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Dealing with Narcissism at Work

Have you had a boss or co-worker whom you would describe as toxic, harassing, or abusive? If so, you know what a toll it takes on your sense of well-being and productivity. Even when the abuse is not targeted at you, seeing others being mistreated, bullied, or shunned means this behavior could also be turned on you. Such a work environment has little or no psychological safety. People who behave this way and treat direct reports or colleagues in a toxic manner are most likely narcissists. They are not empathetic, compassionate, or concerned about others. They actually seem to enjoy intimidating others, and they sometimes reward those who support them and work to meet their ends to look good.

As with narcissist family members, narcissist bosses may exhibit their lethal behavior overtly or covertly. They might act abusively toward everyone under them, or they might focus it on one person or one person at a time. They may overtly abuse others through their language with swearing, yelling, threatening, or putting people down, or they may undermine others more covertly with inappropriate assignments, withdrawing assignments, etc. The “attacks” may be launched publicly or in private one-on-one meetings. They manifest as manipulation, verbal abuse, and/or demeaning comments. It is understandable that employees working for this kind of boss often feel devalued, incapable, or even stupid.

Signs that you are a victim of narcissism at work

It may be difficult to discern that what you are experiencing is the result of an abusive, narcissist boss’ treatment. After all, bosses are supposed to support their employees and act professionally. You would not expect to encounter narcissism at work; however, if someone is a narcissist, it follows them in any context, including work. It may also be difficult to recognize if you have never experienced abuse or harassment in previous employment settings.

Some things you may experience if you are working for a narcissist include the following:

  • Confusion about what is really happening

  • Questioning yourself and your decisions

  • Eroding self esteem

  • Fear about job security

  • Feeling like no one has your back

  • Feeling less than, worthless, or not good enough, even when you have had a solid work record

  • Thinking you must have a problem or are feeling crazy in your work environment

  • Feeling trapped or helpless

  • Feeling that you are to blame for anything your boss criticizes you about

  • Thinking you can never do enough, no matter how much you do

  • Feeling disregarded or disrespected; you may try to become “invisible” or avoid your boss

  • Poor sleep

  • Loss of appetite or resorting to unhealthy food

  • Low energy, ongoing fatigue

  • Difficulties in relationships

  • Regular outbursts from the narcissist boss

What you can do

It can be tricky to navigate how to deal with narcissism at work. On one hand you may not want to jeopardize your situation by bringing abusive behavior to the attention of others. On the other hand you don’t want to keep yourself vulnerable to such continual behavior.

If you have a narcissist boss, here are some of the things you can do to ease the interaction with them and to take care of yourself in the process:

  • Remain professional and productive. Focus on what you can do and over what you have control. In this way you establish boundaries that can help protect you from the negative impact of toxic narcissist behavior. Do not confront your boss directly; remain neutral and stick with work-related facts.

  • Educate yourself about toxic, narcissist, abusive people through reading and talking with others. In learning about the personality type you are dealing with, you can reassure yourself that your experience is real. It is important for you to keep perspective, so that you maintain a strong sense of self. If you start doubting yourself, remind yourself who you are dealing with and that it is a person with inferiority feelings deep down. Most likely they will not see that they have a problem. They will do what it takes to ensure their position and get admiration from those around them.

  • Document your experience with your boss. Maintain a list of your boss’ transgressions with dates. Respond in writing to any criticisms noting your achievements. Also, keep acknowledgement of your work and accolades from others. This gives you a sense of empowerment and reference to your successes.

  • Develop and practice self-care, such as exercise, meditation, self-compassion, yoga, breathing techniques, and taking time for yourself. These can help reduce negative impact and stress from dealing with a narcissist at work. You can learn to separate the work day from the rest of your life. Self-care practices can help mitigate residual effects.

  • Advocate and network for yourself. You may choose to change your position within or outside the company, and it is helpful to have contacts with other leaders. It is also important to pursue these connections on your own, so as not to exacerbate a strained relationship with a narcissist boss.

  • Get support. Share your experience with those you trust, so that their validation of you can help override unreasonable feedback from a narcissist boss. You may also want to get professional help to work with you in managing the feelings and anxiety you have been experiencing. This support can also help you leave a situation that is toxic.

  • Consult labor law experts. You have the right to take action if your rights to a psychologically safe and comfortable work environment are violated. Talk to an expert outside your company to find out how to move forward.

Whether you are dealing with a narcissist boss, family member, or spouse, understanding the dynamics and drivers of their behavior is key to managing and protecting yourself and if necessary, breaking free from a toxic situation.

What to do TODAY?

Karen Natasha Coaching helps many people access awareness about themselves. We help people shift their energy, so that they can move forward with assurance, confidence, and renewed energy to achieve their goals and bring their best selves to work. We can help you address and manage the stress you experience dealing with a narcissist boss in the workplace. Contact Karen Natasha Coaching for a consultation to experience how we can help.


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