Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Narcissist in the workplace

Narcissism in the Workplace
online conference transcript

Our guest, Dr. Sam Vaknin, has a Ph.D. in philosophy and is the author of the book Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited. We discussed various aspects of narcissism in the workplace, including how to recognize a narcissist, what personality types can work with a narcissist and how to cope with a narcissistic employer.

David Roberts is the HealthyPlace.com moderator.

David: Good Evening. I hope your day went well. Welcome to HealthyPlace.com and our chat conference on "Narcissism in the Workplace." I'm David Roberts, the moderator of tonight's chat. Some of the topics we'll be discussing include: How to cope with a narcissistic boss, co-worker, supplier, colleague, partner, competitor, manager, or employee. And when is it time to toss in the towel and leave that troublesome job?

Our guest is Dr. Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited and an authority on the subject of narcissism. You can read more about Dr. Vaknin by clicking on the link.

Just to clarify, Dr. Vaknin is not a therapist or medical doctor of any sort. However, he is an expert on the subject of narcissism and a self-proclaimed narcissist. Good Evening Dr. Vaknin and welcome to HealthyPlace.com. Just so we are all clear on the subject, can you give us a brief overview of what narcissism is?

Dr. Vaknin: Great to be here again. Thank you for having me and for the kind words. Hello, everyone.

Narcissists are driven by the need to uphold and maintain a false self. They use the False Self to garner narcissistic supply which is any kind of attention adulation, admiration, or even notoriety and infamy.

David: How does one recognize a narcissist?

Dr. Vaknin: It is close to impossible and that is the secret of their astounding success. Narcissists are good actors. They are adept at charming others, persuading them, manipulating them, or otherwise influencing them to do their bidding. The narcissist's sense of self-worth is unstable (labile) so, the narcissist relies on input from other people to regulate his self-esteem and self-confidence. He focuses on potential sources of supply and engulfs them with focused attention and simulated deep emotions. Only in later encounter, as time passes and the number of interactions grows, is it possible to tell that someone is a narcissist. Narcissists are preoccuopied with grandiose fantasies unrealistic plans. They are poor judges of reality. They are bullies and often resort to verbal and emotional abuse. They exploit people and then discard them. They have no empathy and regard their co-workers as mere instruments objects, tools, and sources of adulation, affirmation, or potential benefits.

David: So, in the beginning, you are saying they will get on your good side by charming you and pretending to be interested in you and what you're doing. Later, what kind of behaviors should a person expect from the: (1) narcissistic boss and (2) colleague? And I'm assuming here that the behaviors for the two might be different.

Dr. Vaknin: Workplace narcissists seethe with anger and resentment. The gap between reality and their grandiose flights of fancy (the "grandiosity gap") is so great that they develop persecutory delusions, resentment and rage. They are also extremely and pathologically envious, seeking to destroy what they perceive to be the sources of their constant frustration: a popular co-worker, a successful boss, a qualified or skilled employee. Narcissists at work crave constant attention and will go to great lengths to secure it - including by "engineering" situations that place them at the center. They are immature, constantly nagging and complaining, finding fault with everyone and everything, Cassandras who constantly predict impending doom. They are intrusive and invasive. They firmly believe in teir own omnipotence and omniscience. They feel entitled to special treatment and are convinced that they are above Man-made laws, including the rules of their place of employment. They are very disruptive, poor team members, can rarely collaborate with others without being cantankerous and quarrelsome. They are control freaks and feel the compulsive and irresistible urge to interfere in everyting to micromanage and overrule others. All in all, a highly unpleasant experience.

David: If you work with or under a narcissist, it sounds like your work life might be a living hell.

Dr. Vaknin: You would never forget it. It is traumatic and very likely to end in actual bullying and stalking behaviors. Many workers end up with PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Others quit, or even relocate.

David: What kind of individual, personality-wise, is best suited to work with a narcissist co-worker or boss?

Dr. Vaknin: Certain pathological personalities - for instance, someone with a Dependent Personality Disorder - or an Inverted Narcissist may get along just fine. A submissive person whose expectations are limited, moods are subdued and willingness to absorb abuse is extended would survive with a narcissist, or even thrive in such an environment. But the vast majority of workers are likely to suffer ill-health effects, clash with the narcissist, or end up being sacked, reassigned, relocated, or demoted. The narcissistic bully very often gets his way: He gets promoted, the ideas he "adopted" become corporate policy, his misdeeds are overlooked, his misbehavior tolerated. This is partly because, as I said earlier, narcissists are excellent liars with considerable thespian skills - and partly because no one wants to mess around with a thug, even if his thuggery is limited to words and gestures.

David: We have a lot of audience questions, Dr. Vaknin. Let's get to a few and then I have a few more questions to ask you. Here's the first one:

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