Are you dealing with narcissists at work and home? I’ve dealt with them both personally (my husband REALLY wants me to let you know I’m not talking about him lol) and professionally (recently, in fact), and before I understood what a narcissist is and how they operate, I would often leave interactions with them confused, drained, feeling bullied and questioning myself. These relationships can be destructive in any part of your life – until you know the warning signs and what to do to protect yourself, your family and your business.
My education with narcissism began with my stepmom – I didn’t know it as a child, but she was a raging narcissist. She would manipulate us kids with emotional abuse – she’d give us gifts, take us shopping, and be kind to us, and then tell my dad that we were misbehaving, scream at us, threaten us and cut us off emotionally.
She once took me shopping for a junior prom dress only to have me choose a dress and tell me that we could return to buy it after I lost 10 pounds. Often, she’d call the police on my siblings (I escaped that fate somehow) for normal kid-behaviors, and knew how to work authority figures like police officers, teachers and social workers. They would think we were “problem children” and that she was the victim.
However, that’s what narcissists do. They fear worthlessness and have a major needs to be adored, respected and in control. They manipulate and use other people to fulfill their own emotional needs, and derive pleasure from the pain they inflict. They feel superior by making others feel inferior. Nothing is ever their fault, despite proof of their own faults, errors or incompetence – you won’t convince them that they have any accountability. In fact, problems are always your fault or someone else’s fault, and they know exactly how to make authority figures, family and friends turn on you. They will flat out lie with no remorse. They play emotional games, sucking you back into drama, known as “hoovering.” They are masters at keeping you confused and second-guessing your judgment, called “gaslighting.” You’ll believe that any doubts you have about him or her are “all in your head.”
It was tough for me to accept that there are people like this in the world, but it’s a diagnosable personality disorder that is treated with talk therapy. According to The Mayo Clinic, “Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism. A narcissistic personality disorder causes problems in many areas of life, such as relationships, work, school or financial affairs. People with narcissistic personality disorder may be generally unhappy and disappointed when they’re not given the special favors or admiration they believe they deserve. They may find their relationships unfulfilling, and others may not enjoy being around them.”
In your business, these individuals may show up as your vendors, clients and unfortunately, as your employees. They may seem very nice on the surface, even charming, but you may notice that they lack empathy and don’t genuinely care about the feelings of the people around them. They will struggle to be accountable or take ownership when something goes wrong and may make you feel like his or her shortcomings are due to something you did or didn’t do, or external circumstances beyond his or her control. This person may gossip and turn the office against you, or someone else. They don’t take criticism well, which makes doing business with them or giving feedback to them feel like walking on eggshells.
This article from Psychology Today talks about handling narcissists from the perspective of a co-worker and does offer some useful tips. As an entrepreneur, I disagree, though, with the advice of making a narcissist feel important to get her to perform – it gives her more energy to hurl back at you. As an entrepreneur, hopefully, you’ll have more control in a professional relationship and can cut the person out entirely.
Most narcissists suffer from poor self-esteem and a sense of shame. They need to provoke attention and reactions in the people around them to feel like they matter. Refusal to engage and detaching from a narcissist, cutting them off completely may be your best course of action.
I love this article from narcissist abuse recovery expert Malanie Tonia Evans. She talks about ignoring narcissists, but doing so in a way that is about your own health and recovery, and not making it about revenge or inflicting pain on the narcissist. I don’t know Melanie and am not endorsing her programs, but I do think it’s an excellent article worth the read. She concludes, “….letting go and ignoring them will feel totally counter-intuitive at first. Yet, I promise you, when done in conjunction with healing your Inner Being, detaching and generating your life will be the most natural, healthy thing you have ever done in your life.”
Remember that emotional manipulation, gaslighting and hoovering can be personally and professionally devastating acts of abuse, and according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, “Although disorders and diagnoses are often go-to explanations for abusive behavior, we know that mental health issues do not excuse or directly cause intimate partner abuse.” If you can’t cut the individual out completely for some reason, put yourself first. Get therapy and encourage them to do the same (although, they are probably not going to see an issue, but it’s always worth a try). You can also get help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which has a chat function, or you can reach advocates 24/7/365 by phone at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).