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How to Deal With a Narcissistic Boss

Oct 22, 2021

The workplace is a difficult place to be at the best of times. Between a high volume of work and frustrating coworkers, a narcissistic boss can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. 

The American Institute Of Stress has found nearly 30% of workplace issues come from other people. When your boss is responsible for assigning workloads and overseeing behavior, their faults push front and center. A narcissistic boss is one of the most challenging elements a physician can face in their position.

How to deal with a narcissistic boss starts with understanding the disorder. Let’s take a look at what narcissism is, how the workplace reinforces the behavior, and how you can adapt as a working physician. 

The Prevalence of Toxic Bosses

It’s not just you: toxic bosses are a well-known staple of the modern workforce. A toxic boss looks like bosses who micromanage, has unrealistic expectations, or verbally abuses workers. 

Remember that study above about workplace issues sometimes involving other people? A recent study found toxic bosses to be the biggest source of woe for three out of four workers. Poor management has contributed to ongoing issues such as employee turnover, disengaged employees, and lost money. 

Why are toxic bosses so prevalent? Unfortunately, narcissistic people often gravitate to higher positions in employment due to their poor behavior being rewarded. Problems such as demanding obedience or pushing unrealistic ambitions on others can be misinterpreted as positive in work environments.

 

Related: How To Deal With Working Mom Guilt

What is Narcissism?

Like many mental illnesses and personality disorders, narcissism is a word often thrown around without context. Narcissistic personality disorder is a medical condition that is more complex than just being ‘a little self-centered’.

Is narcissism a mental disorder? Not quite. Narcissistic personality disorder affects around 5% of the population, though this number could be a little higher. 

Personality disorders are distinct from mental illness in that they’re rigid personality types that develop over time. They can overlap a little but remain distinct conditions. NPD is defined by the following traits:

 

  • Inflated self-importance
  • Low self-esteem and unstable self-image
  • Extreme sensitivity to criticism
  • Entitled behavior
  • Little to no empathy for others
  • Arrogant and charismatic attitudes to hide low self-worth

 

Physician burnout is often caused by workplace dysfunction and little control overwork. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your job, take solace knowing you have options. There are methods to working with narcissistic bosses that can make your stay more tolerable until you can leave.

The workplace has become a mountain of stress for many. Deanna Larson M.D. is a board-certified medicine physician and life coach who helps today’s workers manage their stress levels.

What is a Narcissistic Boss Like?

You likely already know you have a narcissistic boss. A good boss is patient, empathetic, and willing to meet you halfway. A narcissistic boss is a never-ending source of frustration that can inspire you to find a new job.

One or two symptoms aren’t usually enough to diagnose a problem. You’ll know your boss is narcissistic if they:

  • Handle criticism poorly
  • Blame others for their mistakes
  • Constantly seek out praise 
  • Have unrealistic expectations for your workload or role
  • Never seem to be alone or idle (such as constantly attending meetings or parties)

How Do You Outsmart a Narcissistic Boss?

It’s perfectly understandable to be upset at how you’re treated. Narcissists lack empathy and don’t care about who they hurt on their way to feeling better about themselves.

The silver lining to the cloud is that narcissistic people are very predictable. They rely heavily on constant praise and affirmation, often lashing out when they feel slighted or ignored. This means a little praise and positivity go a very long way. 

While narcissists are quick to manipulate, they are very easily manipulated themselves. You can outsmart your narcissistic boss by:

  • Praising them regularly, whether for small or major details
  • Making them believe your good ideas or behavior come from them
  • Showing them frequent sympathy (yes, even when they don’t deserve it)

How do Narcissists React to Boundaries?

One of the key factors of narcissistic personality disorder is enmeshment: this is a term for when the lines between different people become too blurry. 

Narcissistic people typically respond poorly to boundaries, viewing them as an insult or being denied what they ‘deserve’. Providing an alternative option to their request -- especially if you make them feel they invented it themselves -- is more effective than a straight ‘no’.

Related: How To Say No When You’re Overwhelmed

Who do Narcissists Fear?

Contrary to their bloated and arrogant projection, narcissists are afraid of many things. They push forth a grandiose image to cover up a very insecure and fearful person on the inside.

  • Being rejected 
  • Being alone, even temporarily
  • A lack of control
  • Failure or criticism of any sort
  • Social embarrassment

While you might be very tempted to give your toxic boss a taste of their own medicine, understand this will likely backfire due to their power over your position. This information is instead helpful because it reminds you that their temper tantrums and gaslighting have nothing to do with you as a person.

In Conclusion

Working with a narcissistic boss isn’t ideal. Until you’re able to find a more empathetic working environment, you need to adapt in the meantime. 

Learning how to deal with a narcissistic boss means understanding the foundation of the disorder. Rather than reflecting your ability as a worker, it’s a reflection of an insecure and immature boss. Providing them with regular praise and weathering their tantrums with a smile will take the heat off your back until you can leave.

Do you need help managing the emotional wear and tear of a narcissistic boss? Contact Deanna Larson M.D. today to start learning the tools for a more manageable and stress-free life.

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