Just about the worst-case scenario any employee can have is to be working for a narcissistic boss. They take credit for your ideas, blame you for anything that goes wrong, steal the spotlight, and will drive you until you drop if you let them. It’s an even more complicated situation for a female employee who’s interested in furthering her own career. There are, however, some things you can do to deal with a narcissistic boss.
After accepting your situation and educating yourself about narcissism in general, you can work to manage your expectations. It’s also helpful to learn your boss’s type of narcissism. If you do, you can strategize to align your goals with his, minimize conflict, and develop an exit strategy.
Let’s explore the various options open to you if you have a narcissistic boss. It’s vital to learn how to handle the situation so that you can keep the peace in your workplace and still manage to further your career.
1. Accept Your Situation
Acceptance is the key to almost everything in life. When you can accept your situation, it opens your mind to more clearly see what your options truly are. It may seem horribly unfair. You’ve worked your way through college, and perhaps you’ve had a few other jobs, but now you fear you may be risking everything because of a narcissistic boss.
Narcissists make horrible leaders. They are selfish, insecure, and vindictive. They will take the credit for your hard work and ideas, they will blame you for any errors, and they can put your entire career at risk. If they come to see you as an enemy, they will make your life a living hell. Check out this video to learn how to stop them.
Yet, they often are quite successful at their job. As a former therapist and narcissism expert, Mac Davidson’s job was to help companies deal with these toxic individuals. He notes that although they can do a lot of damage to the company culture, “…they also do some fantastic work, and people have kept them around because of that. Perhaps, they could sell any customer? Maybe, they were a crazy product inventor? Some know how to fix the biggest troubles. While others have close relationships with people that the organization really needs.
Of course, as an employee, you have rights, and you can always report them to your human resources departments or their superiors. Doing so, however, will put you square in their sights. They are vindictive and will come after you to not just prove you’re wrong, but completely destroy you.
It’s not an easy situation to be in, and it won’t be easy to accept. Once you do, however, it helps you think more clearly about exactly what you can do and what you shouldn’t do as well.
2. Educate Yourself
It will be very difficult to develop a strategy for dealing with your boss if you don’t understand what drives him. Narcissism is the result of a damaged internal identity. At a young age, your boss suffered some form of trauma that resulted in a tremendous amount of shame and self-loathing.
As a result, your boss buried his true self and created a false self-image in its place. But this false self-image can’t support his ego. He needs an almost constant source of external validation, known as narcissistic supply, to prop up his self-esteem.
That’s what he’s ultimately looking for, and it drives everything he does. Without that constant adoration, your boss risks a mental breakdown known as narcissistic collapse. That’s why he constantly needs to be in the spotlight, can’t admit to any mistakes, and will do whatever it takes to earn praise.
He might genuinely be good at his job, but that won’t make him a better leader. He will not ever give you praise for your efforts because he believes that will diminish him. If he does praise you because he can’t avoid it, he will take credit for being the one who helped you do good work or who inspired you.
In short, your boss’s internal environment is a torturous place, and that’s part of why he remains externally focused. Once you realize and accept this, you can make better decisions for your own career path.
3. Manage Your Expectations
If you’re expecting to ‘fix’ your boss or even just get him to reduce his narcissistic tendencies, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. For a narcissist to change, it usually requires a strong commitment to long-term psychotherapy.
You won’t get him to change, so you need to manage your expectations. You must realize that you won’t get the recognition you’ll likely deserve for any success in your department. You also need to understand that working with him will involve a series of compromises on your part.
He will work you until you drop if you let him do so, he will steal your ideas, he will never willingly praise you, and he has no compunction about lying to you, gaslighting you, or using triangulation to undermine relationships you might have with other employees.
Successful narcissists are very adept at manipulating their own employees, and you will not be the exception to that rule. Adjust your expectations so that you can avoid disappointment and make the best decisions for your own life.
Once you’ve done that, you can begin the process of developing a strategy that will allow you to get the most out of your job and still move ahead in your career.
4. Identify Your Boss’s Type of Narcissism
The next step in the process is to understand your boss’s type of narcissism. Though there are many subtleties, the two main types of narcissism are overt and covert. They are respectively also known as grandiose and vulnerable. This video has more information on the different types of narcissism that fall under those two general categories.
