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

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

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. 

Bliss Mission: Shoulders Back, Show the Rack

Bliss Mission: Shoulders Back, Show the Rack

I used to watch a show on Lifetime called Drop Dead Diva. While not everyone I know thinks the show is great and while the storyline admittedly became a bit predictable after awhile, I couldn’t help but watch it.

In case you don’t know, the premise of the show is that a hot, young, blond model and a brilliant, equally hot (although slightly older and plus sized) attorney (pictured right) die on the same day.

The model goes to heaven and presses the “return” button on the heavenly processing agent’s computer–sending her back to Earth, just as the attorney’s body is revived. In the confusion, the model’s soul enters the attorney’s body, where she is “doomed” to spend the rest of her life.

So, now the model/attorney has all of the model’s memories, but the attorney’s smarts (and cushy life.) Sounds like a sweet deal, except for that pesky size 16 business.

In the first episode, the attorney has a client who has lost her self confidence (as the attorney has since she went from being a 24 year old size 2 to a 32 year old size 16.) Before court, the attorney helps her client get a makeover, but also does a little exercise with her.

She teaches her a special “model walk” and mantra, which she had designed and used to help improve her own self esteem during her model days. It works–for both the attorney and her client.

The mantra?

Shoulders back, show the rack!

Ok here’s where I’m going to stop talking about TV, but let me just say that mantra can really get stuck in a girl’s head. 🙂

Here’s the thing.

It turns out that maybe your mom wasn’t wrong on the whole “stand up straight” thing. Good posture can have seriously positive effects on your health.

Most obviously, poor posture can affect your physical health.

“We are now a society who spends a lot of time sitting in front of (take your pick) a computer, television, desk, video game, etc. Our children are spending even more time sitting down than we did as children. If you don’t think this is leading to a major health problem,” says physical therapist Eveline Erni, “I can assure you otherwise. On a daily basis I see patients in my practice for no other reason than because they have slumped over a desk since kindergarten. The results of slumping can be serious including disc surgery and pain and numbness running down the arms and/or legs.”

And perhaps more surprisingly, good posture can equal better mental health, higher self esteem and better overall outlook. An Ohio State University study completed with 71 students found that students with better posture had more positive thoughts, were more likely to believe in themselves and generally felt better.

Richard Petty, the study’s co-author and OSU psychology professor, says that while most people learn that good posture gives a good impression to other people, the study proves that one’s posture also affects his own self perception.

“People assume their confidence is coming from their own thoughts. They don’t realize their posture is affecting how much they believe in what they’re thinking,” Petty says. “Sitting up straight is something you can train yourself to do, and it has psychological benefits – as long as you generally have positive thoughts.”

Petty went on to say that good posture helped students to have more confidence in their own thoughts whether they were positive or negative.

Bliss Mission: Shoulders Back, Show the Rack

If you can stay focused on positive thoughts, standing up straight can help to reinforce those thoughts–helping you to more effectively manifest the life you desire.

It all sounds so simple, but it really makes such a significant difference.

Not convinced? Try this. Right now, sit up straight in your chair. Put your feet flat on the floor and rest evenly on your “sit bones.” Straighten your back and be sure your chin is level with the floor.

Got it?

Now, give me a big, cheesy grin. Come on, just eek one out. Don’t worry, no one is looking. Hold it for a minute or two.

Did you try it?

I’ll bet you feel just a little more positive.

My challenge to you today is to watch your posture. Make a point of intentionally standing and sitting up straight all day. And while you’re at it, smile a little.

Then, watch your mood and perspective take a turn for the brighter. 🙂 What do you think?

Pin It on Pinterest