You’ve probably come across people who leave you scratching your head and wondering why they have such an inflated sense of self-importance. Why is it always about them? Why do they have a sense of entitlement over and above everyone else? Why do they keep telling everyone about their achievements, all the time, without ever recognising the contribution of others? Why do they never seem to connect with others and empathise with them? These are some signs of narcissistic personality traits.
What is the definition of narcissism?
Wikipedia defines narcissism as “the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes. The term originated from Greek mythology, where the young Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water.”
Here is a great little video that explains narcissism:
Some narcissistic personality traits
Four dimensions of narcissism have been identified, and these relate to leadership/authority, superiority/arrogance, self-absorption/self-admiration, and exploitativeness/entitlement.
Psychiatrists Hotchkiss and Masterson, in their research, identified what they call the seven deadly sins of narcissism. They are:
- Shamelessness – the inability to process shame in healthy ways. Narcissists may present themselves externally as being admired and envied by all, with a grandiose sense of self – the antithesis of weakness and shame.
- Magical thinking – a narcissist views themselves as perfect. A narcissist exaggerates their thinking and perceptions of their importance through distortion and illusion. This is known as ‘magical thinking’.
- Arrogance – this may display itself as the narcissist putting others down and degrading others to re-inflate their own sense of worth.
- Envy – a narcissist is great at minimising the achievements and accomplishments of others. It helps them feel superior.
- Entitlement – a narcissist feels that they deserve special and favourable treatment because they are superior to others. They also expect automatic compliance from others. Anyone who doesn’t comply is seen as attacking their superiority.
- Exploitation – narcissists will exploit others without any regard for their feelings or interests.
- Bad boundaries – this refers to a narcissist being unable to recognise that they have boundaries, and that others are not simply an extension of themselves – other people exist to meet the narcissists needs.
Working with a narcissist
A clue to spotting a narcissist is that they won’t help with menial tasks that help to keep the office environment functioning well for everyone’s benefit. An example might be not wiping the kitchen bench when it’s a mess, or putting away glasses that have been left out. These menial tasks are seen as beneath them. This is a small but important example – they view themselves as superior, and would never stoop to doing such tasks, they are far too important!
Narcissistic behaviour has the potential to wreak havoc in a workplace. Working directly with a narcissist can prove very challenging. There are lots of examples of narcissistic behaviour that occur in a workplace. Here’s a few:
You might find that they take credit for your work. They might ridicule you in front of others to inflate their own sense of self-importance. They might even sabotage you, and lie to get ahead. A narcissist may be jealous of others who are doing well at work – they will not want to celebrate your success, they will only celebrate success if it makes them look good.
A narcissist may seem quite competitive with others at work – they want to be the best, and they want to win. They may even pressure you to do something unethical, so that they have some power over you. A narcissist may spread gossip about you, and if you confront them about it, will deny it.
Narcissists seem to be good at identifying your weak spots and knowing how to exploit them. And a narcissist is the master of a back-handed compliment “Congratulations on that award – don’t worry that the finalists weren’t strong this year, you deserved it anyway!”
In the workplace, the narcissist will often over evaluate their performance compared to the way their peers assess them. They often think they are doing much better than they are.
Some practical things you can do if you work with a narcissist
Don’t get involved in a fight
Whilst it may be difficult, try not to avoid being brought into arguments or fights with the narcissist. They are great at winding people up to get a reaction, and then exploit their weaknesses. Don’t give the narcissist any opportunity to speak poorly of you or give them any ammunition to use you against you later. If you are able to, it’s best if you can avoid contact with the person altogether. This won’t always be feasible in the workplace.
Keep good documentation
If the person who is providing you work instructions is a narcissist, then it’s always a good idea to get those instructions in writing. Documentation will help you if things go horribly wrong and you are thrown under the bus by the narcissist.
If you are receiving instructions verbally from the narcissist, it’s a good idea for you to follow up with an email to confirm your understanding of the instructions you’ve been given. Keep good records of conversations and meetings, including dates and times, so that you can refer to it later if you need to.
Remember, it isn’t about you
Understand that it isn’t personal. A narcissist is a narcissist regardless of who they work with. Don’t take it personally – you are not being treated poorly because of anything you have done. The fact is, the narcissist is very insecure, despite the bragging and bravado. They are threatened by people who they are better than them or who might show them up in any way.
If you keep reminding yourself that it isn’t about you, and about their insecurity, you will find it easier to walk away when interactions go badly.
Keep personal information to yourself
A narcissist loves to exploit your weaknesses, so try to keep your opinions and personal information to yourself. A narcissist loves getting the dirt on other people, so if they ask you “Hey, what do you think of Susan?”, you can bet that not only will they tell Susan what you said about her, they will twist it and embellish it. So it’s best to avoid personal conversations.
Don’t let on any struggles you might be having in your personal life, such as things you are dealing with in your family. If they try to draw you into those conversations, change the subject or walk away. Don’t get sucked in.
Narcissistic personality disorder
Whilst we all to some degree possess narcissist traits, there is a spectrum of behaviour, and how these traits are expressed will differ between individuals. It is estimated that 1% of the population has what’s known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This is when the behaviours are consistent and enduring, reflecting a grandiose sense of self-importance.
There are some psychological tests that measure narcissism – these are the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) and the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI).
If you are working with a narcissist you may need to consider an exit strategy. Remaining with a narcissist who makes you miserable is not a long-term strategy and you may need to start planning your move. Don’t leave your job straight away (unless of course you can manage financially without it), but plan your next move.
Find out how you build a career for yourself, from home. You don’t need to stay stuck in a job that doesn’t lift you and allow you to be you. Click on the image if you’re ready for something new:
You are in charge of your life.
Don’t let a narcissist in your workplace bring you down.
I’d love to hear your opinions. Tell me about your experiences!