Overt narcissists are the type of narcissists you think about when you think about narcissism. They are typically loud, brash, braggarts who are constantly extolling their own virtues. They will not hesitate to tell everyone how great they are, and they always want to be in the spotlight.
Vulnerable, or covert, narcissists, on the other hand, are typically much more subtle in their tactics to get narcissistic supply. They have constructed the same type of false image infused with grandiose ideas of superiority as the overt narcissist has, but they go about propping up that image differently.
These are the type of narcissists who might set up an image as a do-gooder. They are always seeming to be sacrificing for others. In reality, they are expecting that people will notice and praise their seemingly altruistic endeavors.
The covert narcissist still believes themselves to be superior to other people. They also believe they are entitled to the good things they want out of life without having to put in an effort. They just go about meeting those goals in a more quiet manner than the covert narcissist does.
It’s important to understand these differences so that you can develop the most appropriate strategy for dealing with your narcissistic boss.
5. Find Out What He Cares About
The next thing you want to do is find out what your narcissistic boss cares about. Once you know what’s important to him, you can work toward helping him achieve his goals. He will then see you as a valuable ally; someone he’ll endeavor to keep around.
You want to make sure you stay on the good side of a narcissist because if he comes to see you as an enemy, he’ll endeavor to destroy you. He won’t just want to prove you wrong, he’ll want to crush you.
By finding out what he cares about, you can stay on his good side while you advance your career. He may even want to help you if he sees that you’re helping him, although don’t count on that. It’s important to understand that your narcissistic boss doesn’t consider your needs or desires at all.
He is focused solely on his own needs and wants, and he sees you as an extension of his own identity. If you find out what he cares about, though, you can use that to your advantage. It will help you make him look good and minimize conflict. It will also give you your own manipulation tool.
6. Make Him Look Good
The next part of your strategy is to try to make your boss look good every chance you get. First, this adds success to your own resume, but it also keeps him happy and calm. When he doesn’t look good or isn’t the center of attention, it can easily trigger his narcissistic rage.
There are several things that can trigger your boss’s rage, and none of them will make sense to you. You might think that another department’s success shouldn’t affect your narcissistic boss at all, but in his mind, it does.
Anyone that receives praise is diminishing him in his own mind. It’s not true for you or other healthy employees, but that’s how he thinks about it. The more you can make him look good, the happier he will be.
Additionally, when your own department is successful, that’s something that you can add to your own resume. Even if your boss would take the credit for everything, you can note your significant contributions to that successful outcome.
When he looks good, you look good. Like it or not, you’re tied to him until you can find a strategy for moving on.
7. Make His Success Your Success
You can make your narcissistic boss feel more invested in your success if your success makes him more successful. For example, perhaps you’re good at data analysis, use that talent to make him successful. He will then encourage your efforts to advance your knowledge of that field.
That makes you and him more successful. No matter what your area of interest is, if you can show him how it will make him more successful, he will find a way to help you learn more about it and use it in your work.
That benefits you as much as it does him. It’s a way for you to gain valuable experience as you placate your narcissistic boss and keep the peace. When you can benefit him in the workplace, he will help you get the tools or knowledge you need to do just that.
It’s unfortunate that he can’t see how important you are to begin with, but you can still get him to help you out, even if it’s for all the wrong reasons. In a sense, you’re using his narcissism to your advantage.
8. Praise Him Frequently
It’s also vital to praise a narcissistic boss as much as you can. What you’re really doing is supplying him with that adoration he so desperately needs to prop up his self-esteem. While you might not like it, it makes you a valued employee.
It helps keep the peace in the workplace as well, and it will make him more likely to give you what you need to be more satisfied in your job. If he sees you as an ally, he’s much more likely to want to make you happy, so you’ll stay around.
You don’t have to be obsequious in your praise, but be sure to point out when he does something well or has a great idea. Many narcissists are good at their job because they know it’s an important part of maintaining that image of being superior.
They work hard to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to do a good job. They live in an almost constant state of fear that they will be exposed as a worthless human being. That’s part of what drives them to do the best job possible.
Giving them their props can help maintain their self-esteem, and it helps you too. It makes you a valuable ally; one they will surely reward to keep you around.
