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They could be a necessary evil

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Narcissistic bosses will definitely give us a hard time at work, but not necessarily towards our detriment (Kelly Sikkema - Unsplash)

By: Nurfilzah Emily Mohamad Khairuddin

Encountering various personality types is inevitable in today’s fast-paced and digitalised work environments. One such personality that often poses unique challenges is narcissism, both in online and offline forms.

Nurfilzah Emily Mohamad Khairuddin

But what exactly is narcissism?

At its simplest, according to Gerald Corey’s “Theory and Practice of Group Counseling”, narcissism is a personality trait characterized by an excessive sense of self-importance, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Individuals with narcissistic tendencies often prioritize their own needs and desires above those of others, seeking constant validation and attention.

While narcissism can sometimes be mistaken for confidence or ambition, it comes with its own set of pros and cons. On the positive side, narcissists often show charisma and charm on the outset, making them good candidates for leadership roles and networking at first glances. They typically have a strong belief in their abilities, which can drive them to achieve ambitious goals.

However, the downsides of narcissism cannot be overlooked. Their unstoppable pursuit of validation can lead to manipulative behaviour, including exploiting others to fulfil their own agenda. Moreover, their lack of empathy can create toxic work environments, where colleagues feel undervalued and marginalized.

To better understand the concept of narcissism, one needs only to look at some examples from popular culture. Characters like Gordon Gekko from “Wall Street” or Miranda Priestly from “The Devil Wears Prada” represent classic narcissistic traits, showcasing the impact such individuals can have on those around them.

What to do?

Once you’ve acknowledged the presence of narcissistic tendencies in your boss, it’s vital to reaffirm your own worth and contributions. Narcissistic bosses may try to undermine your confidence and self-esteem, so reminding yourself of your achievements and the value you bring to the table is highly important.

When trying to cope with a narcissistic boss, diversifying your work experience can provide valuable perspective and support. Seek opportunities to collaborate with other leaders within your organisation. Working with different supervisors can also offer a diverse range of experiences and references for future job prospects, thus reducing your reliance on interactions with your presently narcissistic boss.

On another note, establishing clear boundaries is also essential for maintaining your well-being in a challenging work environment. When interacting with your boss, keep your communications brief, informative, and friendly, yet firm. Avoid getting drawn into emotionally charged conversations that may worsen the situation. By setting boundaries, you can protect your mental health while still fulfilling your professional responsibilities.

Broadening your network beyond your immediate work environment can offer additional sources of support and guidance too. Cultivate relationships with mentors, colleagues, and professional organisations, both internal and external to your workplace. These connections will help to provide valuable perspective and assistance in your day-to-day work engagements.

Taking care of your mental and emotional well-being is crucial when dealing with a narcissistic boss. Invest time and energy in activities outside of work that bring you joy and fulfilment. Engaging in hobbies, exercise, or spending time with loved ones can provide a much-needed sense of balance and self-worth, mitigating the negative impact of your boss’s behaviour.

If you find that your boss’s behaviour is significantly affecting your mental health and well-being, don’t hesitate to seek support from a licensed therapist or counsellor. They can offer valuable coping strategies and techniques to manage stress and maintain resilience in the face of adversity.

Finally, if despite your best efforts, the situation becomes unbearable, it may be time to explore other job opportunities. Alternatively, you can raise your concerns with human resources or your boss’s supervisor, seeking assistance in resolving the issues at hand.

Conclusion

The feeling of loss and helplessness in the face of a narcissistic boss is a common reaction, but it’s equally important to remember that it’s not an insurmountable problem. Working life is a journey filled with various challenges, including handling difficult personalities like narcissistic bosses. Just like any journey, there will be bumps and sidetracks along the way. However, these obstacles are opportunities for personal growth and development.

By recognizing your own worth, setting boundaries, seeking support from others, and prioritizing your well-being, you can outwit these challenges with resilience and grace. And with determination and perseverance, you can rise above the challenges posed by a narcissistic boss and continue to thrive in your career journey.

Who knows, they could very well be the necessary evil in your career!

The author is a Trainee Counsellor from the Faculty of Education, Universiti Malaya.

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