This Is Why We Get So Upset About Celebrity Breakups, According to a Psychologist
When celebrities break up, we often take it to heart, even though we've never even met them. What gives?
David-Fisher/REX/Shutterstock“Love is dead,” we say, reading yet another story of a celebrity split. We likely don’t know the Hollywood stars, let alone have a close relationship with them, and yet, here we are mourning the tragedy with friends and on social media as if it were a personal loss.
Apparently, it’s not unusual to feel completely heartsick over a celebrity breakup, according to Lindsay Henderson, PsyD, a psychologist who treats patients virtually via telehealth app, LiveHealthOnline. “Generally speaking, part of the general public’s ever-present fascination with the lives of celebrities stems from the fact that we tend to view celebrities as successful people,” she says. “As such, we strive to emulate, replicate, or learn from their actions in an attempt to be successful ourselves.”
Chris Pratt and Anna Faris are the most recent example of this dynamic. They announced their breakup earlier this week, explaining that they “tried hard for a long time” and are “really disappointed.” The couple was far from alone in that. Thousands took to social media to express their sadness. One user wrote, “Honest to God more sad about Chris Pratt and Anna Faris separating than I was about my own parents’ divorce.” Other notoriously heart-wrenching breakups include Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, and Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert. (Here’s how to get over your own breakup.)
“When a celebrity couple breaks up, the part of ourselves that we try to model after the celebrity, whether consciously or unconsciously, is questioned and even injured,” Dr. Henderson explains. “Our over-identification with the celebrity ends up causing personal discomfort, and because we have elevated them to having achieved such enviable success, their failings can sometimes be more troubling to us than those of the people in our lives that we actually know and have relationships with.”
Aside from seeing stars on television, in movies, or on the concert stage, we elevate them on an everyday basis via social media. “Fans of Anna Faris and Chris Pratt, in particular, loved how the couple expressed their affection for one another often on social media,” Dr. Henderson says. Earlier this summer, Pratt took to Instagram to express his love and gratitude for his wife on Mother’s Day. This presents a sort of fantasy to fans—one they think cannot be tainted or harmed under any circumstances. (But, don’t get carried away yourself. This is what you should never, ever post about your relationship on social media.)
The sadness felt by celebrity breakups do, of course, point back to our own reality. “A breakup is a rude reminder that the pain and struggle that comes with a negative event can happen to anyone; if divorce can happen to them, it can certainly happen to us too,” Dr. Henderson adds.
Luckily, all hope is not lost, and we can mentally prepare for the next celebrity split so it doesn’t feel as devastating. First, it’s important to recognize and acknowledge how upsetting these breakups can be. “It is good to remind ourselves that celebrities are normal people facing the same basic human emotions and struggles that everyone else does, especially if you find your emotional responses to events in their lives seeming a bit disproportionate,” Dr. Henderson says. After that, it’s all about not trying to emulate celebrities’ lifestyles, but instead, living through your own journey. Here’s another interesting fact: this is why we call them “white lies.”