Much of social media seems to both attract people who are already narcissists, as well as inflame narcissistic traits in people who aren’t that way to begin with. But how exactly do narcissists use social media?
That’s what we’re going to look at in this post, examining the different ways narcissists use social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, TikTok etc, and how well they seem to already fit into the narcissistic mindset.
Narcissists mainly use social media to either feed off the positive attention of others, or to generate negative emotional reactions in others though overt or subtle abuse, triangulation or gas-lighting. They can also use social media to seek out and attempt to reconnect with old sources of “supply”.
In other words, narcissists are generally using social media to “feed” or “inflate” themselves psychologically in some way. Whilst a lot of people do this, what’s unique to the narcissist is that they can feed off positive OR negative attention on social media, so they’re happy to use these platforms to overtly and covertly abuse people and provoke reactions, as well as feed off attention.
Let’s look at some of the different ways narcissists exploit social media.
1. Self Promotion & Aggrandizement (“Supply”)
In many ways, social media platforms are perfectly built for narcissists, because they are heavily focused on validation (the “likes” model) and are often heavily materialistic, about visuals, optics and self promotion. Platforms like TikTok also pander to short attention spans, which also fits the narcissistic mindset perfectly. They love being in this world!
As well as being perfectly built for narcissists, there’s also evidence it vectors the other way, with these platforms also increasing narcissistic traits in people who would not have otherwise have been that way, such is the focus on garnering attention, seeking validation and feeding off the approval of others.
Given how the narcissist’s fragile identity is already propped up and “fed” by narcissistic supply – positive attention or external confirmation that their false view of themselves is true – they are in their element on social media.
Here are some ways narcissists can “feed” themselves on social media:
- Physically attractive narcissists who draw supply from this (somatic narcissists) will post pictures of themselves and feed off the attention and validation.
- Female narcissists especially will feed off “simps” or fawning male followers.
- The increasing use of “filters” to make people look more attractive also feeds narcissist’s in their false self image if not as attractive as they were (this feature is also deluding normal people and making them more narcissistic).
- The shallow “influencer” model is also perfect for narcissists, who are propaganda masters and can easily fool an audience into buying into a certain image/program/course/philosophy using social media (see here for a good example).
- Some narcissist can also be professional victims and play off the attention of victim-mentality posts very well.
- Some overt narcissists are also happy to court controversy (just another form of attention) on social media using deliberately provocative posts (the likes of Piers Morgan spring to mind).
The falseness and manufactured-ness of much of social media is perfect for the narcissist, for whom context is more important than content.
It does matter if they’re using a fake filter and look nothing like what they’re portraying to fawning followers, it just matters that they are getting the attention. The accuracy and truth of their posts don’t matter, as long as they are getting the likes. It doesn’t matter if the entire “brand” or image they’ve created on social media is completely fake and bears no resemblance to their real life, it just matters that they have positive attention and are able to “grift” an audience. Some high profile narcissistic people on platforms like Twitter probably don’t really believe the (deliberately) controversial and divisive views they post, they just care that they’re getting the attention and feeding off the reactions.
Social media platforms feed into this fake-ness perfectly and therefore attract a lot of narcissists.
2. Gaslighting & Other Abuse
Narcissists love the instant/personal messaging features on most social media platforms, because it allows them to control communications with others in a way that makes abusing them much easier.
Sometimes, their abuse can be more obvious, such as:
- Blatantly devaluing or abusive messages (sometimes happens in discard phase).
- Blowing up arguments over DMs over social media for no reason (some narcissists do this in the discard phase).
- Sending provocative messages designed to wind you up and start an argument on purpose (they want you to respond to draw you into conflict).
- Gas-lighting, where they try to invalidate your correct perception of something and invert reality, or make out you’re crazy for a perfectly understandable reaction (such as openly flirting with other people on social media).
- Social media platforms are also perfectly structured for them to abuse by triangulation, where they bring other people into the picture to provoke jealousy (see the section on this below).
- If they do manage to provoke negative reactions in you and get you to lose your composure, they will also show these DMs to others as part of a smear campaign they run on you, where they try to paint out to others that you’re “crazy” or “losing it”, using reactions they’ve deliberately provoked.
But sometimes their toxic communication on social media can be more sneaky, subtle and covert, which we’ll cover a little further below.
As far as to WHY narcissists seem to love communicating (especially in toxic ways), on social media, I think Cluster B abuse expert Richard Grannon captured why they love these platforms so much – it’s to do with the precision and control they can offer in the way they abuse others:
“Narcissists like using text, and Facebook, and Whatsapp, they love it. Because it permits them to very cleanly and in a very tyrannical way to control the communication.
When it’s face to face, there’s a lot more environmental factors that you need to balance in order to control the communication. But if it’s via text/message, you can be very precise”
In other words, they can more cleverly and precisely calculate the words they use, and how they use them, to inflict the maximum possible hurt to people they’re abusing. The wording can be very subtle and insidious and hit certain sensitive points or “buttons” they know the target has. There’s more time to plan and calculate their abuse versus interacting face to face in the moment, which is why narcissists and social media are such a toxic combination.
