Written by Dr. Perry, PhD
Image Credit: Pixabay
“What do you mean they do not know who I am? I am… Y.” ~Narcissistic Boss
One of the most important relationships that we have, whether we like it or not, is with our boss. Many of us work 40 hour weeks or more and are often shadowed by a direct supervisor. By boss, I mean your employer or anyone who has a direct supervisory role over you. We would all love to have a relationship with our supervisor based on mutual respect and healthy boundaries but many of us are not so fortunate. Unfortunately, there are individuals among us who wear the mask of the “normalcy,” which allows them to easily blend into society. But, below this surface typicality, there lurks a highly skilled social predator who is constantly looking for the next person to exploit. Research indicates that up to 6 percent of the US population suffers from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). That means that walking among us, one out of 16 people can be diagnosed with NPD.
It is important to note that your boss may be an unpleasant person, but this does not automatically mean that he or she suffers from a personality disorder. I am concerned that the term “narcissist” is frequently used to label someone as suffering from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) without a proper diagnosis. Being obnoxious or exhibiting some traits from time to time does not mean a person suffers from NPD. Having said this, I will use the term “narcissist” in this post to describe a person with NPD.
The DSM-5 defines NPD as a person having 5 out of 9 of the following traits. These traits must be present throughout their lives. They must be inflexible, persistent and cause significant functional impairment and distress. This is a spectrum disorder, which means a person may have 5 or all 9 traits present, which will directly correlate with the severity of the behavior displayed. In this post, I am giving examples which are true. I have been given permission by X to share anecdotes of her employer Y. X was an employee of a small but very successful family-owned business started by Y. X was an employee for over 15 years and during that time was able to observe first-hand behaviors by Y that meet the criteria for NPD.
1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance. Will exaggerate achievements and talents and expect others to recognize their superiority without any commensurate achievements
In the case of X, her boss Y wanted to be recognized as having an IQ higher than anyone else. She was always right and would claim to have graduated from a prestigious university. The truth was that she had attended one semester and dropped out. No one was allowed to question her decision making. If anyone dared to contradict her, she would go out of her way to make life at work a nightmare until they quit. Y expected to be treated like a queen at work. She frequently screamed and lashed out when things did not go her way. These child-like tantrums would quickly subside when she got her way and Y would act as if nothing happened.
2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, beauty or ideal love
Y dreamt of being accepted into the inner circle of high society. If you were to talk to her, the conversation was often about how much money she was making, what designer bag she had purchased and her next trip to Europe. Money validated her existence and it ruled her mind. As Y aged she became more preoccupied with her youthful appearance and began to cosmetically alter herself. At work, she would display jealousy and hostility towards younger women. X saw many fresh-faced young women take on the position of being Y’s assistant only to later quit out of exhaustion. Y would openly berate these women appearing to enjoy destroying their egos. Y would be kind, even solicitous towards the male employees, enjoying the attention she would receive from them. She wanted to be seen as the most attractive and receive all of the male attention at work.
3. Excessive need for admiration
Every interaction with Y felt like there was a giant spotlight illuminated her. She needed to be at the center of everything and needed to be constantly validated. During work meetings, she would constantly interrupt to share inappropriate personal stories. She constantly shared stories about men stopping to compliment her. If Y was in the room every conversation had to be about her.
4. The belief that they are special and can only be understood by or should only associate with other special or high-status people
Y would constantly brag about her small company and how everyone in the industry knew her. She craved to be accepted by the wealthy individuals she catered to. She longed to be invited to social events and would become depressed and irritable when she was not. She would light up if a person of a certain stature would speak to her. Y felt she belonged with the wealthy and everyone else was not worthy of her time.
5. Arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes
Y could care less for others. She would often enter a room and only say hello to individuals she felt were worthy of her time. She avoided looking at people as if they were nonexistent. Y was very condescending at work and often would call people stupid. She would often violate someone’s personal space by speaking loudly to their face and touching them without permission. Y treated her employees as if they were property and interchangeable. Among the many incidents that X shared, there was one particular incident that exemplified Y’s attitude about her employees. At the main office, there was an employee that was slightly overweight. Y often made snide remarks about this employee. Y felt that this employee was damaging the company’s appearance so she relocated them to the warehouse division without any prior notification to the employee. Y’s attitude was out of sight out of mind.
