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Parasocial Relationships

What are they and are they healthy?

Hobbies and InterestsMental health and wellbeing
By VoiceBox ·


A young person from Malaysia who writes about anything and everything that interests her

Parasocial Relationships

Parasocial relationships are defined as one-sided relationships where one person extends emotional energy, interest, and time, and the other party (typically a celebrity or fictional character), is completely unaware of the other's existence. These relationships are characterized by the absence of face-to-face interaction, and the perception of a personal connection that is not reciprocated by the media figure. This type of relationship normally develops through various forms of media, including television, film, social media, etc.

Parasocial relationships can have both positive and negative effects on individuals. On the positive side, they can provide comfort, companionship, and a sense of belonging. On the negative side, they can lead to unrealistic expectations, disappointment, and even feelings of loss when the media figure dies or is no longer in the public eye. Additionally, parasocial relationships can sometimes become obsessive and lead to unhealthy behavior.

In my eyes, more and more parasocial relationships have been forming over time due to a few reasons, mainly the rise of social media and perhaps a feeling of loneliness and isolation. Social media has given rise to influencers such as YouTubers, who film every moment of their lives and give off a sense of relatability. It has also allowed media figures who were once seemingly mysterious and closed off from the general public to get in touch with their fans easily. As people get to interact more with such figures and are given access to seemingly private aspects of their lives, they start feeling a sort of kinship with these media figures and start forming parasocial relationships as if they knew them in real life. I also find that people who tend to form these types of parasocial relationships do so because they feel a sense of loneliness in their actual lives. Some might feel isolated or lack friends, so they are drawn to form such relationships because the people on their screen are the only ones who ‘get them’.

People often turn to follow media figures closely to fulfill social needs such as companionship. Being part of a fan group of the same media figure can provide a sense of belonging and social support. Not only might they feel a personal connection to said media figure, but they might also be able to meet other people who share the same interests or experiences in the fan group. 

People might also form parasocial relationships as a form of escapism from their own lives. Getting engrossed in the life of someone else that they admire or like, can help them put aside whatever is currently going on in their own life. People that tend to form such relationships might also have certain types of personality traits, such as low self-esteem or a need for affiliation. 

The final and likely main reason people form parasocial relationships with media figures is what leads them to discover the media figure in the first place, the need for entertainment. People consume media for entertainment purposes, and this might lead them to discover media figures that they may come to admire. This admiration or interest might lead them to develop a sense of closeness with that person.

While it’s not necessarily a bad thing to develop parasocial relationships, it can be fairly harmless as long as the person forming it understands boundaries and knows how to maintain them. Unfortunately, there have been many cases of people crossing these boundaries and harming the people they form parasocial relationships with as they come to believe that these people owe them something. That’s where these relationships can get dangerous.

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