The Narcissist in the Workplace: Narcissistic Bosses and Employers
Frequently Asked Question # 81
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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The narcissist turns the workplace into a duplicitous hell. What to do?
To a narcissistic employer, the members of his "staff" are Secondary Sources of Narcissistic Supply. Their role is to accumulate the supply (remember events that support the grandiose self-image of the narcissist) and to regulate the Narcissistic Supply of the narcissist during dry spells - to adulate, adore, admire, agree, provide attention and approval, and, generally, serve as an audience to him.
The staff (or should we say "stuff"?) is supposed to remain passive. The narcissist is not interested in anything but the simplest function of mirroring. When the mirror acquires a personality and a life of its own, the narcissist is incensed. When independent minded, an employee might be in danger of being sacked by his narcissistic employer (an act which demonstrates the employer's omnipotence).
The employee's presumption to be the employer's equal by trying to befriend him (friendship is possible only among equals) injures the employer narcissistically. He is willing to accept his employees as underlings, whose very position serves to support his grandiose fantasies.
But his grandiosity is so tenuous and rests on such fragile foundations, that any hint of equality, disagreement or need (any intimation that the narcissist "needs" friends, for instance) threatens the narcissist profoundly. The narcissist is exceedingly insecure. It is easy to destabilise his impromptu "personality". His reactions are merely in self-defence.
Classic narcissistic behaviour is when idealisation is followed by devaluation. The devaluing attitude develops as a result of disagreements or simply because time has eroded the employee's capacity to serve as a FRESH Source of Supply.
The veteran employee, now taken for granted by his narcissistic employer, becomes uninspiring as a source of adulation, admiration and attention. The narcissist always seeks new thrills and stimuli.
The narcissist is notorious for his low threshold of resistance to boredom. His behaviour is impulsive and his biography tumultuous precisely because of his need to introduce uncertainty and risk to what he regards as "stagnation" or "slow death" (i.e., routine). Most interactions in the workplace are part of the rut and thus constitute a reminder of this routine deflating the narcissist's grandiose fantasies.
Narcissists do many unnecessary, wrong and even dangerous things in pursuit of the stabilisation of their inflated self-image.
Narcissists feel suffocated by intimacy, or by the constant reminders of the REAL, nitty-gritty world out there. It reduces them, makes them realise the Grandiosity Gap between their fantasies and reality. It is a threat to the precarious balance of their personality structures ("false" and invented) and treated by them as a menace.
Narcissists forever shift the blame, pass the buck, and engage in cognitive dissonance. They "pathologize" the other, foster feelings of guilt and shame in her, demean, debase and humiliate in order to preserve their sense of superiority.
This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
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Here are a few useful guidelines:
· Never disagree with the narcissist or contradict him;
· Never offer him any intimacy;
· Look awed by whatever attribute matters to him (for instance: by his professional achievements or by his good looks, or by his success with women and so on);
· Never remind him of life out there and if you do, connect it somehow to his sense of grandiosity. You can aggrandize even your office supplies, the most mundane thing conceivable by saying: "These are the BEST art materials ANY workplace is going to have", "We get them EXCLUSIVELY", etc.;
· Do not make any comment, which might directly or indirectly impinge on the narcissist's self-image, omnipotence, superior judgement, omniscience, skills, capabilities, professional record, or even omnipresence. Bad sentences start with: "I think you overlooked made a mistake here you don't know do you know you were not here yesterday so you cannot you should (interpreted as rude imposition, narcissists react very badly to perceived restrictions placed on their freedom) I (never mention the fact that you are a separate, independent entity, narcissists regard others as extensions of their selves) " You get the gist of it.
Manage your narcissistic boss. Notice patterns in his bullying. Is he more aggressive on Monday mornings - and more open to suggestions on Friday afternoon? Is he amenable to flattery? Can you modify his conduct by appealing to his morality, superior knowledge, good manners, cosmopolitanism, or upbringing? Manipulating the narcissist is the only way to survive in such a tainted workplace.
Can the narcissist be harnessed? Can his energies be channeled productively?
