Narcissistic relationships can be found at work and at home, however workplace Narcissism can make for a stressful and challenging environment from which to conduct yourself professionally. In my practice, I’ve encountered many people who have struggled with Narcissistic relationships with parents, partners and coworkers.
One of the best indicators of Narcissistic relationships is the victimology profile which is almost always incredibly accurate. For anyone struggling, check out my article on the indicators (victimology) of a Narcissistic relationship as well as an article where I differentiate the two main types of Narcissism.
In this article, I wanted to investigate a little more into what these kinds of relationships or interactions could look like in the workplace and what you need to keep in mind in navigating a Narcissist.
What Are The Telltale Signs Of A Narcissist At Work?
We’ve all met that person who seems incredibly comfortable as the center of attention and seeks out the spotlight at any opportunity. But are they just outgoing? Are they really a Narcissist?
Preston Ni, in his article for Psychology Today on Workplace Narcissism, explores several indicators for the behaviour. Let’s dive into some fairly common characteristics that would set them apart.
1. They Hog the Spotlight
Wanting to be the center of attention and being quite comfortable in the limelight, is a classic sign of narcissism. At work, this is achieved by dominating meetings, presentations, conference calls, and email threads. This shows power and influence, both being extremely important to narcissistic personalities. Those with narcissistic personality disorder tend to think of themselves most of the time. They are very conscious of their physical appearance, wealth, talents, and achievements—and they expect your attention while they tell you about these attributes. These comments may tend to be exaggerated and are not necessarily accurate reflections of their lives. Other ways narcissists will claim the spotlight include:
- Talk about themselves almost exclusively
- Frequently highlighting their accomplishments
- Name and status dropping (i.e. their master’s degree, their salary and how much they spend on things or the celebrity they know)
- Seeking high degrees of positional power to ensure control.
- Spending time ensuring relationships with high-status individuals in the organization
- Interrupting others in conversations or meetings
2. Taking personal credit for the work of individuals or the team
We all know the phrase “give credit where credit’s due.” This typically does not apply to narcissistic personalities. Instead, they are known to take credit from others by stealing ideas or presenting a colleague’s hard work as their own. In reality, a narcissist often works less than others or is not a key player on a project, but fights to have their name appear at the top of the contributor’s list.
According to Ni, “A common complaint I hear from my private coaching clients is: “I spent months working on this project, but my colleague grabbed a chance to present my ideas to upper management. Now everyone thinks he’s the project leader.”
3. Using fear, guilt, shame, punishment and manipulation to gain compliance and control.
Aside from a lack of empathy, one of the main issues of the Narcissist is that they are well-practiced at using manipulation to get others to do as they want. This kind of control, or at least the perception of control, is essential to the image that they are creating.
4. They Require Constant Praise
Despite how outwardly confident narcissists may portray themselves, they are often quite insecure, with fragile self-esteem. To continually prop themselves up, they require near-constant attention, and excessive levels of loyalty, praise and adoration. They often have a grandiose sense of self-importance, fantasized talent or expertise, and arrogance. They will focus on their self-image and ensuring that others perform in a way that elevates their own public image or reputation.
5. They are Charismatic Without Follow Through
Charm and charisma are common narcissistic personality traits. They are often able to easily charm others, which can later turn into persuading others to believe in their ideas and manipulating people to get what they want. Often, narcissists are the ones who repeatedly break promises, miss deadlines, and ‘forget’ to pay you back.
6. They Often Display A Superiority Complex
Another telltale sign of narcissistic behavior is one’s inability to relate to others as equals. Instead, they assume a superior position and believe they are better or ‘above’ those around them. They often won’t consider other people’s opinions or engage them in conversations about problem-solving or changes. They often make decisions unilaterally.
7. They Spread Negative Emotions
Many narcissists enjoy arousing negative emotions from others. For example, “egging on” or “pushing buttons.” On the flip-side, they are sensitive and easily upset when the same is done to them and may lash out when disagreed with or being stood up to.
8. They Show a Sense of Entitlement
Narcissists think that others ought to offer them special favors and immediately fulfill their requests without question. If such treatment isn’t given to them, they may become impatient or angry, or give others the passive-aggressive silent treatment. They view others as existing primarily to serve their needs, abusing them and disregarding their wants and desires.
5. They Take Advantage of Others
I briefly touched on this previously, but many people are naturally drawn to narcissists because they present themselves as charismatic, and charming. Thus, narcissists may not have any issues getting people to do what they want, even causing burnout for those under them.
6. They Lack Empathy
Narcissists are unable to empathize with others or understand the struggles that their colleagues face. Even if they do recognize other people’s struggles, they don’t understand why these people don’t change according to their own needs. They care very little for the needs of others in the organization or on the team. (For example, saying, “It doesn’t matter if you miss your child’s game; work is more important.”)
