I have previously written from a personal perspective about my own experiences/observations regarding covert narcissism and gaslighting, because I have (unfortunately) dealt with many situations involving various people who display covert narcissistic-type traits/features/behaviors, both in real life (starting with my mother) and on social media.
Yesterday, a commenter on my most recent post asked whether I would develop a “cheat sheet” to help identify covertly narcissistic-type traits/features/behaviors when on social media.
Before we go any further, please note that ALL of the following disclaimers apply:
I am speaking as a person with personal experience/observations regarding narcissism (rather than as a psychologist). Furthermore, NOTHING written on this blog is ever intended to be professional advice, nor does anything I write ever substitute for professional advice. If you have any mental health concerns regarding yourself or a loved one, you need to seek professional advice from a licensed psychologist, psychiatrist, or other qualified professional.
The word “narcissist” in this post, as with my previous post, is meant as a descriptor, not as a diagnosis. Please also note that people may exhibit such traits/features/behaviors but may or may not meet the clinical criteria for diagnosis.
Additionally, it would be inappropriate to diagnose anyone over the internet anyway; thus, these posts are simply to describe the possible warning signs of such traits/features/behaviors; NOTHING said on this blog is ever meant as a diagnosis of anybody.
Also, please note that, as necessary with any broad topic, I am speaking in generalities in this post. It is literally impossible to cover every single example, and there will always be “exceptions to the rule”; so the items listed here may not apply to every example.
Additionally, everybody occasionally exhibiting a couple the behaviors listed below is clearly not a narcissist; so please always remember that everyone can have a bad day and do/say something out of character. So: rather than jumping to conclusions based on limited data, it is very important to always look at the whole picture and to consider a person’s behaviors over time and with different people.
The main question always is: Can the person ever admit when she is wrong and/or take responsibility for her part in a situation? If not, that is a BIG warning sign.
Finally, please note that I will be using “she” in this post for convenience, and since my own personal demons are with females who display covert narcissistic traits; but, of course, please keep in mind that both males and females can/do display these traits/features/behavior.
Moving on from my long list of disclaimers, it is important to note that covert narcissism is much trickier to recognize than the more obvious overt variety. When people typically think of narcissism, most people conjure up the overt narcissist: someone who is obviously “full of herself ” ~ the proverbial “show off”; typically very-well-dressed…often even “flashy”.
But: covert narcissists are much less obvious and therefore, they usually fly under the radar. On the surface, the covert narcissist will likely seem to be friendly, modest, perhaps even “plain”/unadorned in appearance/dress, self-effacing, warm, approachable, etc. However, these impressions are simply a part of an effective facade that serves its purpose well: to prop up their weak egos, by fooling people and garnering attention/support.
Therefore, the covert narcissist can be more insidiously harmful than her overt counterpart: both because it is easier to be ensnared in her web of lies, and because others are very unlikely to ever see her for what she really is.
Now, let’s look at some of the potential warning signs of a covert narcissist on social media ~ keeping in mind, of course, that any of these factors in and of themselves do not necessarily mean the person is a narcissist; that all of these items will not apply to everyone who exhibits narcissistic traits; that the term “narcissist” is used here a descriptor only (not as a diagnosis); and that this list is not meant to be comprehensive:
- She may be quite popular on social media. She may have a relatively large number of followers who she doesn’t know in real life (but, nonetheless, she often interacts with them as if she does know them);
- She may have some special status in real life that inflates her sense of importance on social media (for instance, she may be an actor, singer, author, professor, popular blogger or YouTube star, model, athlete, expert in her field, etc. etc. etc.);
- She may interact with her followers and others regularly on social media in such a way that she seems to be friendly and approachable. However, these interactions are likely to be superficial and/or sometimes even overly-sugary-sweet. (“Good morning, my delicious treat!”; “Good night, my sweet lambikins”…when talking to people she has never met in real life and who she is not romantically involved with);
- She maintains her friendly, affable facade very well…that is, until she suffers a narcissistic injury and retaliates. The trigger could be anything from someone simply questioning something she said, to someone disagreeing with her, to someone saying something she perceived to be insulting, etc.;
- When the covert narcissist feels insulted (and it does not matter whether the “insult” was actually intended, or whether it was completely unintentional), she will react by attacking the person who she feels insulted her (who has now become her target);
- Instead of continuing the discussion in the original thread, she will often quote what was said on her own account, in order to distract from the fact that she is misrepresenting what was said and in order to get support from her followers;
- She will often take whatever was said out of context and then twist it to make it seem like her target was the aggressor and that she was inexplicably “attacked” out-of-the-blue by the target;
- By doing the above, she enlists her numerous followers to defend and support her, thereby propping up her weak ego, while simultaneously tearing down the person she perceives as her opponent;
- Instead of sticking to the original topic, she will often intentionally throw a number of unrelated “red herrings” into the discussion to confuse the issue and derail the discussion; (Or she will allow her supporters to do so on her behalf);
- When the drama appears to be finally dying down, she intentionally restarts it, both because she needs the attention and she desires continued revenge against her target;
