too much time and energy into a parasocial relationship and begin to experience a disconnect from reality, you must consult a therapist.


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