The Internet is a playground for narcissists.
While we all love it and what it can do for us and couldn’t imagine our lives without it, the nature of the Internet provides narcissists with the biggest prop in their act and the strongest weapon in their arsenal.
Ironically, despite the fact that it all takes place virtually, which tends to make things more ambiguous, it makes the false version of reality narcissists construct just a little more real. This happens by allowing them to cast just enough light and shadow in all the right places so that the ambiguity can be manipulated to their advantage at any given moment.
Below are twelve specific ways that narcissists use social media. All of these things can be done without social media, of course, but with apps such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, the reach is farther and the mind games can be so much more intense. By exploiting all the contradictions the Internet poses between anonymity and public exposure, they are able to take their abusive and destructive behavior to a whole new level.
What Are Narcissists Doing With Their Social Media Accounts?
1. Getting Attention and Gaining Narcissistic Supply.
On each social media app such as Facebook, narcissists have a different harem of “followers” ready to put likes, hearts, emojis, and comments on new selfies snapped and posted whenever he or she needs a pick-me-up. Furthermore, when narcissists do post, they are often either bragging or saying something to elicit sympathy, knowing full well that their followers will give them the attention and praise they desire.
They keep a note in the back of their heads of anyone who has anything to say that doesn’t sound like praise (hence, criticism to a narcissist) and may even delete it. But their admirers will likely come to their defense before they have to do that.
2. Love-Bombing You.
Social media is a now a primary mechanism through which the narcissist can woo you. Narcissists may post pictures of the two of you or make posts declaring themselves head over heels in love with you. They may go to your own Facebook wall and make posts about how much they love you by posting song lyrics or dropping a meme with a heartfelt poem in it.
When you are being idealized, your social media feed will be filled with praise, affection, and, admiration, making you feel on top of the world. Yet, in truth, it’s actually a very shallow gesture, as it takes no real investment of time– for example, it takes only a couple of seconds to post a picture or make a comment from anywhere– even the bathroom when they are out with another partner. Usually, there is no real creativity or originality behind the posts. Because of the very public nature of the posts and the fact that it’s a lasting, written declaration of emotion, however, it can be very flattering and intense and the narcissist knows that it provides an illusion of strong engagement.
3. Trying to Make You Feel Insecure.
When you’re on the outs or in the devaluation period, narcissists will use social media to do the exact opposite of love-bombing you. For example, if you get into an argument, they will defriend or block you. They may even delete their own photos of the two of you or remove likes on photos of yours. They may post ambiguous statuses making you wonder about whether they still love you or want to be with you or not. You may see them interacting with others online or see that they’ve been online, but have ignored your messages for hours. Social media provides them with 24/7 access to an array of ways to keep you feeling unimportant and shut out if you’ve done something they don’t approve of, or to make you feel as if you have to work harder earn their love.
4. Monitoring You Online.
Narcissists don’t trust you and will use social media to learn more about who you know, how you know them and how you’re interacting with them when you’re online. They will ask you about everyone on your friends’ list that they think you’re attracted to. When men put likes or comments on my Facebook or Instagram posts, my ex would notice almost instantly and begin questioning me about why they had done so, as if leaving comments on social media posts has an external cause– or one I should be aware of. Once after a period of time where we had been broken up, I felt relieved when he added me back to Facebook. It was short-lived, however, when he immediately began grilling me about new friends I had added. He wanted to know where and how I had met them and why I had decided to add them (as if that was a strange thing to do), and made sarcastic comments about my having slept with my new male friends. Rest assured, your entire list of friends on every social media app is being constantly scrutinized, as well as your interaction with them.
5. Monitoring You Offline.
To monitor their partner’s behavior, some narcissists install tracking devices or keystroke loggers. Others may not go that far but still use the built-in functions of social media apps to monitor their partner’s whereabouts: time-stamps and GPS, or even live video and instant photo updates.
