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Narcissism in the Workplace

Dr. Vaknin: It is possible to live with the narcissist, as I made clear earlier. It requires certain behavioral modifications and a willingness to accept the narcissist largely as he is. These may be of interest:

David: For many people, Dr. Vaknin, if you are in a situation working with a narcissist or under a narcissist, they can't just pick up and leave their job. What is the best way for them to cope without "kissing" up to this person and being always vigilant about what you say and how you say it? or is that the only way to survive?

Dr. Vaknin: It depends whether the narcissistic bully represents the corporate culture of the workplace - or is an isolated case attributable to a quirky nature or a personality disorder. Alas, very often, abusive behaviors in one's office or shop floor are merely the epitome of all-pervasive wrongdoing which permeates the entire hierarchy, from top management to the bottom rung of employment. Bullies rarely dare to express their tendencies in isolation and in defiance of the prevailing ethos. Or, if they do run against the grain of their place of employment, they lose their jobs. Typically, narcissists join already narcissistic firms and mesh well with a toxic workplace, a poisonous atmosphere, and an abusive management. If one is not willing to succumb to the mores and (lack of) ethics of the workplace, there is little one can do. Surprisingly few countries (Sweden, the United Kingdom, to some extent) outlaw workplace abuse specifically. Whistleblowers and "troublemakers" are frowned upon and are not protected by any institutions. It is a dismal landscape. The victim would do well to simply resign and move on, sad as this may be. As awareness of the phenomenon increases and laws take effect, hopefully this will change and bullied and abused workers will find effective ways to cope with mistreatment.

TimeToFly: What typically happens to a narcissist when they lose their position of authority or their job. How do they react to that? My narcissist ex-husband recently lost his job. He will not say what happened exactly, typical. But since then he has been on a rampage to destroy me. It was right after the loss of his previous job that he left me and our children 4 years ago. He had been the manager of engineering and was first demoted, and then finally left the company. I never did get the story. He has just remarried, but his new life somehow has not distracted him from his obsession with destroying mine.

Dr. Vaknin: Being demoted or losing one's job is a narcissistic injury (or wound). The entire edifice of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder is an elaborate and multi-layered reaction to past narcissistic injuries. A gap opens between the way the narcissistic imagines himself to be (grandiosity) and reality (unemployed, humiliated, discarded, unneeded). The narcissist strives to bridge the grandiosity gap but sometimes it is simply to abysmal to deny or ignore. So, some narcissists go through decompensation - their defense mechanisms crumble. They may even experience brief psychotic episodes. They become dysfunctional. The narcissists redouble their efforts to obtain narcissistic supply by any means - sex, exercise, attention-seeking behaviors. Yet others withdraw altogether to "lick their wounds" (schizoid posture). What is common to all these narcissists is the ominous feeling that they are losing control (and maybe even losing it). In a desparate effort to re-exert control, the narcissist becomes abusive. Sometimes abuse is about controlling the victim. Others seek "easy targets" - lonely women to "conquer" or simple tasks to accomplish, or no-brainers, or to compete against weak opponents with a guaranteed result.

For more on these behaviors:

David: If you are interested in purchasing Dr. Vaknin's excellent and very thorough book on narcissism, Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited, click on the link.

jenmosaic: What causes NPD?

Dr. Vaknin: No one knows. The accepted wisdom is that NPD is tan adaptative reaction to early childhood or early adolescence trauma and abuse. There are many forms of abuse. The more familiar ones - verbal, emotional, psychological, physical, sexual - of course yield psychopathologies. But are far more subtle and more insidious forms of mistreatment. Doting, smothering, ignoring personal boundaries, treating someone as an extension or a wish-fulfillment machine, spoiling, emotional blackmail, an ambience of paranoia or intimidation ("gaslighting") - have as long lasting effects as the "classic" varieties of abuse. Still, there is always the possibility of a hereditary component More about the roots of narcissism here

David: Here are a couple of audience comments about what's been said tonight:

Doria57: No one ever wants to form an anti-bullying group, they are afraid.


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Last Updated: 13 July 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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