Narcissists and Psychopaths Online: The Narcissism of Cyberbullying and Trolling by Shahida Arabi
Cyberspace provides malignant narcissists and those who have antisocial traits with easy access to victims and minimal effort. A recent study showed that online trolls demonstrated high degrees of sadism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. Conclusion? In the words of Dr. Golbeck, internet trolls are narcissists, psychopaths and sadists.
This should come to no surprise to anyone who has encountered trolls or cyberbullies – they are notorious for attempting to provoke people in order to derive sick feelings of satisfaction that they apparently can’t get anywhere else. Their lack of compassion, tact and empathy when bullying others online is evident in the way they brandish their ill-informed opinions indiscriminately regardless of context, eagerly hoping to get recognition for their malice.
Cyberbullying and trolling are strategic ways for narcissists who lack adequate narcissistic supply or who are experiencing boredom to get a quick “fix” without being held accountable for their abuse.
In the context of intimate relationships, survivors of narcissistic abuse, an insidious form of psychological and emotional abuse that can cause what psychotherapist Christine Canon de Louisville calls “Narcissistic Victim Syndrome,” may be stalked, harassed and cyberbullied for years even after the ending of the relationship, especially if they were the ones to discard the narcissist first by exiting the relationship altogether.
When a narcissist suffers from an offense to their false sense of superiority and entitlement, they endure what is known as a narcissistic injury, often followed by narcissistic rage. This rage is a result of an injury to their ego when something or someone threatens their delusions of grandeur and “false self.”
Since survivors often implement No Contact with their abusers, narcissistic abusers feel a loss of power and attempt to regain that power through tactics like provocation, hoovering and post-breakup triangulation techniques.
On the internet, narcissists and those who have antisocial traits employ similar manipulation tactics in cyberspace to provoke and harm complete strangers.
Bullying in any form, especially anonymous bullying, can lead to devastating results. Research indicates that cyberbullying in schools leads to a higher rate of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in victims of cyberbullying. There have been a number of suicides that were triggered by the words of anonymous sadists – the suicides of many teenagers, for example, were a direct result of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying and trolling leave such a terrible psychological impact that there is even a movement against anonymous comments sections on media outlets. Since there is little accountability for cyberbullies and the laws against it in each state may not protect victims entirely from emotional abuse, it often goes unchecked and unpunished. If cyberbullies are ever reprimanded, it is usually after the fact of a tragic suicide or another form of publicity that draws attention to the consequences of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying can also be retraumatizing and invalidating for survivors of abuse and trauma. Specifically, in the narcissistic abuse survivor community, narcissists tend to support other narcissists and both survivors as well as professionals may come under attack for speaking their truth about narcissistic abuse. There is, unfortunately, a great deal of victim-blamers and enablers online who support the actions of abusers or vilify advocates that expose the predatory nature of abusers with Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder.
Trolls who attempt to undermine this important advocacy work are not even doing so with the facts at hand. The predatory nature of these types of individuals has actually been well-documented and researched by experts such as Dr. Robert Hare, Dr. Karyl McBride, Dr. Lundy Bancroft, Dr. Martha Stout, therapist Christine Canon de Louisville and Dr. George Simon, many of whom have worked with abusers and/or abuse survivors as clients. The reality of narcissistic abuse has been validated not only by survivors but also numerous mental health professionals in the field. Cyberbullies and trolls who attempt to stifle the truth about narcissistic abuse often do so by trying to silence a truth that could potentially set another survivor free.
THREE WAYS TO DISTINGUISH A SADISTIC CYBERBULLY FROM A PERSON WHO’S PROVIDING CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
1. Rather than engaging in healthy debate and respectful disagreement, cyberbullies and trolls distinguish themselves from normal people who disagree by staging personal attacks on character instead of providing evidence against the argument that they claim to have problems with. Instead of respectfully crafting a compelling rebuttal to your argument, while thoughtfully considering your points, they’re more prone to verbal diarrhea which consists of insults, name-calling, word salad, circular logic and provocative overgeneralizations deliberately aimed to get a rise out of you. You can easily distinguish a troll from a person providing helpful critique by the way they speak to you; if they are condescending and contemptuous in a way that is unwarranted and overbearing, you’ve got yourself a toxic individual.
Cyberbullies and trolls purposely misunderstand, misinterpret and misrepresent your perspective as a way to discredit you. They ignore any part of your argument that may be credible and attempt to paint it in black and white so they can feel justified in their bullying. They demean your credentials and diminish your arguments with nothing but their own ill-informed opinion. They are unlikely to provide relevant evidence regarding their viewpoint, and if you dare to provide evidence to the contrary, they will become narcissistically injured and rage at you. They may even bring up personal details or assume things about you that have nothing at all to do with the matter at hand. They are, like many narcissists in intimate relationships, perpetual boundary-breakers.