Are you where you said you were going to be and with the people you claimed would be there? Messaging apps like Viber have a built-in function that allows a user to click any message to see from where it was sent; this was an option my ex liked for us to leave on (except when he got angry– then he would shut his off). He also often asked me to send him a Snapchat from where I had told him I was going to be (and sometimes with the friend I’d said I’d be with). He never claimed he was monitoring me– he claimed he missed me and wanted to see a picture of me. Because Snapchats are instant and cannot be taken ahead of time, I became well aware it was monitoring when I once did not snap back to him exactly the picture he had asked for and it elicited a barrage of questions and accusations.
Online photo evidence on social media may also be scrutinized for clues about you and your “supposed” dishonesty. I once posted a picture on Facebook of myself with two of my female friends at a bar. Behind us, at the exact moment that the photo was snapped, a man happened to be passing behind us. He was facing away from us but his hand lightly rested on the top of my arm as he passed, because the bar was crowded and I assumed he was doing it as a gesture to avoid blatantly plowing through us. I hadn’t even noticed it at the time; as I said, it was very crowded.
The first thing my ex-boyfriend said when I sent him the photo was, “Who’s that?”
I had no idea what he was talking about. “That guy touching your shoulder.” ”
“You mean the guy walking by not even looking at us?” I responded as I scrutinized the photo trying to state the obvious. I was dumbfounded that that’s what he’d chosen to focus on.
My narcissist ex never believed me that I had no idea who the man was, much less had not ever held a conversation with him.
In another example, I once sent him a Snapchat of myself standing in a mirror in an outfit that I planned to wear later that evening, and his response was to snidely point out a belt that was lying on my bedroom floor in a mess of clothes that I’d tossed around while looking for something to wear. He insisted was a man’s. It was mine.
6. Stalking You During No-Contact or Discard Periods.
Narcissists are notorious for having multiple accounts on every social media app. This enables them to do a variety of things undetected by you and others and one of them is keeping up with what you are doing even after the two of you break up or when they have decided they don’t want to interact with you and you cut them out through blocking them.
Either they have to prove to themselves that they are the “good guys” and you are to blame for the breakup or “they were right about you all along” (for some perceived slight or imaginary scenario), or they will want to check up on you to see if you are in any position to offer any narcissistic supply and there is a chance they can hoover you.
7. Keeping Tabs on Everyone They’ve Ever Been Involved With.
In fact, it isn’t just us they stalk. They keep up with everyone they want to keep in their back pockets. Social media has had the unfortunate effect of making it difficult for exes to disappear completely from one another’s lives as used to be the case, but this is good news for narcissists. Social media is tailor-made for them to look up anyone with whom they have ever been involved and, if not outright become friends with them on social media, at least monitor what they have been doing.
Narcissists do not ever really break up with you in the traditional sense and think of their ex-partners as their property. Keeping tabs is the first step toward one day “dropping in” on their lives as if no time had passed, which they feel they have every right to do, in order to extract narcissistic supply in the form of attention or anything else they think there might be a chance of obtaining from a more sustained interaction.
8. Carrying on Multiple Relationships.
As mentioned above, love-bombing you provides the illusion of an investment without an actual investment. Because it takes so little time, if a person–such as a narcissist– is so inclined, it takes a relatively insignificant amount of time to provide that same attention to multiple people. Imagine being able to provide that illusion to several people at once!
By strategically sending messages timed at the right time that say the right thing, narcissists can maintain what feels like “close” relationships with more than one person at a time. They can use social media technology to fake being in certain locations or fake being asleep to explain a gap in interactions or why they can’t meet up.
In addition, many apps will allow narcissists to control and restrict who can see what so that the wrong people don’t see a public message (e.g., the secondary sources of supply the narcissist doesn’t want people to know about), or that a private message doesn’t pop up at the wrong time (such as when the narcissist is with any of the partners physically). With a little careful app management, narcissists can carry out the illusion that they are heavily involved in the lives of several people without any of the others knowing about it.
