Narcissism in the workplace and how it destroys careers

Narcissism in the workplace and how it destroys careers

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Narcissism in the workplace and how it destroys careers
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By Amour Setter

Your work environment has an enormous influence on your personal life. As we all know, leadership positions are stressful, demanding and can be a real challenge when it comes to finding a good work-life balance, especially in today’s lean economy. The people we work with can also have a positive or negative effect on our personal lives, depending on their personalities. 

Unfortunately leadership positions do not always attract “good people” and by that I mean people with integrity, humility and a willingness to serve the people they are leading. Oftentimes these positions tend to attract aggressive and manipulative individuals hell-bent on getting their own way no matter what the cost to the people around them. 

According to research, a common personality type often attracted to positions of leadership and power is the Narcissist (or Narc as they are commonly called). This blog examines how to identify a Narc, how to spot the subtle start of their abusive cycles, and how to escape it before you become burned out. 

This blog examines the following: 

  • What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder and how to identify it in the workplace
  • The Pattern of Abuse and how it starts and escalates 
  • How to act once you realize what is going on so you are not too badly affected
  • Why does the Narcissist target you for abuse 

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder? 

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a Cluster B personality disorder as classified by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) possess no empathy. They believe they are superior, and seek excessive admiration and attention. They have inflated egos, a sense of entitlement and are manipulative and abusive. 

If you’ve ever been the victim of a smear campaign, you’ve probably been exposed to a Narc. NPD is a mental illness very resistant to treatment. According to research an estimated 6% of the general population has this mental disorder and 50 to 75 percent of the people diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are male. (For the sake of simplicity I will refer to the Narc as male, but obviously, I acknowledge that the Narc could just as easily be female.) Also interesting to note is that we all have Narcissistic traits to some degree. But a true or pathological Narcissist follows a typical pattern and if you understand the psychology at play, you can learn to spot them quite quickly. 

There are generally two types of Narcissists: an overt one and a covert one. An overt Narc tends to be a show-off. If they don’t possess flashy things and are not financially comfortable, they will certainly pretend to be. They are also quite prone to name-dropping and buying their friends. On the other hand, the covert Narc will appear more humble and a “do-gooder” in the community (think charity fund-raiser, church-goer, school sports team coach, your local doctor, etc). The covert Narc will also be very good at gaining your sympathy and often they portray themselves as victims from the get-go. Both types are controlling and manipulative.

Covert Narcissists fall into the category of AntiSocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) (another cluster B personality type), which is not so commonly used by Psychiatrists these days. ASPD is, in fact, a “milder” version of Psychopathy. The covert Narc is the more dangerous of the two Narc types simply because he is, in essence, a Psychopath. 

Psychopaths essentially come in two forms and tend to present differently, according to Dr Todd Grande, an expert in mental health and personality disorders in particular. The first type (and the type we recognize as the covert Narcissist) tends to be impulsive, gets upset very easily and sees themselves as victims. They will have trouble regulating their emotions and are easily offended. The second type has no trouble controlling their emotions, are able to strategize and will avoid creating problems for themselves as far as possible. Some mental health experts believe that people who fall into the Cluster B. Personality types have a high chance of having more than one disorder in this cluster. So for example, a Narcissist may often also have Borderline Personality Disorder and/or AntiSocial Personality Disorder. It is often said that not all Narcissists are Psychopaths, but that all Psychopaths are Narcissists. 

No matter what kind of Narc you’re dealing with, they all follow the same pattern, according to mental health professionals. It’s like they all went to the same Narc school. 

The Pattern of Abuse looks something like this: 

  1. Idealization (“love-bombing,” flattery, attention) 
  2. Devaluation (gaslighting, triangulating, gossiping) 
  3. Discarding (usually accompanies a smear campaign) 

Let’s look at each of these stages in more detail so you can understand what you’re dealing with.


In the beginning, you will be exposed to a lot of compliments and charm. The Narc will do anything to “seduce” you. This is your first red flag. Most people will respond very positively to this type of flattery. You will feel valued and appreciated and may counter respond with equal amounts of flattery to the Narc (which is exactly what he wants because this forms part of his “narcissistic supply”). You may often be told how great you are, how proud he is of you, etc and you may even be invited into his “inner circle.” 

The Narc will gain your trust in manipulative ways through any means possible, including telling you supposed secrets and intimate details of his personal life which is designed to make you open up to him. (Most of these stories may be completely fabricated). Anything you tell him in confidence will later be used against you, guaranteed. In a work setting he will appear like a trusted friend, perhaps saying he cares about you, your success, your career and/or your future, etc. Don’t be fooled by this falsehood. He is merely looking for ammunition to use against you when he eventually discards you. 

