Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the person posting the selfie, sharing good news, or writing an outspoken social media post you should be worried about: it’s the bully in the comments section who is degrading him or her excessively for daring to exist online. This is how you know someone has narcissistic traits: the sheer entitlement it takes to go on a stranger’s profile and attempt to dictate what they post, or worse, shame them for doing so, speaks to their lack of empathy and excessive need for control.

2. Cyberbullying and trolling.

Perhaps the least surprising behavior narcissists engage in online is cyberbullying and trolling. Narcissists online enjoy bullying others and derive a sadistic sense of pleasure in doing so. They post provocative comments, disturbing threats, and mind-blowingly cruel insults. They have long histories of serial cyberbullying, much of which should warrant prison time. These are the “professional” trolls whose online identities exist purely for the purpose of taunting others, especially those who are already marginalized.

Research has shown that those who enjoy trolling also happen to have high levels of narcissism, sadism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism, known as the Dark Tetrad of personality (Buckels, Trapnell & Paulhus, 2014).This means that the same narcissists and psychopaths you encounter in real life could very well also be doling out their abuse behind the computer screen.

An even more recent study revealed that while trolls have the cognitive empathy to assess how someone might feel about their insulting comments, they lack the affective empathy to actually care about how that other person might feel (Sest & March, 2017). The same study showed that higher levels of sadism and psychopathy predicted trolling behavior. The higher someone scored on psychopathy, the more likely they were able to recognize and provoke the suffering of their victims but remain emotionally indifferent to it. Unsurprisingly, the same conclusion about cognitive empathy versus affective empathy has been shown for narcissists in another study (Wai & Tiliopoulos, 2012).

In short? The reason trolls and cyberbullies are able to abuse others so effectively (or at the very least persistently) is because they derive a sick sense of pleasure from harming others and do not suffer any negative emotional consequences themselves from inflicting pain. While not all trolls are created equal, those who are psychopathic and narcissistic are psychologically dangerous to those they target.

3. Harassment, stalking, and boundary-breaking love triangles.

Narcissists online don’t just “stop” at trolling. They also resort to harassment and stalking online if they don’t get the attention they require.

It’s common for a narcissist to create multiple anonymous accounts to persistently badger the people who threaten their false sense of superiority and entitlement. They will stalk people on multiple social media platforms, leave insulting and threatening comments, write public commentary misrepresenting the person, business, or brand, and try to “overtake” the sense of safety someone feels online.

Narcissists also don’t take “no” for an answer – to them, boundaries do not exist and do not need to be honored. They believe exploitation is a reasonable way to get their needs met. These are the types who will send you excessive messages online demanding a response, even if you do not know them, guilt-tripping you into believing you have to “serve” them. That’s because they feel entitled to your time and your energy, regardless of whether or not you actually owe them anything.

Domestic Violence and Cyberstalking

It’s not just complete strangers who can behave this way, either. Many victims of malignant narcissistic partners also find themselves harassed, stalked and bullied online by their former partners, especially if these victims left their abusers first.