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Social media has been blamed for breeding narcissists, but the fact of the matter is, narcissists have always existed. Social media has just given them an extra tool to terrorize people. Here are five ways malignant narcissists – those without empathy and with an excessive sense of entitlement – use social media to exploit, manipulate and destroy their victims:
1. To triangulate.
Social media is a veritable playground for malignant narcissists. It gives them easy access to multiple victims and the ability to manufacture love triangles in covert, insidious ways. In order to understand how and exactly why narcissists use these platforms for such petty power plays, it’s essential that we remember that they tend to be insatiable in their attention-seeking and their desire to create harems of people who adore them. They will, of course, deny that they are doing this – and it’s easy to convince anyone who is suspicious of their behavior that such a focus on their online behavior is “crazy.”
For example, observe what a self-confessed gaslighter told BBC news when asked about the role his gaslighting played in covering his tracks on social media:
“Paula was extremely intelligent, but I was aware that I was leaving traces of infidelity in the digital world, on social media,” says Greg. He said he made jokes over a period of time pointing to her ‘obsession’ with social media, making her feel that she was suspicious in an unhealthy, even ‘crazy’ way. “I deliberately used demeaning language to make her lose confidence in her reading of the situation, of my infidelity. She was ‘paranoid’, she was ‘crazy’, she was ‘full of drama’. I’d say this all as jokes. But they would build over time, and she then started to believe.”
– Megha Mohan, Cheating and manipulation: Confessions of a gaslighter
Now, it’s certainly possible for someone lower on the spectrum of toxicity to aggravate their partners with their lack of discretion and loyalty without meaning to; sometimes garden-variety jerks or cheaters are not even fully cognizant they could be caught. However, true, full-fledged narcissists create love triangles deliberately in order to provoke their significant others. They enjoy seeing their reactions to their despicable behavior. They trespass the boundaries of their relationships frequently and with malice, with the intention of skirting accountability and with callous disregard for the feelings of their victims.
Narcissistic partners can flirt with numerous people by sending them messages on Facebook, inappropriately commenting on their photos with sexual or obscene messages for all to see, ‘following’ a number of shady accounts, as well as posting photos of themselves with exes, crushes, and people with whom they’re having affairs, all under the guise of them being ‘friends.’ Should their victims ever call them out on their strange behavior, the narcissist will then gaslight the victim into thinking he or she is going crazy.
2. To infiltrate.
Imagine that narcissists are like trained spies in the figurative Trojan horses that are social media accounts. They want to know anything and everything about you, so that they can later use your wounds against you. Having access to your social media accounts can give them an easy way to find out more about your likes, interests, hobbies, and desires. Remember, it’s possible for even a complete stranger to find out your life story should they do the due diligence of looking through your photos, your tagged posts, even your ‘About Me’ section. These investigative digs are crucial for the narcissist’s love-bombing stage, where they are first pursuing you with ardent fervor and need to unearth your vulnerabilities to do so.
It is also valuable for the devaluation stage, as it allows them to assess whether you’d be a viable target for their pity ploys and mind games. Solution? Don’t give them much access in the first place. Be selective about who you allow into your online spaces and make your privacy a top priority. It’s a good rule to have regarding anyone, regardless of whether or not they’re toxic, because it allows intimacy to unfold naturally at its own pace. By doing this, you communicate an important boundary to those around you: trust has to be built organically and cannot be earned blindly.
“Manipulative love bombers don’t just walk up and say: ‘We belong together.’ They have to give you evidence that it’s true. That’s why they target the vulnerable. Masquerading as ‘good listeners,’ the bomber gathers intel on your likes, dislikes, insecurities, hopes, and dreams. Before you know it, they’re saying you have so much in common, therefore you must be soul mates.”- Dale Archer, M.D., Why Love-Bombing In A Relationship Is So Devious
3. To stalk and harass you.
We all know that narcissistic ex-partners don’t leave us alone, even after the ending of a relationship. Even if you block them, they can make fake social media accounts to ‘check up’ on your whereabouts. They can create anonymous e-mails to send you daily or monthly taunts. They can even troll you on your work-related platforms if you have a public presence. This is all a way to make you feel unsafe. It’s a way to cast micro-assaults on your agency online. To feel as if someone is always “watching,” and monopolizing your existence, whether in real life or online, can be terrifyingly brutal. It creates a sense of violation that is unfortunately rarely prosecuted in realm of the law.