2. They persist. Some cyberbullies give up eventually if they don’t get the response they were looking for, but others will keep hunting for more of a reaction and provoking you, even going so far as to create multiple accounts in order to continue to harass you. Like narcissists in intimate relationships, they use the anonymity feature of cyberspace to employ triangulation techniques with their “fake” accounts to show “support” for – who else? Themselves.
3. Stalking. When you do respond in a way they’re not accustomed to, trolls and cyberbullies suffer a kind of narcissistic injury and resort to low blows and attacks. Some cyberbullies are satisfied when you give them a quick ego stroke, like a “You’re right” to their insult and go away. Others are much more malicious. When you give them radio silence or choose to report their harassing behavior, they come after you. They may even follow you onto personal social media accounts because they dislike being ignored. Like narcissists in intimate relationships, they cannot stand when a victim of their bullying moves forward without valuing their opinions.
THREE WAYS TO HANDLE CYBERBULLIES AND TROLLS
1. Don’t engage or feed the trolls. Depending on the forum or website that you’re being harassed on, there may be an option for you to report harassment or block the person. This is especially useful for cyberbullies who are attacking you personally and taking a toll on your mental health. This is sort of like going No Contact – except, instead of someone you were in an intimate relationship with, you’re going NC on a stranger out to harm you. Find a way to remove them from your presence with the least amount of effort. They’re simply not worth the time and energy that it takes to stage a rebuttal. Remember: narcissists always need an audience and a source of supply. By removing yourself as a narcissistic source of supply, you refuse to give them the attention they’re looking for. By default, you win.
2. Be strategic about your privacy. Different forums and websites have different policies, so be strategic depending on what platform you’re using. Most social media platforms allow you to block or report anyone who’s harassing you, so take advantage of whatever you can do. Next, explore the privacy settings on whatever platform you’re using. If you feel comfortable and it’s available, take on the option that will enable you to share the least amount of information with the public. This will prevent cyberbullies and trolls on the hunt from finding out the personal details of your life. If you find it feasible, consider limiting the number of social media accounts you have so that you only use the ones you absolutely need for your professional and social life.
If you’re a blogger and are being trolled or cyberbullied, websites like WordPress take it one step further and allow you to see the IP address of the person commenting. This enables you to watch out for multiple “fake” accounts cyberbullies may be using to troll your blog or website and you can block one specific IP address from commenting on your blog altogether and just be done with it.
Should cyberbullies ever threaten you with physical harm, you can use this IP address to find out where the troll or cyberbully resides, so you can report them with more accurate information. Simply copy/paste the IP address into a geolocation website like this one. This will yield identifying information that you can have in case the cyberbully or troll ever threatens you.
3. Refocus your energies on productive outlets. Trolls and cyberbullies will never have the final say on your self-worth or your abilities. Why? Because they’re literally spending their time trying to tear people down. Don’t you think that if they were fulfilled in their own lives, they’d find better things to do? Thankfully, you do have better things to do than to ruminate over the narcissists and sociopaths in cyberspace. You have a blog to run, a website to manage, a Twitter feed to update, a Facebook page to update, and a story to share.
Continue to use your voice and make it heard. Only engage with respectful people and save the debate for people who can disagree with you in a manner that’s not pathological. Let the cyberbullies motivate you to make waves for social change and to continue to speak out on behalf of the underdogs.
If you’re at any point feeling overwhelmed by these bullies, shut down the computer, unplug the devices, and tell someone, especially if you’re an adolescent reading this post. Stand up for yourself and do not let this go unchecked. Also help others who may be going through similar struggles. The more you spread awareness about this important issue, the more likely change can happen.
Important Note: If the cyberbully is someone you know, like a friend or former romantic partner, make sure you go No Contact with the person immediately, document any text messages or incriminating phone calls and report them to online service providers or law enforcement agencies if they violate your state’s anti-bullying laws. In that scenario, their anonymity no longer protects them from the consequences of their harassment.
Remember: bullies can be adolescents or adults. Though they all share the same mental age of five, they can be dangerous to us at any age group. Let’s take a stand against bullying and harassment in all forms – from text messages to forums, from social media to blogs. We do not deserve to be violated or disrespected – even online.
Stay safe and take care. Here are some additional resources for cyberbullying which may prove helpful to you:
Do you have any tips on how to handle cyberbullying or a story to share? Comment below and help other victims of online bullying.
Copyright © 2014-2016 by Shahida Arabi.
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