Sometimes it will be more overt and obvious and gas-lighting and abuse, but often narcissists like to be more covert and sneakier with the abusive messages they send on social media. They like to send those sort of messages that don’t “hit” you as abusive right away, but “sink in” after a while and you think to yourself “was that a dig they just took at me then?”. You might feel a “wrongness” in your body, but it might only hit after some time has passed.
Any narcissist who has known you for a while will have filed away what your weaknesses, vulnerabilities and traumas are, and they can use social media messaging to very precisely and subtly push these buttons. As soon as you start encountering these toxic communication patterns from people on social media, block them immediately and break off all contact.
This is really another form of abuse, but I still wanted to create a separate section on this, because the social media platforms unfortunately tend to be perfectly structured to feed this type of triangulation abuse, where they play you off against others and provoke jealousy in targets.
This is mostly done though the “likes”/”thumbs up” systems present on most social media platforms. Things might be seem to be going great with a narcissist partner initially, but then they start to pull away, becoming more cold, aloof, remote and distant, ignoring your posts and instead paying attention to others instead in a way that creates jealousy and ruminative distress (“what did I do wrong” type self questioning):
“Your (psychopath/narcissist) partner once directed all of their attention to you, which makes it especially confusing when they begin to withdraw and focus on other people. They do things that constantly make you doubt your place in their heart. If they’re active on social media, they’ll bait previously denounced exes with old songs, photos, and inside jokes. They attend to the “competition’s” activity and ignore yours.”
Jackson Mackenzie – see here
Again, the entire way social media is set up (the heavily validation based “likes” model) exacerbates this process. Narcissist ex partners will also post pictures/memes/conversations with the new partners they’re triangulating against you with, seemingly repeating the process they just went through with you with someone else, whilst completely ignoring you.
Again, narcissists are well aware that you’ll be checking up on their social media, and one major part of the intent for this behavior is to wind you up, to provoke a negative emotional response, to keep you obsessing and ruminating over them, because in their mind this means they still matter to you.
Here’s another quite from Grannon which nails this aspect of the narcissist’s mindset:
“Any and all communication is an opportunity for abuse (with narcissists).
That means if you choose to go and check them out on their social media, and look at what they are doing, they know very well that you do that. These are not stupid people; these are propaganda masters. These are psychological operations masters.
Even if they are not very bright, even if they have a very low IQ, they know very well at an instinctual level how to promote a certain image, and how to manage that image
So if you go looking on Instagram, Facebook etc, you will find communication on there passively that is a trap for you. That was deliberately put there to wind you up.”
This is why strict no contact is necessary when breaking off with narcissists, and this includes social media:
- Block and delete them on all social media accounts (NO exceptions)
- Do NOT ever check their accounts again to see what they’re up to, as there will be passive communication on there to annoy you.
- In some cases, it might be better to delete all accounts come off all social media altogether, either for a time (digital detox), or permanently, to rewire yourself.
- If you feel incapable of doing this and feel a compulsive need to keep checking up on the narcissist’s social media, it’s recommended to seek the help of a therapist.
After all the abuse, narcissists can also sometimes use social media to “circle back” after breakups, seemingly to try and rekindle with ex partners who they’ve abused and discarded.
It’s very important to be aware of this, since they can seem very charming with the way they do this, and make sure you a) ideally block them anyway so this never happens, and b) don’t fall for their nonsense act if they do manage to get through and re-contact you.
Here’s how it often goes.
- They’ll contact you again out the blue on social media or some other means. This is why no contact is important to stop them doing this. Fully block them on all social media accounts, and never check theirs ever again.
- They’ll try and go back to the seemingly innocent, sweet, caring image if this is what they initially reeled you in with.
- They may issue messages that are seemingly heartfelt apologies about how sorry they are about how they hurt you.
- There will be promises that the cheating, gas-lighting, projection, lying etc. won’t happen again.
- If you had been trying to get them to go to therapy because of their toxic behavior, they’ll promise to get help if you take them back.
- Any other changes that you wanted them to make first time but they never did, they’ll latch onto these and promise to do them now, or claim they are “growing/changing/evolving/self aware” now when they haven’t changed at all.
- The general message they’ll try to hoover you back in with is “I’ll be the person you always wanted me to be”. And social media contact will sometimes be the first route through which they try this “hoovering” process.
- If you do take them back, they’ll keep up these apparent changes for a while, then drop them and go straight back to the old, abusive patterns.
See our full article on a narcissist ex contacting you after a long time for more on this topic. Again, the “supply” model of narcissism offers a good explanation as to why they’re doing this – they’re seeking to rekindle with an old source of narcissistic supply to keep their fragile identity afloat. Perhaps their current supply is low, and the current person they’re with has seen through their act and moved on as well, so they’re addicts in need of a fix again (see here for an even deeper explanation for narcissist’s behavior in relationships).
But the bottom line recommendation is pretty simple – don’t fall for this nonsense. Do not respond to any message sent over social media, block them and never interact with them again.