9. Minimize Conflict
Another strategy for dealing with a narcissistic boss is minimizing conflict. Narcissists love drama, and they will often try to create it in the workplace. It makes them feel powerful. The more you can minimize that drama and conflict, the happier your workplace will be.
You don’t want to be aggressive or confrontational with your narcissistic boss at all. If you are, they will see you as an enemy, and they can be very vindictive. They won’t hesitate to take out their frustrations on you and blame you for any mistakes.
That’s why you’ll want to be helpful, but not confrontational. You’ll also want to help smooth things over with other employees. They are likely as frustrated as you are with your boss, but you want to be careful about how you handle them.
Some of them may be looking for a way to get into the boss’s good graces, and if they can tattle on you for talking bad behind his back, they will use that as a way to advance their own career. So, while you want to smooth over any conflicts with them, you need to be sure you always behave in a very professional way.
Don’t bad mouth your boss in any way. Simply point out his reasoning for what he is doing and work to help them calm down. You can do the same when you’re talking to your boss about someone. You can use phrases like, “I believe he was really trying to help because I know how much he respects you. He just didn’t have all the facts,” or “I know she really cares about her work and wants to impress you, she just didn’t realize how this would play out.”
In that way, you’re praising the boss while still talking up the other employees. They will come to appreciate your efforts, and it will help calm your volatile narcissistic boss.
10. Ask Questions
One strategy that works well for distracting your narcissistic boss when he’s enraged is to ask questions. First, it lets him know you think he is intelligent and respect his opinion, and second, it serves to distract him from whatever he might be raging about.
This is a great strategy because it plays to his ego and makes him feel superior. He knows the answers while you don’t. It can help him calm down when he’s in a rage, and you’ll score points with him and your coworkers too.
There are a number of things that can trigger narcissistic rage, so it’s difficult to predict just what might set him off. When he does get upset, however, it can help to ask some questions about the situation. You might say, “I agree that this is a frustrating situation, but what’s your take on it? How can we fix it?”
You’re validating his anger and acknowledging his superior intelligence by asking him what you need to do. It can work very well to distract him and get him focused on solutions rather than problems.
11. Follow His Rules
Another important point when dealing with a narcissistic boss is to be sure to always follow his rules. Narcissists love having power, and when they do, they expect that everyone will follow their rules. If you don’t, you’ll not only incur his wrath, you’ll become an enemy.
You don’t want that to happen because narcissists think in binary terms. They lack what is called object constancy. That means they are unable to hold positive thoughts about a person when they’re angry with that individual.
In healthy people, you can be angry at someone, but you still love them and know that they are overall a good person. The narcissist can’t do that. They think in terms of black and white. You’re either with them, or you’re against them. There is no in-between.
When they are angry with you, they see you as an enemy, all bad. If that happens, they will seek to not just prove you wrong, but destroy you. They want to crush you. You have to be humiliated. That way, everyone can see their superiority.
This is why it’s important to follow your narcissistic boss’s rules so that you won’t become his enemy. He will then see you as an ally, and he’ll be able to hold positive thoughts about you. That will work to your advantage in the workplace.
12. Avoid Narcissistic Injuries
A narcissistic injury occurs when you trigger a narcissist who then sees you as a threat that could expose his flawed true self. When a narcissistic injury occurs, the first response from a narcissist is to explode in their characteristic rage.
After that, however, they may become vindictive, which is a bad situation when the narcissist is your boss. Narcissistic injuries are ultimately what drive the narcissist’s behaviors. They buried their true self long ago and have worked diligently to prevent it from being exposed.
They live in fear that someone will come along and show the world who they really are. It’s why they need that constant supply of adoration, and it’s why they manipulate everyone in their life. When you really think about it, it’s a very sad situation, but it can make life very difficult for you.
You often have to walk on eggshells to prevent a narcissistic injury. I have a friend who is married to a narcissist, and she tells me that she has said something simple like, “What are you going to do today?”
In response, her husband flew into a rage and accused her of calling him lazy. In his distorted reality, her question was really more like, “Are you going to do anything today?” He perceived an agenda behind it where none existed.
