Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be a paradox. Maybe. If we think about what it means to have a moral compass, or a moral agent, we can come up with at least two logical philosophies. The first is Immanuel Kant‘s philosophy that states one must be rational to engage in morality. The second is a philosophy put forth by the Utilitarian philosophers that states morality cannot be tied to a rational thought process; rather, that it is tied more to the avoidance of suffering.
I tend to align myself with the second philosophy for a number of reasons, the most prominent being that a Narcissist is programmed to avoid suffering at all costs. A Narcissist’s actions will have a direct correlation to the amount of discomfort he might feel in any situation.
I’ve worked in corporate America most of my adult life. No one warned me about narcissism in the workplace, because 30 years ago, no one knew to do such a thing. Instead, people would tell me to stay away from so-and-so; never to get on the “wrong side” of someone else, and with one particular supervisor, to make certain that I place a copy of each of my completed projects on his boss’ desk at the same time I placed a copy on his desk. The reasoning behind this was simple. I was told if I wanted credit for my work, I could not just hand it over to my supervisor, because at the next staff meeting, all my work would be presented as his.
If someone in the work place tells you this about someone else, lend credence to it. Assess the co-worker who is telling you this, watch how they interact with others and if your gut tells you they are on the level, listen to them. I have experience with not heeding such advice and in one instance, during the early 80’s, was actually fired because I spoke up for myself in a meeting, stating the work being presented was mine and pulled out evidence to prove it. I was fired that afternoon and no one said a word.
Narcissists in the work place are just as bad as they are outside the work place. Have you ever had any of the following happen to you?
1. Your work is presented, at a meeting to which you were not invited, and you found out later that your contribution to the effort was either not mentioned, or was stolen from you and presented as someone else’s work?
2. You are provided direction for a task or process, you write down all instructions provided, and once completed, it’s determined by your supervisor’s boss that something is wrong. You are called in to explain why you proceeded as you did, and you explain that you took direction from your supervisor, and oh-by-the-way, here are the detailed instructions, that you wrote down. You are then told that you wrote the instructions wrong – your supervisor will read them, immediately see where he or she screwed up and rather than own accountability, will deflect blame to you, stating YOU misunderstood and your notes are wrong.
3. It feels as though you are constantly being thrown under the bus by a co-worker, but you are never able to actually prove it.
4. Several co-workers are also thrown under the bus and they have the same issue. When you compare notes it all points to one person, but there is no real proof.
5. You find, when comparing notes with co-workers, that the extremely vicious statement made by someone with regard to someone else was also made about you, and then you all realize that the same person has been setting each of you against the other.
6. You are working in a group, and you make certain that everyone in the group is included in all communications, but you continually get emails or correspondence from one person in that group; the communication from this person seems to target you in some devaluing fashion, and the rest of the group has not been party to it.
7. You are working in a group, and when you ask a particular individual who is hyper-critical of your efforts to please send his or her thoughts via email, they refuse. No paper trail, no proof.
8. You know you are doing your job well and correctly. You are never late, you don’t take sick days, you work late when you know it’s necessary, because for some reason, the work isn’t getting done, and it’s not your piece that’s not getting done, you are a team player, yet your direct supervisor, who arrives at work later than you do, who you know is very tight with one particular co-worker, suddenly requests a meeting and writes you up for being late, chastises you for not working smart or fast enough and shoots down your statement that your extra time has been used to complete tasks that were part of the group goal and weren’t being finished. Then you are written up for not meeting the group goal in a “timely fashion.”
9. You notice that a co-worker is getting preferential treatment, and getting it consistently.
10. You’ve been “reported” for breaking “rules” and even though you can prove you did not break “rules” your supervisor tosses the proof aside and states that he or she has “evidence” that you’re at fault.
11. One co-worker, or supervisory figure is praised for his or her work, you look around the meeting table and you see your other co-workers grimacing, because they know what you know: that this person stole your work, lied about you, curried favor, threw you under the bus numerous times, and everyone knows that no one can truly prove it.
Those are some of my experiences. I’m sure you’ve got others. Narcissists in the work place function exactly as they do outside of the work place. They curry favor with those they feel can be of benefit to them, they have no moral compass when it comes to the good of the group versus their own good. It’s not a case of a moral compass malfunctioning. It’s a case of having no moral compass at all. They work very hard – at making you look bad so they can look good. They gaslight in the same manner they would gaslight anyone else.
Many times a work place narcissist will target one person; they will target the person they have deemed the weakest. That would be the individual who displays accountability, who works hard, doesn’t break the rules, and has an exceptional work ethic. A work place narcissist can’t abide anyone working with them who might appear to be better at anything than they are, so they set about devaluing this individual to other co-workers and to management.