Y expect to be treated as deserving special treatment. Her expectation was that if you were an employee of her company you were obligated to treat her as the queen of the company.
7. Lack of empathy
Y was not able to express any empathy. Y was completely self-absorbed and only interested in her existence. In the case of X, her father passed away the night before she had to work. X was expected and showed up to work the next day and worked a full day. Y was aware of the death and did not express any message of condolences. In actuality, she was especially demanding on this day. It was business as usual.
If you happen to reveal something personal that may be of use to a narcissist, they will exploit to their benefit. For instance, if they know you have weak boundaries and are not able to say no, they may proceed to use you to run errands and even babysit their children. They will remind you that you are “family.” They will often “gaslight” their employee to make them believe that they are the one with the problem.
9. Envious of others or believes that others are envious of her
Y had a lot of material wealth and success but this was not enough. She would still display envy towards others. She would constantly go out of her way to terrorize a younger employee based on her envy of their youth or attractiveness. She believed and often exclaimed that women were envious of her looks and success.
Steps to take to protect yourself in the workplace:
1. Avoid being alone with them
It is impossible to avoid interacting completely with your boss who you suspect suffers from NPD. But, you can try to avoid interacting with your boss while you are alone. Practice the buddy system and try to always have a co-worker present. If you find yourself alone with them, it is important that you maintain your boundaries and voice any discomfort you may have.
2. Don’t believe everything they say
Love bombing is one of the tactics most often used by individuals with NPD. A narcissist will idealize, devalue and eventually discard. Your employer may start by showing favoritism towards you. Boundaries will become blurred and you may feel you are actually friends. They may even state that you are more than an employee and they consider you family. They will idealize you during this stage only to later devalue you when you make a mistake. Eventually, you may find yourself discarded, without a job, once the narcissist feels there is nothing more to gain from you
3. Appease them
Whenever possible, as long as ethically and morally right, allow your boss to have the last word. Never contradict or embarrass a narcissist in front of others. This will only subject you to their narcissistic rage and revenge at a later date.
4. Love bomb them
Use the narcissist’s own weapon against them. Flattering a narcissist is a great distraction tactic. If you see they are in a bad mood, make sure to compliment them or make the conversation about them. Remember, in the narcissist’s world he or she is the center of the universe so they will normally not notice that you are manipulating the situation.
5. Maintain your professional distance
It is always a good idea to maintain a professional distance from your employer. It is especially important when you suspect your boss is a narcissist. Do not befriend them on Facebook or on any other social media platform. It is important to remember they are not your friend. You are simply a means to an end and are disposable. Remember the expression, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” In the case of the narcissist familiarity breeds opportunity.
6. Never reveal any personal information that may be used against you
While at work, it is important to keep things civil. But, it is not necessary to share your life story. If you find yourself in a social setting only reveal minimal information about your private life. This can easily be done by redirecting the conversation to make it about the narcissist. Discuss only business matters and make yourself uninteresting to them. If given the opportunity the narcissist will use any personal information you shared with them against you.
7. Don’t do favors
Avoid getting manipulated into doing favors or running errands for them after work hours. Once you open the door, you will never stop being an errand person.
8. Document everything
Document any form of harassment and inappropriate behavior. In the case you are unlawfully terminated, you will want to have proper documentation in order to support your case against the unlawful termination.
9. If it becomes unbearable prepare an exit plan
It is important that you are not manipulated into quitting. Seek the advice of a licensed attorney to make sure you have gathered all the documentation you will need if you are planning to take your employer to court. If you feel that you are able to exit peacefully make sure to get a letter of recommendation and leave on good terms.
10. Seek the help of a mental health professional
It is important that you assess the impact the narcissist may have had in your life. Once X lost her job she realized that she was suffering from PTSD as a result of the many years of abuse by her narcissistic boss.
This is not meant to be used as a tool to diagnose your boss or anyone else. Only a licensed psychologist may make the diagnosis. Diagnosis of NPD is typically based on a complete psychological evaluation that may include answering questionnaires and meeting criteria by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) This post is not for individuals who may be in a co-dependent relationship with a narcissist. This topic will be addressed in a later post.
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Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology
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