The nature of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is such that a narcissist cannot admit to any errors. They have created a false self-image that is infused with grandiose ideas of superiority and perfection. To admit errors would threaten those grandiose ideas, and that’s why the narcissist is reticent to take responsibility for mistakes they make.
The only time they may admit they made a mistake is when it is somehow to their benefit to do so. That rarely happens, which is why the narcissist likes to have a scapegoat they can blame for any mistakes they make. If the narcissist is your boss, being their scapegoat can actually jeopardize your job. So how can you stop that?
The key to not being a scapegoat is to understand why it happens, set firm boundaries, and know what to watch out for at work. Documenting everything and keeping a low profile can also help. Short professional communication strategies and a focus on the positive are also good strategies.
I understand what it feels like to be a narcissist’s scapegoat. My narcissistic mother used to blame me for everything that went wrong in our family. She used me all the time to shift blame so she could avoid being called out for something she did. It’s a horrible feeling to be accused of causing problems all the time, and it certainly undermined my self-esteem.
When something like this is happening in the workplace, it can threaten your livelihood. That’s why you need to know how to put a stop to this kind of manipulative, narcissistic behavior. Let’s start with understanding exactly what scapegoating is and why a narcissist needs to do it.
What is Scapegoating?
Quite simply, scapegoating is blaming someone else for something you did wrong.
Scapegoating is the practice of singling out a person or group for unmerited blame and consequent negative treatment. Scapegoating may be conducted by individuals against individuals, individuals against groups, groups against individuals, and groups against groups.
It’s a common technique that toxic people use to deflect attention from their own misdeeds and create doubt when they fear someone might accuse them of doing something wrong. Narcissists use it all the time to make sure no one is taking a closer look at them.
This is particularly true in the workplace. A narcissistic boss often works hard to ensure they have a strong performance record at work. One mistake can undermine that image, and they will do almost anything to protect it.
Why Do Narcissists Need a Scapegoat?
The problem a narcissist has is that they don’t have healthy identity mechanisms that can support the grandiose ideas they’ve infused into their false self-image. For that reason, they need other people to feed them a constant supply of admiration.
They fear that if they admit something wrong or take responsibility for a mistake, everyone will see how flawed they really are; that’s something they can’t allow. When they do make mistakes, they have to shift the blame.
The result of being blamed creates a narcissistic injury, and such wounding is devastating to the narcissist’s fragile identity. It’s really no wonder they will look for anyone else they can blame for the problem.
Narcissistic injury, also known as “narcissistic wound” or “wounded ego,” are emotional traumas that overwhelm an individual’s defense mechanisms and devastate their pride and self-worth.
How Do You Know Your Boss is a Narcissist?
Narcissists create a grandiose false self-image to replace what they believe to be a flawed true self-image. They want everyone to see them as perfect, even super-human.
Toward that end, they often work very hard to be successful in a career. That is something that they believe someone who is superior would do. Though they often use questionable tactics to achieve that success, they frequently get results.
Because of that, they get promoted to supervisory positions. In fact, as researchers in the School of Management at Guangzhou University in China note, narcissism is a major driver of entrepreneurship. It wouldn’t be unusual, therefore, to discover that you have a narcissistic boss.
|What are the Traits of a Narcissistic Boss?
This video has some more information that can help you determine if you have a narcissistic boss.
How Can You Stop Your Boss’s Scapegoating?
The trait of a narcissistic boss that is the focus of this topic is blame-shifting. If you find you’re the scapegoat of your narcissistic boss, it can ruin your career and make your life miserable. So what can you do? Here are several things to do to avoid being the narcissist’s scapegoat.
Set Clear Boundaries
A narcissistic boss will exploit their employees by making excessive demands on their time. They may call you at midnight to come into the office, for example, or expect you to do work that is not related to your position description.
If you accept being treated like that, they will know they can push you around, and they will also know that you’ll make a good scapegoat. Once they know you’re willing to put up with their abusive behavior, there is nothing stopping them from taking it to the next level.
You become little more than a lackey they know they blame for anything, just like they can ask you to do anything. That’s why you need to set strong boundaries from the start.
Don’t take work calls after hours. If your narcissistic boss starts yelling at you for something, even something you did do wrong, let them know that you’re happy to hear their criticism, but you aren’t willing to be treated in a disrespectful manner.
