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Celebrity Worship Syndrome: When a Fan’s Obsession Becomes a Mental Disorder

harmless admiration for a star can transform into an addiction/ Photo By Yulia Grogoryeva via 123RF

 

Celebrities or those who are considered incredibly rich, famous, talented and influential, are often viewed as distinct from the “average” human being because of how the entertainment industry portrays them. The media presents them as if they were gods, showing the audience how glamorous their lifestyles are and how their beautiful image is unattainable to many.

It is very human to desire to look up to someone and want to imitate them. It is normal to be interested in celebrities lives and want to have a glimpse into their world of fame and fortune. In fact, Fischoff, a researcher of celebrity fans, says that is part of a human’s DNA. Since these celebrities are often viewed as “human gods”, in like fashion, they also have worshippers or cult-like followers who are referred to as fans.

In some cases, it may even be beneficial to have a favorite celebrity because they can be a source of inspiration. Being a fan, which may entail being engaged in the latest celebrity gossip, may be a fun distraction from an ordinary life.

Yet there is another side to being a fan or rather, what WebMD calls the “‘monster’ known as the superfan.”  What may have initially been considered harmless admiration for a star can transform into an addiction. When their interest in a star becomes an extreme obsession, this is no longer mere admiration. It is the manifestation of a mental disorder called the Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS).

What is Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS)?

Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS) is defined by Psychology Today as a disorder wherein an individual becomes intensely obsessed with every detail of a celebrity’s private life. This also described as by WebMD as a condition where “the devoted fan becomes increasingly addicted into the object of their attention, until their feelings begin to resemble addiction."

It was first featured in a study published in the British Journal of Psychology. Dr. Lynn McCutcheon and the co-authors of the research surveyed 600 people about how the view celebrities. Among the 600 participants, a third of them was shown to have CWS.

Fans who are affected by this condition make their favorite celebrity the center of their lives and attempt to even replicate their idol’s lifestyle. Basically, they come to replace their idol’s life with real life. It was also noted that avid celebrity worshippers are prone to having other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. CWS may also lead to social dysfunction.

According to the New York psychologist Abby Aronowitz, “Information about the celebrity, or any little thing from their life, is like a fix the worshipper must have--they are almost compelled to learn more, read more, know more. And it’s non-ending.”

 

Celebrity Worship Syndrome is a disorder wherein an individual becomes intensely obsessed with every detail of a celebrity’s private life/ Photo By polifoto via 123RF

 

Three Levels of CWS

In the study A Clinical Interpretation of Attitudes and Behaviors Associated with Celebrity worship, Dr. John Maltby and his colleagues write that CWS has three continuums which are:

Entertainment-social

This pertains to a fan’s affinity for a celebrity because of their perceived talent for entertaining people. The celebrity becomes the main topic for fellow fans.

Intense-personal

This refers to a fan having extreme and compulsive feelings towards their favorite celebrity. At this stage, their fascination with the celebrity begins to lean towards addiction.

Borderline-pathological

The Daily Mail deemed this as the most intense level of CWS. It involves having fantasies about the celebrity and is characterized by a fan exhibiting criminal or dangerous behavior.

 

there is still a risk that being a fan can develop the disorder/ Photo By Brian Jackson via 123RF

 

Absorption-addiction Model

Dr. James Houran, one of the co-authors of the study headed by Dr. McCutchion, says that although simply being a fan does not equate to being dysfunctional, there is still a risk that they can develop the disorder. Houran and McCutcheon theorize that this intense fascination may stem from the fans seeking fulfillment in their lives. It may progress further as the fan continues to be caught up in the details of their favorite celebrity. As they begin to feel that they know the celebrity better, they develop an emotional attachment towards them. From there, it becomes a full-blown, uncontrollable obsession.

Based on the absorption-addiction model which psychologists use, people become drawn to celebrities when they are trying to find their direction in life or searching for their own identity. This explains why people in their teenage years are especially susceptible to having an extreme obsession with the celebrity. If a teenager is going through a difficult situation, such as witnessing the death of a family member, their “absorption” of the celebrity’s life may turn into an “addiction”.

Treatment

Psychmind says the most effective approach to CWS is to keep the celebrity worshipper distracted and busy. They should try to participate in other activities and try to avoid celebrity news. They should also lessen the time they spend on reading magazines and their internet usage by 15 minutes. It is suggested that they also focus on enhancing their social relationships by spending more time with their friends and family. If the individual is suffering from a serious case of CWS, they should undergo therapy and medication when necessary.

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