Narcissists love the workplace because their personalities and characteristics often put them in a position from which they can reign supreme over others and simultaneously disguise their abusive behavior behind a falsified identity that portrays them as hardworking, ambitious, and admirable. Workplace narcissism often destroys people’s lives so it’s really important for society as a whole to have the ability to spot a narcissist at work.
To spot a narcissist at work one must familiarize themselves with the numerous narcissistic behavior patterns that plague narcissistic environments and use the knowledge that they acquire to accurately identify the same narcissistic behavior patterns in the work environments that they’re a part of.
To be completely transparent, spotting a narcissist is not an easy task. Three of the toughest adversaries that one may come across when attempting to accurately spot a narcissist in the workplace are narcissist enablers, flying monkeys, and healthy narcissism.
People who don’t understand narcissism are called narcissist enablers because their ignorance enables the continuation of narcissistic abuse. Those who participate in the narcissist’s smear campaign are called flying monkeys. Lastly, healthy narcissism is a positive sense of self that is in alignment with the greater good. In other words, someone with healthy narcissism strives for greatness but not at the expense of others.
The combination of narcissist enablers, flying monkeys, and healthy narcissism makes spotting narcissists at work a daunting task because the combination of all three often creates a pervasive environment of gaslighting, self-doubt, isolation, self-blame, and abuse.
The best way to navigate through all of this confusion and accurately spot a narcissist at work is to stay true to yourself by setting and maintaining healthy boundaries. The benefit of doing this is that even if you were to fail to spot the narcissist at work, the healthy boundaries you’ve set and maintained would allow you to continue to protect your emotional stability even though you’re not 100% sure who you should be protecting it from.
Three Narcissistic Behavior Patterns You Should Focus On to Spot a Narcissist at Work
We live in a world that rewards narcissistic behavior and as a consequence, social environments like workplaces are deeply satisfying for narcissists. The most reliable method for spotting narcissists at work is developing an awareness for how their insecure need for power and control manifests in the workplace.
What does this mean?
An unhealthy/abusive upbringing has left narcissists with a deeply rooted hatred for their true identity which happens to be very vulnerable and insecure. This same upbringing has left them very emotionally immature which is why they hate their identity so much. They believe that their insecurities and vulnerabilities make them inadequate, rejectable, and unloveable.
To cope with this irrational fear of theirs, narcissists create a falsified identity that they believe is far more likely to be accepted by others.
Unfortunately, they build this falsified identity off of their perception of what society values, but because of their emotional immaturity, they’re unable to look past society’s superficial exterior. This causes them to gravitate towards very superficial and trivial aspects of life when building their identity.
Our article How Are Narcissists Made will give you much more information about this but a narcissist’s upbringing causes them to develop a very fragile ego that they try to protect by accumulating narcissistic supply and with the falsified identity that we mentioned earlier.
Narcissistic supply is the validation, admiration, and reassurance that narcissists extract from others with their manipulative behavior patterns. For narcissists, the most prolific method for accumulating narcissistic supply is to remain in power and control in every given situation.
The most common narcissistic behavior patterns that narcissists use in workplace to remain in power and control are love bombing, triangulation, and narcissistic rage. Other manipulative behaviors like gaslighting and projection will certainly be present but focusing on the love bombing, triangulation, and narcissistic rage gives you the best chance to spot a narcissist at work.
Workplace Love Bombing
In romantic narcissistic relationships, love bombing is a term often used to describe the behavior of a narcissist who is using mirroring to present themselves as the ideal person in the eyes of their victim.
You can learn more about that in our article What Do Narcissists Do During the Love Bombing Phase but workplace love bombing is slightly different. Workplace love bombing is going to specifically circulate around future faking and one’s job performance.
“I worked under a narcissistic boss for 4 years. When I first joined the company, my boss treated me so well. It started out with many small side comments about how well I was doing and turned into daily 1v1 meetings to discuss my future with the company. For a while he even had me thinking that he wanted me to be his replacement when he retired. About 5 or 6 months into the job, the 1v1 meetings stopped happening and the side comments turned into criticism. He would use what we talked about in our meeting to embarrass me in front of everyone else. I felt lost. I loved the career so I started to try to do things to get me back on his good side but nothing ever worked. A few months after this started, a new employee got hired and I watched my boss take him through the exact same love bombing cycle that he took me.” Mitch, A Survivor of 4 Years of Workplace Narcissistic Abuse
This process of Mitch’s narcissistic boss seducing him with workplace love bombing and then discarding him for a new source of narcissistic supply is a hallmark of the narcissistic abuse cycle.
During the love bombing phase it’s very common for narcissists to place their victim up on a metaphorical pedestal, attach their strings of manipulating to them, and then kick the pedestal out from under their victim, leaving the victim tangled in their strings like a puppet.
A much more controlling form of workplace love bombing manifest in the form of victims being overpaid.
“I worked as a secretary for a narcissistic boss but I was getting paid nearly triple the normal salary for a secretary in that area. It felt amazing at first but then I realized that my boss was practically paying for my silence. She was an abusive and miserable human being. For the longest time I believed that she was bipolar because of how explosive and frequent her mood swings were. I didn’t know it then but I used a lot of cognitive dissonance to justify remaining under her employ.” Candy, A Survivor of 3 Years of Workplace Narcissistic Abuse
There’s no doubt about it, money makes the world spin and narcissists are really, really good at exploiting that. For those of you who don’t know, cognitive dissonance is a theory that suggests when we experience an inconsistency among our beliefs, the knowledge we have, and the behavior we see, it causes a tremendous amount of psychological tension. To ease this tension we will change one or more of the inconsistencies to make everything consistent.
