If you've ever been mercilessly teased by your friends and family for your emotional reactions as you watch the heartbreaks and tragedies unfold on your favorite television shows (we're looking at you, "Grey's Anatomy" and "This is Us"), it's time to give yourself a pat on the back, because as it turns outs, feeling emotionally invested in television characters is actually healthy.
Being attached to fictional television characters comes with an array of benefits, including increased self-esteem, decreased feelings of loneliness, and a sense of belonging, according to psychology experts. And as TIME reports, feeling connected to these characters can also increase your levels of emotional intelligence.
Although these relationships with TV show characters are one-sided, they still mimic some of the benefits of a real-life friendship.
"The interesting thing is that our brains aren't really built to distinguish between whether a relationship is real or fictional," Jennifer Barnes, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oklahoma, told TIME. "So these friendships can convey a lot of real-world benefits."
And that connection is made even more real by the fact that you spend so much time "together."
"If a writer of a show decides to do something bad to that character or, heaven forbid, kill that character off, you're left with a very real emotional response," Dr. Barnes said. "When you spend an hour every week with a person for an entire television season, they really do become a sort of friend — so it's totally normal to feel upset over them."
The attachment you have with these characters also helps you better recognize emotions and thoughts in other people. In a November 2015 study conducted by Barnes and a co-author, two groups of participants — one that watched an episode of "The Good Wife," and one that didn't watch television at all or preferred non-fiction — were asked to identify emotions in photos of faces. The group that watched the drama were better able to recognize the correct emotions than the group that didn't watch fictional TV.
Plus, sometimes it just feels really. darn. good. to cry when you're watching your favorite show. So the next time your turn on your go-to tearjerker, grab the tissues and let it all out — you'll be better off for it!