In the current series of articles (see: How to Deal with a Narcissist and How to Deal with a Narcissist – Part-2), we’ve been taking a look at narcissistic characters and some of the good and bad advice out there about how to deal with them. And perhaps the best protection you can have against a narcissist and the pain one of these folks can bring into a relationship is to know the signs of this character disturbance well enough in advance to avoid getting involved with them in the first place. But there are plenty of times when that’s much easier said than done. Many narcissists so adept at the art of impression management and can wield such charm and make such a favorable impression that you simply can’t know what kind of person your really dealing with until it’s too late. And there are situations in which other factors are at play that make it hard for you to give the kind of heed you might otherwise give with respect to someone’s character. This is especially true when you are in a situation where you really need a particular job and have the misfortune to work in an environment in which one or more of your co-workers or perhaps even your boss is a narcissist.
Naturally, dealing with any person who has a serious character disturbance or disorder is never easy. And there are no foolproof methods to neutralizing the distress such a person can bring into your life. But faithfully following some general rules can help make life with a narcissistic boss or co-worker much more manageable:
- Know and understand the narcissist’s typical modus operandi. You have to appreciate how deeply-rooted and resistant to change certain character traits are. And whether it’s the rare case that the narcissist is truly dealing with deep emotional wounds for which they have unconsciously built defenses or the much more common case that they have been over-indulged, coddled, overvalued, and have a built-in predisposition for grandiose self-appraisal, their ways are set and their behavior is, as a result, quite predictable. In Character Disturbance, I describe the narcissist’s makeup in depth. Know it well because it will prepare you for what to expect. And be very wary of what might appear a sudden change of heart on their part. Narcissists are good at looking like they’ve learned a lesson when the only real lesson they’ve learned is how to better sway you. Remember, narcissists always have their self-interest in the forefront. Even when they appear to be valuing you or taking your needs into consideration, it’s really always about them and enhancing their stature.
- Don’t be afraid to stand up for your needs. If you don’t take proactive assertive action on your behalf, no one else will, especially not the narcissist. And you needn’t worry that taking good care of yourself might “threaten” the narcissist. Such ideas come from erroneous traditional psychology notions that all narcissists are insecure, self-esteem deficient individuals underneath who need constant reassurance, validation, and adulation. While many narcissists seem to demand these things, they know how to take care of themselves and go about that task quite energetically. So it’s in your best interest to focus intently own needs. Now how you go about doing this is very important, which leads to the next point:
- Be practical. You have your needs and desires, the narcissist has his or hers. Know clearly what your needs are and stand up for them. Respect and acknowledge the narcissist’s needs but enforce reasonable limits and boundaries (more on this in just a bit). The narcissist will always feel entitled to encroach. It’s up to you to respectfully draw the line.
- Set your boundaries and limits firmly and assertively and be very matter-of-fact about it. Narcissists are so passively disregarding of your needs that they don’t mind encroaching on your boundaries and testing all limits. Narcissistic bosses sometimes expect you to be available at all hours and to respond to their whims at a moment’s notice. Let your cell phone go to voicemail when that late night call comes. Establish a protocol for responding to genuine emergencies. And make it clear what additional contingencies might be put into place if manipulations occur. Narcissistic co-workers don’t mind imposing on you for favors and then hogging all the credit when you’ve done all their work. Don’t be hostile, unnecessarily combative, or forceful about it, but calmly and in a matter-of-fact way make your boundaries and limits clear.
- Don’t take things personally and do your best to stay on top of your emotions, not letting them get the better of you. The demanding nature of narcissists can really get under your skin. And sometimes their attacks seem very personal. But you have to remember that it’s never really about you anyway, it’s about them and what they want. You’re actually not much of a consideration at all. And while even realizing this might tend to unnerve you, it’s important that you not let your emotions cloud your judgment about the best ways to take care of yourself.
- Know and respond quickly to tactics. As I point out in In Sheep’s Clothing, many narcissists are also covert-aggressors (and remember, all the aggressive personalities – including covert-aggressives – are first and foremost narcissists. So you can expect many or all of the tactics manipulation tactics I outline. Know the tactics well and how to respond to them. And above all, don’t let things escalate out of control. If you give the narcissist an inch, they’ll surely take a mile. And while it may seem exhausting to stay on top of all their manipulations, keep in mind how steep the price might easily become if you don’t act. There’s also no need to “out” the narcissist on tactics either and force the issue of self-exposure. While it’s tempting to either cut the other person down to size or to let them know that you know what their up to, you only need to enforce your limits and boundaries. This allows the narcissist to save face while knowing clearly how far they can go in exploiting you.
- Cultivate as many opportunities and options as you can. Always have a “Plan B.” Build alliances among non-character disturbed cohorts that will serve you well if you plan to stay. And have an exit strategy and employment alternatives lined up in case you find your current situation becoming unbearable.
Jan worked for Vern for almost 20 years. He was a self-made millionaire who was never shy about sharing his story of personal greatness. And he tended to think of Jan more as his indentured servant than his employee. And it was never easy for Jan to work for him. But Vern had already gone through 5 other personal assistants before Jan arrived. And during her tenure, many more would come and go, quickly burned out by Vern’s demanding ways. So Jan knew very well her value to Vern and his company, and whenever Vern lorded it over her that he paid her big bucks and that she was lucky to be working for him and she could always be fired, she calmly but firmly pointed out how many employees had already fled the coup, how much time and energy it took to train and re-train new hires, and how much it would be in his own best interest not only to keep her but also to continue to compensate her well and to not so overstep reasonable bounds that she would be forced to quit. And Jan always did this kind of thing with complete confidence, calm, and tact. She never tried to make Vern look bad, she just wouldn’t stand for being treated badly. And when Jan did finally quit, she retired with a much bigger nest egg than her high-living, big-stakes gambling boss did. He never learned. But she learned how to deal with him. And in the end, it was she who profited. True story. Only the names have been changed. I’m forever grateful to both “Jan” and “Vern.” They taught me a lot.
Next week starts a new series. And as always, Character Matters airs on UCY.TV at 7 pm Eastern (4 pm Pacific) time this Sunday.