How To Cope With Abuse in the Workplace

A closeup of a man smiling at the camera

To a narcissist-employer, the members of his “staff” are Secondary Sources of Narcissistic Supply. Their role is to accumulate the supply (in human speak, remember events that support the grandiose self-image of the narcissist) and to regulate the Narcissistic Supply of the narcissist during dry spells (simply put, to adulate, adore, admire, agree, provide attention and approval and so on or, in other words, be an audience). The staff (or should we say “stuff”?) is supposed to remain passive. The narcissist is not interested in anything but the simplest function of mirroring. When the mirror acquires a personality and a life of its own, the narcissist is incensed. When independent minded, an employee might be in danger of being sacked by his employer (an act which demonstrates the employer’s omnipotence).

The employee’s presumption to be the employer’s equal (friendship is possible only among equals) injures the latter narcissistically. The employer is willing to accept his employees as underlings, whose very position serves to support his grandiose fantasies. But the grandiosity rests on such fragile foundations, that any hint of equality, disagreement or need (that the narcissist “needs” friends, for instance) threatens the narcissist profoundly. The narcissist is exceedingly insecure. It is easy to destabilize his impromptu “personality”. His reactions are merely in self-defense.

Classic narcissistic behavior is when idealisation is followed by devaluation. The devaluing attitude develops as a result of disagreements OR simply because time has eroded the employee’s capacity to serve as a FRESH Source of Supply.

The employee, taken for granted by the narcissistic employer, becomes uninspiring as a source of adulation, admiration and attention. The narcissist always seeks new thrills and stimuli.

The narcissist is notorious for his low threshold of resistance to boredom. His behavior is impulsive and his biography tumultuous precisely because of his need to introduce uncertainty and risk to what he regards as “stagnation” or “slow death” (i.e., routine). Most interactions in the workplace are part of the rut – and thus constitute a reminder of this routine – deflating the narcissist’s grandiose fantasies.

Narcissists do many unnecessary, wrong and even dangerous things in pursuit of the stabilization of their inflated self-image.

Narcissists feel suffocated by intimacy, or by the constant reminders of the REAL, nitty-gritty world. It reduces them, makes them realize the Grandiosity Gap (between their self-image and reality). It is a threat to the precarious balance of their personality structures (mostly “false”, that is, invented) and treated as such.

Narcissists forever shift the blame, pass the buck, and engage in cognitive dissonance. They “pathologise” the other, foster feelings of guilt and shame in her, demean, debase and humiliate in order to preserve their sense of grandiosity.

Narcissists are pathological liars. They think nothing of it because their very self is FALSE, an invention.

Here are a few useful guidelines:

  • Never disagree with the narcissist or contradict him;
  • Never offer him any intimacy;
  • Look awed by whatever attribute matters to him (for instance: by his professional achievements or by his good looks, or by his success with women and so on);
  • Never remind him of life out there and if you do, connect it somehow to his sense of grandiosity (“These are the BEST art materials ANY workplace is going to have”, “We get them EXCLUSIVELY”, etc.);
  • Do not make any comment, which might directly or indirectly impinge on his self-image, omnipotence, judgement, omniscience, skills, capabilities, professional record, or even omnipresence. Bad sentences start with: “I think you overlooked … made a mistake here … you don’t know … do you know … you were not here yesterday so … you cannot … you should … (perceived as rude imposition, narcissists react very badly to restrictions placed on their freedom) … I (never mention the fact that you are a separate, independent entity, narcissists regard others as extensions of their selves, their internalization processes were derailed and they did not differentiate properly)… ” You get the gist of it.

Can the Narcissist be harnessed? Can his energies be channeled productively?

This would be a deeply flawed – and even dangerous – “advice”. Various management gurus purport to teach us how to harness this force of nature known as malignant or pathological narcissism. Narcissists are driven, visionary, ambitious, exciting and productive, says Michael Maccoby, for instance. To ignore such a resource is a criminal waste. All we need to do is learn how to “handle” them.

Yet, this prescription is either naive or disingenuous. Narcissists cannot be “handled”, or “managed”, or “contained”, or “channeled”. They are, by definition, incapable of team work. They lack empathy, are exploitative, envious, haughty and feel entitled, even if such a feeling is commensurate only with their grandiose fantasies. Narcissists dissemble, conspire, destroy and self-destruct. Their drive is compulsive, their vision rarely grounded in reality, their human relations a calamity. In the long run, there is no enduring benefit to dancing with narcissists – only ephemeral and, often, fallacious, “achievements”.

Additional Online Resources

Bibliography

Guntrip, Harry. Personality Structure and Human Interaction. New York, International Universities Press, 1961

Horovitz M. J. stress Response Syndromes: ptsd, grief and adjustment disorders. 3rd Ed. New York, NY University Press, 1998

Jacobson, Edith. The Self and the Object World. New York, International Universities Press, 1964

Millon, Theodore. Personality Disorders in Modern Life. New York, John Wiley and Sons, 2000

Vaknin, Sam. Malignant Self-Love – Narcissism Revisited. Skopje and Prague, Narcissus Publications, 1999, 2007

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love, and runs the website Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited.Sam has served as the author of the Personality Disorders topic, Narcissistic Personality Disorder topic, the Verbal and Emotional Abuse topic, and the Spousal Abuse and Domestic Violence topic, Suite101.

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