Social Media Platforms, Narcissists, Borderlines and Histrionics: The Lure of Blogs, Facebook and MySpace
Over the last few months, many Shrink4Men readers have posted comments about how much time their spouses, girlfriends and exes spend on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter personal blogs and other social media platforms like mommy and bridal websites. Their behavior goes far beyond the typical sharing of family photos or funny news links. These individuals create their own public-relations-spin-control-propaganda-I-am-the-center-of-the universe profiles, networks and feeds.
One recently divorced reader’s (Still Recovering) ex-wife became obsessed with her profile and “friends” on a popular bridal site, TheKnot, and then a newlywed site, TheNest. His ex maintained her elaborate profile post-divorce—including photos of him and their wedding—and communicated with her followers as if they were still married. After repeatedly requesting that she remove his photos, he publicly outed her regarding the divorce. His ex and her online friends erupted into a flame war in which they portrayed him as the abusive psycho rather than his ex-wife who was masquerading as a perennial bride-newlywed in order to maintain her status and feel special. Still Recovering suspects that his ex-wife may, in fact, be a narcissistic personality.
Other readers report that their wives, girlfriends and exes spend inordinate amounts of time every day fine tuning their profiles and posting updates in which they portray themselves as busy “super moms/super wives/super martyrs” who single-handedly run their households and take care of their children and husbands. One wonders how they do all of this while spending most of the day online.
What’s the connection between narcissism and social media?
Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and MomLogic are innocuous enough for average users who want a fun and convenient way to connect and stay in touch with peers, friends and family. However, social websites are an endless source of attention, self-promotion, self-aggrandizement and a sophisticated weapon for many narcissists, histrionics, borderlines and other self-obsessed, abusive personality types.
University of Georgia researchers Laura Buffardi and W. Keith Campbell (2008) found that Facebook profiles can be used to gauge narcissism. Buffardi and Campbell observed that the number of friends and wall posts people collect and predilection for glamorous profile photos vs. snapshots is correlated to how narcissistic they are in their daily offline lives.
The Columbia Daily Tribune reports: “Facebook provides a rather accurate method of ego estimation because this quantity-over-quality online attitude mimics real-life behavior in which narcissists concern themselves only with how things appear to others. Facebook permits any narcissist with Internet access to assemble an army of pseudo friends, employ the help of a thesaurus in writing contemplative wall posts and upload only photos in which the subject’s nose looks almost proportionate. By controlling every aspect of one’s profile, a user can create a compelling identity similar to the one that person implements in reality, but better.”
Social media platforms seem to hold appeal for narcissists and other relationship-challenged individuals for the following reasons:
1. Ms. Popularity. It allows her to have superficial relationships with lots of people at once, which gives her the appearance of popularity and all of its trappings. For example, “Look at how many friends I have! See what an amazing person I am. Everyone wants to be my friend.” Amassing friends on social websites is akin to the philatelic childhood pastime of collecting baseball cards. It doesn’t really say anything about one’s character except that you have a lot of free time on your hands and/or are willing to “friend” or be “friended” by just about anyone in order to gain another illusory popularity point.
“Friendship on these sites focuses a great deal on collecting, managing, and ranking the people you know. Everything is designed to encourage users to gather as many friends as possible . . . This promotes a form of frantic friend procurement” (Rosen, 2007). Social websites aid and abet some narcissists and borderlines to relate to people as objects. Their “friends” are thumbnail images to be added, ranked and deleted according to their fluctuating valuation and devaluation like moving pieces on a checkerboard. “You didn’t validate me. You’re going to the bottom of my friends list!”
2. Avoiding intimacy. Many narcissists prefer the superficial online relationships social sites provide because it’s easier to avoid the possibility of exposure, disapproval, rejection and heartache that true intimacy and emotional vulnerability entail. “Friendship is a relationship which, broadly speaking, involves the sharing of mutual interests, reciprocity, trust, and the revelation of intimate details over time and within specific social (and cultural) contexts” (Rosen, 2007). Most people understand that their 200-plus contacts on Facebook or MySpace aren’t friends in the true sense of the word. However, most narcissists, histrionics and borderlines aren’t most people. They view these friendships as “real.” Instant, superficial relationships are their comfort zone. Facebook friends are props—just like boyfriends and husbands—who provide them with a false sense of normalcy.
Wendy Behary, author of Disarming the Narcissist, told ABCNews.com, “At the core of most people who are narcissistic, underneath they often feel inadequate, lonely [and] a sense of shame because they haven’t learned the skills to connect with someone in a real way. Facebook allows them to stay in hiding.”