- She will often stand back quietly and “innocently” as the drama against her opponent unfolds…but her true feelings/motivations are revealed to anyone who pays close enough attention, because she will “like” statements that are personally insulting and/or untrue about her target;
- She will never back down, nor will she ever admit she is wrong in any way;
- She will not take any responsibility whatsoever for her part in the disagreement;
- She will never “meet someone halfway”, so any olive branches offered by the target will be ignored or thrown back in the target’s face;
- If the target blocks her after many hours of harassment by her supporters, she will likely intentionally mention that fact to her followers, while stating “innocently” that she has absolutely no idea why she got blocked by the target; which then triggers a new round of attacks on her target;
- She will “hit below the belt”; which means: instead of sticking neutrally to the original topic, she will engage in personal attacks/insults and/or encourage/condone others to do so on her behalf;
- She may “sweetly” talk down to her target and/or minimize the target’s education or accomplishments or knowledge (or condone her supporters in doing so);
- She will demonize her opponent(s) and/or encourage others to do so;
- She may go back and delete all of her own tweets which might make herself look bad (which further makes her target look bad because the history of the conversation is erased, leaving everything out of context);
- If confronted, she will say that the target is being silly, sensitive, wrong, mistaken, confused, dramatic, etc.;
- She is dismissive and/or derisive of others’ genuine concerns, no matter how politely those concerns are stated;
- She will twist/misrepresent whatever is said by her target; in other words, “intentionally misunderstanding” what happened in order to make the target look bad and/or to garner sympathy for herself;
- If caught in a lie, she will either outright deny that she said it, or will say that she didn’t mean that by it;
- She may contact her followers/supporters/friends privately to elicit sympathy and to directly or indirectly encourage them to attack on her behalf;
- She may have multiple “sock puppet” accounts to use as needed for her own behalf;
- She enjoys shitstorms on social media, even if she says otherwise, because she becomes repeatedly embroiled in them;
- If she is famous, she may have spoken out publicly about how she has endured/overcome repeated “bullying” on social media;
- She makes herself seem like a victim in order to emerge victoriously as a hero who has “conquered bullying”;
- She may intentionally seek out and start disagreements with strangers, in order to to get attention and keep drama going;
- Her timeline is a testament to her techniques (often “quote tweeting” someone else out of context with a criticism of what was said; and/or the implication that she is a victim; and/or as an invitation for her followers to pile on);
- She capitalizes on the attention of the arguments on social media by garnering interviews, giving lectures, doing videos, writing papers/posts, and/or utilizing other means to talk about the horrid “bullying” she has endured;
- When someone points out to her that she is encouraging her multiple supporters to personally insult the target, she denies it totally, even “modestly” denying that she even has multiple supporters, despite clear evidence to the contrary;
- She says intentionally provocative and/or offensive things to stir up trouble, then pretends to be shocked and dismayed when a brouhaha ensues;
- She engages in gaslighting techniques (and similar examples), as described in this post;
- She may falsely imply the target is a racist, a misogynist, sexist, or any other “ist” (or is somehow otherwise wrong/bad) in order to discredit and distract;
- She may make false accusations/allegations against her target…again, in order to discredit and distract from the real topic, which is her narcissistic injury. (For example, someone once made the false claim that Dirt had “sexually abused” her on Facebook…which is beyond ridiculous and actually not even possible, but, apparently, both logic and truth are completely lost in these bizarre battles).
- She may call her target such things as “dangerous”, “crazy”, “biased”, “bigoted” (etc.) in order to demean her target’s credibility and to try to stop anybody from listening to anything the target has to say.
My own personal lessons in having dealt with multiple such situations/individuals now on social media are as follows:
I now truly feel the only way for me to deal with covert narcissistic behaviors on social media is to identify and avoid these individuals whenever possible. (Note to self: Do some basic research on the person’s timeline BEFORE jumping into the fray).
If I do find myself embroiled in an argument with someone who I feel is gaslighting me or otherwise not fighting fair (as described above) in the future, I plan to try to remain cordial and extricate myself as soon as possible. (“Try” is the key word in the previous sentence: I do better with this some times more so than others. It is a learning process that I unfortunately keep having to re-learn).
I always hate to do so, but I will block the individual if necessary, as well as any others who are creating drama on her behalf.
I try to always remember: NOBODY CAN WIN AN ARGUMENT WITH A NARCISSIST and everything I say can and will be twisted and used against me.
Here’s my own personal to-do list for future reference when dealing with such individuals in the future, taken from my most recent post entitled A Battle With A Narcissist Is A Losing Battle Indeed:
Social media has a lot of positives: to stay in touch with family/friends, to reconnect with old friends, to make new friends, to discuss issues, and to exchange ideas with a variety of people.
However, social media also has many negatives: it can become a free-for-all brawl where normal rules of basic decency often don’t seem to apply. People say dreadful things to each other on social media that they would never dream of saying in person. People often show their worst selves on social media; instead of lifting us up, social media often has a tendency to drag us down.
My vow for the future is to try to not let these relatively few bad apples spoil the whole social media pie. In the future, I vow to try to not let myself be sucked into a vortex of negativity so that I also end up saying things that are not nice. I vow to take a break when social media feels overwhelmingly negative. As a very wise person said to a friend on Twitter recently, “Go rest. They will still be here when you get back.”