“Narcs have absolutely no respect for personal boundaries”

Narcs will pry into your private life and feel completely entitled to know all your secrets and intimate details of your life. This will all be done in a seemingly innocent way. The Narc will appear as if he genuinely cares. A rule of thumb in the workplace is to keep your guard up and don’t share intimate details of your private life with your co-workers.

Devaluation (gaslighting, triangulation, and gossip) 

At the beginning of this stage, the Narc generally has you eating out of his hand. He has gained your trust and you are sharing very intimate details of your personal life with him. You may be socializing with him away from work. He knows a lot about you and this puts you at a severe disadvantage where the Narc is concerned. The devaluation will begin in very subtle ways that at first, you may not even notice. He will make subtle little digs at you, masked in “jokes” but as time progresses he will begin picking at your vulnerabilities which you exposed to him during the Idealization stage. For those who were careless enough to add the Narc on social media (like Facebook), you may begin noticing criticizing comments on posts you shared and he will probably start to friend your friends. The Narc wants total control of you and that includes what you say publicly too. 

This stage is also peppered with “gaslighting” to throw you off balance and undermine your self-confidence and self-esteem. Gaslighting is when the Narc makes you doubt your own sanity. He does this by denying things he said and did and making out that you are lying, fabricating or imagining what really happened. He may also suggest that you are “crazy” or “unstable” for making reasonable requests or when you try to point out his abusive behavior to him. 

Triangulation is another form of manipulation whereby the Narc will introduce a third person into the equation to try to make you feel insecure. Usually, this is another co-worker. The chosen person will be told vicious lies about you in an attempt to get them to dislike you, thereby causing more drama and conflict in the workplace. This is sheer entertainment for the Narc and it will further fuel his viciousness. In meetings, the co-worker’s accomplishments may be overplayed while yours will be minimized. Other people may not even notice this as it’s done in such a subtle manner. They may be totally unaware of the underhanded manipulation that is going on. If you don’t understand what is going on, this will severely chip away at your self-confidence. Your motivation levels may drop and you may start to feel like a failure. This is exactly what the Narc wants for this is the only way that he gains power over you and feels good about himself. 

“Another huge red flag is the incessant gossip” 

Narc’s are master gossipers. They love talking ill of people behind their backs and think nothing of repeating whatever gossip they hear, adding their own exaggerations and lies for added effect. You can sense how much pleasure they get out of gossip. You are naive if you believe that anyone speaking ill of someone else in front of you won’t do the same about you! 

Since the Narc is a master gossiper, he will be gossiping behind your back from the get-go. This is used to “set you up.” This is essentially the Narc’s insurance policy so that by the time the devaluation begins, he has an army of supporters that have already bought into his malicious lies about you. 

In time your self-esteem may crumble and you may start to suffer from anxiety. He will get to the point of blatant abuse, finding fault with everything you do and will look for reasons to pick fights. He will even go as far as to create problems where there are none and try to convince you that you created the problems. 

Conflicts are often peppered with the Narc’s rage. Screaming fits are common. 

“Narcs are not only master manipulators, they are also pathological liars” 

Those who have not been targeted or abused yet may well believe the Narc is a wonderful person. After all, the Narc is highly manipulative and convincing and a true method actor in every sense of the word. He also works very hard to maintain this false self that he projects to the world. Unless you really know him and have seen the mask slip, you may describe him as a wonderful guy, a generous and caring person who looks after his friends, donates to charity, is kind to animals, etc. But this is simply a projection. The real person is dark and dangerous. 

By the time the devaluation is in full swing, he may be heaping so much abuse on you that you may dread going to work, you may become alienated by your co-workers (thanks to his vicious rumors and lies about you) and your health may start to suffer due to the high levels of stress you are under. 

Another very common tactic that Narcs use during the devaluation phase is the “Everyone Scheme.” He will tell you that “everyone” agrees with his negative evaluation of you, “everyone” thinks your performance is bad, “everyone” is talking about you, etc. Often this might be the first tactic used in the devaluation phase and it’s designed to cripple your self-confidence. Don’t fall for it! A healthy and balanced person would never resort to using such underhanded, vague and murky tactics. 