Another recent study conducted at University of the Pacific found that “those who engaged in romantic communication over MySpace tend to have low levels of both emotional intelligence and self-esteem” (Dong, Uristra & Gundrum, 2008). These platforms allow individuals to mask their massive interpersonal deficits such as warmth, depth and a lack of empathy.
3. Easy to use, convenient and time efficient. Most narcissists and borderlines constantly complain about how “busy” they are without ever seeming to accomplish anything. However, based upon their prolific tweets, blog entries and Facebook updates, they have ample time to endlessly focus on their problems, grievances, personal valuations and devaluations and smear campaigns against those whom they believe have abandoned them or hurt them in some way.
Additionally, conducting a smear campaign the old-fashioned way—individual phone calls, face-to-face conversations—takes a lot of time and energy. Blogs, MySpace, Twitter and Facebook allow them to broadcast their lies, distortions, inflated “accomplishments” and messages of hate to the web with a simple click of the mouse. Modern technology at its best!
4. Me, myself and I. She gets to focus on her favorite subject: Herself. A personal profile page is all about the individual. The narcissist is the leading lady or star of her or his own universe. A social profile page is the perfect vehicle upon which to project her or his false self. Social websites are like interactive mirrors.
She can portray herself in the best possible light no matter how unfounded it is in reality. She can post her most recent wannabe supermodel/vixen mobile phone photos and obsess over which ones are the most flattering. She can post her most recent profound insights and her never-ending list of grievances of people who have wronged her. Her profile is all about her all the time.
5. Spin, baby, spin! Social media sites allow individuals total spin control. Buffardi states,”For people with narcissistic qualities, social networking sites are effective vehicles of self-promotion. Online, they can assemble armies of casual friends, choose the photos in which they look most attractive and, through quotes and comments about themselves, create a compelling personal narrative” (ABC News). They can create whatever illusion they like and collect “thumbs ups” from their friends, sycophants and, for those who use social media platforms to harass and stalk others, collect minions to mob their current target of blame.
“Facebook, and its brethren, would seem to be a narcissist’s dream; these individuals want the world to think as highly of them as they think of themselves, and social networking sites allow a high degree of control over what information about a person gets presented to the public. This ranges from photos and quotes to ostensible measures of popularity, such as the number of connections a person has made” (Arstechnica).
6. Emotional terrorism. Many narcissists, borderlines, histrionics, antisocials and other abuse-prone types are gifted when it comes to knowing how to find your sore spots. They intuitively use social networking sites to lash out, attack and hurt others while portraying themselves as the injured party. Many conduct smear campaigns via their blogs and profile pages. “They tend to use their site to put other people down. Narcissists need to have power over others. They tend to be manipulative, using people for their own advantage” (AssociatedContent).
Many of these individuals also use these platforms to cyber stalk, cyber bully and cyber harass their targets. They use these platforms to keep track of who you’re chatting with, your activities, photos and whereabouts. Some go so far as to contact your contacts to trash you, to attack “that new skank you’re dating” or even contact the friends and colleagues of the new woman you’re dating to smear her. In the wrong hands, social media websites can be highly effective weapons.
These aren’t new behaviors for narcissists, borderlines, histrionics, sociopaths and other emotional terrorists. It’s the same old-same old. However, technology has increased their ability to simultaneously reach a wider audience in a highly controlled and efficient way. It’s like war. War has been around since humans were able to pick up rocks and throw them. However, with modern technology, we can now kill hundreds of thousands of people at once instead of one at a time with a spear. Technology also allows abusive emotional terrorists, bullies, narcissists, borderlines, histrionics and sociopaths the ability to do the same.
For example, a crazy ex no longer has to go through elaborate machinations to choreograph an “accidental” run in with you, herself and a new boyfriend. She can post photos of herself with victim du jour and Facebook sends out an alert to all of her “friends.” They’re the same old behaviors, but the method of delivery is more immediate and sophisticated.
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- Buffardi, L.E. & Campbell, W.K. “Narcissism and Social Networking Websites,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 34, No. 10, 1303-1314 (2008).
- Facebook takes narcissism to a new level. Columbia Tribune.
- Facebook: Where narcissists connect? ABC News.
- Rosen, C. “Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism,” The New Atlantis, Number 17, Summer 2007, pp. 15-31.
- Dong, Q., Urista, M. & Gundrum, D. “The Impact of Emotional Intelligence, Self-Esteem and Self-Image on Romantic Communication over MySpace,” CyberPsychology & Behavior, October 2008, 11(5): 577-578.
- Facebook profiles out narcissists. LiveScience.
- Social media is for narcissists. Mashable.
- 5 Ways to spot a narcissist from their Facebook page. AssociatedContent.
- Narcissists easy to spot on Facebook if you know how. arstechnica.
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