They are insidious about this process. They don’t run to management with an issue about the person, rather; they simply sow seeds of doubt, seemingly at random. They’ll do it at a company gathering; they’ll do it over lunch, or while chatting in the hallway. They will cause seeds of doubt regarding the individual’s character to germinate.
They will drop a casual remark-in one instance that I witnessed, it was regarding the fact that a co-worker always wore black to work. I heard the comment: “I wonder why she always wears black. I’ve never seen her in anything but black, even her mascara is really black. Did you notice that?”
I was at the lunch table when this was said, in the presence of 9 other people, but presumably it was said to only one individual. Heh. Hardly.
A month later, I found that the “woman in black” who I worked with closely, had suddenly turned into a departmental pariah, rumors were flying about her personal life, and the narcissist who had started it all had even searched for her online and found that she was a member of a motorcycle club.
No one would ever say that it was the narcissist of the group who found the online information but I knew it. No one else cared until she started her insidious devaluation of this co-worker.
Naturally, this must mean “the woman in black” is a bad person. It must mean she does terrible, immoral things. It must mean she cheats on her husband and is an unfit mother to her children. It must also mean that she’s a poor reflection (like that word?) for the company, and it must also mean that she’s got personal issues. Stands to reason, right? She wears black, she’s part of a motorcycle club so it naturally follows that she’s a sleaze bag mom who is unfit to raise her children and the by-product of that is that she’s unfit to work for the company, even though she is one of the best workers they’ve got.
What it really meant is that the narcissist found this woman’s presence intolerable, went searching for something that she perceived as a weakness; something that could be manipulated and spun, and proceeded to infect 7 co-workers and our supervisor with her poison in an effort to get the person fired. It worked. Only two people didn’t buy into it. One of those people was yours truly. The other was the “woman in black.”
All it took was two months and a woman who had worked for this company for 11 years was fired; she was fired based on lies, a deliberate devaluing of her character based on speculation and the seed of doubt that this woman was doing the great job that everyone else thought she was doing. This was done by an individual who was transferred into the department at the beginning of those two months.
In two months, a woman who had 11 years with the company, in the same department, was fired, and since the state in which we worked was an “at will” state, the only reason she was given was “you’re not a good fit.”
The narcissist wasn’t finished though. She’d managed to get rid of one mirror that wouldn’t reflect well for her, so she began watching for others. I was next in line. By this time, I knew the importance of documenting everything with regard to this woman; from the time she came in to work, to what she said in every meeting, to what I overheard her saying to others. I refused to interact with her in any way that didn’t have a paper trail. So how did she get me? Easy.
I’m one who doesn’t bring my personal life to work. No one knew much about me, other than that I was a single mom with a teenage son. They didn’t know who I dated or if I dated. They didn’t know if I was involved with anyone. What they did know was my name and my son’s name. They knew where he went to school – the usual stuff that co-workers share. I never shared anything I didn’t feel couldn’t be printed on a bulletin board.
All it took was one comment from me, empathizing with another co-worker at lunch, who was going through the terrible teens with her child. Just ONE comment, stating that I truly understood, and offering information about a program that was available for troubled teens. My son wasn’t troubled – not like this woman’s was. My son was a relatively normal and rebellious teenage boy who did the normal stuff teenage boys do.
Within a week, rumors got back to me that my son was in this program. Then more rumors that my son was in the program because he’d been caught dealing drugs at school. When I heard about the rumors, from someone in a totally different department, with whom I was friendly, my reaction was a completely flabbergasted: “HUH???”
Then I got popped for a random drug test. I came up clean, as I knew I would, but bells were clanging in my brain. Two weeks later, I got a call from my son at 1:00 in the afternoon. He’d been in a bad car accident, and was part of a four-car pile up in the westbound tunnel of the area where we lived. He was fine, car was totaled. I raced out of the office.
That was a Thursday. When I came in on Friday everyone wanted to know what happened. I was cautious with details – none of it was my son’s fault – but I just don’t give out a lot of details at work.
The following Monday, I heard a rumor that my son had been arrested for DUI as a result of that accident. Not true. You can’t quash a rumor like that. It bred on itself. Over the next two months, my son’s accident went from “thank GOD he’s okay” to “her son caused a four-car pile up in the tunnel because he was stoned and he almost killed 3 other people.”
During the next month, I found out that some work I’d done on a project, that was housed in a location where everyone could access it, because they HAD to access it, was all cabbaged up. I found this out because my boss emailed me that he was getting corrupt data when he used the database involved. I sent an email to everyone in the department stating that they were not to use the database on a particular server until I’d fixed it; that something had gone wrong causing relationships and table links to disappear.