If the Narc is in a leadership role and you happen to be working under him, he will constantly hint that you are at risk of being fired due to your “bad” performance, or not consistently reaching your targets (which he may purposefully set unrealistically high). He loves to keep you in a position of insecurity as this feeds his sense of grandiosity and makes him feel very important and superior.

Discarding (usually followed by a smear campaign) 

Since the Narc feels absolutely no empathy, once he no longer has a use for you (ie you no longer offer him “narcissistic supply”), he will discard you like an old rag. In a work environment that might mean being randomly fired, excluded from a particular group or excluded from group correspondence designed to compromise your job. 

The discard invariably accompanies a smear campaign where the Narc will spread vicious rumors and lies about you. He will get his friends and/or co-workers to spy on you and report back to him with intimate details of your personal life so he can maintain some kind of control over you even after you have left your job. 

How to proceed once you realize you are dealing with a Narc 

Once you figure out what is happening it’s usually too late to do anything except plot your escape. By this time you will probably be suffering from illness thanks to the enormous stress you have been placed under from the direct and indirect abuse and smear campaign. Now is the time to be vigilant because you can be 100% sure you are being discredited behind your back with vicious lies and rumors. The Narc wants to look good and to do that he has to make you look bad. 

Never, ever confront the Narc. To protect yourself, be sure to forward all his emails to your personal email address so that there is a record of all correspondence. If you can, record your conversations with the Narc as proof of the abuse. 

Remain 100% professional and start actively looking for another job (if you are the employee) or find a way to fire the Narc (if he is working for you). But be warned, Narcissistic rage knows no boundaries and they are notorious for retaliating. 

Very often the Narc will have wormed his way into your social circle. If any of your friends have become “buddy-buddy” with the Narc, cut ties with them too.

“According to mental health professionals, the only way to protect yourself from further abuse by the Narc is to go 100% No Contact”

That means removing him from all your social media platforms, blocking him and unfriending anyone who is closely associated with him because he will use them to get to you. Guaranteed.

People are gullible and easily manipulated by Narcs. Most of the time they won’t even realize they are actually spying on you for the Narc! No Contact literally means No Contact. Do not expect a personal or business recommendation from the Narc if you worked for him. The only things you will get are vicious lies designed to discredit and destroy you. They use and viciously abuse people and you will always find a battlefield of victims in their wake if you look closely. 

Because they have no empathy, they don’t care about the destruction they cause. They are so manipulative that most people believe their vicious lies. The best thing you can do is move on swiftly, cut all ties with the Narc and educate yourself so that you recognize Narcs early on in the game in the future and avoid them. 

Why did the Narc target me? 

If you are a warm, sensitive and empathic person who cares about others, and you’re highly agreeable and conscientious, chances are you have been targeted by Narcs. Narcs will also specifically target people in vulnerable positions (single women with children, someone new in town who hasn’t yet made friends, someone recovering from a recent trauma like a death in the family, a personal accident, or someone suffering from depression, etc.) 

They usually appear to dive to your rescue and become your “cheerleader,” (introducing you around, helping you out financially, offering you some kind of refuge, acting like a mentor, etc.) The extent of their help will then be grossly exaggerated once you are discarded. Part of the smear campaign will include vicious lies about how they helped you and you showed no gratitude but abused them instead. (Narcs love to play the victim role in their smear campaigns). 

The truth is they want you to be their puppet-on-a-string, that is why they helped you to begin with. If you are not part of their army of supporters giving them their narcissistic supply on a constant basis (flattery, attention, adoration, etc) then chances are very high you will be discarded. The truth is if someone is genuinely concerned about you and wants to help you, they won’t expect anything in return and certainly won’t remind you of the help they give you to guilt-trip you.

“A Narcissist is nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothes – a psycho masquerading as a Good Samaritan” 

Narcissists are not operating in integrity or truth. There can be no joy gained from working with these types. Working with them while being targeted as their punch bag will not only harm your career in the long run, it will also harm your health.

If you’ve been the victim of a Narc abuser then I hope this blog helped you realize that you are not crazy and that you did not imagine the abuse, as the Narc would have you believe. 

(This article was referenced by Dr. Giselle A. Castillo, Ph.D., MBA, BSBM in her paper “The Wrath of the Narcissistic Leader: An Empirical Study on the Trauma Bestowed onto Employees” as published in International Journal of Novel Research in Education and Learning, 2018.)

​​If you recognise that you are suffering from Narcissistic abuse, book an appointment with Dr Steven Joseph and learn how to put an end to abusive relationships through Schema Therapy: 

Phone / WhatsApp: +34 699 556 326

Email: [email protected]

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