Narcissism at work: dealing with toxic bosses - Lifecoach München

Narcissism at work: dealing with toxic bosses

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Rania has now been working for six months in a start-up that deals with online gaming. She can still remember how enthusiastic she was at first about her boss’s charming demeanor. No trace of narcissism yet. In the first few weeks, everything went great, too. She worked highly motivatedand brought in many new ideas. However, even then she noticed in the appraisal interview that her boss was emphasizing her own contribution to the company’s success. When Rania talked and presented her ideas, she seemed absent-minded. She thought that was a little strange, but didn’t think anything of it at first.


The humiliation

Full of courage and taking the initiative, she proposed a small change in protocol at a Monday meeting. She couldn’t even finish her idea when her boss harshly interrupted her. As if that wasn’t enough, she dismissed her in front of the whole group as a greenhorn, a beginner who had no idea whatsoever. She exposed them. When she wanted to ask her about the incident after the meeting, she just waved it off and even arrogantly justified her behavior.


Exposed as a narcissist?

At home, she told her boyfriend about the incident. He said that if her boss had not apologized for her behavior, she was probably a typical narcissist. Such people never apologized for their behavior.

Suddenly she realized how naive she had been. Once before she had dealt with a similar character – her former boyfriend. It had taken two years for her to leave him. From the beginning, he had taken advantage of her kindness and imposed only his own needs. He had been so jealous that at one point she had hardly dared to leave the house. As soon as she did meet old friends, he always made her feel guilty, saying that she was neglecting him. All the while, he managed to reel them in with his charisma. He never showed himself to be self-confident.



  1. Narcissism at work: analysis life coach
  2. What is narcissism?
  3. Narcissistic characteristics in the relationship
  4. Narcissistic characteristics on the job
  5. Mythology and origin
  6. Forms of narcissism
  7. Male narcissism
  8. Female narcissism
  9. Causes of narcissism
  10. Is there healthy narcissism



1. narcissism at work: analysis life coach

Together with Rania, I formulate 3 questions to which we want to find answers:

Is her boss actually a narcissist?
How should Rania deal with her boss?
How can she increase her self-worth again?


Features boss

Even though it is already clear from Rania’s descriptions that she could be dealing with a narcissist, we want to find out together whether this attribution is actually justified. It turns out that their behavior and nature, have several characteristics that define narcissism:egocentricity, sensitivity, lack of empathy, devaluation. Rania is not the only one to suffer; her colleagues are also affected.


Dealing with the narcissistic boss

How should she deal with her in the future? Rania must try not to take her boss’s criticism personally. She should not justify herself and especially not openly criticize her. It is beneficial if she remains brief and factual in her communication. If she thinks she needs to create a good mood, she can, subtly praise her, but without flattery.


Increase self worth

What can Rania do in such a situation to increase her self-worth? She asks me, “How do I manage to not feel bad and devalued.” I suggest she phrase the sentence a little more positively, “How do I manage to come across as confident and quick-witted without ticking off?”


3 exercises

I present her some exercises on this topic:

Increasing self-worth: Authentic instead of performance-oriented self-worth

Gaining self-compassion: learning to set boundaries

More self-confidence: training repartee by means of role plays

In the end, however, the only real way out of the exhausting and oppressive situation was a new job.


2. what is narcissism?



Narcissists are self-absorbed people. They exaggerate their abilities and put themselves in the center. They are also extremely sensitive to criticism and show little empathy. Above all, they try to enhance themselves by putting others down. Pathological narcissism can cause great damage in a partnership or at work.


Four important characteristics of narcissism

According to psychotherapist Reinhard Haller, narcissism can be scientifically defined by four important characteristics:

  1. Egocentricity
  2. Sensitivity
  3. Empathy lack
  4. Debasement.


3. narcissistic features in the relationship

Roos Vonk, a professor of social psychology in Nijmegen, lists some characteristics that make it easier to recognize narcissism in a relationship or on the job.



