Help! My Boss is a Narcissist!
Updated: Apr 7
A friend of mine told me about a company that was hiring in my line of work. She passed my name along to the would-be boss, and low and behold I got a request for a phone interview. It all went very well. My boss, Kathleen, was very detailed and accommodating, we seemed to have a lot in common and she bent over backwards to give me the biggest salary I had earned yet in the business, my own Regional Management Position, and all the perks that came with that. I was flattered and blessed, or so I thought. On day two, I knew I was in trouble. Our meetings were all done via SKYPE because we were remote managers living all over the USA. One day, during our team meeting she made a sarcastic remark that caused everyone on the team to doubt the competency of one of the team members. It felt “icky”, silent, not good. Then it was more and more frequent. During one on one calls she began to say things that divided the team like, “You know Sally doesn’t like you, she thinks you are a bitch, so best be careful what you share with her”. More and more, the team grew apart, grew fearful that the things she was saying were true. And, if you dare to confront her or cross her with counter information, you would be immediately scolded and yelled at and threatened. Her biting comments and broken promises left the team upset all the time. No one knew what to expect next from her. The rules changed so frequently, that it started to affect productivity. She played a game of favorites where she pretended to dote on certain managers and brag on them about grandiose things that later on we would find out were not true, except no one at the time thought to question the validity of the claims. Everyone of us began to doubt ourselves, our abilities, our perceptions, and our worth; all at the sake of Kathleen. One by one people started comparing notes only to find out that all of the inconsistencies were not true. We started figuring out something was amiss. After cleaning up her messes and defending her to my team, and hiding her real tragic interactions from them as best as I could, she ended up showing her true colors to them, too and that’s when we started putting our heads together to determine exactly what we had on our hands. All points screamed we might be dealing with a narcissist and perhaps a malignant narcissist.
What is narcissism? It’s a complex of the ego whereby the person sees themselves sufficient in and of themselves. It’s a God complex. They often do not seek help because they don’t believe they have need of help. They believe themselves so superior that they are here to provide answers for everyone else. This is a tough person to live with, to work with, and to relate to. They have very few authentic friends and they are usually shallow and short term relationships. Malignant narcissists need a “supply” in order to boost their fragile egos. They are quick to put down, insult or verbally condescend anyone who they believe will “shine” greater than they will, or posses skills that they themselves do not have. They rarely fire anyone because the need to have this supply readily available. They have disjointed, distrusting team members, with them as the central spoke. They will be the instigator, the idea maker, the one who starts the rumor, and keeps everyone wondering what the others on the team might be really thinking. Self-doubt and vulnerable are the people who stay in this environment for long. They often tell lies and cannot remember from day to day what they said to whom. So, what can you do with them? I heard it said somewhere that “you can’t wrestle with a pig, you get dirty and they like it”. For those of us who think you can reasons with a narcissist, you can’t. If you think you can get to their heart on the matter, you can’t. They have no desire to see from your point of view, it’s their view and only their view. Everything you do is filtered and interpreted by their own limited perspective and their need to protect themselves from potential shame.
I found it best to just stop talking when conversations with my boss got too detailed, or heated, or weird. She often had odd requests that were clearly against protocol and so my only answer to her was, “Sure, okay, thank you” and then I went about doing what I knew to do. It was the best thing ever. It freed me from the need to answer someone who didn’t really want to make sense, for my benefit. Staying confused, doubtful, vulnerable and wondering was what she liked. I decided that my best offense was to just observe and do what I knew to do. I ended up setting some practical boundaries and I quit the job after careful planning. I ended it by not speaking with her at all, I just copied her in on a company email and didn’t allow there to be any room for comments. It was the best decision I ever made.
I had to take lots of time to think and consider what had happened and why. It pressed my to think about who I really am and what makes me, me? I had to conclude that I would not allow people to define me, or titles to define me, or what my status was. I went on a search for the truth and I found it. I challenge those of you who think you may be living with a narcissist in your life to get some wise counsel and a trusted friend’s advice. It took a long time, but eventually I became thankful for that person since they spearheaded me into self awareness that brought me into the coaching realm with a successful coaching practice. Every day I get to breathe life into others in a way that a narcissist cannot, and each time I heal a little more, and I am grateful.