I always kept a clean copy on my laptop, which I backed up daily. I overwrote the corrupted database with the clean copy, sent an email less than ten minutes after being notified, that it was okay to start using the database again. Situation solved, right?
The next day, I came into work to find my laptop on and that someone had logged in as “admin.” I questioned everyone. The narcissist in the group turned around and said: “Oh, I had to get hubby up here to help run some reports and he used your laptop. He was a peach to do it, since I knew you’d be too busy today to get to them.” Her husband was in our IT department.
My head instantly spun like Linda Blair’s. I calmly thanked her, turned to my laptop to find an IM from a co-worker who sat behind me. It said: “check the database on the server – it’s all screwy again.” I checked. It was corrupt beyond corrupt. I IM’d back: “no problem – I’ll just overwrite it.” I went to the folder where my clean copy was always kept and it was gone. I checked my restore point – it had been changed. I frantically checked the cds where I kept a daily copy (it was a small database, but crucial to operation of the department and company), and an entire 5 days worth of cds were missing.
I couldn’t restore the database with current information. It was my JOB to be able to do that if it was deemed necessary. I went to my boss to tell him. He told me to shut the door and proceeded to tell me that he’d been advised that I was having difficulty concentrating on my work, and that there had been several mistakes found in the database, even when the copy was “clean.” I asked him who told him this and he refused to tell me who.
I knew who had done it. He then went on to say that he felt it was in the best interests of the company if my relationship with the company was severed, since it was apparent that my “personal” issues were causing too much pressure on me to be able to function with the accuracy necessary for my position. He chastised me for it. He stated that “others” had noticed my “work was slipping” and when I again asked who had noticed, he refused to tell me.
So I asked WHAT personal issues. Our friendly departmental narcissist had done her job well. My boss, who knew me to be reliable, productive, knowledgeable and who used me as his go-to person for anything requiring data, told me that my son’s “drug-related car accident” seems to be causing my focus to slip, and that this had been brought to his attention several times over the preceding three months.
He stated that since my service to the company “up to this point” had been exemplary, that he would give me 30 days so that I would have time to find a new job. I replied to that with: “If you are going to fire me, please fire me. I won’t quit; not now, and not in 30 days.” So he fired me.
Narcissist won. She got me out of there.
She got one other person out, after she was finished with me.
Guess what? Two months after she got her last “tarnished mirror” out, she was part of an enterprise-wide downsize. SHE was given no notice, was told, mid-day, when a security guard came to her desk with her pink slip, stood over her while she packed her personal belongings and then escorted her to her car and watched as she drove off the lot.
It’s small comfort, because her actions with regard to me, happened in 2009, just after the economy began its downward spiral. I found a job, moved out of state for it, and it evaporated before I could start. I was living with family in that state, so at least I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to keep a roof over my head. Three months later I found a job. A week into it, I was told that office was closing and my options were an 8 week severance package or a transfer to the city where I now live. I took the transfer. A year later, I was downsized.
And here I am, 7 months later, unable to find work. Would I have been caught in that initial enterprise-wide downsize that the departmental narcissist was caught in? I don’t know. The odds are pretty good, I’d have been transferred, or something would have been found for me, as that’s what was done for those who had an exemplary record and seniority within the department. Had the narcissist not been transferred into my department, I might still be working there.
Might, maybe, what-if? Who knows.
This is a cautionary tale. I know of no way to protect oneself against a narcissist in the work place. I’ve tried. Documentation doesn’t seem to do any good. If you are targeted by a workplace Narcissist know this: They have NO moral compass. They will steal from you, lie to and about you and if you appear in any way to outshine them, they will set about devaluing you in a most insidious fashion and you won’t realize the bus ran over you until you look down from your out-of-body perch on the ceiling to find the bus didn’t accidentally hit you.
I wish I had answers for you. I don’t. Corporate America breeds an environment that is conducive to narcissism. It breeds an all-or-nothing environment that deliberately places co-workers in competition with one another. Throw a true NPD into the mix and all bets are on the N coming out on top – at least for the time being.
The carnage will be horrific, and the N will be standing triumphantly over it, beaming beatifically at your former boss, while surreptitiously fingering their fake moral compass that always reads correctly, because that compass is missing the mechanisms that a normal compass would have. That compass tells the Narcissist that true north points at him or her and since it has no magnet to move the hand, it will always point at him or her. A Narcissist’s moral compass will always show him the way – and that way is toward his own glory.
The compass doesn’t malfunction. It is an empty housing, just like the Narcissist.