11 ways to deal with a narcissistic boss in addiction recovery

How can you know if your boss has narcissistic traits? Dr. Louise Stanger explains how you can work with a narcissist boss and deal with communication difficulties. More here.

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By Dr. Louise Stanger LCSW, CIP

Trouble in addiction recovery with your boss?

You’re doing the deal. You are in recovery, working hard, and you’ve managed to secure a good job. The only problem is you thought working in recovery would be easy.

However, things aren’t easy.

At work, you feel like you’re walking on eggshells around your boss who only thinks about him or herself. You starting to lose confidence and wonder what can I do. But, how can you know when you have a narcissistic boss? Can you do something about it?

Narcissistic boss signs

Bosses come in all shapes and sizes. Just because you’re working in the recovery field does not exempt you from experiencing a boss with narcissistic personality traits. You may be asking yourself – what are narcissistic personality traits?

There’s a Greek myth that tells the story of a young man who discovers his face reflecting in a pool of water. Lured by his own beauty, the young man stays and dies by the pool. Obsession killed him.

Sound familiar?

I once had a boss who definitely fit the description of the Greek character above. Who, by the way, has a name all to his own – his name is Narcissus. This character name is where we derive the term narcissism, or what I like to call: the one who always talks first.

Even Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, agreed when he defined narcissism as “the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes.” That’s just a fancy definition for vanity.

How does one begin to deal with a boss who always puts his or her own interests first? If this sounds like your boss, or someone you know, listen up because the truth is you’re not alone.

11 Tips: How to work with a narcissistic boss

A narcissistic boss can be a great weight on your shoulders because they exert power over your professional life. And depending on your line of work, you may have to interact with your boss on a daily basis, or complete projects together. As stress builds and open communication falters, your bosses’ ego only inflates bigger, a hot air balloon full of just that – hot air. It’s so big and annoying, it’s just begging to be popped.

Save yourself the trouble! Focus on ways you can manage the situation using these helpful tips:

1. Step up your meetings. The recovery support of others is important and your compassion meter needs to be fueled.

2. Let your narcissistic boss take credit for your work. That hurts inside, though it avoids outward confrontation.

3. Stop, pause, and reflect before responding. If you work offsite, let your boss’ call go to voicemail to give you a moment to gather your thoughts, and then call your boss back.

4. Try to understand your boss’ patterns of behavior and stay out of the line of fire.

5. Pay compliments with compassion. A narcissist likes nothing better than to be told they are wonderful. Remember that the personality disorder is rooted in their childhood behaviors, so it takes a lot of work for them to alter ingrained behavioral issues.

6. Step out of the way when critiques start flowing. Use nonjudgmental “I” terms and feelings when responding. For example, say: “Yesterday when you yelled at me for taking credit on that project, I felt discounted. I am sure you did not mean to devalue my contribution to the team.”

7. Try to connect with empathy, attention and respect. You can:

  • Look interested when your boss talks to you.
  • Use occasional compliments.
  • Ask small and inviting questions.
  • Share an interesting tidbit of information.
  • Offer thanks for some positive contribution.

Be careful not to overdo it, or put down your own skills in the conversation. Just be matter-of-fact and let the focus be on him or her as the conversation plays out.

8. Respond quickly to misinformation. Narcissists often put others down to feel good about themselves, such as spreading rumors or belittling remarks. Without directly challenging the narcissist, you can provide the correct information as soon as possible. This will extinguish others in the company coming to believe your narcissistic boss’ harmful words.

For example, if an email contains misinformation, focus on the facts and clear up anything that may appear misleading or that isn’t true about you. Your matter-of-fact tone will show that you are the more credible person.

9. Carefully set limits on assaultive i.e. unacceptable behaviors behavior. Narcissistic bosses may violate other people’s boundaries, insult, and demand attention. You alone are not going to change these behavior patterns, however, you can manage these behaviors and take care of yourself.

First, think of the behavior that you want.
Then think about if this is a personal limit you could set.

The key is to evaluate your options, and choose the approach that will best get you the result you want without triggering your boss.

9. Make a list. Has it gotten so bad that you don’t like going to work? Do you hide behind the water cooler when your boss walks by? If so, it may be time to talk to an HR person. This may also be the time to write a list of reasons why you are staying in this particular job at this company. A list of reasons, written out, will help you evaluate how you feel about the situation.

10. Ask yourself the pros and cons of working at this company. If the pros outweigh the cons, then consider a path forward as you stay in this position. However, if the cons are growing, consider speaking to a career coach.

11. Start looking for a new job. There’s an old saying – “Courage is fear that said its prayers”. If you’ve tried everything and you’re at your wits end, then it’s time to value yourself and let go of your narcissistic boss.

Narcissistic boss questions

Not sure if your boss or someone you know is a narcissist? Feel free to send us your questions and comments in the section at the end of the page. We appreciate your feedback and try to provide a personal and prompt answer to all legitimate inquiries.

Also, please check out the links to these resources below to guide you.

Reference Sources: Forbes: How to Tell If Your Boss Is a Narcissist– And 5 Ways to Avoid Getting Fired by One
Psychology Today: 10 Signs Your Boss / Manager is a Narcissist
PsychCentral: 7 Signs Your Boss Or Coworker May Be A Narcissist
About the Author: Dr. Louise Stanger is an emerging voice in the field of personal transformation. She is well known for her work in substance abuse, mental health, sudden death grief and loss and complicated interventions. Her approaches assist people in working through limitations, activating defining moments, and embracing life’s uncertainties. Louise’s Processes strengthen communication amongst treatment staff, create resilient relationships, within families build authentic self-esteem, and allow us overcome life’s challenges Dr Stanger can be reached at http://www.allaboutinterventions.com or at 619-507-1699.
Her latest book-Falling Up A Memoir of Renewal is available at http://www.amazon.com/Falling-Up-Renewal-Louise-Stanger/dp/0996761403
About the author
Louise Stanger, Ed.D. is a clinical social worker LCSW and Certified Intervention Professional CIP with over 35 years experience in substance abuse and mental health disorders, grief and loss. She has been a university educator (SDSU & USD) and researcher. She is active in the Network of Independent Interventionist and Association of Intervention Specialists and is also a Motivational Interviewing Trainer of Trainers. More at All About Interventions .
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