Too Invested In A Parasocial Relationship? Here's 3 Ways To Break It Off
Fictional ties, no matter how alluring, will never be able to give you something real.
By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | September 4, 2023
In our digitally interconnected world, where media saturation is the norm, parasocial relationships have become increasingly common. From childhood celebrity crushes to being emotionally invested in complex fandoms, these are connections we form with individuals we don't personally know but are accessible through various platforms. If you've ever felt a strong connection to a celebrity or public figure, you're not alone.
Parasocial relationships span a spectrum of intensities, ranging from casual to intensely personal connections. While most people engage in mild forms of parasocial bonding, some cases can escalate to unhealthy levels, where individuals lose touch with reality and develop unhealthy obsessions with their 'fictional friends,' also known as 'fictophilia,' as recognized by research.
A study published in Journal of Social and Personal Relationships shows that attachment styles influence our susceptibility to intense parasocial connections. Individuals with avoidant or anxious attachment tendencies may seek emotional gratification from fictional characters who align with their corresponding emotional traits of avoidance or anxiety. According to the study, the extent of emotional involvement with characters and the preference for particular characters can be attributed to the unique ability stories possess to create a sense of intimacy without the fear of rejection.
Parasocial relationships can signal underlying issues within one's personal relationships. Excessive parasocial bonding might indicate a tendency to replace real-life connections with fictional ones, hindering personal growth and real emotional fulfillment. It is imperative to recognize when these connections are encroaching upon our ability to build meaningful connections with people we know.
To strike a healthy balance between parasocial relationships and real-life connections, individuals can consider the following:
1. Limit Attention
Access to celebrities' personal lives through media and social platforms does not equate to a genuine relationship. Refrain from fixating on their personal details and remind yourself that these glimpses are carefully curated for commercial purposes. Here's how you can start:
- Acknowledge the illusion. Celebrities project curated personas through media. What you see is a selective portrayal, not their authentic selves.
- Engage in media consumption with a critical lens. Instead of passively absorbing every detail, actively question the motives behind the content. Discern the context in which information is presented, and be mindful of sensationalism and clickbait, which are designed to provoke emotional responses.
- Establish clear boundaries for your media consumption. Allocate specific time for celebrity content. Avoid excessive monitoring to preserve energy for real-life relationships.
- Explore new interests. Often, parasocial relationships flourish due to a sense of familiarity and comfort. Break the cycle by venturing into uncharted territories. Explore new books, movies, music, or art forms that capture your attention to broaden your horizons and redirect your focus from a single source of attachment.
2. Taper Media Consumption
A study published in Journal of Death and Dying examining the aftermath of a fictional character's unexpected suicide in a television show, found that elements of parasocial relationships, particularly parasocial breakups, were evident as members demonstrated signs of grief over the loss of a fictional character.
If a parasocial bond becomes overwhelming, instead of abruptly cutting off all exposure to the celebrity's work, consider gradually decreasing your consumption of the celebrity's work or content. Here is a roadmap to disentangle from overwhelming parasocial bonds and create room for meaningful real-life connections.
- Introspect. Take time to assess the depth of your emotional attachment to the celebrity or fictional character. Are you dedicating more time to their content than your real-life interactions? Are you finding it challenging to disconnect from their virtual presence? Understanding the extent of your involvement will empower you to make informed decisions.
- Trim interaction frequency. If you're closely following daily content, scale back gradually to a few times per week. An incremental approach can ease the transition while lessening the emotional impact of sudden detachment.
- Set digital boundaries. Unfollow or mute social media accounts, unsubscribe from notifications, or employ website blockers. This proactive approach will ensure that you regain control over your online consumption habits.
3. Get Set To Change, Work On Your Attachment Style
A study published in the European Journal of Personality defies the conventional belief that attachment styles remain fixed and predetermined, instead spotlighting the fluid and evolving aspect of human emotional growth. The study's results offer a clear directive: you hold the reins of your attachment evolution.
As such, confronting and addressing tendencies toward anxiety or avoidance can lead you to a transformative path for healthier emotional bonds. Here are a few tips for you to get started on this journey.
- Uncover patterns. Reflect on your emotional responses and behaviors in various relationships and make note of the moments when avoidance or anxiety-driven patterns arise. Secure individuals tend to form balanced and healthy connections, while anxious individuals seek reassurance and validation, and avoidant individuals may distance themselves to cope with intimacy. This awareness provides the foundation for initiating change.
- Challenge assumptions. If you lean towards an avoidant attachment style, challenge the belief that emotional distance is a protective shield. Ask yourself about the origins of this inclination and its impact on your relationships. For those with anxious attachment tendencies, challenge the notion that constant reassurance is necessary for emotional security. Dissect the roots of this pattern and seek healthier ways to address your emotional needs.
- Mindful engagement. Whether it's initiating vulnerability or soothing anxiety, practice mindful engagement. Gradually dismantle emotional barriers or employ techniques to navigate emotional turbulence. If you tend to avoid emotional intimacy, intentionally open up and muster the courage to be vulnerable. If anxiety drives your attachment style, practice self-soothing techniques to manage your fears and stressors.
While parasocial relationships can provide entertainment and a sense of connection, it's crucial to maintain a balanced perspective. Change takes time and effort. Embrace setbacks as learning opportunities and celebrate small victories along the way.