I wrote an article about this issue a while back, but I decided it was time to write about it again because I have seen this sort of thing happen so many times online, including within the ACON community. It’s a real problem for those of us recovering from narcissistic abuse. We are fragile and it’s so hard for us to trust anyone anymore, but we want so much to trust people who have been through similar experiences and connect with them.
The sad news is that you just can’t trust everybody you meet online.
If you’re a member of the narcissistic abuse community and participate in social media groups, blogs or forums intended to help or inform victims of narcissistic abuse, remember you are engaging with a lot of hurting and damaged people. There are people in this community who may themselves have been so damaged by their abusers they developed narcissistic ways of relating to others.
Narcissism is contagious, just like a disease. If a person was raised by narcissists or were in a close relationship with one for any length of time, they can pick up what’s known in the ACON community as “fleas”–narcissistic behaviors that stick to them the way fleas stick to a dog. If the fleas stay around long enough or become severe enough, it’s possible to actually become a narcissist!
Most narcissists aren’t aware they are narcissists. In the narcissistic abuse/ACON communities, there are narcissists who you would think are anything but. Don’t be duped into thinking just because someone’s a victim of abuse and hates their narcs (and narcs in general) with the white hot heat of a thousand suns, that automatically means they aren’t one. They probably don’t even know they are.
Some people who seem holier than thou may have developed full blown narcissism. They appear to be sheep, even though they are actually wolves. Unfortunately it’s hard to tell until you cross them or disagree with them.
Narcissists project onto others traits they hate in themselves. Just because a person was abused and professes to hate narcissists does not mean they are free of their own narcissism, which they deny in themselves but project onto those they disagree with.
In particular, be very careful around anyone who uses religion to intimidate or abuse you or attacks your beliefs. There are many religious people in the ACON community who have turned to Christ after their abuse, and of course there’s nothing wrong with that. But if someone is intolerant of your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) or calls yours a “false religion,” that’s a huge red flag, in my opinion.
There are unfortunately people even in this community who either pretend to be victims to exploit people they see as “weak” (I think there aren’t too many of those though, and the ones that are are usually on social media such as Facebook) or actually are victims, but have become narcissistic due to the abuse they endured. (because I am not qualified to diagnose anyone, I cannot say they actually have NPD).
But there are red flags you can be on the lookout for:
— They act “holier than thou” and use religion as an excuse to treat others badly or judge those they disagree with.
— They never seem to get any better.
— They think there is something wrong with you because you are growing and no longer wish to hang onto your rage.
— If they see someone is changing or letting go of anger, they accuse them of betrayal or worse (if they’re religious) say they are being influenced by Satan. Pathological envy? I don’t know. Maybe.
— They use personal information they were given privately against the person they are targeting. They may even state this private information in public against your wishes. Be careful what you tell people unless you know them very well.
— They attack and smear those they disagree with.
— They overreact to slights or criticism.
— They overreact to opinions they don’t agree with. You are not allowed to have a differing opinion.
— They are self righteous and never apologize.
— They talk a lot about empathy but don’t seem to really have any.
— They show no remorse for their hurtful actions.
— They ban or attack people who defend those they disagree with.
— They misquote you, twist your words, and accuse you of saying things you never said. That is gaslighting.
— They are quick to call people they disagree with narcissists or at least make obvious hints to that effect.
— They will introduce a hurtful criticism or a projection of their own narcissism onto you with a phrase such as, “I don’t mean to hurt you, but…” Bullshit they don’t mean to hurt you.
— If you object to this online abuse, they might tell you in a condescending or smarmy way that they are “only trying to help” or are “praying for you.”
A non-narcissistic person will not do these things. Yes, they may disagree with you. Disagreement is normal and is to be expected. I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with everything I write. I’m well aware some of my opinions are controversial and even unpopular. That knowledge won’t stop me from posting them though. But I welcome dissenting opinions, because that can make a discussion more interesting than if everyone agrees with me all the time. There is nothing wrong with a good, healthy debate. I could even learn something from you, and I’ve admitted when I’ve been wrong. Hey, I’m not perfect and never will be.
If there are disagreements, as there will be, a non-narcissist will just say they disagree with you, state their case, and possibly give their reasons why they disagree with you. If they feel especially strongly about an issue, they could stop following you or decide your blog is not one they wish to read or participate in anymore. All of that is fine. It happens. You shouldn’t take it personally if someone is so offended by something you wrote they stop following you or stop commenting. But it should stop there. A normal person will simply move on and not bother with you anymore. A non-narcissist is not going to start a smear campaign against you, talk down to you as if you’re beneath them, call your religion a “false religion,” tell you you’re influenced by the devil, call YOU a narcissist, twist what you said into something you did not say, misrepresent you, or publicly bring up a personal issue you talked to them about in private just to embarrass you.
