Shirley thought that the abuse from her narcissistic husband would be over after the divorce was finalized. But it wasn’t. Instead, he found a new way to harass, embarrass, and torment her. He began to cyberbully and cyberstalk.
She noticed at first that he was liking or using the angry face her Facebook posts. When she didn’t respond, he made a sarcastic comment. Even after she would delete his comments, he would make another one even worse than the one before. So, she blocked him. But then he started following her friends and family commenting on their posts making derogatory comments about Shirley. The worst of which was, “She doesn’t deserve to be happy or alive.”
When her friends blocked him, he began creating fake profiles to friend her friends. Then he would post pictures, memes, and comments that were demeaning about Shirley. He made up stories about her and told secrets from her past posting it on her friend’s wall. He just would not stop.
So, Shirley got off Facebook and began using Instagram. But the same thing happened. She switched to Snapchat and it happened again. Every social media platform that she enjoyed, he would find her, then stalk her, and bully her and her friends. It felt like a haunting, she was scared. Finally, she left all social media.
But when her friends would innocently tag her on social media in a photo at an event, he began appearing in person. Since he was no longer able to cyberbully her, he began cyberstalking. He began sending her emails with pictures of where she had been the week before. He said he was gathering information about her to prove to everyone that she was a fraud. In everything he did, he did just enough not to be charged with anything yet still enough to torment her.
Shirley was confused, frightened, and horrified by the experience. She went to the police only to discover that he hadn’t made any threats that would constitute filing charges. She lost and more abused now than in the marriage. Desperate to regain some control, she began seeking answers to her questions.
Why is he doing this? When a narcissist feels abandoned, the hurt strikes them at their deepest levels of insecurity. All of the bravado and grandiosity of the narcissism is a cover-up to this deep-rooted insecurity which is protected by whatever means necessary. Part of the reason for the severe attack is that the narcissist feels vulnerable and is striking first. By beating down the misperceived opponent first, the narcissist wears them down so they cannot attack.
What is fueling this? Narcissists need attention for survival. For them, all attention is good even when a person is angry with them. When attention cannot be gotten in person, social media is a great second best. This feeds the narcissistic ego and keeps them at the center of attention. In this case, just knowing that Shirley was worried about the next bullying or stalking fueled her ex to keep going. After all, he was still the main focus of her attention, even though it was negative.
What is this? Simply put, cyberbullying is using electronic devices and/or apps. Usually, it is repetitive, aggressive, and intentional comments that are difficult for the victim to mount a defense. Examples include, “You are an idiot,” “You will never succeed,” or “Nobody cares about you.” The comments are designed to hurt, embarrass, or annoy the victim. These remarks can happen in a public forum or through private messaging apps. It is not unusual for a perpetrator to solicit others to participate in the bullying to further terrorize the victim.
How is this mental abuse? Actually, this can be emotional (fear, confusion, and anger), mental (mind games, twisting the truth), verbal (harassing statements, name-calling, threatening), and physical (stalking, intimidating, aggression) abuse. The level of escalation depends on the perpetrator and how far they will go to badger their victim. Whatever the type, this abuse is done to control the victim and their behavior, isolate them from friends and family, cause them to feel like this will never end, and perpetuate a feeling of dependency.
Can it get worse? Yes, cyberstalking is an example of how it escalates. This is a more intense form of cyberbullying where electronic devices and/or their apps are used to harass, intimidate, or stalk an individual, sometimes as events are happening. There might be false accusations, derogatory statements, name-calling, threats, or insults in combination with gathering information, monitoring whereabouts, or tracking location. Sometimes the statements can seem innocuous such as, “I didn’t know you knew that person,” or “I hope you had a good time out with your friends,” but to the victim, these are further indications of stalking behavior. It is important to note that cyberstalking is illegal in many states but can be difficult to prove.
What happens to the victim? In the case mentioned above where the victim has already experienced other forms of abuse within the marriage, this is particularly frightening. The intent of the divorce was to get away from the abuser but now the abuser has found another means for harassment. It is not uncommon for the victim to experience even lower self-esteem, some suicidal ideation, frustration, panic, depression, paranoia, or terror. Of course, this is what the narcissist wants. For the person who hurt them to be hurt.
What can be done? The most important step is to be aware of what is happening and what could happen. Knowing the different forms of cyberstalking is essential to protecting privacy. Shirley told a couple of friends and family members what was happening to her. She then got their help to monitor any communication for a while, so she was no longer receiving direct communication from him. When her ex realized that he was no longer getting her attention, he backed away.
Over time, things improved and then escalated again when Shirley got married. But as soon as she reestablished her boundaries, let others handle her communication, and refused to give him any attention, he went away again.