NPD, Mania and Social MediaCreation Date: 21 April 2014
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), formerly known as megalomania, is a fairly common personality disorder, embodied to a significant extent in certain social environments and career paths. Severe, pathological cases are thought to affect 1% of the population. It is marked out by what appears on the surface to be supreme confidence in the self but is underlined by excessive vanity, personal inadequacy, low-self esteem, envy and egocentrism, and a desire for power, reassurance, compliments, admiration, acknowledgement and prestige. Sufferers of NPD are mostly unable to see anything from the other's perspective nor handle personal criticism, and only seeks self-gratification in the above avenues, with unrealistic expectations for special treatment and no empathy for others nor awareness of the damaging effect of their personality disorder on others. NPD can result in aggressive or obnoxious behaviour towards others not deemed to be on one's personal level. NPD is reasonably well described on Wikipedia below.
The purpose of this short article is not to examine all the ways in which NPD can play out in social media interaction including social networking sites (e.g. facebook, twitter, google+), forums, emails with existing friends and even on line auction sites. Evidently the way social media sites are set up is to encourage narcissistic behaviour and this is not news to anyone with a cursory understanding of psychology. This article will examine a specific pathological behaviour that I have myself experienced and indulged in, which I shall for the purposes of simplicity call the 'facebook bitch' or the 'email bitch' - not wishing to promote sexist terminology but the 'street' term is probably most accessible for most readers. This is interpreted from my own perspective so it may be at mild variance with commonly accepted definitions and applications of NPD behaviour, but it seems to be the best fit.
What is the 'facebook bitch'? If you are suffering from NPD then you may well feel the need to fulfil certain emotional needs at the expense of others, specifically the need to share your recent experiences or news and preferably to receive attention, acknowledgement or admiration from the other person for these things. A matter of fact response may not be what you are after and may leave you feeling unsatisfied. I am not talking about 'normal', balanced, naturally and organically arising social activity but large amounts of one way interaction directed towards a given individual or individuals. Usually, the better you know someone, the more appropriate it would be to share something with that person repeatedly or excessively, if it does not happen to regularly. However, in this case, it is more regular and often with people with whom you are not close enough with to make it completely appropriate, although not necessarily. It may be classed as 'talking at people' about your favourite topic repeatedly even when they visibly show no interest in this whatsoever and ignoring visual cues that they are not enjoying it but are too polite or timid to tell you to desist. But this would not fully describe the behaviour as with NPD there is a strong desire for acknowledgement rather than solely a need to talk at someone.
Who is the best candidate for being a 'facebook bitch'? It would likely be someone you are on open speaking terms with, someone who is a good listener or failing that someone who is more submissive (a 'sucker') and whom will receive multiple messages without complaint and will at least acknowledge some of them, the more the better. If the person simply ignores you and does not reply, then it is likely that the aberrant behaviour will stop and the person will move onto someone else.
How would you interact with a 'facebook bitch'? Normally the pathological communications would be in the form of private messages but can also include posts on a persons wall, rather than simply posting the said content on your own wall. The content may relate to an ongoing joke or theme you share with said individual or may have a more tenuous connection. It may also be excessively posting comments on a person's statuses or responding to others comments, to fish for 'likes' or other acknowledgement. However, there is a grey area where this may simply be out of loneliness, another form of mania or simply boredom - it depends on what the expectation is. The NPD sufferer is always going to feel lonely inside so it depends on what form the loneliness takes as to whether it becomes NPD or not.
The subjects will invariably be about you or the theme or joke of your choice. Occasionally the NPD sufferer may ask how the other person but if the reply is too long they may well ignore and try to shift the conversation back to them and what they want to talk about. Briefly listening to the other person talk about themselves may well be felt as a necessary 'pain' in order to get what they want, to give a token nod to social conventions and rules. Excessive attention giving to the other person may feel repugnant.
You may have specific 'bitches' for different topics and different kinds of interaction. In this way, you may spread out your emotional needs onto multiple people so that any one individual does not receive too many messages or posts and may have 'rest' periods so the dysfunctional relationships can continue for longer. Some 'facebook bitches' may suffer from pathological levels of narcissism themselves, but because you both have self-esteem issues, you may both use each other and also put up with each other's excesses because you are yourself getting what you want. This is a form of mutualistic relationship in a sense, although not entirely. A mutually parasitic relationship is probably more accurate. A sign of such a relationship is where both parties talk to each other alternately about completely unrelated subjects and appear not to listen to the other party. However, for the NPD sufferer, he will require at least periodic acknowledgement or the experience will be too unsatisfying. This is not usually a stable situation and the NPD sufferer may well tire of the other as they prefer it more one way and move onto the next 'victim'. This is not a good basis for a friendship.
What is an 'email bitch'? Such a person is similar to the social media 'bitch', however, they are likely someone who does not use social media, or whom you know from other contexts. Interactions with this person will likely be context and subject dependent and the more submissive or keen or willing to listen they are, the better candidate they make.
A pathological narcissist may not always launch into full messaging/posting mode on all occasions, but may sometimes have had his needs fulfilled, be distracted by other activity or simply too busy. However, in most cases, a greeting or opening type message may well be a warning flag indicating an ensuing onslaught on incessant messaging and interaction, rather than simply a naturally occurring brief exchange of one or two messages maximum which naturally subsides. A 'facebook bitch' may sense this and fear the onslaught but be too polite to simply ignore it, as it could be a genuinely brief interaction. On the NPD sufferer's part, the opening may well be completely sincere, friendly and honest, but that person may simply not be able to help himself and the intention at the outset may not have been such, but once conversation starts it can spiral out of control easily and frequently. The messaging from the NPD sufferer may or not not require replies to each message or sentence, but periodic replies may be enough to fuel the flow of messages. The victim may think that only periodic replies may help to subdue the conversation, and in some cases it may, but not always.