Teenagers - celebrity worship and self-harming?. How to help

Research shows that attachment to celebrities is a healthy part of development. However, some kids develop a problematic and mildly pathologic type of celebrity worship: they feel to have an intense and personal relationship with their celebrity friends and refer to them as soul mates.

When kids seek refuge in their own fantasies and drift apart from parents and peers, the healthy attachment becomes a problematic obsession. These kids were found to be lonely, with just few friends, and at the same time they were less attached to their parents (according to the researches of Dr. John Maltby and colleagues). These could represent strong risk factors for kids to develop a problematic type of celebrity worship.

A couple of months ago, singer Zayn Malik announced his decision to leave One Direction, one of the most famous boy-bands in the world. As a result of this, pictures emerged on social media from fans who appeared to have harmed themselves and were asking others to do so. This episode shows how serious celebrity worship can get.

Cutting and bruising are usually the manifestation of a strong suffering that adolescents are unable to express in a more constructive way. These kids go through a great deal of psychological pain; they usually feel sadness, anger, and loneliness, have low self-esteem and are unable to express these feelings with words. They are unable to elaborate their pain. When the pain gets too intense, they express it through their body since this is the only way for them not to be overwhelmed and to find a temporary relief.

Therefore, self-harm is related to high levels of psychological pain and may also be related to other syndromes. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) self-harming is one of the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder. It also arises in individuals who suffer of depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders and addictions.

There are different levels of self-harming from moderate to highly problematic and those who practise it don’t necessarily suffer of severe mental illness.

What can parents do to help?

If parents are concerned about the obsession of their kid for a celebrity, they can start a dialogue about this with him/her. Parents can investigate the reasons why he/she has chosen a particular celebrity to admire; what are the qualities that he/she appreciates in that star. Parents can then remind the child that celebrities are real and normal people as well; they can draw the attention of the kid on the positive qualities of celebrities, such as their commitment in good causes or their speech regarding problems such as addictions and eating disorders. Parents can stress the values celebrities have and how this could be a good example to follow.

If self-harming is present, the situation is more complicated. Parents should embrace a non-judgmental understanding and supportive attitude; they should avoid making the kid feel guilty or ashamed.

Parents can help the kid to express what they feel with their words and it’s important that the kid feels to be listened to: parents should learn to really listen to their kids and to give them their undivided attention to allow them to open and feel secure.

Then it would help if parents could understand. It may be very difficult for them but that’s the way forward for helping the healing. And of course they should contact a therapist for professional help for the kid and to get a support themselves to deal with this difficult situation.     

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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London, W8 6UG
Written by Francesca Moresi, HCPC, BPS and MBACP Registered
London, W8 6UG

Psychologist and psychotherapist qualified in England and in Italy, with over 10 years of study, research and practise with clients from around the world. I am expert in relationship counselling and I believe you are more powerful than you think: my method aims at guiding you towards reaching a unique perspective on life and relationships.

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