A key to understanding workplace bullying is understanding a toxic boss’ narcissism. While narcissistic personality disorder is rare, and we all have some degree of selfishness, most if not all workplace bullies fall on a spectrum of narcissism closer to narcissistic personality disorder than the average person.
What narcissism is
According to the Mayo Clinic:
Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.
If you have narcissistic personality disorder, you may:
- Come across as conceited, boastful, or pretentious.
- Often monopolize conversations.
- Belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior.
- Feel a sense of entitlement.
- Become impatient or angry when you don’t receive special treatment.
- Insist on having “the best” of everything — for instance, the best car, athletic club, or medical care.
At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability, and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior. Or you may feel depressed and moody because you fall short of perfection.
The American Psychiatric Association further defines narcissistic personality disorder as:
- Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
- Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
- Exaggerating your achievements and talents
- Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty, or the perfect mate
- Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
- Requiring constant admiration
- Having a sense of entitlement
- Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
- Taking advantage of others to get what you want
- Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
- Being envious of others and believing others envy you
- Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner
In a nutshell, you put yourself on a pedestal and value yourself more than you value others.
How narcissism starts
While the causes of narcissistic personality disorder are unconfirmed and complex, researchers link the disorder to:
- Biologically vulnerable children
- Parenting styles that overemphasize the child’s specialness and criticize fears and failures
The child may hide low self-esteem by developing a superficial sense of perfection and behavior that shows a need for constant admiration.
What this news means – and how it can help you
The three major conclusions are then that:
- A narcissist’s issues have absolutely nothing to do with you (even if he or she tries to make you think otherwise)
- Knowing the causes of narcissism can help overcome anger about the situation (for more on overcoming anger, including how to address your own triggers, check out The Cow in the Parking Lot)
- You’re worth more than being the target of someone else’s insecurities
That last point is key. On Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday, one soul searcher asks “what’s the difference between the people who hurt you and what you’re doing to yourself (by staying in a toxic situation)?” (Nothing – they both hurt you.) You’ll know you’re in a healthy situation when you:
- Don’t have to compromise who you are
- Aren’t betraying yourself
- Aren’t emotionally drained
- Aren’t having your power compromised
- Aren’t losing yourself
You are worth protecting. Make sure you protect yourself against a narcissist’s baggage by removing yourself from a toxic situation and following your truth.