Spend any length of time in the social media scene and you’ll almost certainly encounter a person with a severe psychological issue called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The psychiatrists’ DSM manual describes it as “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.” Narcissists (NPD people) have a “big personality” that is excessively preoccupied with personal adequacy, power and prestige. Everyone has some need for attention, but NPD people are pathologically obsessed with it.
Joe Pesci’s character in Goodfellas is a perfect example of malignant Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
He’s ruthlessly oversensitive to criticism and only feels alive when he’s the center of attention.
NPD is Commonplace in the Social Media Scene
People with NPD have a fragile, deeply wounded self-concept and they puff their ego up like blowfish in order to hide the flaw and overcompensate for it. Some use their cunning & charm to become materially successful and accomplished in the business world. A significant percentage of venture capitalists (VCs) have high-functioning NPD… and some of the online “rockstars” and glitterati do too. If you go to a big city tweetup or social media conference, you’re almost guaranteed to meet a clique of NPD people and their minions engaged in an ego-stroking circle jerk.
Deeply insecure NPD people puff up their ego and use defensive spikes to obfuscate their vulnerability. image: vociferious
Certain professions supply a continual buffet of ego food: politics, acting, modeling, television, pro sports and social media. Social media participation has no barriers to entry and take minimal skills – just drive and copious free time. It’s the perfect habitat for NPD people to put themselves on a digital pedestal and receive lots of one-way attention (“narcissistic supply”). The exhibitionist aspect provides endless opportunities for narcissists to reinforce their vanity and activate their grandiosity.
Identifying Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Narcissus was a Greek god who fell in love with his own reflection for so long, he starved. image: sahaja meditation
Some common characteristics of NPD types who inhabit the Web 2.0 / social media scene:
- Narcissists can be irresistibly charming. They appear to be so deeply in love with themselves that others get taken along for the ride with them. They develop polished communication and manipulation skills that can easily dazzle you like the Wizard of Oz. Narcissists “go big” leave an “epic” first impression on many people.
- Narcissists are all about themselves. A relationship with a narcissist is typically a “one-way street.” When the conversation is focused on the narcissist, they become alive and animated. When it’s someone else’s turn to talk or take the stage, they tend become distant and withdrawn.
- Narcissists lack empathy for others. Narcissists are impostors who are so wrapped up in the drama of their own internal world, they almost completely lack the ability to empathize with others. The best they can offer is “psuedo-empathy” of the type that a telemarketer offers during a closing pitch. They may act nice when they want something from you, but that’s about it.
- Narcissists are preoccupied with power, status, recognition, money, followers, fame. They will stop at nothing to get more fans, more followers, more time in the limelight, more accolades. They are relentless, inexhaustible social climbers who sometimes excel at sales, business development and executive roles. Many high-level narcissists use money and its privileges as the perfect bait to draw the chosen into their inner circle of loyal supporters and admirers.
- Narcissists are defensive & hypersensitive to criticism. NPD people protect their brittle self-esteem by launching biting, harsh attacks on those who dare to criticize and question them. They are also very controlling about how others view and think of them – by positively rewarding the praise and tyrannically punishing dissent. When it’s impossible for them to attack the critic directly, they’ll do anything in their power to block or sabotage their future success.
- Narcissists indulge themselves extravagantly. They’ll do anything to get first class travel, new gadgets, sexual conquests, spa treatments, exclusive after party invites, fancy swag bags, exclusive club memberships, extravagant homes and cars. All these things provide external proof of their adequacy and help (momentarily) fill the enormous emptiness inside them. When they get them, they’re quick to brag about it and post lots of details and TwitPics.
- NPD people can be exhibitionists. In order to keep the life-sustaining supply of attention focused on them, they will metaphorically “drop their pants” and reveal TMI that most professionals never would. They will open talk about their drug use, sexual life or fantasizes, their income, their enemies or their business exploits. They especially love speaking gigs, interviews, video blogging, karaoke, etc., – becuase moments in the limelight are life-sustaining soul food for their inadequate self concept.
- NPD people keep score. They watch rivals with microscopic vigilance, and will come up with cunning ways to sabotage, outdo or humiliate them. Multimillionaire VCs with NPD are envious of the billionaire ones. On Twitter, you’ll notice that narcissists almost always maintain a very high ratio of followers to friends — reflecting their lack empathy and primal need for their numbers to reflect “one- way” attention. They never “give back” and pay attention to someone else unless they absolutely have to.
- Narcissists demand total loyalty from their followers. No matter how badly an NPD person behaves, their fans and subordinate “yes men” will cheer them on and publicly declare how “awesome” they are, etc. People (unconsciously) sense they have a dangerously fragile self-concept… and are intuitively afraid of getting on their “bad list” – so they tend to leave lots of ego stroking (“You rock!”) comments. One you get on the bad list, there is no way off without heavy ass-kissing and contrition. (Unless you get access to something they desperately want.)
The Narcissist’s Bleak Inner World
The narcissist selectively chooses an “inner circle” of others who will resonate with her vision of self. The successful NPD person creates an intricate matrix of positive feedback in the form of fans, friends, followers and partners who fulfill their endless needs. When the sources of these ego rewards (comments, accolades, retweets, speaking gigs) become unavailable or fail, the narcissist experience intense feelings of emptiness.
In her excellent book on high-level narcissism, Dr. Linda Martinez-Lewi says:
“The narcissist’s experience of emotional emptiness is beyond longing or sadness. It is a severe and intractable wounding, a pain so savage and deep that it seems intolerable. The psychological landscape of the narcissist is bleak. He has no inner resources to sustain him. He cannot turn to himself or others for real affection or solace. Although he enjoys the transient loyalty of dedicated followers, no one really cares about him.”
Social media addiction is the ultimate dual-action stimulant + painkiller for the narcissistic personality.
Dealing with NPD Individuals
Being in a family, business, or romantic relationship with a narcissist is living hell. Working for one can be an ‘emotional holocaust.’ There are some excellent books on the deeper aspects of defending yourself against the narcissist’s insidious nastiness – The Wizard of Oz & Other Narcissists: Coping With the One-Way Relationship in Work, Life and Family is highly-recommended.
In a more shallow social media type of relationship, you must remember that narcissists they demand loyalty and perfect ego stroking. If you choose to get involved in their world, prepared to perpetually walk on eggshells and keep your true feelings masked – no matter how disgusting or annoying the person’s behaviors are. Never criticize them unless you are willing to go on their permanent “shit list.”
If you don’t need or want anything from the Social Media Narcissist, it’s best to be cordial and distant from them. Keep firm boundaries. Stay far away, don’t be drawn into their charismatic web of illusion, and if they attack you — you don’t have to attack back. Recognition and awareness of the painful-yet-common disorder in the social media scene can save you a lot of annoyance and grief.
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Brett Borders, the author of this article, is a professional copywriter who specializes in increasing website sales and signup rates. I'm available now to write for your website and optimize it for maximum sales and profits. Please contact me now for a free consultation.