Are you working with a narcissist?

How to spot and deal with this surprisingly common personality trait

We have all likely been in the situation where we have had to work alongside somebody who seems selfish, manipulative and egotistical. Like the namesake mythological Greek character, Narcissus, do you know somebody who you’re sure would also fall in love with their own reflection in the water? We may assume that this sort of behaviour is a result of modernity and created by recent generations being brought up in an overpraising society; however, narcissism is actually thought to be inherent, so no parent blaming required!

There are a number of levels of severity on the narcissism scale, with healthy narcissism being a requirement of healthy development amongst most people. Put simply, healthy narcissism can be defined as a sense of self-worth/love and self-esteem and is what drives us to achieve and enjoy the social rewards of that achievement. Unhealthy narcissism (narcissistic personality disorder) on the other hand can range from being mildly irritating to the people associating with the ‘entitled and self-centred’ narcissist to an extremely destructive situation where the narcissist causes extreme psychological and emotional pain to those around them.

How to identify a narcissist in the workplace

People displaying negative narcissistic behaviour need to be the centre of attention and believe that they are superior to everyone else around them. Narcissists often have trouble empathising with others and will often display traits of megalomania (the deluded belief that they are omnipotent or more special than everyone else). Their constant need for admiration is paired with their belief that they can do no wrong – ever!

If you give them the constant admiration that they crave, they will take you under their wing and you may even feel a little special yourself, getting swept up in the ‘almost’ mutual admiration the narcissist will give you. That is until they either become bored of you or realise they cannot gain anything by manipulating you. If you don’t show them constant admiration, watch out – you will be treated as inferior and almost definitely become the target of their constant derision and possibly even bullying. Narcissists often perform quite well at work, as their hunger for power drives them to extreme competitiveness. Obviously though, this isn’t a good thing if their achievements come at a cost to those around them.

How to survive working with a narcissist

You may want to pull out your hair when confronted with a narcissist at work; however, there are a few things you can do to make your interactions somewhat bearable:

Don’t expect true friendship – A narcissist will only befriend you while they think they can get something out of you. They may even praise you and do you favours, until they realise you’re not giving more than they are getting. Remain friendly though – narcissists are often inwardly vulnerable.

Avoid criticism – Criticising a narcissist NEVER ends well as criticism will be seen as a threat to their superiority and perfection. They will almost always respond with narcissistic rage, which can range from completely ignoring your criticism as though you never spoke (trust me, they will definitely have heard what you told them and will probably plot their revenge later on), complaining about you behind your back to others, becoming extremely defensive and even responding with abuse or violence!

Regardless of their response, they’re unlikely to utilise your criticism in a constructive manner. If you need to criticise but want to keep the peace, try to do so in a manner that deflects blame or fault away from the narcissist.

Ignore attention grabbing – By ignoring the narcissists attempts at demanding attention, you will always be on their bad side; however, if you give in, you’ll be expected to be their go-to whenever they want to feel special. Which will be almost constant. You choose!

Don’t show hurt – If you find you’ve become the victim of a narcissistic bully, try to ignore it and not show hurt. Some narcissists thrive on hurting others but will soon become bored if they are not achieving their objectives.

Mind your own business – Literally. Try to avoid bragging about your own successes or goals in the presence of a narcissist. They may belittle your achievements or may even do whatever it takes to steal your glory. If you’re going for a promotion, keep it to yourself unless you want to compete with a highly driven go-getter!

Utilise their skills – If you’re working on a project that requires a high level of drive, a narcissist can actually be a great teammate to work with. Sure, they may take the lead, push you around and expect all the praise, but they sure do work their hardest to achieve results!

Understand their behaviour – You don’t need to feel sorry for a narcissist (although, you’re a very understanding person if you can!), but understanding that their behaviour may come from a place of insecurity, inadequacy and low self-esteem may help you cope. A narcissist is unlikely to change or even recognise that they have a problem, but it is defined as a mental illness, so a little understanding never goes astray.

The CFS Team
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