Living with a Narcissist

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Whether we admit it or not we all feel the hurtful impact of “me-first” people somewhere in our lives.

Maybe one of your parents or your partner or your boss was a narcissist. You never felt heard by him/her,  consistently had your own abilities diminished, and, if the narcissist was a boss,  you felt invisible in the organization..

Generally you have very hurtful memories from such “all about me” people.

How does this ubiquitous condition manifest itself?   And, how do you manage it?

The Roots of Narcissism

Narcissism is deeply rooted in our childhood experience and pandemic in our society. It,

  1. Arises from a deep sense of self-loathing – many sense that there is a fatal flaw in them that requires overcompensation with personal boasting and bluster. We are scared and so shout louder about ourselves.
  2. Deeply impairs relationships. A person so deeply focused on the self cannot attune to others. As a result they remain inaccessible to deep and authentic relationships. They are an accident waiting to happen on work teams. Because when they don’t have their needs met it,
  3. Leads to a narcissistic rage response when the narcissist senses that you are not meeting his/her needs.
  4. Shows itself in grandiosity. It overestimates its real abilities, exaggerates its talents, and boasts about small accomplishments as if they were something akin to the Nobel prize.
  5. Constantly craves attention and in so doing attempts to choreograph everyone around to dish up praise.
  6. Treats sycophants well and abuses those who see them as the “emperor without clothes” (often their own family members).
  7. Wants to keep us as infants dependent on them. Narcissists never want us to grow up and think for ourselves.

How then does one live and work with a narcissist?

 Managing Narcissism

There are certain insights and actions needed to live more successfully with narcissists. These include the recognition that,

  1. We all have elements of narcissism in our lives. The smaller the dose the less miserable we make others and ourselves. The key here is self-awareness and then self-regulation.
  1. We should not confuse it with the self-confidence found in so many successful people. That confidence is often wedded with a deep humility.
  1. When we detect narcissism in ourselves and others we should never become judgmental. We need to always forgive. Self and other-loathing is not the solution for narcissism.
  1. Self-deprecating humor is often a good antidote, e.g. “please join me on my pedestal!”  This requires some self-insight
  1. In cases where the narcissism of the other is intractable we need to defend ourselves and break off or severely limit major contact with them.Managers need to arrange that narcissists work mostly alone and not have them on teams.

We don’t have to put all narcissists in the same category since there are different degrees of severity with the condition. Mild cases are easier to manage. Severe cases may have to be managed out. But we cannot just wait for the problem to fix itself. We need to proactively deal with it or it will pull us and our organization under.

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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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