7. They Are Remarkably Charming
Narcissists come off as charming and confident, but as the relationship develops if they are no longer perceived that way. People are generally drawn to narcissists at first because of their confidence and charm but become wary as they witness them vying for attention and manipulating those around them.
8. Exhibiting extremely competitive behavior
In a narcissist’s view, there are only winners and losers. They must make themselves out to be superior to everybody else. Their incessant need to win contributes to their inability to embrace another person’s success. It’s ALL winning or losing, leading to depression if they think they’re losing.
9. They Hold Long-Lasting Grudges
Narcissists harbor vengeance toward those who insult or disapprove of them or don’t give them what they want. They take any perceived slight as a personal attack and hold long grudges.
10. Unwillingness to be challenged or questioned
Narcissists struggle to accept and incorporate feedback. They are unable to cope when things don’t go their way and will be hard-pressed to ever admit fault when they are wrong. This makes it impossible for them to take any kind of criticism, even if it’s constructive.
How to Navigate A Relationships With A Workplace Narcissist
If you have to be in the office, it’s essential to develop a strategy around this kind of behavioral issue. Let’s discuss what you can do.
1. Remember that Narcissism is a Personality Disorder
Narcissism is classified as a mental disorder, one which offers no cures or treatment. Find compassion for the individual with Narcissism as they do actually have an untreatable mental disorder and will forever live their lives this way. Compassion should be confused with giving in to them or letting them control you, but finding some compassion for the individual, will serve you in navigating this relationship.
2. Remind Yourself of Your Value
It will be difficult but not impossible, perhaps with the support of your co-workers, to recall why you got hired in the first place. That is, remember your skillset, your qualifications, and the references that led you to seek out and land this valued position. The estimation of your actual value is in your hands and no one else’s.
3. Keep a Paper Trail
Your boss will have more power than you in his reviews of your work that go on file. You may have to begin to create a paper trail where you respectfully respond to any criticisms detailing your achievements. This will help you retain your own feeling of empowerment and forestall being held back from future goals.
4. Network for Yourself
Make your own contacts with other leaders in the company. However, don’t broadcast these actions to your narcissistic boss who may feel quickly slighted and further enraged. This is a delicate but important mission for your own rising aspirations.
5. Get Outside Support
You may find you take home the steady stream of manipulation with your boss’s voice echoing in your mind. This is the time to maintain self-awareness, self-observation, and introspection. Share with loved ones or others you trust what you are experiencing so you hear out loud others’ valid points of view about your work, your character, and your reasonable goals for the future. Their words will serve to counter what you’re hearing unreasonably at work.
6. Take Time for Reflection
You deal with a narcissistic boss outside their presence. Even more importantly, you deal with your boss when you take their words to heart and slip into self-doubt, making those words your words. If you notice you are doing this, take all the time you need for self-reflection until your own perspective overrides that negative voice in your mind.
7. Set Boundaries
Narcissistic people may try to work around someone’s personal boundaries or limits in order to further their own objectives or boost their self-esteem. If this occurs, be firm in your boundaries—while they may react negatively, this does not change the fact that you have a right to say no and to protect yourself first.
8. Keep Your Expectations Low
Keeping low expectations will simply remind you not to rely on the Narcissist for support, credit or encouragement. These relationships can be It’s important to be mindful that the narcissist boss will also have those who are suppliers and those who are injurers. When a boss has a narcissistic injury, they are often looking for validation and praise, so positioning yourself to be an ally can be beneficial for you if you are trying to work with them.
It’s obvious that certain personality types can wreak havoc on teams, departments, and even company culture as a whole. Narcissists can have a significant impact on your work environment and so it’s essential that you increase your awareness around not only what to look for, but what measures you can do to mitigate their effect on your own wellbeing.
For support in dealing with a Narcissist in the workplace or personally, let’s chat.
- Pauline Poless, Linda Torstveit, Ricardo Lugo, Marita Andreassen & Stefan Sutterlin. “Guilt and Proneness to Shame: Unethical Behavior in Vulnerable and Grandiose Narcissism” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5973515/ ) Accessed 03/16/22
- Nigel MacLennan. “How To Spot And Deal with Narcissists?” (https://www.psychreg.org/how-spot-deal-narcissists/ ) Accessed 01/24/2023
- HelpGuide.org. Narcissistic Personality Disorder. “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-disorders/narcissistic-personality-disorder.htm) Accessed 12/19/2022.
- Stathis Grapsas, Eddie Brummelman, Mitja D. Back and Jaap J. A. Denissen. “The “Why” and “How” of Narcissism: A Process Model of Narcissistic Status Pursuit” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6970445/ ) Accessed 12/19/22
Katrina Murphy is a Professional Intuitive Mindset and Confidence Coach in Ontario, Canada, serving clients across Canada and internationally. Katrina helps professionals to change the relationship that they have with themselves so they can reconnect both in their relationships and at work. She’s been featured in various publications and is the creator of the Power-Passion-Purpose Framework.