A teen girl sitting in her bedroom on her phone idealizes people on social media

What to Know About Idealization and Mental Health

May 8, 2023

3 min.

Learn about this defense mechanism’s signs, symptoms, and treatment.

By: Alex Bachert, MPH

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

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Table of Contents

To an extent, idealizing is part of growing up. Maybe you worship your older sibling or consider your Friday night hamburger to be the most perfect meal in the world. However, for some people, idealization is a psychological habit with real mental health consequences. Below, we share more about idealization, who it affects, and how to treat it. 

What is idealization?

Idealization is a mental process in which a person exaggerates the positive qualities and minimizes the imperfections in themself or others. It’s considered a defense mechanism that’s used to protect people from experiencing feelings of ambivalence toward a person, place, or thing that they idealize.

Idealization also helps people cope with anxiety by protecting them from emotional conflicts that can emerge in relationships. Instead of worrying if a relationship will work or not, idealization is a way to maintain the fantasy of perfection.

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Who experiences idealization?

Idealization is often part of a cycle that involves another coping mechanism called devaluation. Devaluation is when a person exaggerates negative qualities in themself or someone else.

This cycle occurs with different types of mental health conditions, including the following personality disorders.

  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD): A personality disorder that describes patterns of thinking and behaving that fall outside of what’s considered to be the social norm. People with BPD tend to hold themselves and others in either very high (idealization) or low regard, and those valuations can change quickly. This is especially true when it comes to a BPD’s favorite person — a family member, romantic partner, or someone in a supportive role that they rely on for comfort, validation, and joy.
  • Narcissistic personality disorder: A personality disorder defined by an inflated sense of self-importance, vanity, and narcissism. People with narcissistic personality disorder exhibit a cycle of emotional manipulation that consists of idealizing, devaluing, and discarding another person.

There are several common elements when a person with narcissistic personality disorder is in a romantic relationship. During the idealization stage, a person with narcissistic personality disorder may: 

  • Shower the other person with love bombing
  • Claim they’ve never met anyone like you before 
  • Make grandiose statements like you’re “the one” and “we’re soulmates” early in the relationship

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How can you stop idealizing?

Talk therapy can be used to help people manage harmful behavior patterns and defense mechanisms like idealization. It’s also effective for treating the mental and behavioral health conditions that are causing the idealization, as well as for learning how to be in a healthy relationship.

One form of talk therapy used to manage idealization is dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). A type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), DBT is an evidence-based practice that helps people address problematic thought patterns and emotions, both in one-on-one therapy and in group sessions. Specifically, it can help people:

  • Cultivate mindfulness
  • Develop coping methods for distress and disappointment
  • Regulate their emotions and difficult feelings
  • Improve their interpersonal relationships
  • Understand their truth

Learn more about idealization with Charlie Health

Have you noticed yourself idealizing someone or putting them on a pedestal? Do you question if you’re in a healthy relationship? If so, there is a thing or two you can do to understand your actions and manage any underlying mental health conditions. Charlie Health’s virtual intensive outpatient program (IOP) provides personalized mental health treatment for teens, young adults, and families dealing with mental health struggles, such as BPD and narcissistic personality disorder.

Our intensive outpatient treatment programs provide a high-quality, comprehensive treatment solution that includes group, family, and individual therapy. If interested, our team of compassionate, experienced clinicians are here to listen to your needs, answer any questions, and help start the healing process.

Contact Charlie Health today.

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