Is the difficult person in your workplace a Narcissist?
Read through the items listed below and tick any that apply to the difficult person in your workplace. Only mark the trait if it is expressed excessively, meaning that it occurs more often than not.
1. Self-absorbed –
- Acts like everything is all about him or her
- Monopolises meetings and conversations
- Interrupts when others are speaking, assuming that his or her words are more important
2. Self-promoting –
- Constantly exaggerating achievements & talents
- Views his or herself as an expert on everything
- Intensely dislikes being interrupted
- Takes credit for others’ work to promote self
3. Entitled –
- Expects special attention from almost everyone
- Acts as though rules do not apply to him or her
- Expects special treatment or privileges
4. Demeaning –
- Becomes bullyish, condescending, and obnoxious when things don’t go his or her own way
- If he or she receives a ‘blow to the ego’, can attack you or hide
5. Distrustful –
- Suspicious of your motives when you are being nice to him or her
- Demands explanations & clarification in conversations
6. Perfectionistic –
- Demands rigidly high standards of self and others
- Prone to temper tantrums when things don’t go his or her way
- Gets overly consumed with details and minutiae
7. Snobbish –
- Believes he or she is superior to you and others
8. Approval seeking –
- Requires excessive admiration
- Constantly fishing for compliments, recognition, and favours
9. Unempathic –
- Uninterested or unable to understand your inner experience or point of view
10. Manipulative & Exploitative –
- Takes advantages of others to achieve his or her own ends
11. Unremorseful –
- Cannot offer a genuine apology
12. Emotionally detached –
- Steers clear of feeling
If you ticked several of the above, it is likely that the difficult person you are working with has a Narcissistic personality disorder, or at least has Narcissistic tendencies (1).
Origins of Narcissism
According to Greek Mythology, Narcissus was a handsome man that fell in love with his reflection in the water. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus died. Thus, Narcissus is the origin of the term narcissism, a fixation with oneself.
In the field of Psychology, it has been theorised that unhealthy narcissism arises from our childhood environment, specifically our relationships with our caregivers (parents).
The Spoiled Child: One theory suggests that narcissistic characteristics – such as the notion of being better than others, and having special rights and privileges – were indoctrinated and modelled. There may have been few limits set and few consequences for breaking the rules. This person may have been utterly indulged as a child.
The Dependent Child: Another proposal is that one or both parents have done everything for the child, who has then grown up to feel entitled to have others take care of him or her, and do everything for them. Thus this individual has not had the experience of dealing with the frustration – or the potential humiliation – of making a wrong decision or feeling like a failure.
The Lonely & Deprived Child: The most popular proposal for the typical origins of narcissism is that the child grew up feeling conditionally loved, that love was based on performance. This individual’s parent(s) taught him or her to be the best and as a result, anything short of perfect meant that he or she was flawed, inadequate and unloveable. As a child, they may have been manipulated into believing their emotional needs could only be met if theyt strived for greatness. In response to profound emotional deprivation, manipulation and control from parent(s), this individual may have coped by believing: “I will need no one”; “No-one can be trusted”; or “I’ll show you”.
Narcissism sounds like a disaster doesn’t it? But it’s not! We all need some traits of narcissism. Narcissism appears along a spectrum, ranging from healthy narcissism to unhealthy narcissism.
Healthy narcissism contains the seeds of assertiveness and self-respect. It is important for us to grow up in a safe, loving and grounded family, with a secure parent-child relationship, allowing us to develop a sense of family values, give and take, and personal responsibility. The child learns how to be accountable without feeling flawed or damaged, therefore developing a healthy sense of entitlement, meaning that as an adult, this individual can maintain self-worth and recognise their right to be respected and included; as well as appreciating and respecting the rights of others.
Ultimately, the individual develops a healthy balance between receptivity to others and self-directed attention.
Strategies for dealing with Narcissism in the workplace:
In a corporate environment, there are times when you don’t have the choice to simply walk away (like in personal relationships). Therefore it’s important to focus on what you CAN control and change. You may wish to consider the following:
- Always be assertive in your communication style. For tips on improving your assertiveness, visit http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/resources/infopax.cfm?Info_ID=51.
- Avoid arguments and making yourself a target. Criticising a narcissist can result in “narcissistic rage,” where a narcissist wards off shame by retaliating against the person who caused them injury. These reactions are extreme and out of proportion to the trigger event. Dr. Carl Robinson of Advanced Leadership Consulting adds, “The best way to deliver advice is with a neutral and assertive voice stating the facts as your perception and interpretation of things, not as a truth. This gives the individual wiggle room, room for face saving.”
- Don’t take anything personally. The narcissist doesn’t view you as a human with wants and needs, but as a source of self-esteem for him or herself.
- Accept that you will probably not receive credit for your accomplishments.
- Lower your expectations. For example, you aren’t going to get consistent care and support from a narcissistic manager, supervisor or colleague.
- Enlist support of others. It is draining to clash with narcissists, and interacting with a narcissistic person can leave you feeling like you did something wrong, or even make you question your own competence or judgment. Often this is because of an unconscious process where a narcissistic person manages to transfer their own bad feelings onto you. To stay psychologically centred, you’ll need help to reality test and to process negative emotion. You may wish to consult with a psychologist to bolster your self-esteem.
- Make a complaint if you need to. Refer to the Code of Conduct about what is acceptable behaviour in the workplace. If there is someone behaving inappropriately or breaching the Code of Conduct, then you should consider reporting it to your supervisor or Human Resources.
- Try to muster some empathy. Even though narcissists are terrific at appearing as if they are on top of the world and as happy as can be, it feels awful to be a narcissist because they need constant affirmation of how good they are. “You get to go home at the end of each day, but they have to live with themselves all the time,” notes Dr. Lynn Friedman.
- Finally, Consider consulting with a psychologist to focus on the things you can control and change.
Author: Claire Pang, B Psych (Hons), Masters of Clinical Psychology.
Claire’s work in the hospital environment, the disability sector and private practice has expanded her knowledge and skills in helping people dealing with life’s challenges, such as dealing with narcissism in the workplace. She gains great fulfillment and inspiration through witnessing human resilience again and again in her clinical work.
To make an appointment with Clinical Psychologist Claire Pang, you can book online or freecall 1800 877 924 today.
- Behary, W. T. 2008. Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving & Thriving with the Self-Absorbed Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.