It’s important to protect your privacy; ensure that no information you would want the narcissist to know is available for public view. Block any and all accounts associated with your narcissistic abuser, including those of your mutual friends (who can also be asked to spy on you by the narcissist). Document all incidents of cyberbullying and trolling. Research the cyberbullying laws in your state. Ask for the support of people you trust to intervene on your behalf, if necessary and appropriate to the situation (for example, hire a moderator for your online platforms if you have a pesky narcissist that keeps coming back). The only way out from the scrutiny of their watchful eye is through diligent self-protection.
4. To self-aggrandize.
Impression management is vital to a narcissist. Researchers Gnambs and Appel (2017) confirmed in a recent study that grandiose narcissists (those with an inherent belief in their own superiority) are more likely to be found glorifying themselves on social media as opposed to more vulnerable narcissists with lower self-esteem.
“The meta-analysis of the 57 studies did in fact confirm the scientists’ assumptions. Grandiose narcissists are encountered more frequently in social networks than vulnerable narcissists. Moreover, a link has been found between the number of friends a person has and how many photos they upload and the prevalence of traits associated with narcissism.” – University of Würzburg, Narcissism and Social Networking
This comes, of course, to no surprise to those of us who have encountered grandiose narcissists online. Building a persona from scratch takes a great deal of work, but narcissists enjoy the fruits of their labor when they are able to use social media to disguise their true nature under a charitable mask and to build fan clubs that enable their toxic behavior.
Yet for a malignant narcissist, this behavior goes beyond self-absorbed selfies; it ventures onto a complete lack of self-awareness and empathy for others. Not everyone with numerous photos and thousands of friends will meet the criteria for full-fledged narcissism nor should these be the sole indicators of narcissism. Rather, it’s the level of grandiosity, contempt and entitlement that reveals who is on the narcissistic spectrum. Remember that a malignant narcissist uses social media not just as a hunting ground but as a platform for which to practice his or her grandiosity and assumed superiority. Engaging in lengthy monologues from their pulpit, their proposed morals bear little to no resemblance to their actual motives.
Grandiose narcissists exist to extol themselves while bullying others. They are the instigators of manipulative arguments on forums, the ones who carry out multiple counts of character assassination in place of a valid perspective. They include the seemingly philanthropic activists and leaders who try to attack the competition rather than focusing on the value of their own message. They are the vain, superficial models and somatic bodybuilders who create an audience mainly to cater to their presence.
They can come in many different shapes and sizes, but what they all share is an excessive sense of entitlement with little to no regard for the rights or needs of others. When the self-aggrandizing narcissist speaks, he or she demands you listen. They demand that they be accommodated to your spaces; they feel entitled to your time and your resources. They can fly into narcissistic rage if they don’t get the attention or the results they desire.
5. To bully and taunt.
Research reveals that online trolls possess the Dark Tetrad traits of narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. In other words, online narcissists take sadistic pleasure in provoking others. So it’s no wonder that many narcissists in cyberspace are the types who hand out death and rape threats as easily as they would party invites. Misogynistic trolls are an example of how malignant narcissism manifests in digital spaces; they are cruel, they are callous and they are violent in their threats and insults.
“Trolls will lie, exaggerate, and offend to get a response. What kind of person would do this? Some Canadian researchers decided to find out. They conducted two online studies with over 1,200 people, giving personality tests to each subject along with a survey about their Internet commenting behavior. They were looking for evidence that linked trolling with the “Dark Tetrad” of personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism. They found that Dark Tetrad scores were highest among people who said trolling was their favorite Internet activity.” – Dr. Jennifer Golbeck, Internet Trolls Are Narcissists, Psychopaths and Sadists
Whether they’re harassing former exes or bullying complete strangers, empathy-deficient individuals are dangerous to the psyche of their victims. Online or offline, malignant narcissists leave a trail of ‘bodies’ wherever they go, leaving society and their future victims to pick up the pieces.