One of the problems of narcissism is that it’s hard to spot. Narcissists often have many very positive traits, such as being outgoing, charming, intelligent, motivating, inspirational, visionary, attractive, and friendly. They are often very charismatic. Yes, these traits are enticing.
However, there can be a dark side to these seemingly awesome traits. For instance, the friendly, charming, and outgoing narcissist is really only capable of a superficial type of relating, and their reasons for relating to you are only self-serving. They do not have the ability to really connect on a caring or compassionate level. They may like you, but do not care about you.
Their intelligence can be especially alluring and manipulative. You may be caught up in their web of deception because of your strong admiration for their brilliance. Their charisma, attractiveness, and enthusiasm can be contagious. People can get caught up in their energy and get either sucked in or lulled into their “hypnotic” powers, as if in a trance. This is why so many people don’t know how they “got there” or what to do once there.
Before I go further, I would like to write a few definitions regarding some of the more prevalent personality disorder types that you will most likely encounter at work. All are narcissistic and all involve interpersonal relationship dysfunction. Please note that traits listed are not exhaustive:
Narcissist: lack of empathy; need for admiration; arrogance; sense of entitlement; Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde tendencies; thrive on narcissistic supply.
Borderline: strong mood swings; fear of abandonment; anger outbursts; unstable relationships; impulsive; self-destructive; fragmented sense of self.
Sociopath (Antisocial Personality Disorder): superficially charming; cold; complete lack of empathy, remorse, or shame; pathologically dishonest; masterful con artists; have a complete inability to see that anything is wrong with them; irresponsible and unreliable; values complete control over his victim(s).
Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder: perfectionist; overwhelming need for punctuality; overly frugal with money; excessive devotion to tasks at the expense of relationships; difficulties relating to people.
Some things to realize if you encounter a narcissist on the job:
- You may feel “crazy,” confused, and doubt yourself.
- They will not see your point of view no matter how much you try to get them to understand it.
- If you have a conflict with a narcissist (and they love to create conflicts,) don’t expect a resolution or apology.
- Your feelings will be hurt.
- You will feel defensive and find a need to explain yourself.
- You will find yourself trying to explain “normal” human relationship rules to this person.
- You will keep trying to do that one thing that will make a difference with this person. (There is no end to the number of hoops you will need to jump through.)
- The “rules” always change. Once you think you figured out what to do with this person, you will discover that you are no longer even “playing the same game.”
- They will project on to you all of their negative traits, even to the point of calling you a narcissist.
If the narcissistic person is one of your patients or customers, then most likely you will face extra challenges, because your role is to try and take care of him. However, since the customer or patient has the upper hand, they may use this advantage to exploit you.
The following advice is suggested:
- Set firm boundaries. People with personality disorders do not respect anyone’s boundaries. They don’t see themselves as needing to, believing themselves to be above the needs and rights of others.
- Always hold this person accountable. By holding a master manipulator accountable, you can keep your company’s culture healthy.
- Document, document, document. By holding them accountable for their actions and documenting inappropriate behavior, you can hold on to yourself and a healthy company culture.
- Never let them see you sweat. If you feel your emotions starting to rise, politely excuse yourself so you can regroup. Pretend as if it has nothing to do with them.
- Learn to detach. Try to see the other person’s behavior as a form of mental illness. This will help you to not personalize it or need to stop it. This approach will help you manage the interactions more effectively.
- Avoid a power struggle. Narcissists love power struggles. They love to win. Do your best to understand this reality and learn to say no to any “invitation” the narcissist hands you to participate in this type of battle.
- Be educated. Understand personality disorders. Google the word, “narcissist” and read up on how to manage these types of people. It will save you a lot of heart ache and explain why you’re having difficulties with this person.
- Don’t try to change them. This is a waste of your time, energy, and life. Let go of any belief that you can influence any level of change in this person.
- Realize the narcissist is a barrier or constraint to success. You will need a good work around plan. Don’t let yourself need a narcissist for anything. This is a trap.
- Notice your feelings. Remember the acronym FOG – Fear, Obligation, Guilt. Abusers and manipulators use these tactics to coerce you into doing what they want. Be aware if you feel any of these feelings and don’t make any decisions based on them. This will help you know when someone is trying to manipulate you.
- Hold on to your personal power. Don’t give your power away to a narcissist. This is self-destruction. Don’t let yourself be manipulated. The best way to keep your sanity is to remind yourself that no other person has the capacity to define you or “steal your joy.” Only you can control your choices, actions, and ultimately, your peace of mind.
One important fact to remember, is that narcissistic persons are “characterologically disturbed.” It is easy to believe that this person will respond as anyone would who has a problem. Be aware, however, that you should not use the same interventions of treatment as you would with a person who merely has a neurosis. Heed George Simon’s advice in his book, In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People:
“Persons whose training overly indoctrinated them in the theory of neurosis may “frame” the problems presented them incorrectly. They may, for example, assume that a person who all their life has aggressively pursued independence, resisted allegiance to others, and taken what they could from relationships without feeling obliged to give something back must necessarily be “compensating” for a “fear” of intimacy. In other words, they will view a hardened, abusive fighter as a terrified runner, thus misperceiving the core reality of the situation.”
In other words, stop feeling sorry for the perpetrator of abuse or manipulation. Be savvy. You don’t have to be mean, you just have to be strategic. It helps to realize that the person is not a victim of something, rather a perpetrator of abuse/manipulation. You don’t have to tell the person this, you just need to know it and treat the situation accordingly.
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Lipkin, N. , May 22, 2018. How to Work With A Narcissist (When You Have No Choice). Retrieved from: https://medium.com/@DrNicoleLipkin/how-to-work-with-a-narcissist-when-you-have-no-choice-85da0a878352
O’Donnell, J.T., Oct. 20, 2017. 16 signs your coworker might be a sociopath – how to handle it. Business Insider. Retrieved from: https://www.businessinsider.com/16-signs-your-coworker-might-be-a-sociopath-and-how-to-handle-it-2017-10
Simon, G.K. (2010). In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People. Marion, MI: Parkhurst Brothers Publishers.