So-called grandiose narcissists are concerned with gaining power and control within the relationship. They are quick to be jealous and fear abandonment, which only reinforces their desire for power and control.


Lack of profundity

Narcissists appear to have limited production of the “relationship hormone” oxytocin, which promotes bonding and intimacy. Therefore, their relationships are characterized by little depth, neither rational, sexual, and certainly not emotional. Honest, intense relationship conversations are almost impossible. Genuine intimacy hardly ever takes place.


Compulsive lying

When lying proves effective, it becomes a habit for the narcissist. However, a narcissist lies not only to others, but also to himself.


Status oriented behavior

The outside world is of great importance to the narcissist. He often sees his partner as a status object rather than a loved one with whom he forms an intimate, personal bond.


Gaslighting: manipulation and intimidation

Narcissists know how to make others look unreasonable or stupid. Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which the perpetrator (the narcissist) consciously or unconsciously aims to manipulate the victim through lies, denial, and intimidation.



4. narcissistic characteristics on the job



The narcissist arrogantly highlights his own accomplishments and looks condescendingly at the accomplishments of others. He feels that he is performing exceptionally well or has special talents.



Narcissists blame others and point out their faults, while they see themselves as victims: It is always the other person’s fault, the narcissist never does anything wrong.



Narcissists feel that others are envious of their accomplishments. At the same time, they envy others for being equally successful or even more successful. They perceive this fact as an injustice.



Narcissists can become extremely angry when they are criticized or when they are not given enough credit. The realistic assessment of a factual situation can already be perceived as hurtful, because the narcissist is above reality.


Lack of appreciation for others

Overestimating their own values and accomplishments is often accompanied by underestimating the value and accomplishments of others. Should others actually be good at something, narcissists go into battle. They always want to be better.



5. mythology and origin


The term “narcissism” comes from a figure in Greek mythology named Narcissus. The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud used this story because he wanted to find a name for certain patients who were constantly preoccupied with their own beauty or greatness. He called them narcissists and the corresponding personality disorder narcissism.

Narcissus was a handsome young man. He did not want to give his heart away to anyone, but fell in love with his own reflection in a pond. He was so fascinated by his own beauty that he tried to embrace his image in the water and drowned.


6. forms of narcissism


The normal narcissist (egocentricity)

Every person exhibits some degree of narcissism. Normal narcissists are mainly egocentric, they mainly revolve around themselves, make themselves the center of every consideration.


The grandiose narcissist (devaluation and lack of empathy)

In malignant (overt) narcissism, devaluation and lack of empathy are at the forefront. Men are more likely to be affected. For others, these narcissists are quite quickly recognizable. They are often charming and friendly. They also have high transmitter qualities and hardly notice what others are saying.


The Vulnerable Narcissist (Sensitivity)

In covert narcissism, the focus is on sensitivity. This form of narcissism is hard to recognize, hence the name. Women are often affected. Vulnerable narcissists have high receiver qualities, immediately registering signs of criticism or rejection. The most important characteristic here is their perfectionism, they define themselves by their performance. Their constant concern is, “What do others think of me?” Hidden narcissists have a mask on. They block out their true selves. They are not real, not authentic and therefore never really happy.


7. male narcissism


the 3 shackles

According to respected neuroscientist Raphael Bonelli, there are three so-called “shackles” that limit a narcissist. At their core, they form the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

  1. An exaggerated self-esteem → self-idealization
  2. Sick relationships → Devaluation of others
  3. Lack of self-transcendence → self-immanence



Because this narcissist is so convinced of himself, he is difficult to treat. In his eyes, no one knows anything better than he does, not even the therapist! Nevertheless, there are solutions:

The first step is self-awareness. After that, the person must learn to conduct relationships at eye level, and lastly, develop enthusiasm for something outside himself. If necessary, this can even be spirituality or religion. Thus, he can turn his focus to something outside himself and perceive that there is something more important and greater than himself.


