Narcissism at Work: How to Deal with Real Life ‘Horrible Bosses’

Written by Angela Atkinson

What if your boss is a narcissist? The fact is that it’s quite possible – after all, narcissists are often in leadership positions. Why? Because they present a strong and well-honed image to many people in their lives.

And in general, narcissists are always seeking validation, so they’re looking for positions that help them feel good about themselves.

Subconsciously, a narcissist feels inferior, helpless, not good enough – all of the things they project on to their various sources of narcissistic supply.

That’s why they need people to keep reminding them how superior they are; because their narcissism causes them to need that every-second reassurance from the world around them – hence the reason they use their subordinates as their at-work “supply.”

In this video, I’ll share ways you can deal with your narcissistic boss ethically and keep your job (if you need to!), as painlessly as possible.


Ever notice how many jokes about bad bosses people tell? And how many movies are there about evil, selfish bosses with ugly agendas?

JenniferAnistonWave08TIFFEven Jennifer Aniston has starred in at least two movies that were all about Horrible Bosses – is  it all Hollywood’s fault?

Think bosses get a bad rap, or is there something to the idea of bosses being jerks? 

Useful Link: 35+ Tools & Resources for Victims of Narcissism

Whether they’re a low-level supervisor or a CEO, a narcissistic boss is a constant source of conflict in the workplace. That’s your first clue.

Related: Top 10 Warning Signs You’re Being Gaslighted

And, apparently, narcissists are often in leadership positions. Why? Because they present a strong and well-honed image to many people in their lives.

And in general, they’re always seeking validation, so they’re looking for positions that help them feel good about themselves. 

Subconsciously, a narcissist feels inferior, helpless, not good enough – all of the things they project on to their various sources of narcissistic supply. 

That’s why they need people to keep reminding them how superior they are; because their narcissism causes them to need that every-second reassurance from the world around them – hence the reason they use their subordinates as their at-work “supply.”

Why your boss is a jerk and what you can do about it

What It Feels Like to Have a Narcissistic Boss

Since they always need people to build them up and since they need to feel better than everyone around them, a narcissist in a position of power can make everyone around them miserable. 

That’s because our very human nature recoils when someone treats us as an inferior life form – and that’s exactly how the narcissist sees people outside of himself. 

So how can you deal with such a boss? Can you ever successfully work with a narcissist? 

While it isn’t easy, it’s definitely possible. Here are some tips to help you along the way. 

Related: How to Control a Narcissist

How to Work Successfully With a Narcissistic, Controlling Boss

Controlling bosses, whether they’re narcissists or not, can slow you down and undermine your confidence, to say the least. Maybe your supervisor second guesses your decisions and expects you to be available 24/7 – and if he’s a toxic narcissist, chances are, it goes much deeper than you realize. 

Overbearing management styles are all too common and counterproductive. Most employees say they’ve been micro-managed at some point in their career, and studies show that workers perform worse when they feel like they’re being watched.

If your boss is hovering over your shoulder, encourage them to give you more space. Try these steps to gain more freedom and still get along with your boss.

What You Can Do Alone and On Your Own 

You’ve gotta start by covering your own ass a little, because you never know when a narcissist will turn on you. Here’s what you need to do.

1. Be honest with yourself. Evaluate your performance. Start out by investigating whether you could be contributing to the situation. Do you show up on time and follow through on your responsibilities? Close supervision could be a rational response when an employee tends to be less than reliable.

2. Take action! Be proactive. Once you’ve assured yourself that you’re on top of your work, you can turn your attention to how to cope with your boss’s management style. Identify their anxiety triggers and figure out your plan of action in advance.

3. Team up! Coordinate with colleagues. Chances are your co-workers experience the same issues you do. Coordinate your efforts to show your boss that they can trust you to pull together to overcome challenges even while they’re traveling or focusing on strategy.

4. Keep a record of what you’re really doing at work. Document your activities. Logging your accomplishments creates a paper trail. Having your facts straight helps you to prove your worth and maintain your peace of mind.

5. Get some help! Seek intervention. When appropriate, you may be able to consult others without alienating your boss. If senior management asks for feedback, let them know your supervisor’s good qualities in addition to changes that could help you do a better job. Your HR department or employee assistance program may also offer relevant advice.

Beware of the flying monkeys at work!

A narcissist at work has a whole agenda that you may not even realize. Something to watch out for is the flying monkey syndrome – this happens with many narcissists, and it’s especially prominent when the narcissist is your boss. Read more about flying monkeys and how to release them from your life. 

The EAR Method

I love this suggestion from Bill Eddy – it’s all about how to deal with a narcissistic boss, and I think it’s solid advice.

“Try to connect with Empathy, Attention and/or Respect (E.A.R.). I know this is the opposite of what you feel like doing. But this really works. Look interested when your narcissistic boss talks to you. “Butter him/her up” with an occasional compliment, asking a question (such as asking for advice on something), sharing an interesting tidbit of information, or thanks for some positive contribution.  But be careful not to lie about a compliment, or put down your own skills in the conversation. Just be matter-of-fact and let the focus be on him or her for a few minutes. Don’t get defensive, because their comments are not about you. Resisting your own defensiveness can take great personal strength, but you can do it – especially if you remind yourself “It’s Not About Me” before you have a talk. It’s about the narcissistic boss’ insecurities and lack of effective social skills. ”  ~ Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

Other Steps to Take with Your Narcissist Boss

1. Keep him (or her) posted. Provide updates. Frequent status reports keep your boss informed without their having to ask. Assure them that things are running smoothly. Remember that a narcissist is prone to narcissistic injury, so pay plenty of attention to them by keeping them posted on everything unless they specifically tell you otherwise.

2. Do something nice for your boss’s career. Create more opportunities. Is your boss interfering with your work because they don’t have a full plate of their own? Add value by presenting them with public speaking opportunities and sales leads. Helping your boss to shine is a smart way to advance your own career.

3. Understand who you are in relation to your job. Clarify your role. Listen closely to your boss and observe their behavior. That way you can understand their preferences and anticipate their needs. Maybe they like booking their own travel arrangements. Maybe they care more about employees following instructions than taking initiative.

4. Don’t be shy! Ask for feedback. Find out what your boss is thinking. Ask questions about what results they’re looking for and how you’re measuring up. Pinpoint strengths you can build on and changes that they would like to see.

5. Keep emotion out of it and don’t take it personally. If there are conflicts that you want to confront, be direct and gentle. Speak in terms of finding solutions rather than criticizing their personality or work habits.

6. Give your boss the credit he (thinks he) deserves. Give praise for progress. Congratulations if you’re making headway. Reinforce any positive interactions by letting your boss know how much you appreciate their efforts when you’re allowed to take charge of a project or find your own approach. Tell them that you enjoy working with them and that they’re helping you to contribute more. A narcissist loves people who credit them for work they didn’t have to do.

7. Create a personal connection. Respect and compassion enhance any working relationship. Remind yourself of what you like about your boss. Make time for small talk and sharing common interests. A strong foundation will make any disagreement easier to handle.

Being proactive and empathetic will transform your relationship with a micromanaging boss. Learn to collaborate as a team, or at least maintain harmony. Your life will get a whole lot easier. If he’s a narcissist, simply understand his limitations and work within them to manage it. Check out these tips too.

What do you think? Have you ever had a narcissistic boss? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. 

Author

  • Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own. Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves. Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at QueenBeeing.com and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.

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