This would be a deeply flawed and even dangerous "advice". Various management gurus purport to teach us how to harness this force of nature known as malignant or pathological narcissism. Narcissists are driven, visionary, ambitious, exciting and productive, says Michael Maccoby, for instance. To ignore such a resource is a criminal waste. All we need to do is learn how to "handle" them.
Yet, this prescription is either naive or disingenuous. Narcissists cannot be "handled", or "managed", or "contained", or "channeled". They are, by definition, incapable of team work. They lack empathy, are exploitative, envious, haughty and feel entitled, even if such a feeling is commensurate only with their grandiose fantasies and when their accomplishments are meager.
Narcissists dissemble, conspire, destroy and self-destruct. Their drive is compulsive, their vision rarely grounded in reality, their human relations a calamity. In the long run, there is no enduring benefit to dancing with narcissists only ephemeral and, often, fallacious, "achievements".
Narcissist and Psychopath Awareness in the Workplace
Topic 1: Countering obstructive and negativistic passive-aggression in the workplace
Collectives - especially bureaucracies, such as for-profit
universities, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), the army, and
government - tend to behave
passive-aggressively and to frustrate their constituencies. This misconduct
is often aimed at releasing tensions and stress that the individuals comprising
these organizations accumulate in their daily contact with members of the
Additionally, as Kafka astutely observed, such misbehavior fosters dependence in the clients of these establishments and cements a relationship of superior (i.e., the obstructionist group) versus inferior (the demanding and deserving individual, who is reduced to begging and supplicating).
Passive-aggressiveness has a lot in common with pathological narcissism: the destructive envy, the recurrent attempts to buttress grandiose fantasies of omnipotence and omniscience, the lack of impulse control, the deficient ability to empathize, and the sense of entitlement, often incommensurate with its real-life achievements.
No wonder, therefore, that negativistic, narcissistic, and borderline organizations share similar traits and identical psychological defenses: most notably denial (mainly of the existence of problems and complaints), and projection (blaming the group's failures and dysfunction on its clients).
In such a state of mind, it is easy to confuse means (making money, hiring staff, constructing or renting facilities, and so on) with ends (providing loans, educating students, assisting the poor, fighting wars, etc.). Means become ends and ends become means.
Consequently, the original goals of the organization are now considered to be nothing more than obstacles on the way to realizing new aims: borrowers, students, or the poor are nuisances to be summarily dispensed with as the board of directors considers the erection of yet another office tower and the disbursement of yet another annual bonus to its members. As Parkinson noted, the collective perpetuates its existence, regardless of whether it has any role left and how well it functions.
As the constituencies of these collectives - most forcefully, its clients - protest and exert pressure in an attempt to restore them to their erstwhile state, the collectives develop a paranoid state of mind, a siege mentality, replete with persecutory delusions and aggressive behavior. This anxiety is an introjection of guilt. Deep inside, these organizations know that they have strayed from the right path. They anticipate attacks and rebukes and are rendered defensive and suspicious by the inevitable, impending onslaught.
Topic 2: Managing the Difficult Employee
Narcissistic, psychopathic (antisocial), schizoid, paranoid, and passive-aggressive (negativistic) employees disrupt team work, bully co-workers, and subvert corporate culture and the workplace environment. Teach employers how to identify such workers and how to cope with them effectively.
Topic 3: Managing Organizational Change and External Shocks
Organizational change and external shocks provoke in employees and management alike a host of emotional reactions and trigger a raft of psychological defense mechanisms. Properly managed this release of normally counterproductive energy can be channelled positively and yield smooth curves of organizational transformation and reinvention.
Topic 4: Inter- and cross-cultural sensitivity training
The theory and practice of working in narcissistic and psychopathic societies and cultures: skills for developing intra-corporate cultural sensitivity programs. More here: Narcissistic Collectives, Societies, and Cultures
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and other books about personality disorders. His YouTube channels about these topics garnered 5,800,000 views and 15,000 subscribers in 2 years. He also served as economic and financial advisor to governments and firms and as co-owner and manager of various business interests in several countries on 4 continents.
Interviews with major media throughout the world: http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com/mediakit.html
Sam Vaknin bio/resume/CV: http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com/cv.html
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