All of us can behave narcissistically when triggered. I understand that. I do it myself. If you tell someone who has attacked you in a narcissistic way because they were angry, hurt or triggered that their actions upset you, a non-narcissist will be chastened and will apologize or try to make amends in some way. If the person fails to do that, even after they are told how much their actions have hurt you, suspect a narcissist. They don’t have empathy for how you feel. You are not a person to them. They don’t care. You are wrong, they are right, and that’s that.
The insidious thing about narcissism is it’s those you would least suspect of being narcissists who in fact may be. Sometimes the Internet can feel like a minefield, and you have to be so careful where you step to avoid detonation.
Something happened to me several months ago that was a real wake up call and made me realize how careful we have to be when engaging with people online. There as a woman on Facebook who talked about her relationship with her husband, a man she said was a malignant narcissist. She said she had found a way to make her relationship with him work. Intrigued but skeptical, I sent her a private message asking what she had found out. I also sent her a friend request.
She did not accept my friend request (saying she did not know me well enough) but sent me back a strange private message that said, “I have been wanting to talk to you.” Instead of being alarmed, I was intrigued.
We talked about her “malignant narcissist” husband and the way she “handled” him. The woman’s Facebook posts were always so heartwarming, effusively proclaiming the deep love she had for her husband. She constantly posted pictures of herself with him, along with comments about how much she loved him. I looked at the photos of this guy on her timeline, looking for anything in his face or eyes that would indicate malignant narcissism (they usually have a hard or cold look, or dead, flat eyes). I didn’t see it. If anything, I thought the guy looked weak and even a little scared. In fact, his face and body language screamed codependent. The woman always wore a huge smile, but something in those photos suggested a predator “possessing” their prey. Yes, she was larger than he, but there seemed to be a look on her face that said, “he’s mine. I can do what I want with him.”
I should have smelled a rat. Instead, I thought, “what a wonderful woman, who loves her husband that much in spite of his disorder.” We had several more conversations. Eventually I told her too much about myself. I told her about my psychopathic ex-husband, and how much I envied her for being able to “make things work” with her husband, but that what she did would have never worked for me because my ex was a psychopath and didn’t have enough self awareness to be able to “work with me” on controlling his narcissistic and abusive behaviors.
Shortly after divulging my own situation, I received a puzzling and upsetting private message from her. I won’t quote it here, because it was too long and I no longer have it anyway. It was a very nasty message. In a condescending, insulting way, she had the gall to let me know that my ex couldn’t have been a psychopath (really? did she know him personally?) She said, “I don’t mean to hurt you or anything, but frankly, there is something about you that is a little “off.” That hurt a lot, but was also a huge red flag. She continued, saying that she suspected I was actually the narcissist in our relationship. Oh, really? Was she a fly on the wall during our marriage? Did she have some God-like omnicience to be able to “know” all this about a person she barely knew? Then she ended her long diatribe saying that “prayer is not going to help you” and “I am trying to help you see the truth about yourself.” It was one of the nastiest messages I’ve ever received, and it was sent under the guise of “being helpful.” I could have received more “help” from a serpent.
The next day I got two private messages from two of my Facebook friends informing me this woman had PM’d them and told them that I was crazy and to stay away from me. The bitch was gaslighting me and triangulating against me, attempting to turn my friends into flying monkeys! I promptly blocked this woman and later found out she had done this to several other women who she envied for one reason or another. It dawned on me that she had been projecting her own malignant narcissism onto her husband, who I am sure was the real victim in their relationship. It explained the possessive, predatory way she had posed with him in their photos. It explained everything.
I want way too much to trust people in this community because so many people have experienced the same type of abuse that I have, some less so and some more. It’s natural to feel like you’ve found a haven of like-minded people who are your friends by default because of their similar stories. You simply don’t want to believe there may be wolves in sheep’s clothing lurking within the community who may have suffered devastating abuse but have actually turned to narcissism as a way to cope with what happened to them. When you realize this, it can come as a shock and you feel so horribly betrayed. You begin to wonder if anyone can be trusted.
Yes, there are people you can trust but online, as in any other community, you have to be careful. Don’t assume someone isn’t a narcissist just because they are anti-narcissist, have a blog for survivors of abuse, or have a sad abuse story of their own. That doesn’t really mean anything. Use the person’s actions and behavior–and your own intuition–as your guide. If someone makes you feel like you always have to be careful what you say around them, if they intimidate you or make you feel like you’re walking on eggshells, proceed with extreme caution. Even if they’ve shown no narcissistic behaviors (yet), be watchful and vigilant. Don’t ever give personal information to anyone you don’t know extremely well.
The Internet is a wonderful resource for abuse survivors, but remember there are wolves in sheep’s clothing online too. Please be careful.