How to Thrive When Your Boss is a Narcissist

Have you ever worked for a narcissist? It’s hard to feel like you’re making a meaningful contribution when your coworker, supervisor, or leader takes credit for your work, puts you down, and does whatever they can to draw attention to themselves regardless of the consequences.

Unfortunately, there have been several narcissists in my life — both professional and personal. Being around someone with this kind of personality can be really distressing. It has caused me to undervalue my work (and myself in general on a more fundamental level), to deflect attention from myself both intentionally and without any awareness of doing so, and to feel extremely frustrated and profoundly alone. It’s subtle but impactful psychological abuse that seeps into your intellectual and emotional processes – and it’s really hard to get past that. I’m still working on it.

The first thing to do if your boss is a narcissist is leave if you can. You’re not going to change them. No amount of false flattery, perfectionism, or working 16+ hours a day will get them to appreciate you. It’s just not going to happen, so let go of that fantasy. They don’t care about you like that. They are focused on illuminating themselves and leaving you in their cold, dark shadow.

If you can’t leave right away, then you need to figure out a way to effectively deal with the situation so that you can thrive. Narcissists aren’t clones of each other so you’ll need to get to know them and their selfish desires to develop effective communication and work strategies. It can be helpful to share how their behavior is impacting you in a safe environment. Don’t forget that their behavior – and everything they say about you and the world – isn’t about you. It’s a reflection of their insecurities. Know that you are capable and remain committed to your work and the contributions you can make.

You could also have a bit of fun with it and do whatever you can to upstage them and reveal them for the selfish jerk they are. But I don’t recommend that, because in the long run – no matter how clever you are – it will be used against you even if it destroys your career and whatever self-respect you have left.

So if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having to work closely with a narcissist, know that it can be done. If you choose to stay in this situation for an extended period of time, even if you’re super tough, it’s going to hold you back in one way or another. Plan an escape. The mere fantasy of doing so will give you sustenance as you face your dysfunctional workplace each day.

How to Sell Yourself without Selling Out

I hate talking about myself. When I’m asked to share even superficial details about my life, I feel my fists (and teeth) clenching as my gaze drops to the floor. I guess people think something about me is interesting – and I’m flattered, really I am – yet, I can’t help but feel a little to a lot uncomfortable with any form of prompted self disclosure.

Yet, I’ve found it to be really helpful to not just talk about myself but – gasp – promote myself so that people can understand how I can help them develop and realize their goals and while also making things a little bit easier for them. I really do have a lot to offer; why is it that I feel an icky feeling in the pit of my stomach when an opportunity to share comes my way?

It’s because most models of networking and self promotion are just downright sleazy. And we’ve all been a victim of sleazy people who only care about promoting themselves and making money at the obvious expense of everyone else and values that you’d think are common sense. They stretch the truth or shift their focus to things that in the long run really aren’t all that important. There has to be a better, more sincere – and more comfortable – way.

Think of selling yourself as creating connections and sharing your many resources to create positive changes. If you don’t sell yourself, nobody will ever know who you are or what you have accomplished. Your example can be an inspiration to others, and your gifts can directly benefit people, organizations, and communities – if they are activated through dialogue and subsequent action.

Selling yourself is offering who you are and what matters most to you to the world. Not everyone will be interested. In fact, some people might really disrespect you for just being who you are. Focus only on the people who are open to learning about you and what you do – people who care and with whom you might share a genuine connection.

 

And to make sure you’re not a hypocrite, extend the same to others. Open up to them and listen to understand who they are and how they serve in the world. Selling yourself isn’t about compromising your values or making other people feel sick because you are overwhelming them. It’s about communication and creating opportunities for meaningful relationships to begin.