Dark Tetrad 2.0: Comparing the Online and Offline Effects of Psychological Abuse

Dark Tetrad 2.0 compares the “social (media) contract” and the unspoken rules of narcissistic family structures—two phenomena that signify a decline in our collective mental health and digital wellbeing.


We are facing a growing mental health crisis that coincides with the rise of social technology. Comparing the adverse effects of social technology and the effects of psychological manipulation “offline” suggests similarity in the causes, motivations, manifestations, and outcomes of abuse.

Narcissistic abuse affects more than 158 million people in the United States alone. Health experts estimate that up to 5% of the U.S. population has been clinically diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) where a lack of empathy and remorse and a disregard for reality often lead to destructive behaviors. In the world of corporate CEOs, the rate of psychopathy (another Dark Tetrad personality) could be as high as 21%.

Long-term effects of narcissistic abuse include but are not limited to: anxiety and depression; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); low self-worth and the feeling of “being lost”; overwhelming guilt; insomnia; nightmares; short-term memory loss; mood swings and irritability; emotional repression and the buildup of toxic emotions; an increased risk of developing mental disorders; trust issues connected with the long-standing manipulation endured; and susceptibility to self-destructive behaviors, such as substance abuse, excessive people-pleasing, overspending, and overeating.

Narcissistic behavior destroys lives, divides homes, and damages communities. Due to the nature of these disorders, many afflicted individuals deny having any problem at all, and so they go undiagnosed and undetected. This suggests a higher rate of occurrence of these disorders in the general population.

The connection between malignant narcissism and social media reveals similarities in behavior online and offline. Research suggests a correlation between higher amounts of social media use and higher levels of grandiose narcissism. The tendency of social networking sites to focus on self promotion makes them virtual breeding grounds for narcissistic behavior. Despite an abundance of scientific evidence on the adverse effects of social media on mental health, the continued popularity of social networking sites in the face of egregious abuses suggests an imbalance of power between these platforms and their users similar to that of Dark Tetrad relationships. Targets and victims of narcissistic abuse are often unaware of the nature of the manipulation until it’s too late.

Subtle forms of oppression in both instances are manifested in similar ways. For example, similar to how trauma bonding keeps victims of narcissistic abuse “coming back for more,” the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) pressures users to stay continually connected for fear that others might be having rewarding experiences without them. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggests that users frequently rely on the purported “benefits” of social media to justify continued or excessive use, even when considering the questionable ethics of social media companies. Just as social media platforms are absolved of responsibility for their crimes against humanity, victims of narcissistic abuse often forgive their oppressors for committing morally reprehensible acts.

Social media add significantly to a growing mental health crisis. Evidence suggests that social media platforms can damage the mental wellbeing of their users, and frequent use of these platforms is strongly associated with anxiety, loneliness, and depression. Young people are especially susceptible to the adverse effects of social networking sites. Social media addiction affects around 5% of young people and it’s been described as potentially more addictive than alcohol or cigarettes. Continuous circulation of easily accessible manipulated images causes young people to develop unrealistic expectations of how they should look and behave, which in turn leads to poor self-esteem and self-image. Erratic sleeping patterns have an adverse effect on scholastic performance and loss of sleep leads to poor mental health.

Adverse effects of social media use also include feelings of loneliness from the absence of gratification, and anxiety from a perceived need to keep up to date with the activities of friends, coworkers, and influencers. Research shows a strong association between frequent social media use, FOMO, and depression and anxiety. Users exhibiting codependency can suffer damaging psychological impacts from perceived social exclusion, and avid social networkers on average have lower life satisfaction.

Establishing conceptual links between social media practices and techniques used by Dark Tetrad personality types could provide insight on the nature of behavioral research in the industry, while revealing more about how these companies exert control over users in order to consolidate power in the global marketplace.

Can the adverse effects of social media be understood or examined more clearly through a lens of narcissistic abuse? And if so, would correlation imply causation? Can narcissistic abuse recovery strategies inform methods for addressing digital addiction? And finally, how can new strategies be developed for identifying, addressing, and preventing occurrences and recurrences of abuse in social and community contexts?

This research project aims to identify similarities between unhealthy manifestations of social technology and the techniques used by Dark Tetrad personality types to manipulate and control. I will also compare the adverse effects of social technologies with long-term effects of narcissistic abuse on mental, emotional, and cognitive health. To illustrate how the mutable nature of identity lends itself to psychological manipulation, I will deconstruct and reconstruct the concept of the Social Cyborg as it relates to notions of Digital Self and Society.

A cause and effect analysis of similarities in social conditioning (how victims respond) may provide opportunities for recognizing abuses when they occur, and for addressing and rectifying ongoing abuse, including developing strategies for decreasing dependence on social technology in local communities and in the workplace.

More generally, this discussion provides an opportunity to expand the practical definition of narcissistic and/or psychological abuse to account for the adverse effects of social technologies as they are proven to share similar outcomes over time.


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