8. female narcissism


covert narcissists

Covert narcissists are socially passive, withdrawn, and hesitant. They differ from overt narcissists in that they do not express how great and unique they are. They tend to emphasize how unique their suffering is, which is inflicted on them by others. In this way, they assume a victim role. Sometimes they lie pathologically and harm others. Due to lack of empathy, they are not able to limit themselves.


Build self-esteem

Because their disorder is hidden, pathological lies and manipulations often go undetected. According to psychologist Craig Malkin, covert narcissists are often unhappy. They believe that their suffering is worse than that of everyone else. Covert narcissists are easier to treat than others. The focus is on building their self-esteem so that they develop a stable self-worth.


9. causes of narcissism

Education plays a major role as a cause of narcissism. An important and at the same time fatal factor is the exaggerated praise of parents. In the 1980s, it was falsely assumed that lots of praise leads to high self-worth.

But in fact, it has often led to inflated self-worth. Only the right praise promotes a growth mindset. If parents want to praise at all, they should always focus on the child’s efforts, thereby promoting healthy self-worth.When love occurs only conditionally through achievement, it promotes vulnerable narcissism.


1. the spoiled child → exaggerated self-esteem

Children who are always treated as if they are special will eventually feel that they are just that: special. They are rarely given rules at home or are allowed to break them without too many consequences. Nothing is expected of these children. You get everything. They will one day become the so-called gradiose narcissists.


2. the dependent child → without a sense of responsibility

With these children, parents go to great lengths to make their lives worry and pain free. They are never given responsibility. They are not encouraged to develop their skills. This makes these children feel that others have to do everything for them. When others don’t, they feel vulnerable and ignorant.


3. the child of narcissists – love through achievement → perfectionism

When parents have narcissistic personality traits themselves, they often pass them on to their children. They often expect a lot from their children. They teach their children that love follows only performance. Only if the child performs excellently, he will be loved by the parents. Thus, it learns that it must succeed at all costs.


10. is there healthy narcissism?


Rethinking narcissism

From the psychologist Craig Malkin comes the interesting thesis that there is also healthy narcissism. For years, Malkin dealt with narcissistic personality disorder. In 2015, he wrote the book Rethinking narcissism. In it, he explains that narcissism is not necessarily an unpleasant trait or disorder that occurs only in manipulative egotists. Rather, he argues that everyone is narcissistic. As long as this characteristic is not extremely pronounced, it can be quite useful. In this case, we are talking about healthy narcissism.


Narcissism Questionnaire

Malkin developed a narcissism questionnaire. This measures whether someone has narcissistic traits and how pronounced they are. Individuals with high scores on the narcissism spectrum scale seem to need a lot of affirmation. Individuals with low scores appear to have a lack of narcissism. Individuals who exhibit mean scores are considered to have healthy narcissism.


Healthy narcissism

Malkin’s shorthand formula to a happy life is to think big, live your dreams, and pursue your life goals – all without neglecting or sacrificing social connections. Every person carries some (healthy) narcissism within them. Many people exhibit narcissistic traits without meeting the criteria for the disorder.

A person with healthy narcissism is proud of his or her accomplishments, believes in his or her own strengths, and takes his or her own feelings and needs seriously. In this way, she can lead a meaningful life, attain a sustainable sense of self-worth, and become resilient.



Lack of Narcissism Malkin described the lack of narcissism with the term “echoism.” This refers to the nymph Echo from the myth of Narcissus. Explaining, Malkin writes: “She fell in love with the vain Narcissus, but he hardly noticed her. She no longer had a voice of her own, but always repeated the last words she had heard.”

Everyone knows Narcissus, but no one remembers Echo. Echoists are very good at perceiving and acting on the needs and feelings of others. However, they fail to articulate their own needs. They lack healthy narcissism. This lack represents a major obstacle in their lives to achieving goals that are important to them and to having fulfilling, equal relationships.


© Timo ten Barge 29.06.23


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