Believe it or not, but we live in the age of narcissism. More and more people just like to show off or like to pose themselves bigger than they really are. Narcissism has become a buzzword, a label that we like to throw at each other rather easily.
Realising that this concept might be difficult to accept, how about these examples? Do you like to be in the spotlight? That smacks of narcissism. Do you have a Facebook and/or Instagram account? Narcissistic. And what about the selfie- culture? Pure narcissism. You see, it is all around us. Mind you, not everybody involved in one or more of these activities, automatically is a die-hard narcissist.
For the purpose of this website: what if your boss is narcissistic or has narcissistic tendencies? In order to help you deal with them, I will explain what narcissism is and how to recognise and deal with the kind of behaviour that accompanies the type.
Where did the term narcissistic come from?
As a matter of fact its origins lie in Greek mythology; Narcissus, a beautiful but shy boy was unable to make any relationship commitments. Then one day he was thirsty and leaned over a well and saw a beautiful boy in the reflection of the water. He fell so madly in love with his own reflection that he could not tear away himself from this picture and eventually fell over and drowned.
What is the definition of narcissism?
As you could conclude from the Greek myth, narcissism is described as a more than normal absorption in yourself and an excess of self-love. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), which is considered the standard for psychiatric diagnosis, describes the narcissistic personality as a deeply ingrained pattern of greatness, both in behaviour and imagination, a boundless need for admiration combined with a serious lack of empathy. The narcissist does everything possible to be confirmed in his grandiosity and uses other people to achieve this. He does not appreciate criticism and will never look at himself, for everything that goes wrong is not his fault. Incidentally narcissism may be seen in a ‘he’ or ‘she’, however, it is more common in men than in women.
How do you recognise a narcissistic person?
Narcissistic personalities show one or more of these characteristics:
- They have an obsession with beauty, fame, power, success, genius or sexual performance.
- They find themselves unique and think that only special and unique people like themselves can understand them.
- They will find themselves very important; exaggerate their accomplishments, talents and contacts. They want to be considered superior even if their performances give little cause.
- They manipulate and use others to achieve their own goals.
- They have an underdeveloped empathy and are unable to take into account the views and needs of others.
- They have a great need for attention, affirmation and admiration.
- They’re jealous, and that may be associated with anger.
- They demand preferential treatment and find that they have more rights than others.
- They feel superior and far above the law.
How does this translate to narcissistic managers?
A narcissistic leader is “nice and charming”, but only to those who are his superiors or those who are “above” him or which he is dependent on. A narcissist will not easily enter into a discussion when he fears he will lose anyway. On the other hand, he may completely floor the same ‘strong’ personality in an altogether different setting.
A narcissistic leader will always win over people who marshal themselves as too dependent and too vulnerable to him or who admire and praise him. Employees who burst into crying and rely on the manager will almost always be protected by him. Employees who are not like that will be ignored or put aside. The narcissistic leader likes to create dependency relationships.
A narcissist always creates divisions within the team. The yes-men are favoured and pulled forward. The rest is completely shunned or put aside, which shows when sometimes people will inexplicably lose their jobs, thus creating an atmosphere of doubts and distrust.
How can you deal with a narcissistic leader?
The best solution is twofold:
- you keep clearly in mind that it is not up to you
- make sure you as a team do not get played off one against the other
Whatever you decide to do, it will be tricky. Inside himself your supervisor is feeling particularly uncertain and small. He has a huge need for appreciation, recognition and respect. But unfortunately, he hides behind a mask of megalomania. Discussing this point with him ensures that you go home with a problem and not your supervisor or manager.
When you recognise this, you are in a difficult position. When you turn to someone above his pay grade, it can be interpreted wrong very quickly. You must therefore come very well prepared. As another option you can also use a mediator. But you have to know where to begin.
There is light at the end of the tunnel
Your action can also be an inaction, where you wait and see your boss blow himself up. See the two instances below.
Maybe too late, but sooner or later he will be exposed as incompetent. Then it turns out that he cannot fulfil the specified and requested performance at all. Or that he punched far above his weight. But of course it is always another person’s mistake according to the narcissist.
Secondly, because of his charisma, he will talk very nicely to and about his management and the company. He will go at length to accomplish what is asked from him. However, when management, even the highest position, makes a decision which he considers is not in his favour, he will go his own way immediately and start looking for another job. No two ways about it!
Narcissism is here to stay, so you better cope with it. Accept it as the new ADHD or the new autism. It is only natural that we like to label things so that they become nice and orderly. That bully of a boss you encountered? That’s just a narcissist! Because once you bombard him to be a patient, he is a lot less threatening.
But do not delude yourself, especially in a work situation where your dependency is on a boss or bosses. With the help of above explanations, you can now discover a real narcissist, in which case you would need to adapt your strategies. Just realise that, being what they are, it will be very difficult (not impossible) to turn things around. Maybe you praise him, maybe you show vulnerability or that you are dependent on him. Or, if you have the time, you will wait until he falls into his own traps.
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