Is your boss making your life a misery?

By Liz Paul, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

Robert (not his real name) sought therapy because he wasn’t coping at work where he was a middle manager.

He felt undermined and under-appreciated by his boss, and Robert’s natural anxiety tendencies made matters worse. Robert looked like he was close to a breakdown.

On closer examination it became apparent that Robert’s problems stemmed directly from the narcissistic behaviour of his boss.

The boss took every opportunity to put Robert down in front of colleagues, and to take credit for Robert’s good work. Robert also found out from colleagues that the boss had routinely made derogatory remarks about Robert to them in private. The boss also invited Robert’s staff to lunches and events to which Robert wasn’t invited.

Robert had lodged a complaint with the managing director but that had fallen on deaf ears because his boss was a master of ‘managing up’ and therefore it was easy for the boss to convince the managing director that Robert was the problem and that he was, in fact, doing his best to mentor and help Robert.

All classic behaviour of a narcissistic boss.

I told Robert he had two choices: he could leave the company or he could stay and use my ‘narcissist boss management strategies’.

In the end, the damage to his self-esteem was too great, and so Robert decided to resign. I think, for him, that was the right decision.

Feeling crippled by your work boss and no longer able to cope? Psychotherapy can help you

I have noticed more and more clients are coming in for therapy today stating that they are feeling depressed, anxious and unable to cope anymore. Often presenting with obsessive compulsive behaviours, phobias and panic attacks, many also experience insomnia and high blood pressure.

By the time many decide to seek help their self-esteem is no longer existent, some have resorted to self-medicating using either drugs or alcohol to help them cope. In many of these cases it soon becomes evident that my client is in fact suffering the psychological effects of becoming the victim of a narcissistic bully in the workplace.

If you are going to work each day feeling anxious, miserable and trapped you are possibly working with or for a narcissist.

Narcissism is a very complex disorder that creates a lot of suffering. Their abusive behaviour is insidious; by this I mean it is covert, cunning and often indirect. Understandably leaving those who have fallen victim to their abusive behaviours feeling distressed, confused, anxious and fearful. They often express that it feels like they are constantly “walking on eggshells” in order to avoid further conflict with the narcissist.

Narcissistic bosses need constant reminders that they are the “best,” “the brightest,” “the most admired,” and the “richest”. If this is your boss you will naturally feel miserable. Narcissists are self-absorbed. They lack empathy for others, feel entitled and manipulate relationships to gain the upper hand. They truly believe they are superior to others, however at a deep unconscious level they are very insecure.

BEWARE: if you become or are perceived to become a threat by either having a different opinion or by seeming confrontational, he or she will do everything in their power to “put you down”.

Understand their behaviour is deeply rooted. You are therefore not going to change their personality. Instead you need to manage them in small ways so as to help you cope on a daily basis. Such as:

  • Always try to have other personnel around when you are having conversations with your boss.
  • Always summarise any important discussions you have had with him/her in an email back to the boss. This way any ideas or decisions made in the meeting are in writing.
  • Limit the amount of personal information you give him/her. The less they know about your life the better. Block any social networking sites you may be on to only show information to those you choose.
  • Narcissists are very charming and are very good at winning people as friends or allies. However, they will be very vindictive when someone has threatened their self-image, either privately or publicly. You can carefully influence these moods:
  • At every opportunity, praise your boss. It feeds the narcissist’s ego like nothing else. Even if the praise is not warranted, say it anyway. They will love you for it. If you feel you don’t sound authentic praising your boss, say it anyway – narcissists don’t hear the underlying tone or the lack of truthfulness, they only hear the words. They love themselves, but they also want everyone else to love them too… and your praise will make them think you are aligned with them. BE matter of fact and let the focus be on him or her for a couple of minutes.
  • Lastly, respond quickly to misinformation. Narcissistic bosses ‘manage up’ extremely well. This often includes putting someone else down, such as spreading belittling remarks about you or others. Without directly challenging the narcissist, you should provide the correct information as soon as possible. If an email contains misinformation, respond with an email that focuses on factual information, without making comment on the distortions that may have preceded it. Be matter of fact and factual, it will make ‘you’ more credible.

REMEMBER, you are not alone. This is a huge problem in today’s workforce, so much so that narcissistic behaviours have been researched widely and what we do know is: (i) their behaviours are predictable and (ii) there are a number of small ways (as mentioned above) that can make managing them more achievable. However, sometimes, as in Robert’s case the damage can be too much and the best option is to move on.

What are the issues for which most people seek assistance?

  • Relationship break-ups
  • Constantly fighting with your partner
  • Loss of intimacy with your partner
  • Communication problems with your partner or child
  • Difficulty parenting toddlers or teens
  • Pre-marriage counselling
  • A child misbehaving
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Family counselling
  • Wanting to separate from their partner amicably
  • Helping the children cope after a relationship break-up
  • Trouble staying in relationships
  • HSC stress for students and their families
  • Relationship commitment issues
  • Problems at work
  • Couple counselling
  • Difficulties with step-children
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Problems with in-laws
  • Substance addiction
  • Facing major life changes
  • Making new life choices
  • Relationship counselling