A narcissistic boss might require excessive praise, often seem volatile, or purposefully ignore your work accomplishments. The key to dealing with a narcissistic boss is to sustain your own perspective about your work and your self-worth despite your boss’s reactions. Keeping a positive view of yourself despite your boss’s constant need for supply takes a lot of work and perseverance.
What Is Narcissism?
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition that is characterized by a lack of empathy, a sense of grandiosity, and a constant need for praise.1 A grandiose narcissist may be easy to spot, but covert narcissists might be more difficult to recognize. Regardless of the type, working under a narcissist boss can cause chronic stress.
According to Satoris Howes, PhD, Professor of Management at Oregon State University, “A narcissist has a strong need to be the center of attention, be praised for their work, and be seen as highly competent. They believe they deserve credit and believe they know better than others. This need for affirmations and belief that they are the best will result in them taking credit for their subordinates’ work when talking to their bosses. They’ll also likely blame those subordinates and external influences when something goes wrong. They will likely feel comfortable challenging their bosses as they likely think they are better than them. Don’t expect a narcissist to be sycophantic to anybody.”6
Red Flags That You’re Interviewing With a Narcissist
There are a number of awkward interactions that can happen in job interviews which are sometimes a sign that personality fit may be an issue. Some of those can be understood and forgiven, however it’s important to consider how your interviewer is talking with you and the language they use. A lot can be understood about a person from how they attend to you in an interview.
Here are seven signs that you may be interviewing with a narcissist:
- They don’t share anything negative about the company or role
- They are avoidant to your questions about their management approach
- They are distracted and not giving you undivided attention
- They are making inappropriate comments about other employees
- You have heard poor feedback or no feedback from others who worked with this interviewer
- They make demeaning comments about others at the company
- They make promises that seem too good to be true
15 Signs Your Boss Is a Narcissist
Those with narcissistic personality disorder can learn ways to manipulate others and feed their narcissistic supply. They may rise through the ranks quickly by charming their superiors, but abuse those working under them.
Here are 15 signs that your boss is a narcissist:2
1. They Talk About Themselves Almost Exclusively
Those with narcissistic personality disorder tend to think of themselves most of the time. They are very conscious of their physical appearance, wealth, talents, and achievements—and they expect your attention while they tell you about these attributes. These comments may tend to be exaggerated and are not necessarily accurate reflections of their lives.
2. They Have Fantasies of Greatness
Narcissists tend to be filled with elaborate fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty, or the perfect partner. Because of these imaginings, they feel they should have the best of everything—houses, cars and clothing or other status-affirming things like where they attend school. These wishes are a way for narcissists to fend off inner feelings of emptiness and shame and instead feel special and in control. They experience immense frustration and anger when their visions are not achieved.
3. They Require Constant Praise
Despite how outwardly confident narcissists may portray themselves, they are often quite vulnerable and insecure, with fragile self-esteem. To continually prop themselves up, they require near-constant attention, praise, and admiration. They also may expect to be recognized as superior even without achieving anything warranting praise.
Due to their fragile egos, narcissists are highly reactive to criticism. Any comments that shine a spotlight on their insecurities or flaws may be met with a burst of narcissistic rage.
4. They Show a Sense of Entitlement
Narcissists think that others ought to offer them special favors and immediately fulfill their requests without question. If such treatment isn’t given to them, they may become impatient or angry, or give others the passive-aggressive silent treatment. They view others as existing primarily to serve their needs, abusing them and disregarding their wants and desires.
Howes mentions, “This need for affirmation and belief that they are the best will result in them taking credit for their subordinates’ work when talking to their bosses. They’ll also likely blame those subordinates and external influences when something goes wrong. They will likely feel comfortable challenging their bosses as they think they are better than them.”
5. They Take Advantage of Others
Many people are naturally drawn to narcissists, as they can present themselves as attractive, charismatic, and charming. Thus, narcissists may not have any issues getting people to do what they want, even causing work burnout for those under them. They are easily bored and seek constant entertainment wherever they can get it.
6. They Are Envious of Others
Because of their low self-esteem and need to be superior to others, narcissists see people who have things they lack—such as tangible items, status, or admiration—as threats. They don’t understand why they don’t have everything they want when they want it, and seek vengeance toward those who seem to stand in their way of getting the satisfaction that they feel entitled to.
7. They Lack Empathy
Narcissists are unable to empathize with others or understand that others may have struggles of their own. Even if they do recognize other people’s struggles, they don’t understand why these people don’t change according to their own needs.
8. They Have Boundless Ambitions
Having goals or ambitions in life is a good thing, but narcissists make their dreams the center of their world and expect others to want for them what they want for themselves. Because they feel superior to others and want to believe others find them naturally special, they often set endless ambitions for themselves. Narcissists fantasize about not only doing their best but being the best. When they fall short, they are enraged or deeply disappointed to the point of depressive thinking.
9. They Are Incredibly Insecure
This may be counterintuitive when you first meet a narcissist because they come across as charming, entitled, and believing they are superior to others, but people who suffer from narcissism are usually incredibly insecure which is why they feel the need to put others down. They often speak of people who are liars or disloyal but they are unwilling to recognize these traits in themselves.
10. They Are Remarkably Charming
On first impression, narcissists come off as charming and confident, but as the relationship develops if they are no longer perceived that way, they become denigrating of others and sometimes aggressive. People are generally drawn to narcissists at first because of their confidence and charm, though many find them suspect and vying for attention.
11. They Are Extremely Competitive
In a narcissist’s world view, there are only winners and losers. They will strive to be part of the former group without realizing how their manipulations may put people off and create a toxic work environment. They must make themselves out to be superior to everybody else. Their incessant need to win contributes to their inability to embrace another person’s success. It’s all win or all lose, leading to depression if they think they’re losing.
12. They Hold Long-Lasting Grudges
Narcissists harbor vengeance toward those who insult or disapprove of them or don’t give them what they want. They take any perceived slight as a personal attack, and hold long grudges.
13. They Find Criticism Intolerable
Narcissists are unable to cope when things don’t go their way and will be hard-pressed to ever admit fault when they are wrong. This makes it impossible for them to take any kind of criticism, even if it’s constructive.
14. They Are Constantly on the Go
Narcissists push others to attend concerts, plays, expensive dinners, and prestigious parties because they can’t be idle. To be idle is to feel the inner tension of maybe not being as superior as they believe. Others are put off by this constant pressure to “do,” and the narcissist can’t relax alone or enjoy their own company except as a respite from their inner strivings. They may travel extensively and feel they deserve the best accommodations in planes and hotels.
15. They Get Their Supply From Having “Great” Communal Skills
Many bosses may be communal narcissists. They tend to have qualities which include using workplace events to create drama or start trouble. They come off as a martyr but find ways to get narcissist supply from others. They describe their work journey as a mission or a higher calling, positioning themselves away from achievement through merit.
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How Having a Narcissistic Boss Affects Your Mental Health
If your narcissist boss’s expectations and supply are not met, you will begin to notice bad moods, excessive irritation, agitation, and maybe infatuation with whoever is considered beneath them. Narcissistic bosses tend to have all-or-nothing thinking, so they may think that if you disagree or challenge them, that you are out to get them. Because they are very insecure, they see any behavior like that as a threat. They can start to create cliques and isolate and bully certain employees, even gaslighting them into believing things that are not true. To add, they may even increase the workload for those employees and force them to quit or want to leave.
Those on staff may begin to doubt their work, their achievements, and their ability to move up or even sustain the position they have. These doubts and uncertainties may escalate, beginning to undermine and interfere with your concentration, your productivity, and eventually your self-esteem. Having a narcissist as a boss is always a negative thing because of the psychological warfare they use to ensure their position at work and garner the admiration of those around them.
The whole team suffers because their work can be stifled and their creativity crushed. With long enough exposure, it can lead you to become very disgruntled and leave you feeling burned out, and may end up giving you a bad reputation in the industry, so it’s important to check yourself and take action to preserve your own mental health.
10 Ways to Deal With a Narcissistic Boss
When dealing with a narcissistic, it takes a clear understanding that pathological narcissism is working on your psyche. Focus on your own perspective of your achievements and be your own guide to evaluating your work and your worth.
Here are ten tips for how to deal with a narcissistic boss:
1. Remind Yourself of Your Value
It will be difficult but not impossible, perhaps with the support of your co-workers, to recall why you got hired in the first place. That is, remember your skill set, your qualifications, and the references that led you to seek out and land this valued position. The estimation of your actual value is in your hands and no one else’s.
2. Compliment Them Frequently
Howes encourages, “It’s not impossible to get along with a narcissistic boss. The adage that ‘flattery will get you nowhere’ is not the case when talking to a narcissist. They like being complimented and may expect or demand such attention and accolades. To the extent you’re willing to provide such flattery you’re likely to stay on the narcissist’s good side.”
3. Keep a Paper Trail
Your boss will have more power than you in his reviews of your work that go on file. You may have to begin to create a paper trail where you respectfully respond to any criticisms detailing your achievements. This will help you retain your own feeling of empowerment and forestall being held back from future goals.
4. Network for Yourself
Make your own contacts with other leaders in the company. However, don’t broadcast these actions to your narcissistic boss who may feel quickly slighted and further enraged. This is a delicate but important mission for your own rising aspirations.
5. Get Outside Support
You may find you take home the steady stream of manipulation with your boss’s voice echoing in your mind. This is the time to maintain self-awareness, self-observation, and introspection. Share with loved ones or others you trust what you are experiencing so you hear out loud others valid points of view about your work, your character, and your reasonable goals for the future. Their words will serve to counter what you’re hearing unreasonably at work.
6. Take Time for Reflection
You deal with a narcissistic boss outside their presence. Even more importantly, you deal with your boss when you take their words to heart and slip into self-doubt, making those words your words. If you notice you are doing this, take all the time you need for self-reflection until your own perspective overrides that negative voice in your mind.
7. Remember Who You’re Dealing With
Remember you are dealing with a vulnerable, easily wounded boss who unconsciously is carrying a load of long-held feelings of inferiority that they combat regularly. Your interpersonal tactics are unlikely to change their views. Remind yourself that your boss is inherently even more vulnerable than you are.
8. Diversify Your Work Experience or Role
If you have opportunities to work with other leaders, you can have a variety of supervisors who can be references for future jobs. Getting exposure from others also gives you leverage in building social capital at work—and when you are dealing with a narcissistic boss, you need that.
9. Develop a Strategy
It’s important to be mindful that the narcissist boss will also have those who are suppliers and those who are injurers. When a boss has a narcissistic injury, they are often looking for validation and praise, so positioning yourself to be an ally can be beneficial for you if you are trying to work with them.
10. Consult a Labor Law Expert
Employees have a right to work in comfortable work environments, and when these rights are violated, employees can take action. Speaking to a third party expert outside your company can give you some leverage and tips on how to move forward.
Examples of Narcissistic Bosses
Narcissistic tendencies can present differently depending on the person and the situation.
Here are examples of how a narcissistic boss may act in different workplace scenarios:
Corporate Director & Manager Dynamic
Stanley is a regional director in a healthcare company that oversees all of the hiring and quality of care for medical practices in that area. Susan is one of three managers that supports specific medical practices where she does on-site visits and reports back to Stanley from time to time. Stanley and Susan both have positive reputations in the company though Susan has been with the company for a much longer time and has more personal connections. Stanley appears to be threatened by this as he is Susan’s boss and tries to limit her interactions with other departments.
Stanley expects Susan to loop him into everything, leading to Susan feeling very micromanaged despite no performance issues and with many others giving positive feedback to other leaders in the department about her work. Stanley attempts to gaslight Susan many times into thinking she missed a deadline and sets her up to believe she is doing poorly if she challenges a recommendation.
Susan knows she does a good job despite any positive feedback from Stanely and when Susan gets that recognition in team meetings, Stanley attempts to take over and claim credit.
Receptionist in a Doctor’s Office
Stewart is an empathic, friendly receptionist working in an internist’s office. Dr. D has multiple awards sprinkled all over her waiting room and inner offices. She is a very high achiever and wants everyone to remember that. She is highly intelligent but exaggerates her worth in the medical community and expects the same of her staff.
Dr. D is highly critical of Stewart. She feels he is too friendly and patient with nervous patients who then expect the same of Dr. D. She plays at being empathetic as she’s learned a kind of script that works well with her patients. She makes them feel that they are receiving excellent care and therefore shouldn’t ask too many questions. She expects her patients to give her acclaim, which she feels entitled to and in fact has the credentials to warrant this.
Stewart is aware that credentials don’t make Dr. D an empathetic caregiver. He is trying to fill in for her lack of empathy that he knows may impact the patients he greets in the waiting room, and that he faces from her himself. He also tries to give support when managing their frightened voices when they call for results of their examinations. Stewart is exceeding expectations because he’s a good person. When Dr. D observes how the patients adore Stewart, she is annoyed and wants all the accolades for herself.
Getting Help for Dealing With the Impact of a Narcissistic Boss
Dealing with a narcissistic boss can be difficult, and may take a big toll on your mental health. It is important to know when you may need to involve professional help.
You may need to look into professional help for dealing with a narcissistic boss if you’re experiencing:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Malaise and low moods
- Self-doubts and emerging low self-esteem
- Episodes of anxiety and/or work anxiety
- Frequent need for self-assurance from loved ones
How to Find a Therapist
Recommendations from family and friends for therapists as well as talking with your family doctor can be quite helpful in finding a therapist that’s right for you. Another simple place to start is with an online therapist directory, where you can filter by location, insurance, and specialty. The cost, the use of insurance, the length of time that may be involved is highly individual to each prospective client.
Knowledge empowers you to sustain healthy self-esteem. If you understand who you are working with, you needn’t lower your own self-esteem and take your boss’s comments and treatment as if they are deserved. It’s highly unlikely a narcissist will change, and your boss may not either, which means your well-being rests with yourself. Getting the support you need is not a weakness, and can help you develop the tools you need to stay strong (and to quit if that’s what’s best for your mental health).