Tell them you’ll be in your office until they are able to talk to you in a calm, respectful way. Even if they fire you for that, it’s better than having to live with being treated like that. It won’t get any better, and in fact, if you accept it, things will get worse.
Determine the other boundaries you would set for your job, and let your narcissistic boss know. They won’t like it, but they will know they cannot take advantage of you like they might with other employees.
Politely Talk to Your Narcissistic Boss
When you’re setting those boundaries or talking about the scapegoating, be sure always to be polite when you’re talking to your narcissistic boss. If you become agitated, your boss will get even more agitated and feel like their ego is being threatened.
They will also know that they can get to you by treating you in that way. They will know what buttons they can push to get to you. That gives them an advantage over you that it will be difficult to fix.
If you’re polite and respectful to them, you’re giving them a model for how you want to be treated, and you’re not giving them a reason to label you a problem employee. This is particularly true since you’re talking to them about a somewhat sensitive topic.
|Here’s What You Might Say…|
Don’t Listen To or Spread Rumors
Rumors are not your friend in the workplace. They generate discord among coworkers and are rarely accurate. It won’t help you to spread rumors, and in fact, it may make your situation worse.
If you have to go to HR to report your narcissistic boss, something that might be a good idea in certain circumstances, you don’t want to complicate your account of what’s happening by including rumors.
Just stick to the facts, and don’t exaggerate. The more you are able to do that, the more likely it is that your side of the story will be believed.
It’s important to remember that your narcissistic boss may have a good track record at work. If you need to file a report that documents misconduct on their part, you want to ensure you are credible.
If you repeat rumors you heard, that can undermine your credibility. If it later comes down to a choice between you or your narcissistic boss, you could be on the losing side of that battle.
Cultivate a Good Relationship with HR
You want to build a good relationship with your human relations (HR) department. There may come a time when you will need to file a complaint with them against your narcissistic boss, and the better your relationship, the more likely your complaint will be taken seriously.
The HR department can be responsible for deciding your fate if it comes down to you or your boss. Having them on your side will help secure your position and prevent further abuse from your boss.
Document everything, but don’t just file complaint after complaint after complaint. Instead, only go to HR if you have documentation of serious misconduct. Follow the other suggestions we’ve discussed, like not spreading rumors, being polite, and being truthful in your account.
The more you are seen as a calm, sensible employee, the better your relationship with HR will be and the more credible you will seem. This is where social networking can really help you. It’s never easy to have to go to HR to complain about a narcissistic boss, but if you have a good relationship with them, it will be easier.
Focus on the Positive
It’s important not to just complain about all the terrible ways your narcissistic boss is treating you. While they are scapegoating you, and you want that to stop, it’s helpful to acknowledge the positive aspects of your work.
It can help boost your own morale and that of your coworkers. It can also make you popular among your colleagues. A little popularity doesn’t hurt when you want to make your job more secure.
If you confront your narcissistic boss, focusing on the positive aspects of their talent, abilities, and successes will definitely help make them more open to hearing your request.
It’s also a good idea to point those out if you are talking to your boss, and you should model empathy and compassion for them. When you show compassion and empathy to a narcissist, it helps them be more open and positive with you in return.
“If narcissists are approached in a gentler way, many seem to soften emotionally. When they feel secure love, they become more loving and more committed in return.”
— Craig Malkin, Lecturer in Psychology at Harvard Medical School
When you focus on the positive, you help your narcissistic boss do the same thing. That makes your interactions much better, and it makes it more likely that they will begin to reduce their narcissistic tendencies.
Watch Out for Flying Monkey Scapegoaters
Flying monkeys refer to the narcissist’s sycophants who will do their bidding. Many people in the workplace may determine that it’s better to do the narcissist’s bidding.
Additionally, many of these sycophants are narcissistic themselves. The following video can give you some tips for dealing with these kinds of narcissistic coworkers.
The narcissist will employ these so-called flying monkeys (named after the flying monkeys in the movie, The Wizard of Oz) to find out information about you and even sabotage your work efforts.
They are also typically willing to lie on behalf of your narcissistic boss. That’s why it’s important to make sure you are doing your job well.
