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What are Parasocial Relationships? The Pros and Cons of One-Sided Affection

sports fan cheering at game

Have you ever become emotionally invested in a celebrity, fictional character, athlete, or social media influencer, despite never having met them in person? Well, that’s a type of parasocial relationship! Parasocial relationships are a relatively new concept in the field of psychology. These relationships are a one-sided connection that individuals form with media figures, such as celebrities or fictional characters. 

With the increase in social media exposure, parasocial relationships have become increasingly common, and they can have both positive and negative effects on people. In this blog post, we’ll dive into the world of parasocial relationships and explore the various ways they can impact our lives.


Types of Parasocial Relationships

Parasocial relationships can take many different forms, but they all involve a one-sided connection between an individual and a media figure. The type of relationship mainly differs by the type of idol the person has a one-sided relationship with. Here are some examples:

  • Celebrity Worship: When an individual becomes deeply attached to a celebrity and sees them as the perfect version of themselves. 
  • Fictional Character Attachment: Individuals become emotionally invested in a fictional character from a book, movie, or TV show. They may relate to the character’s struggles or personality traits and feel a sense of connection to them.
  • Sports Fans Obsession: Individuals feel a strong connection to their favorite athletes or teams, and view the athletes as role models or even friends.
  • Social Media Influencer Connection: With the rise of social media, many individuals form parasocial relationships with influencers or content creators. They may feel as though they know the influencer personally and rely on them for advice or inspiration.


Positive Effects of Parasocial Relationships

Many of us experience a type of parasocial relationship as children, from having a favourite movie, book, or cartoon character, to idolizing a famous sports athlete and dreaming of being one ourselves. These types of relationships also develop in adults and can have a deep influence on people’s lives. While some may view parasocial relationships as unhealthy or strange, they can actually have a variety of positive effects. 


Here are some of the biggest positive effects parasocial relationships can have: 


  • Providing a sense of companionship and comfort. This is especially true for individuals who may feel lonely or isolated in their everyday lives. Having someone they can relate to, or who makes them feel happy, can help meet the social needs they aren’t able to fulfill with meaningful personal relationships.


  • Providing a source of inspiration and motivation. Many people look up to their favorite celebrities as role models and may feel inspired to pursue their own goals and dreams as a result. The same goes for fictional characters, some people feel a strong bond or kinship with the characters they get to know, and it can inspire them to be more like that character. 


  • Becoming a more confident person. Some studies have suggested that parasocial relationships can help individuals build their self-esteem and confidence, because it allows them to become more similar to their ideal selves. 


Negative Effects of Parasocial Relationships

Despite the potential benefits of parasocial relationships, they can have negative effects as well. Here are a few of the biggest risks associated with these relationships: 


  • The potential for individuals to become overly invested in their connection with their idols. This can lead to feelings of obsession or even stalking behavior in extreme cases. There have been many situations where celebrities are put in uncomfortable or dangerous situations due to the one-sided feelings of one of their fans becoming too extreme. 


  • Feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. Individuals may compare themselves to the media figure they are connected to and feel as though they fall short in some way. This can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.


  • The impact they can have on real-life relationships. If an individual is investing a significant amount of time and emotional energy into their connection with a media figure, they may have less time and energy to devote to their real-life relationships. This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, which can further perpetuate the cycle of parasocial relationships.


Managing Parasocial Relationships

If you find yourself forming a parasocial relationship with a media figure, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks and take steps to manage your connection healthily. Here are some tips for managing parasocial relationships:


  • Set boundaries: While it’s okay to feel connected to a media figure, it’s important to recognize that the relationship is one-sided and set appropriate boundaries. Avoid obsessing over the media figure.


  • Balance your time: Make sure that you’re not neglecting your real-life relationships or responsibilities in favor of your parasocial relationship. Set aside specific times to engage with your media figure and prioritize real-life connections.


  • Recognize the limitations: Remember that your connection with a media figure is not the same as a real-life relationship. While it can provide comfort and inspiration, it’s not a substitute for real-life connections and doesn’t mean that the other person recognizes your relationship the same way. 


  • Talk to a professional therapist or counsellor: Just like managing any other relationship, it’s helpful to get an outside perspective on why we feel a certain way and what drives our actions. Having a therapist explore your needs, and develop a plan for managing your parasocial relationship is a great tool for making sure you’re living a healthy life. 


At Focus, we offer licensed and empathetic therapists who are experts in a wide variety of mental health issues. If you need support or someone to talk to, book a session via phone, video, or text therapy options today


Final Thoughts

Parasocial relationships can be complex and emotional experiences for individuals. While they can provide a sense of comfort and inspiration, they can also contribute to feelings of obsession and insecurity. By recognizing the potential risks and taking steps to manage our connections healthily, we can enjoy the benefits of parasocial relationships without letting them negatively impact our lives.

Get custom matched to a licensed therapist and start feeling better today.