The element’s in Candy’s situation that were making things inconsistent was the abuse she was experiencing and the job that was paying her three times the normal salary expected for someone with the same job in the area. Candy was forced to choose between losing a ton of money or staying in an abusive environment for a ton of money. Cognitive dissonance kicked in and she justified, rationalized, and ultimately normalized her acceptance of her boss’s abuse.
Triangulation in the workplace is by far the most prolific manipulative technique that narcissists can use to fulfill their insecure need for power and control. You see, triangulation is all about the narcissist turning one-on-one situations into two or more-on-one situations.
For example, a narcissist could implement triangulation in the workplace by getting everyone a breakfast bagel except for one co-worker, purposely leaving a co-worker off of an important email list, or even holding meetings where they purposely exclude specific members of the office.
Triangulation is an excellent way that a narcissist can remain in power and control while simultaneously accumulating enough narcissistic supply to support their falsified identity. The reason being that nobody wants to be on the wrong end of triangulation so it creates cliques, inside jokes, a hierarchy, and from a narcissistic perspective, a satisfying sense of camaraderie.
A really common way triangulation can manifest in the workplace, especially if you’re trying to spot a narcissist at work, is in the form of flying monkeys. When a narcissist believes that their true identity is on the brink of being exposed, they’ll enlist flying monkeys to help protect themselves from exposure.
They’ll begin to spread lies and gossip about the victim to devalue their voice before they’re able to expose the narcissist to others. In addition to all of this, the narcissist will create a narrative that portrays them as the victim and the victim as the abuser. So, by the time the victim is able to speak up, everyone has already sided with the narcissist, leaving the victim in a puddle of self-doubt, self-blame and isolation.
One of the biggest misconceptions about narcissistic rage is that it is just rage or anger from a narcissist. You see, anger is a normal emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. Rage is frowned upon, but it usually occurs when something along the lines of someone’s life being threatened happens.
What differentiates narcissistic rage from anger or rage is its explosiveness, frequency, and triggers. All of the negative emotions that narcissists work so hard to suppress are kept at bay by an extremely fragile sense of self. When a narcissist experiences something that contradicts their falsified identity, all of their negative emotions begin to ooze out of their fragile ego.
So, narcissistic rage is a manifestation of a narcissist’s inability to regulate their own emotions. When a narcissist goes into a rage, they are quite literally trying to project all of their negative emotions onto the person, animal, or thing that contradicted their identity in the first place.
The need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means, and a deeply anchored, unrelenting compulsion in the pursuit all of these aims which gives no rest to those who have suffered a narcissistic injury—these are features which are characteristics for the phenomenon of narcissistic rage in all of its forms and which set it apart from all other forms of aggression. – Heinz Kohut
What does this have to do with spotting a narcissist at work?
Narcissistic rage rules narcissistic work environments. The fear that narcissists are able to generate from narcissistic rage is crippling.
It turns work environments into a twisted world of yes-men/yes-women. People will just agree with everything the narcissist says and does because they’re afraid of what happens if they don’t.
“My narcissistic ex-boss was terrifying. The entire office was so scared of him, it was insane. He would do this weird thing where he would hold these meetings where he would propose a new idea for the company. Those who have been there long enough knew just to smile and wave… but one time he held a meeting before we had the chance to inform the new hire of his rage. Well he proposed something absurd, like usual, and the new high called him out on it. The boss exploded!! He forced her to finish the presentation for him, humiliated her in front of everyone, and then fired her at the end of the day. I feel so sick for saying this but I can remember feeling happy that it wasn’t me getting yelled at. Narcissists make people lose sight of who they are! I still haven’t fully forgiven myself for my silence.” – Uma, A Survivor of 5 Years of Workplace Narcissistic Abuse
What Should You Take Away From This Article?
Did you notice how the quotes we had from Mitch, Candy, and Uma about their experiences with narcissism in the workplace involved a narcissistic boss? Well, that isn’t a coincidence. Many of the personality traits and characteristics of a narcissist put them in a position from which they can succeed in a work environment.
They’re willing to manipulate and exploit others. They can be very charming, charismatic, and ultimately persuasive. They value money, success, and status over everything else. The list could go on forever but the fact of the matter is that narcissists are built for competitive environments. By focusing on workplace love bombing, triangulation, and narcissistic rage you put yourself in a much more secure position from which you can spot a narcissist at work.
Workplace love bombing is when the narcissist makes their victim feel special, they manipulate them into envisioning a promising future, and then they pull all of those hopes and dreams out from under the victim.
Triangulation is all about creating cliques by turning one-on-one situations into two or more-on-one situations.
Lastly, narcissistic rage makes the entire workplace feel as if they have to walk on eggshells around the narcissist. It’s important to remember that narcissistic rage is a manifestation of a narcissist’s emotional immaturity. Read our article 15 of the Best Examples of Narcissistic Rage for more context but there are five different types of narcissistic rage ranging anywhere from the silent treatment to interpersonal violence.
About the Author
Hey, I’m Elijah.
I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years.
I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.
Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.