Cyber (Internet) Narcissists and Psychopaths

Uploaded 8/10/2010, approx. 5 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin. I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

To the narcissist, the Internet is an alluring and irresistible combination of playground and hunting grounds. It is a gathering place of numerous potential sources of narcissistic supply of attention. It is a world where false identities are common, and mind games depend on. It is also beyond the reach of the law, beyond the pale of social norms, and beyond the strictures of civilized conduct.

In other words, as far as the narcissist is concerned, it is true paradise.

The somatic narcissist finds cybersex and cyberrelationships aplenty. The cerebral narcissist claims false accomplishments, he fakes skills, irreducian and talents.

Both these types of narcissists, the somatic and the cerebral, even when they are minimally communicative, end up at the instantly gratifying epicenter of a cult of fans, followers, stalkers, erotomania, denigrators, and plain nuts.

The constant attention and attendant quasi-celebrity feed and sustain the grandiose fantasies and the inflated self-image of the narcissist.

So, in a way, the Internet is an extension of the real-life narcissistic pathological space, the narcissist milieu and environment, offline.

But the Internet is without the risks, the injuries, the disappointments and the hurt that is common in reality.

In the virtual universe of the web, the narcissist vanishes and reappears with ease. He often adopts a myriad aliases, nicknames and handles.

The narcissist fends off criticism, abuse, disagreement and disapproval effectively in a real time by merely not being there anymore.

At the same time, he preserves the precarious balance of his infantile personality by reappearing or by pretending to be someone else.

Narcissists are therefore prone to Internet addiction. It fulfills many of their emotional needs.

The Internet of course has positive characteristics, but unfortunately they are largely lost on the narcissist.

He is not keen on expanding his horizons, on fostering true relationships with others, on getting in real contact with people.

The narcissist is forever the provincial in the Internet because he filters everything through the narrow lens of his addiction to narcissistic supply.

He measures others on the Internet, idealizes them or devalues them according to one criterion only, how useful they are at being sources of narcissistic supply. Can they be such sources or not?

The Internet is a egalitarian medium. People on the Internet are judged by the consistency, the quality of their contributions, not by the content or bombast of their claims.

But the narcissist is driven to distracting discomforture by a lack of clear and commonly accepted hierarchy with himself, of course, as a pinnacle.

So the Internet, this anarchic and democratic medium also discomforts the narcissist, makes him feel ill at ease.

So what the narcissist tries to do, he fervently and aggressively tries to impose the natural order with the narcissist at the top, either by monopolizing the discussion, monopolizing the interaction, or if this strategy fails by becoming a major disruptive influence.

But the Internet may also be the closest that the narcissist gets to psychodynamic therapy.

Because the Internet is largely anonymous, it is populated by sort of disembodied entities. By interacting with these intermittent, unpredictable and ultimately unknowable and ephemeral and ethereal voices, the narcissist is compelled to project unto others his own experiences, fears, hopes and prejudices.

He uses other people on the Internet to actually look at the mirror, to be reflected, to insult. Transference and counter-transference are quite common on the Internet.

And the narcissist's psychological defense mechanisms, notably projection and projective identification, are frequently aroused.

The therapeutic process is set in motion by the unbridled, unsensored, brutally honest reactions to the narcissist's reparatory.

People give feedback to the narcissist when he displays his antics, his pretensions, his delusions and his fantasies.

And never mind how painful this feedback is, it provokes the narcissist into thinking. It gives him insight.

And in this sense, it's remedial, it's therapeutic.

The narcissist, ever the intimidating bully, is not accustomed to such resistance.

Initially it may heighten and sharpen his paranoia and lead him to compensate by extending and deepening his grandiosity.

Some narcissists withdraw altogether from the Internet, reverting to a schizoid posture. They shun others. Other narcissists become openly antisocial and they seek to subvert, to sabotage and to destroy the online sources of their frustration.

A few narcissists retreat and confine themselves to the company of adoring psychophants and unquestioning groupies.

But a long exposure to the culture of the net, which is irreverent, skeptical and populist, usually exerts a beneficial effect, even on the staunchest and most rigid narcissist.

Far less convinced of their own superiority and infallibility, having been exposed to the Internet, some online narcissists meddle and begin hesitantly to listen to others, to actually collaborate with them.

Ultimately, most narcissists, those who are not schizoid and those who don't shun social content, most narcissists tire of the virtual reality that is cyberspace.

The typical narcissist needs tangible narcissistic supply, needs to look them in the eye, needs to press the flesh. He craves attention from real, live people, flesh and blood. He strives to see in their eyes their admiration and their relation. They awe and fear that he inspires the approval and affirmation that he elicits.

All this is not forthcoming from the Internet. There is no substitute to human contact even for the narcissist.

Many narcissists try to carry online relationships they nurtured into their logical extension. So they try to conclude them and consummate them offline. They try to meet the people they've interacted with on the net.

Other narcissists burst upon the cyber scene intermittently, vanishing for long months, only to dive back in and reinvigorate and then to disappear again.

Reality beckons that few narcissists can resist the siren call of offline.

They are therefore not true netizens. They are fly-by-night creatures.

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