It’s also another reason why documenting everything is essential. Should you ever have to defend yourself, that will come in handy to refute any claims made by flying monkeys.
Document the Relevant Details
This is absolutely vital to keeping your job or even securing a positive recommendation should that become impossible. You want to keep a journal of instructions your narcissistic boss gives you as well as any feedback they provide.
If possible, you want to get evidence of these kinds of communications. Narcissists are clever, so they might not want to give you instructions in writing, but you might get them to do so by using email communications to clarify what you’re supposed to do.
For example, if you are told to do something or given negative feedback orally, you might follow up with an email. You can say something like, “I just wanted to be sure I’m very clear on what it is I’m supposed to do and how I’m supposed to do it. I know you were unhappy with my first draft, so can you please give me guidance on how I should redo it? I greatly appreciate your valuable advice.”
You should also take notes at any meeting you have with them, and you should date those notes. While it’s not as good as direct written communications from your boss, contemporary notes are something many reviewers give significant weight to when evaluating complaints.
You should also document every assignment or task, no matter how small, and you should keep any written feedback. Additionally, you’ll want to make written notes about how you addressed negative feedback going forward.
It might not seem like much, but contemporaneous documentation can be extremely helpful if you have to file a formal complaint.
Keep Your Communications Short and Professional
There are two important keys to communicating with a narcissistic boss. The first is to keep your communications short and simple. Be clear about what you’re communicating, and don’t complicate it with unnecessary details.
The other key is to be non-emotional and completely professional in your communications. If you’re emotional, you’re giving your narcissistic boss ammunition they can use at some point to manipulate or control you.
You also want your communications to demonstrate that you don’t become irrational or emotional, which makes you look more credible. If you are communicating about their scapegoating tendencies, you want to make it known you don’t appreciate that without letting them know how much it might be affecting you.
Narcissists are extremely ruthless. If they see you as weak, they will exploit you every time, and that means blaming you for their mistakes. To avoid that, you need to stay completely professional. They will see that as a sign of strength, although you might expect some blowback.
“When a toxic person can no longer control you, they will try to control how others see you. This misinformation will feel unfair but stay above it, trusting that other people will eventually see the truth, just like you did.”
— Jill Blakeway, Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine
Moreover, if you are unemotional and almost robotically professional, it’s likely they will become bored with you. That may get them to move on to someone else and stop using you as their scapegoat. It may take a while, but it can be an effective strategy.
It’s always good to have friends in the workplace. These are people who will have your back in any problems between you and your narcissistic boss.
These can be people who may be witnesses to the narcissistic boss’s bad behavior, and they will also be able to report on the good work you do. They can be invaluable assets should you have to try and prove your case against a narcissistic boss.
They can also provide other accounts of your boss’s misconduct. Since narcissistic bosses are often good at their jobs, it’s important to have as much proof of their bad behavior as possible. Your allies in the workplace can be a great help in this endeavor.
Moreover, allies in the workplace can help you fend off the antics of those flying monkeys. They will be on the lookout on your behalf, which can help you avoid the damage the narcissist’s underlings may try to do. It also just helps to have other people who see what is going on at your work to talk to when you’re frustrated.
Finally, friends in the workplace can help you achieve your own professional goals. Should you need to or choose to find another job, they can act as professional references for finding a new job. That has to always be something that is on the table.
Making it work with a narcissistic boss is difficult at best, so you have to be prepared to move on to benefit your career. Of course, you don’t want to use your narcissistic boss as a reference since they are likely to act against your best interests. This is where the alliances you have built in the workplace may help.
A narcissistic boss is a good employee’s worst nightmare. They abuse their employees as badly as anyone else in their life. They take credit for your work, blame you for their mistakes, and make everything about them. If they know it’s getting to you, they won’t hesitate to push your buttons and trigger an emotional response.
You can’t stop everything they will do, but you can stop them from activating your emotional triggers. I’ve created a 5-Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers that will help you identify, defuse, and heal your emotional wounds and triggers. If you can do that, your narcissistic boss won’t be able to push your buttons to make you look bad. If you would like a free copy of this handy guide, just click here and I’ll send it directly to your inbox.
If you want more tips for dealing with narcissists, setting boundaries, and managing emotional triggers, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel