4 things to avoid when working with narcissistic personalities
Narcissistic tendencies are increasingly present around us, particularly in the workplace. We live in a culture where identity is based on external image, and the level of projected success is the only unit of measure for someone’s human worth. That creates a breeding ground for narcissistic behaviours. However, there is such a thing as a "healthy dose of narcissism", just like it is the case with a healthy dose of shame.
The technical term for this is self-confidence. Having an appropriately positive image of ourselves is crucial for our well-being. We can’t extend love to others if we can’t extend love to ourselves. In this article, you will get a glimpse into how to recognise unhealthy narcissistic tendencies and what causes them. You’ll also discover four major things to avoid when working with narcissistic personalities.
How to recognise narcissistic tendencies
People with narcissistic tendencies aim to have others believe they are outstanding, whatever the term might mean for them. They relish talking about their successes and they want to make sure others take the time to acknowledge that. The people around them must understand very quickly that they are dealing with a noteworthy person. Therefore, a person with narcissistic tendencies is often self-absorbed and eager to show themselves in their best possible shape and appearance.
They will typically think that their needs are more important than everyone else’s and that they are entitled to certain privileges that others are not. It may seem that achievement is one of the few sources of motivation for them.
Criticism only unleashes their fury and profound upset. They respond very defensively and often in a disproportionate, exaggerated manner. If they are in a position of power, they might use that to retaliate.
They know how to juggle their emotions, using seduction, criticism and unexpected praise to manipulate others. There is often little honesty and genuineness in their behaviour because they aim to instil in you an emotional state that serves their goals. Therefore, they do not tend to pay attention to the responses they awake in others – empathy doesn’t seem to be on the menu.
What causes narcissism?
Now that we’ve seen a short description of someone with narcissistic tendencies, let’s go over how the narcissistic experience emerges.
Cue an essential clinical term, "narcissistic injury". The narcissistic injury occurs in childhood, when the child's experience of real self is deeply wounded. It emerges when the caretakers need the child to be something substantially different from what the child is. The unspoken – or in some tragic cases, the spoken – message is, "Who you are is not good for me. Be what I want and I will love you". When the child picks up this message, the true self is buried in response and is replaced with a highly compensatory, fabricated self that aligns with the caretaker's requirements.
As children become adults, this fabricated self gets progressively demanding and the efforts to maintain the compensatory movement increase. This aggrandised self can indicate an attempt to regain what was lost – the love and validation that the child never received.
Because there is a loss, there is a deep-seated and unconscious feeling of grief and sadness. As a result, the psychological literature recognises two main states for the narcissistic personality. There is the grandiose fabricated self that we see projected to the outside world, with its hues of omnipotence, entitlement and devaluation of others. When this fabricated self is attacked or malfunctions, we witness the collapsed state. This is characterised by a great level of sensitivity to criticism, feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, and even physical manifestations, such as migraines.
Now we've seen how it looks and how it appears, you might be pretty convinced you are working with a narcissistic personality. So, what are some things you can avoid to keep your work relationships as balanced as possible?
1. Don't expect sympathy if you show antagonism
Sometimes their boastfulness can be irritating, and you might feel uneasy about it. A reaction you might get from being exposed to all that bragging is to contradict them regularly, to prove to them they are not as great as they think they are. It is understandable why you might react like that. Someone's narcissism is not a reason to suppress your feelings. When you react to their arrogance, you can expect retaliation and animosity.
2. Don't fall for the manipulation attempts
Narcissistic personalities can be charismatic and alluring at first. It could be that this very skill is what makes them believe they are entitled to special treatment. Their charm and composure, paired with their lack of empathy, contribute to their manipulation strengths. They can turn to flattery or threats just as it suits their own goal.
3. Don't do them a favour you don't want to do again
Cue another important term: boundaries. It is paramount that you show your narcissistic co-workers a clear picture of what you find acceptable and unacceptable, otherwise, there will be attempts to convince you to compromise on your limits. They can use their persuasion skills to diminish the importance of what you find comfortable.
4. Don't be disappointed by the lack of genuine gratitude
Because they believe they are entitled to acts and gestures the rest of humanity is not, it's difficult for narcissistic personalities to understand the principle of reciprocity. The idea of giving to others and giving something back is not compatible with their heightened sense of competition.
What effects can narcissism have on you?
Sometimes our internal cues can be a good indicator of whether we are engaging with a narcissistic personality. This may include:
- You feel you're constantly walking on eggshells because you can’t tell if the other will get upset.
- You start to believe you are genuinely guilty of wronging them when you are being accused of that. Their case is so compelling that there can be no other explanation.
- Your boundaries become like hard-boiled spaghetti. You catch yourself doing things for them that you would not have done for others. You feel duped.
Not sure how to handle a narcissistic coworker or manager? I'd love to help! Get in touch to discuss how working together can help you identify narcissistic traits and learn to manage work relationships better.