Narcissists create tremendous damage, frustration and suffering. They are everything but mature. And they believe they are so grandiose that they are entitled to hurt and damage other people. Narcissists are not always easy to detect, but it is important that you do, to know what you stand up against.
What has worked for me is to show that I do not agree with them.
I am not a psychologist, and I will not dwell on the differences between a narcissist and a psychopath. When you hear the words “narcissist or “psychopath” you probably think on a “it-is-all-about-me” person. And that is what I mean about a narcissist in this article. A person who probably has what is called a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
The most ridiculous example I have experienced was a Head of a department, where I once worked, who summoned all his staff to an urgent meeting, telling them, while he was sobbing, that his wife had left him, and what a terrible time he was going through. And this was a government agency, not a local corner shop. No wonder the wife left him.
Many famous and infamous persons have been labelled psychopaths and narcissists. Harvey Weinstein, the film producer being accused of having sexually abused a large number of women over several decades, is a typical candidate.
Two Female Narcissists
Some times they can be as obvious at that. However, often narcissists are not all that easy to spot and far more dangerous than that infantile Head of Department. Two women (yes, women can be narcissists, too), both fit my description of a narcissist. One was my Head of Unit, the other one a woman who worked for a different organization, but whom I encountered frequently. They could both be eloquent and charming, and often their suggestions and decisions sounded quite reasonable.
Up until…. you said something to correct them. That is when they showed their true colours. Especially if you at the same time, failed to praise them for their excellent ideas, or the good work they were doing.
Once I just tried to explain to one of them something I thought she had misunderstood. My intention was not to be rude, just to help her. I could see that her neck became red-spotted and how she was struggling to contain herself. After that day she took every opportunity to belittle me. Trying to make my comments at a meeting sound ridiculous, or deleting me from email lists. I tried to avoid her as best as I could.
The other one, the Head of Unit, interpreted any suggestions as criticism. When somebody proposed some small changes to our weekly meeting, she turned brick red, and had apparent difficulties with continue on talking. She had already had several histories with harassing staff, who, as a result, left. Her ability to lead us was non-existent, and the office was a mess. I left after a few months.
Criticise Them and See What Happens
So, if you suspect that a person you work closly with, may have a narcissistic disorder, try and criticize them and see what happens. It does not have to be open criticism, just a polite “may I suggest that we do X instead of Y”. A normal person would not be upset about that. They may oppose it, but would not be bursting with anger. A good colleague or manager would appreciate your comments. When you have done that a couple of times, or observed others doing it, and they show the same extreme reaction to the slightest hint of criticism, you are probably dealing with a narcissist.
They Will Never Change
If you cannot leave your job immediately, work on a longer-term exit strategy. Because narcissists will never change. Not just that they can make life very hard for you; but working for a narcissist also means that you will have little to show for in terms of achievements to put on your CV. Since, they only care about what serves their own ego, they are incapable of setting out a direction, and make people work according to it. And if you should be able to do some good work, they will do everything they can to take the glory.
Left with no option but to stay, do your best to keep out of their sight. Try not to annoy them. And support colleagues who are in their spotlight, the best way you can. At least you can take care of each other, and dream about the day the narcissist leaves. Often they do, due to lack of results, leaving massive chaos behind.
The Head of Unit I told you about, was sacked a few years after I left. The other one went on to a job in another country.
The next time you suspect you have a narcissist in your vicinity, please contact me. I am here to listen.