By Mandy Parsons
Most of us have been sucked into the drama of a reality TV program, and for good reason. Reality TV, by nature, is alluring. It provides viewers an alternate, often better, reality than their own.
Reality romance shows like Love Island, Love Is Blind, and The Bachelor franchise are especially popular. For a few hours a day, we too can escape with beautiful people to 5-star resorts in exotic locations, seeking “true love” with no responsibilities or repercussions.
But do these programs truly represent “reality,” or rather a manufactured story line to keep you tuning in week after week? We all have guilty pleasures in life, some more harmful than others. However, is it possible that media influence on relationships is greater than we think? And, if so, how does reality TV influence us for the worse?
Reality TV: Reality or Not?
When considering this question, we must define reality TV by its intended purpose: entertainment. As such, reality programs are not always as they seem. A recent critique of Netflix’s Too Hot To Handle by MSN confirmed this by indicating how multiple elements are manipulated within reality TV programming.
“Whether it’s how controlled the environment is, what role the producers play in proceedings, or how the contestants themselves are allowed to act,” wrote Screen Rant’s George Chrysostomou, “the nature of the reality genre is that not everything is as real as it first appears to be.”
TODAY reported back in 2012 that even Mike Fleiss, creator and executive producer of The Bachelor, said, “More often than not, reality shows aren’t the real deal.” This sentiment is corroborated by former reality show contestants who testify to being coerced to say and do certain things to further a prescribed narrative, according to Cosmopolitan.
If Hollywood’s version of reality is primarily meant for entertainment, is it safe to use these shows as a roadmap for navigating real-life relationships?
So, if Hollywood’s version of reality is primarily meant for entertainment, is it safe to use these shows as a roadmap for navigating real-life relationships?
How Does Reality TV Influence Us?
The behaviors we see on reality TV programs are not beneficial for healthy relationships. Conflict, malice, and negative emotional energy may fuel TV ratings, but they can be detrimental off-screen.
NPR cites a study by Central Michigan University psychologist Bryan Gibson that found watching reality shows that contain a lot of “relational aggression — bullying, exclusion and manipulation” — can make viewers more aggressive in real life.
Media influence on relationships extends beyond group dynamics to friendships and romantic partners as well. By engaging these made-up scenarios, we subconsciously set unrealistic expectations about how our own romantic relationships should work or appear.
With these expectations can come some potentially toxic consequences, such as staying in a relationship longer than you should, downplaying problematic behavior, and avoiding confrontation because of the belief that he or she is your soulmate, shares BBC.
Furthermore, viewers are rarely privy to harmful consequences that arise after the cameras stop rolling, especially those involving mental health.
How Does Reality TV Affect Mental Health?
Many reality TV contestants have suffered deteriorating mental health after leaving their shows: Anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide are among the conditions reported by Women’s Health. In 2020, Refinery29 estimated at least 28 suicide deaths among reality stars nationally, and 38 internationally.
But the negative mental health effects of reality TV are not limited to participants. Here are a few signs that you may be too invested in reality TV:
- You Feel Isolated
Are you escaping a little too often for a little too long? Are you skipping out on interactive activities to stay home and binge your favorite reality TV program? If so, you may need to evaluate reality TV’s impact on your social life.
- You Feel Insecure
Too much reality TV exposure can chip away at your self-esteem. It’s easy to compare your body or life to those on TV and feel like you fall short. No form of entertainment should ever make you question your self-worth.
- You Feel Anxious or Depressed
Do you have a difficult time winding down after watching reality TV? Does the action and drama make you nervous or affect your ability to sleep or focus while at work? Prolonged exposure to the stressful circumstances presented in many reality TV shows can lead to bouts of anxiety and depression.
- You Experience a Skewed Sense of Reality
Are you unable to discern between fact and fiction? This is particularly true for youth, who take most of what they see or hear at face value. Also, reality TV can skew our perception of the world as a whole, normalizing unacceptable attitudes or behaviors.
Relationships in Real Life
So, what does “real-life” love look like? All relationships have their challenges, but healthy ones aren’t volatile, secretive, or manipulative. Use these guidelines as a gauge for your relationships:
- Treat each other with mutual respect
- Practice good communication
- Maintain trust as the foundation of your relationship
- Be honest with your partner
- Encourage each other to reach personal goals
- Set and respect healthy boundaries
- Have fun together
- Enjoy healthy time apart
- Value kindness and fairness in the relationship
- Resolve conflict considerately
If you are feeling disillusioned by love on TV or are experiencing any of the aforementioned mental health symptoms, please reach out. Our Claudia Black Young Adult Center offers groundbreaking inpatient treatment for those ages 18-26 who are struggling with emotional trauma, addiction, or mental health issues like depression, ADHD, or anxiety. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you.