This kind of sensitivity can make it very difficult to navigate a conversation with a narcissist. It can be tricky because narcissists often twist something innocent into something offensive.
13. Set Appropriate Boundaries
When you work for a narcissist, it’s vital that you set appropriate boundaries. When you’re a woman working with a narcissistic boss, this is even more important. You have to set boundaries around what is appropriate behavior and what kind of workload you will accept.
If you don’t, your narcissistic boss will feel free to call you at 2 AM to have you do something. You’ll never have a free moment to yourself, and you won’t have any time for your own life. That’s why you need to make it clear when you’re available for work and when you’re not.
You also need to make it clear what is acceptable workplace behavior. Narcissists love drama, and they love to create controversy. They also love attention and like to believe they are irresistible. It’s not at all uncommon for a narcissistic boss to start an affair with a subordinate, and that is not something you want in your life.
If you don’t make those boundaries clear, the narcissist will push your limits every time. They were not raised with appropriate boundaries, and since they see everyone in their life as a mere extension of their own identity, they don’t respect the boundaries that other people have.
That’s why you have to not only set strong, clear boundaries, you have to enforce violations every time they occur. If you don’t, they will abuse you every chance they get.
14. Always Be Professional
Another important way to deal with a narcissistic boss is to always maintain a professional demeanor. If they are able to push your buttons and make you react emotionally, you will seem like the person who has a problem rather than the narcissist.
Narcissists typically become very adept at figuring out what bothers you the most. They notice when you are triggered and why. They will use that information to their advantage to make you look like an unstable employee.
Once you get labeled as such, it will be very difficult to erase that idea about you. If you do end up needing to report your boss to human resources for any reason, he will be able to make it look as though you have invented a story to get back at him.
You can’t give him any ammunition to use against you, so stay professional at all times. Don’t go to the Christmas party and get drunk, don’t gossip about other coworkers, and don’t get emotional when something goes wrong.
Keep it calm, cool, collected, and above all else, professional at all times. This can be a challenge because he will push your buttons but stay in control so you won’t have even more problems than you’ve already got.
15. Document Everything in Writing
Whenever you’re working with a narcissistic boss, you’re working with someone who is not only unpredictable, but will also lie at the drop of a hat, take credit for your ideas, and blame you for any mistakes. That’s why it’s vital to document everything in writing.
If he gives you oral instructions, follow up with an email asking for clarification, and then, save that email. Keep anything he gives you in writing so that you’ll have evidence of his instructions. If you have regular meetings, ask to record them, so you don’t forget any details, or ask to have someone transcribe the minutes of the meeting.
That gives you written evidence of just what he asked you to do, anything you suggested that he rejected, and who said what during the meeting. It’s vital to keep these kinds of records.
You also want to document your interactions with him contemporaneously. Even if these are not official recordings or transcribed minutes, contemporaneous notes of any incidents or other interactions are very supportive evidence of any claim you might need to make against him.
16. Develop an Exit Strategy
Finally, the reality is that your career is likely to stall with a narcissistic boss. If you’re good at your job, he’ll want you to stay right where you are so you can make him look good. If you’re bad at your job, he’ll blame you for everything and make it difficult for you to find another job in that field.
That’s why you want to develop an exit strategy. Of course, you can always look for another job entirely, but there may be other possible exits if you like the company you work for. You could, for example, seek a promotion or transfer to another department.
Whatever you decide to do, start building your resume so you can get out from under your narcissistic boss. As long as he’s your boss, your career won’t be going very far, and you’re likely to have a lot of stress trying to deal with him.
A narcissistic boss is a veritable nightmare for any employee. As the 1980 movie and Dolly Parton’s song, 9 to 5, tell us, “They just use your mind, and they never give you credit.” That’s exactly what your narcissistic boss will do, and what’s more, they will blame you for every mistake. They will use your dreams and emotional wounds against you too. Ultimately, you need an exit strategy, but until you can get out, you have to control your emotions and plan carefully.
I have developed a 5 Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers, which can help you to get your emotional triggers under control. This free guide will help you recognize, defuse, and even heal the wounds that created those triggers. When you do that, you are the master of your emotions, and your narcissistic boss can’t use them against you. To get a copy sent directly to your inbox, just click on this link. I’ll send it right away.
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