Ah, the intersection of narcissism and social media. It’s a match made in heaven, or hell, depending on how you look at it.

Because the narcissist personality survives and moreover thrives on attention, reaching innumerable people at the speed of light is an irresistible method of gaining supply. Social media make it easy for the narcissist to present an idealized image of himself and his family, as well as to play the lurking attack troll to his dark heart’s content.

Projecting Perfection  

Users of social media by and large want to show a good face, but the narcissist seeks to project perfection and can’t resist the compulsion to outshine her peers. To appear popular, she may attempt to collect large numbers of “friends” and “followers” even if the vast majority are surface acquaintances or strangers. She tends to post often and show idealized images of herself and her life. She may regularly feature flattering closeups of her face or images that highlight her best physical qualities. She will often post images of herself on vacation, traveling, socializing, or attending important events to cultivate the perception that she is living “the high life.”

Using Others as Personality Props

When the narcissist posts images of his family members, they may appear more like lifestyle accessories or minor actors in a movie in which he is the lead. The narcissist’s need to look good is paramount, and posted images of his spouse, child, or friend may be awkward or unflattering.

On the other hand, she may use social media to highlight her idealized partner, favored golden child, or high-status friends. In that case, she may display her attractive mate or impressive friend, or she may show off her golden child, emphasizing that child’s activities, achievements, popularity, or cuteness/good looks. The scapegoated child, on the other hand, may be shown in a less positive light or be conspicuously absent.

The Problem of Reciprocity

But for the narcissist, unless he is a celebrity, social media has a downside. Its democracy of likes, shares, friends, views, and upvotes means he has to work at something he hates: reciprocity.

Lacking a genuine interest in others and being prone to jealousy and envy, the narcissist, particularly the overt type, will find it difficult to balance her desire for attention and admiration with returning such attentions. Her presence on social media may dominate that of her friends, and she may at times sound insincere in her shown interest. Depending on her age, she may thus prefer Twitter because she can tweet ‘til the cows come home and accumulate followers without necessarily following others.

TMI

Narcissists may also overshare or inappropriately bring their relationship, family, or friendship problems into social media public forums. Their competitive need to be right, to win, and to assert their superiority can lead them to act impulsively online, criticizing a spouse or ex, or dragging their grievances about a community issue or local business into public view.

Online Trolling

Narcissists’ rage and desire to dominate may also lead them to play the role of online “troll,” attacking community members or strangers with whom they happen to disagree, or even just playing devil’s advocate for the kick of it. Abusing others anonymously online is practically irresistible to the narcissist, particularly to the covert narcissist who prefers to keep his aggression and antagonism hidden.

Julie L. Hall’s articles on narcissism regularly appear in The Huffington PostPsychCentral, NYMedTimes, SmartNews, and YourTango. She is the author of a forthcoming memoir about life, and a few near deaths, in a narcissistic family (read excerpts). 

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Photo courtesy of Michael Coghlan, Creative Commons.