9. Triangulating You with Others.
The purpose of triangulation is to make themselves feel in high demand so they will then feel important, and also to make you feel as if they are in high demand so you’ll work harder to stay in their lives. Because they are always using social media to keep tabs on their exes and often carry out other relationships with it as well, it becomes easy to just use some of the interactions or information from those activities to intentionally triangulate you with others and try to make you jealous.
For example, they will friend exes they told you were crazy and who they were mortal enemies with. They will manufacture jealousy in you on purpose by putting likes on their pictures and then making excuses for it. “I just felt sorry for her.” “She put a like on my picture, so I put one on hers.” “It was an accident.” “You didn’t see that. You must be mistaken” [after they remove it]. They will also post statuses that are ambiguous. Are they for you or for someone else?
What social media does for triangulation purposes where the narcissist is concerned is provide you with so many opportunities to see it and provide plausible deniability. It’s a double-whammy. The narcissist gets to gaslight or blameshift on top of it if you’re the one to point out the triangulation.
10. Finding New Targets.
The possibilities for sniffing out potential new members of the harem are limitless. They can use dating apps or they can use traditional social media apps. Where the latter is concerned, they can scour their friend’s pages for potential targets that appear attractive in some way and “friend” or “message” them, review their pages and pictures for clues about who they are and use the information they learn as conversation fodder to make it appear that they have a lot in common with each other.
They don’t seem particularly picky. Once my ex-boyfriend became paranoid about Facebook’s messaging app and who I had been talking to during a “break-up period,” so I offered to let him look– if he let me look in his. Although I’m not sure why he made this agreement given what I saw, he did, and when he handed over his phone, I was surprised to see that over the last week or so, he had sent a “Hi” message to approximately fifteen or twenty different women he had on his friends’ list. Most of them hadn’t responded, but when they did, he quickly steered the conversation from what they were doing at the moment to when he would be able to see them and take them out, sometimes saying the exact thing to more than one woman at once.
I didn’t understand the significance of this behavior at the time, but Shahidi Arabi writes in Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare, “A sociopath walks into a bar. He scans the room, narrowing in on 3 or 4 possible targets. He gets 7 phone numbers before the club closes. That night and early in the morning and through the next day, he sends text messages to them every hour until 2 of them make a date with him. A week later, he moves in with one of them, bringing only one suitcase and carrying his laptop. She can’t believe she has found such great love!”
His end game would not have been to move in with someone, but whatever it was, it was apparent that, as in Arabi’s description, he was not picky. It seemed only to be a numbers game.
11. Feeding Porn and Sex Addictions.
Many narcissists, somatic narcissists, in particular, are avid users of pornography. They find creative ways to satisfy these needs using social media that extend beyond traditional online pornography websites on the Internet. They may also use any social media app with a video feature to pressure or coerce women into removing clothing or more for their own enjoyment, and they will seek out women who are willing to provide them with this entertainment for free. My ex used to troll dating websites with a fake name and an ambiguous picture looking for women to send him photos, or to Skype or Snapchat with him.
12. Maintaining Appearances.
Finally, one of the most important uses of social media is maintaining appearances, because this is what ties everything together. Nothing else illicit that they do by using social media would work without this strategy. It is also the glue that helps hold together what any shady behavior they may be engaging in offline would otherwise tear apart as well.
Think of it as a management function. The idea is to be able to use every feature, function and, setting in their social media apps to tell the story they want people in their lives to currently know about them. This will include which people in their past and which of their current sources of supply are blocked or unblocked; who is allowed to see what via restricted settings; what the relationship status shows and to whom it is shown; whether he or she posts any pictures with a partner, which partner, and whether it is a public photo that anyone can see; which social media accounts are linked together; and what they want people to believe about their partners, past and present (i.e., who is being smeared and who is being idealized). They will suppress any narratives that don’t conform with the version of the story they want everyone to believe.
Narcissists will never focus on only one person at a time, however, they may want people to believe that they are doing so. They will strategically ensure that the right people see what they want them to see to keep that illusion going, and they will ensure that people who are possible or actual sources of supply will have no knowledge that there is a main source– or at least that they are not it.
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