Practical Psychology | How Narcissistic Partners Use Instagram

Narcissists use Instagram to exploit their partners and enhance their own self-image.

If you use Instagram, you’ve likely seen an individual posting pictures of either themselves and their partner, or just their partner. Social media has changed the way people communicate their relationship statuses. Individual differences in such communication reflects differing types of personalities.

A study published this year in the Journal of Individual Differences has tested how self-esteem and narcissism predicts how people in relationships use Instagram. The findings illuminate the inner workings of such relationships.

Narcissism vs Self-Esteem in Relationships

Narcissism is defined as ‘the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s idealised self-image and attributes.’ Conversely, self-esteem is defined as ‘an individual’s subjective evaluation of their own worth.’

The two concepts have been proven to have different effects on romantic relationships, therefore producing different outcomes. For instance, narcissists are interested in the superficial benefits of a relationship, such as attention and sexual appetite. They are less committed and tend to pursue other dating partners.

How Narcissists Use Instagram
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Narcissists use social media as a tool to gratify their ego. They like to share information about themselves and exhibit an enhanced pride regarding their partner, despite their low levels of commitment and less caring attitudes towards their partners.

In contrast, high self-esteem individuals seek to maintain a good quality, stable relationship. They show greater levels of trust in their own self-worth and in their partner, which promotes higher levels of relationship satisfaction.

Furthermore, those high in self-esteem like to post pictures of both themselves and their partners, in addition to sharing information that is relevant to the relationship, as opposed to superficial, prideful statuses.

A Narcissist’s DMs

The present study found that narcissists use Instagram to pursue alternative partners. As Instagram is an environment where individuals present themselves visually, it is the perfect place for narcissists to confirm their belief in their own attractiveness and search for ‘trophy’ partners.

A previous study indicates that narcissists use Instagram for surveillance, monitoring others’ socioeconomic status, relationship status, number of friends and so forth. This may provide a method of selecting a suitable alternative partner.

How Narcissists Use Instagram
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Furthermore, previous studies have shown that narcissists tend to purposely select photos in which they look most attractive. Additionally, they are more likely to accept Facebook friend requests from others when in a relationship, perhaps as a kind of ‘insurance’.

Those high in self-esteem tend not to use Instagram in this fashion. In fact, they avoid messaging or replying to potential partners. As the direct message function allows individuals to communicate privately, and without their partners knowledge, it’s thought that high self-esteem individuals avoid this function to prevent any misunderstandings.

How Narcissists Instagram Their Partners

Narcissists use social media to construct their self-image. They often exploit relationships to express their superiority, affirm narcissistic esteem, and enhance their positive self-views.

As photographs are a powerful method of self-presentation, narcissists differ in their attitudes to posting. Instagram is used as a tool for attaining pride and social recognition based on how attractive or popular their partner is. Consequently, they tend to post more pictures that solely contain their partners.

This exhibitionist attitude towards their romantic partners can provide a stable method of managing their narcissistic impressions. Indeed, narcissists need a steady income of admiration to satiate their narcissistic supply. The alternative is to be threatened with narcissistic injury, which can result in depressive episodes and interpersonal rage.

How Narcissists Use Instagram
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Conversely, high-self esteem individuals have a different approach to Instagram while in a relationship. Rather than pictures of their partner on their own, they post pictures of themselves with their partner.

As these individuals tend to care for their partner, posting pictures as a couple may serve to confirm that their relationship is committed, thus maintaining a healthy and stable romantic connection.

Furthermore, since high self-esteem is related to healthy levels of self-worth, greater self-confidence, and positive relationship-oriented outcomes, these individuals gain less satisfaction from merely showing off their partner. Rather, they derive pleasure from displaying their relationship with their partner.

Practical Advice

These findings provide us with further tools for detecting narcissists online. Now, narcissism isn’t a dichotomous trait. Like normal personality traits, it’s best thought of as a bipolar continuum. People are not either non-narcissist or narcissist.

The problem arises when individuals demonstrate a combination of narcissistic traits. Narcissists are nasty people to have a romantic relationship with. Therefore, it’s important to recognise these behaviours and prepare oneself in subsequent interactions.

With the advent of Instagram, narcissists have more tools at their disposal to further their own self-image. Stay alert to your potential partner’s Instagram usage, observe how they use the platform to promote themselves. It may mean the difference between love and tragedy.


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