The credit for the initial identification of narcissism as a psychological condition belongs to Sigmund Freud.  The work of Freud initially served as a basis for the definition of the narcissist.  Yet, Freud only scratched the surface of the narcissistic personality.  As it would later be discovered, his focus was on the more generalized description of the narcissistic personality.  Further, Freud spent the majority of his writing dealing with what psychological factors caused a person to become narcissistic Freud, 1914/1991).  In the end, narcissism was defined via the American Psychiatric Association years later.  

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, defines narcissism as:  A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning in early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five or more of the following:

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g.), exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements.
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions.
  4. requires excessive admiration.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.
  6. is interpersonally exploitive, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
  7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
  8. is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
  9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes (American Psychiatric Association, 2000, p. 661).

They often explain their point of view in loquacious detail while failing to recognize that other parties have anything to add to their perspectives.  Additionally, when other parties attempt to express their views, the narcissist will often become impatient with the conversation, and may be oblivious to the damage that their lack of concern causes in the other party.  Finally, when they do recognize the feelings of others, they tend to regard those feelings as a sign of the weakness of the person exhibiting them.  This weakness, to the narcissist, is something to exploited but never pitied, as pity is something that the narcissist does not feel for others (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).

The narcissist will almost never show outward signs of emotional injury, but he or she experiences them nonetheless.  These feelings often haunt the narcissist to the point of obsession and begin to impact the day-to-day life of the narcissist.  When the narcissist finally does show outward signs of emotional injury the narcissist typically will react with significant levels of aggression to everyone around them, especially to the individual that is perceived as the cause of the “hurt.”  This phenomenon leads to difficulty with any type of interpersonal relationship and may cause

The perception that the narcissist is hard to deal with (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).

This may account for the aforementioned prevalence of narcissistic Managers workplace, as high levels of drive and ambition are some of the things that set the modern co-workers apart (Maccabee, 2004).  The narcissist is also not fond of failure.  Failure is often not even a present reality in the mind of the narcissist.  This does not prevent the narcissist from failing, but even when the narcissist does fail, he or she will often project the cause of that failure to others involved in the task (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).

According to Peg Streep, author of Quitting and fellow PT blogger, “You need to set your own personal goals, and come up with strategies to minimize the impact that your boss’ actions have on you. You should recognize that it’s unlikely that successful efforts will be seen as the result of team efforts, including yours, and that failures will be blamed on others since the boss isn’t likely to take responsibility.”

Not all narcissist act the same way, And some narcissist Colleagues or boss are more tolerance than others. According to Ms. Streep, “If there are things you can actually learn from this person–he or she may have considerable talents–you should focus on those and prepare yourself to be as unreactive as possible to the game-playing and drama that inevitably follow in the narcissist’s wake. Setting clear goals for yourself and preparing yourself for conflicts using ‘If/Then’ thinking–if he/she does X, I will do Y–are helpful tools for navigating what’s doubtless going to be a pretty toxic working situation.”


What must then be asked is, how does one deal, in day-to-day work life, with those people who display strong narcissistic tendencies in the workplace?  The nature of the personality characteristics associated with narcissism breed conflict (American Psychiatric Association, 2000; Bacal, 2000; Cavaiola & Lavender, 2000; Freud, 1914/1991; Lasch, 1979; Lubit, 2004) and this conflict creates communication difficulties in the workplace (Bacal, 2000; Cavaiola & Lavender, 2000; Lasch, 1979; Lubit, 2004).  For instance, how does one communicate with someone who is self-centered, degrades other people’s ideas, and fails to heed the warnings of others?  Even more intimidating: how does one take a person with those characteristics and attempt to integrate them into the team format?  Cavaiola and Lavender (2000) state that “one cannot expect the narcissist to behave in a rational, giving, or cooperative manner, and if you do, you will experience nothing but frustration in your interactions with them”

Maccoby (2003, 2004), one discovers no real process for dealing with the narcissist personality at work other than to avoid the narcissist and thus not respond to him or her or to alter one’s perception of what would provide a fulfilling job.  While this might prove comforting to some, it would be difficult to believe that dealing with people with strong narcissistic tendencies would be as simple as saying, “Maybe I can just ignore it and it will go away.”  Still, this type of logic is suggested for implementation in most of the literature in which an author attempts to indicate how the narcissist should be dealt with.  Bacal (2000) indicates that while these people are very difficult to fire or to discipline, the best thing that a person might do is simply learn to deal with the narcissist by placating their behavior.

