How To Deal With A Narcissistic Boss

Your new people management skills will come in handy when you can spot the sociopaths and functional psychopaths among leaders and the people in your life.

It’s become a well-known fact that’s turned into an adage that psychopaths and CEOs have a lot in common. What might not be so obvious a fact is that the narcissists inside the C-Suite, if they are in fact narcissists, are basically sociopathic or psychopathic in tendency. The checklist for NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) consists of nine major personality dimensions. Having five of these qualities or more is considered criteria for narcissistic psychopathy. True narcissists are the most damaging (and damaged) people you will ever meet, wreaking havoc in lives and business while basically getting away with their behaviour because most people don’t know how to spot the narcissistic psychopathy right in front of their eyes. Most people aren’t psychopaths or far-gone sociopaths. But these types seem to be inordinately rewarded within systems for their aggressive style, reckless boldness, dishonesty, and lack of empathy. We have structured businesses to reward these kinds of character traits over traits such as empathy, honesty, humility and cooperation. The more aggressive styles are rewarded with top posts because these types are seen as the people who get things done.

This is a damaging perspective to maintain, for companies and the people who serve under these dominant and dominating personality types.

Having been around people who have been diagnosed with NPD, it can be a disorienting and crazy-making experience. No matter how much you might wish the person to be different, no matter how much you change your style of interaction and communication with them, there is one concrete fact: They won’t change. The narcissist is not capable of inner self-reflection, and they will continue their pattern of psychopathy no matter how much you try to connect on the levels that mean something to you and the vast majority of people who don’t display these tendencies. Grandiose, blaming others, sadistic, your narcissistic boss will continue to be themselves, playing out the game they know so well, which leaves you at a distinct disadvantage.

So, what can you do if you think you have a narcissistic boss? The first step is to identify them so you can see them. From there, as all the psychiatrists say, you should stay as far away from them as possible and limit your interaction. Why? Because their psychopathy will make you sick mentally and emotionally; it’s a fact in sick relationships that the sickness spreads to the healthy, without the healthy realizing it’s happening. As this happens person by person, and a narcissistic boss is allowed to persist, you will find the sickness infecting your entire organization. The absolute best thing that can happen is bosses who display this behaviour will be released so that your organization and its people can heal from the damage a narcissist brings to work with them every day.

Signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder and the severity of symptoms vary.

Wikipedia says, “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5, 2013) indicates that a person with NPD possesses at least five of the following nine criteria, typically without possessing the commensurate personal qualities or accomplishments for which they demand respect and status:

  • Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from other people
  • Continually demeaning, bullying and belittling others
  • Exploiting others to achieve personal gain
  • Lack of empathy for the negative impact they have on the feelings, wishes, and needs of other people
  • Fixation on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
  • Self-perception of being unique, superior, and associated with high-status people and institutions
  • Need for continual admiration from others
  • Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  • Intense envy of others, and the belief that others are equally envious of them

“People with NPD exaggerate their skills, accomplishments, and their degree of intimacy with people they consider high-status. Such a sense of personal superiority may cause them to monopolize conversations or to become impatient and disdainful when other persons talk about themselves. When wounded in the ego, either by a real or a perceived criticism, the narcissist’s displays of anger can be disproportionate to the nature of the criticism suffered; but typically, the actions and responses of the NPD person are deliberate and calculated. Despite occasional flare-ups of personal insecurity, the inflated self-concept of the NPD person is primarily stable.

“To the extent that people are pathologically narcissistic, the person with NPD can be a self-absorbed control freak who passes blame and is intolerant of contradictory views and opinions; is apathetic towards the emotional, mental, and psychological needs of other people; and is indifferent to the negative effects of his or her behaviors, whilst insisting that people should see him or her as an ideal person. To protect their fragile self-concept, narcissists use psycho-social strategies, such as the tendency to devalue and derogate and to insult and blame other people, usually with anger and hostility towards people’s responses to the narcissist’s anti-social conduct.

“The DSM-5 indicates that: ‘Many highly successful individuals display personality traits that might be considered narcissistic. Only when these traits are inflexible, maladaptive, and persisting, and cause significant functional impairment or subjective distress, do they constitute narcissistic personality disorder.’ Given the high-function sociability associated with narcissism, some people with NPD might not view such a diagnosis as a functional impairment to their lives. Although overconfidence tends to make people with NPD very ambitious, such a mindset does not necessarily lead to professional high achievement and success, because they might be unwilling to compete, or refuse to take risks, in order to avoid failure or the appearance of failure. Moreover, the psychological inability to tolerate disagreement, contradiction, and criticism, and their apathy towards other people, make it difficult for persons with NPD to work cooperatively or to maintain long-term, professional relationships with superiors and colleagues.”

Most everyone is familiar with the term ‘gaslighting’, a technique that the narcissist feeds on in order to destroy reality itself. It happens between couples, but it also happens at the office. In essence it’s a torture technique to make you doubt your own mind in a process of eroding reality and the self-esteem of the victim. I use the word victim here because people with NPD, especially those matching all criteria combined with comorbidities, are predators and know exactly what they’re doing.

On the subject of gaslighting, Wikipedia says, “Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group, covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes including low self-esteem. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and misinformation, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s beliefs. Instances can range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents occurred, to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.”

You’re probably not in the position to fire your narcissistic boss. But the one thing you can do for yourself and your emotional and mental health is to stay far, far, far away. The alarming fact of being around narcissists too much and too long is their own sickness will rub off on the healthy people around them, who then begin to display the tendencies of the sick narcissist themselves. And, believe me, no one needs that.

Keep up with interesting videos and articles every week. Become a magazine subscriber.