by: Dr. S. Vaknin
To the narcissist, the Internet is an alluring and irresistible combination of playground and hunting grounds, the gathering place of numerous potential sources of narcissistic supply, a world where false identities are the norm and mind games the bon ton. And it is beyond the reach of the law, the pale of social norms, the strictures of civilized conduct.
The somatic finds cyber-sex and cyber-relationships aplenty. The cerebral claims false accomplishments, fake skills, erudition and talents. Both, if minimally communicative, end up at the instantly gratifying epicenter of a cult of fans, followers, stalkers, erotomaniacs, denigrators, and plain nuts. The constant attention and attendant quasi-celebrity feed and sustain their grandiose fantasies and inflated self-image.
The Internet is an extension of the real-life Narcissistic Pathological Space but without its risks, injuries, and disappointments. In the virtual universe of the Web, the narcissist vanishes and reappears with ease, often adopting a myriad aliases and nicknames. He (or she) can thus fend off criticism, abuse, disagreement, and disapproval effectively and in real time - and, simultaneously, preserve the precarious balance of his infantile personality. Narcissists are, therefore, prone to Internet addiction.
The positive characteristics of the Net are largely lost on the narcissist. He is not keen on expanding his horizons, fostering true relationships, or getting in real contact with other people. The narcissist is forever the provincial because he filters everything through the narrow lens of his addiction. He measures others - and idealizes or devalues them - according to one criterion only: how useful they might be as sources of narcissistic supply.
The Internet is an egalitarian medium where people are judged by the consistency and quality of their contributions rather than by the content or bombast of their claims. But the narcissist is driven to distracting discomfiture by a lack of clear and commonly accepted hierarchy (with himself at the pinnacle). He fervently and aggressively tries to impose the "natural order" - either by monopolizing the interaction or, if that fails, by becoming a major disruptive influence.
But the Internet may also be the closest many narcissists get to psychodynamic therapy. Because it is still largely text-based, the Web is populated by disembodied entities. By interacting with these intermittent, unpredictable, ultimately unknowable, ephemeral, and ethereal voices - the narcissist is compelled to project unto them his own experiences, fears, hopes, and prejudices.
Transference (and counter-transference) are quite common on the Net and the narcissist's defense mechanisms - notably projection and projective identification - are frequently aroused. The therapeutic process is set in motion by the - unbridled, uncensored, and brutally honest - reactions to the narcissist's repertory of antics, pretensions, delusions, and fantasies.
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, reverting to the schizoid posture. Others become openly antisocial and seek to subvert, sabotage, and destroy the online sources of their frustration. A few retreat and confine themselves to the company of adoring sycophants and unquestioning groupies.