Bacal goes on to state that if one is managing such a person, one needs to differentiate between the person and their behavior patterns, and should not blame the narcissist for the problem.  He suggests that one should internalize the situation and attempt to determine what one can change so that one can continue to cope with the Narcissist and his or her behavior.  Further, Bacal advocates that one should avoid assumption of a “victimized” posture when confronting narcissistic behavior, and focus only on what implications the narcissistic behavior might have on the work environment

As opposed to focusing on how the behavior makes one personally feel.  Interestingly, the later work of Cava Iola and Lavender (2000), and Lubit (2004) both advocate positions similar to that of Bacal and take the stand that to deal with the narcissist in the workplace, placation of the narcissist is essential to success. Pelusi (2006) offers some suggestions, but in each case they are designed to Placate the narcissistic offender.  Further, when one looks at the work of However, not every author agrees that simply ignoring or placating the narcissist will bring about positive results.  The Satir Model of Conflict specifically argues against Placation, for to Satir and her colleagues, ignoring or not responding in some way to the Narcissistic behavior would have also been considered a form of placation (Satir et al. 1991). Satir and her colleagues repeatedly argue against their concept of placation.  In Their view it ignored the conflict dynamic with respect to the offended party; in this case the person offended by the narcissist’s behavior.  In such cases, Satir and her colleagues indicate that placation, again which in their view encompassed ignoring and Non-response, produced a long term negative effect on the conflict situation.  They go on To state that the offended party will likely walk away from a given conflict situation in which placation is used feeling helpless and hopeless about the situation and with no? Sense of equality or resolution.  Satir and her colleagues state that placation fueled intractable conflict situations between the parties due to the lack of satisfaction felt over Time by the individual forced to placate the other person (Satir, 1988; Satir et al., 1991; West & Turner, 2007).

When one is dealing with a subordinate that is difficult and whose narcissism in the workplace is proving counterproductive to work relationships, one might assume that the focus on teamwork would win out and potentially lead to the termination of the Narcissist.

Yet, this is not advocated by Bacal (2000), Cavaiola and Lavender (2000), or Lubit (2004).  In fact, Bacal proposes that the narcissist may not only prove productive in The overall scheme of the organization, but may prove to be indispensable which, harkens back to the earliest assertions by Freud (1914/1991) that the narcissist may indeed prove productive.  While Bacal (2000) does make a compelling argument, it is interesting that no power structure is highlighted in the argument.  For example, does one use a strategy of placating the narcissist if one is the boss of the narcissist?  Bacal does not go into detail about this.  Similarly, Cavaiola and Lavender (2000) and Lubit (2004) do not deal with the concept of power in their work.  Engaging in placating activity when one is dealing with a superior would seem difficult because of the narcissist’s position of authority as one might risk repercussions from their superior if that superior was confronted concerning their behavior.

TIP: Narcissist lacks self-composure and confidence, this is one of the main reasons they are so quick to turn on one actions, which indirectly makes them look bad. Be consistent with your loyalty while standing on your right, and in no time you will always be at their good side. But don’t feel too comfortable due to their unstable nature, as Ms. Streep said, “…unless the benefits of staying outweigh the downside over the long haul, you need to figure out when you can leave.”



American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, (4th ed., text revision). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

Bacal, R. (2000). The complete idiots guide to dealing with difficult employees. Madison,WI: CWI Publishing Enterprises.

Cavaiola, A. & Lavender, N. (2000). Toxic coworkers: how to deal with dysfunctionalPeople on the job. Oak lake: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Freud, S. (1991). On narcissism: An introduction. In J. Sandler, E.S. Person, & P. Fonagy

(Eds.) for the International Psychoanalytical Association, Freud’s “On

Narcissism: An Introduction (pp. 3-32). New Haven & London: Yale University

Press. (Original work published 1914).

Lubit, R. (2004). Coping with toxic managers, subordinates, and other difficult people.

Upper Saddle River: Financial Times Prentice Hall.

Maccoby, M. (2003). The productive narcissist. New York: Broadway Books.

Maccoby, M. (2004). Narcissistic leaders: The incredible pros, the inevitable cons.

Harvard Business Review, 82(11), 92-101.

Narcissistic Leaders. (2000, June). Harvard Management Communication Letter, 3(6),


Pelusi, N. (2006). Dealing with difficult people. Psychology Today, 39(5), 68-69.