So, Your Boss Is A Narcissist — 7 Things To Do (And 8 Things To Avoid)

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Narcissistic boss at work

Do you have a narcissistic boss?

When your boss is a strong leader, they can boost your confidence, help you feel fulfilled in your role, validate your contribution to the organization, and ensure your professional trajectory.

On the other hand, when your boss is a narcissist, you may feel confused, like you're walking on eggshells. You're insecure, burnt out, and overwhelmingly anxious.

RELATED: There Are 3 Types Of Narcissists — Here's How To Spot Each One

Narcissistic individuals often strive for positions of power and can make life a nightmare for their employees.

The good news is, you can learn how to deal with a narcissist boss if you can pinpoint the red flags.

Narcissism is a defense mechanism protecting a fragile, wounded self which they compensate by behaviors negatively impacting others.

A narcissist boss can be charming and often viewed as a great leader who gets the job done, but their techniques, manipulation, and controlling behaviors can take "prisoners" along the way.

Here are some red flags that exemplify the traits of a narcissistic boss:

  • Lack of empathy and compassion.
  • Inability to admit their errors.
  • High need for praise and admiration.
  • Difficulty praising others.
  • Inability or lack of patience to handle disagreements collaboratively.
  • A need to control everything and everyone.
  • Takes credit for your hard work.
  • Needs to be the center of attention at meetings or otherwise.
  • High sense of competition with others and stokes competition among team members.
  • Difficulty giving constructive feedback and defaults to ineffective criticism.
  • Inability to control emotions and acts out when angry.
  • Creating chaos or conflict within the workplace.
  • Bleeding boundaries by taking advantage of hard workers and high performers.
  • No accountability or refusing to take responsibility for their actions.
  • Extreme sensitivity to criticism or feedback.

If you recognize that your boss exhibits narcissistic tendencies, it’s likely not a big surprise.

You know that they’ve been difficult to work with for a long time. Now, you have a better understanding as to why.

If you’re working with a narcissist, don't lose hope. You can learn how to coexist with them in a peaceful way, even if some of them may be uncomfortable for you.

Here are 7 things to do if you have a narcissist boss, when you need or want to stay at your job.

1. Ask questions about their ideas and let them share concepts with you.

They are very proud of their work and want you to be interested in it, too.

2. Allow them to talk about their achievements.

Their accomplishments are a big part of their identity. It’s how they try to connect with others.

3. Try to anticipate problems in advance.

You know what challenges your boss, so be prepared to deal with it before it becomes a problem.

4. Give them some credit for your success.

Even if it’s a stretch, let them know how they helped you reach a goal, finish a project, or do something well.

This will help them feel needed and appreciated.

5. Be as flexible and easygoing as you can.

Narcissists don’t back down from conflict.

The more rigid you are with them, the more emotional they’re going to be with you.

6. Set boundaries in a gentle but firm way.

Narcissistic bosses will keep demanding without attention to boundaries.

Be sure to shut down the computer and not continue to respond to messages at all hours.

7. Create a support system.

This includes mentors, leaders from other departments, and colleagues who are team players.

This ensures that if you need to stay on the job, you can still find ways to grow and achieve success.

RELATED: 5 Forms Of Narcissistic Abuse That Narcissists Use To Get Inside Your Head

Similarly, here are 8 things to avoid when you're dealing with a narcissistic boss.

1. Don’t criticize or challenge them publicly.

It’s OK to disagree with them, but do so in private when you can be professional and gentle as possible.

2. Don’t expect them to mentor you or be your champion.

They aren’t capable of genuinely supporting other people.

3. Don’t try to compete with them, especially in an open forum.

This will trigger their insecurities and will feed their competitive nature.

4. Don’t expect them to be genuine or authentic.

They've learned to navigate the world without these traits, and it has worked for them.

Don’t take it personally when they can’t act that way toward you.

5. Don’t depend on stable or consistent leadership.

Be prepared by finding ways to ground and utilizing self-care.

6. Don’t waste time defending your idea or arguing with them.

They thrive in conflict and aren’t the type to back down.

7. Don’t have high expectations of them changing.

They are who they are and it will take years of deep therapy to help them develop the self-awareness they need to change their ways.

8. Limit one-on-one situations to only those required as much as you can.

Even if it means using a different restroom or taking the stairs to avoid them in the elevator, limiting the amount of time you spend alone with them cuts down on the negative impact they can have on you.

Now, how do you take care of yourself when you’re working under a narcissist?

Here are 8 ways to make coping with the narcissistic boss a little easier.

1. Practice self-care.

Everything from eating healthy to getting enough sleep and putting work away at a decent time in the evening will help your body, brain, and soul rejuvenate so you can have optimal energy, focus, and patience to deal with your boss every day.

If possible, take small breaks in your workday to replenish. If you're remote, it's important to incorporate breaks just as you would if you were in the office.

2. Set firm boundaries.

Shut down your computer and set aside your work phone during non-business hours.

You can also let them know when you need to wrap up a conversation, so you can reflect on what was discussed.

If your boss is doing anything that crosses a line — such as yelling, berating, or harassing you — be sure to document and reach out to human resources to address.

3. Make sure you have a good support system.

You’re going to need support and you don’t want any of your friends or family getting tired of listening to you.

Vary who you turn to when you need to vent.

4. Leverage your frustrations.

You’re bound to leave work angry and frustrated sometimes.

Instead of containing those toxic feelings, head to the gym and release your understandable frustration, or incorporate other forms of exercise or meditation.

5. Learn about narcissism.

Awareness is always a significant advantage for how to cope and recognize that this isn’t personal, although it feels like it is.

When you have a deeper understanding of why someone might be a narcissist, it can help when you find your self-worth is diminishing.

6. Look for guidance elsewhere.

Your boss won’t be able to mentor you or help you reach new levels in your career.

Look outside your organization or to someone you can trust inside the company to serve as a mentor to teach you the things you would normally learn from a boss.

7. Find joy in other parts of the workplace.

Continue to engage with colleagues you trust and enjoy collaborating with.

8. Document your "wins."

Your boss is probably going to take credit for your work, which isn’t fair but also isn’t something that's going to change.

Keep detailed notes about your achievements and your good work, so you can refer back to it if you need to when it comes to future interviews or advancement within the company.

You never know what will happen when you have a narcissistic boss, so having everything documented is key if you need to defend yourself, provide proof of an idea, or validate what happened:

  • Save all emails.
  • Put everything in writing.
  • Take notes during meetings.
  • Send emails to summarize conversations.
  • Keep all text messages.
  • Maintain a call log if your boss is calling you extensively or during non-working hours.

​It’s not easy, but working with a narcissistic boss doesn’t have to be unbearable.

It’s even more frustrating because they don’t know or care how problematic their behavior is for other people.

You need to accept that you can’t make them change or act differently. Your power lies in your decisions and actions.

You can engage with them in intentional and informed ways, which will hopefully make work a little bit easier for you.

RELATED: How A Narcissist Thinks (Warning: It's Pretty Messed Up)

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Babita Spinelli is a psychotherapist and CEO of Opening the Doors Psychotherapy and Embrace Coaching. To learn more about how she can help you accomplish your goals, visit her website here.

This article was originally published at Opening the Doors Psychotherapy. Reprinted with permission from the author.