I wrote long ago that the enemies of character are ignorance, apathy, and justification. Shortly thereafter I added narcissism to the list. While narcissism can be relatively harmless it can also rise to levels of toxicity in some individuals. Unfortunately, we encounter these toxic narcissists with increasing frequency. It is my hope that in researching and writing this we can more readily spot toxic narcissists and take action to limit the damage they cause. While toxic narcissists exist at the smallest and largest levels of society, I will use the example of toxic narcissism in the workplace in order to provide a common context for exploring the topic.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
This quote is from Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) who was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.
I cannot adamantly stress enough that everyone needs to get online, and research toxic narcissists and toxic narcissism in the workplace. Failure to do so is to leave yourself and others defenseless to current and future victimization by these predators. Our hope lies in our willingness to accept that we need to develop a better understanding of toxic narcissism.
In doing this research you will find that people in every profession are traumatized and victimized by Toxic Narcissists (TN’s) when a TN is placed in any position of power. The reason why this is such a common occurrence is because people have difficulty spotting this DSM IV/V listed personality disorder. They only realize it exists after they are victimized by TN’s placed in authoritative positions.
At first, those who deal with TN’s get caught up in what they interpret as isolated incidents and only recognize a pattern of damaging behavior after a year or two. These incidents are at first inexplicable to victims and witnesses as they tend to rationally justify the TN’s behavior or chalk these behaviors up as insignificant. In short, most people brush aside these incidents because they either do not empathize with the victim, lack the social intelligence skills necessary to understand the ramifications, or do not wish to gain the attention of the TN and thus be victimized themselves.
Once the pattern is recognized, and the disorder researched and understood, those encountering the TN can better understand, predict, and navigate their interactions with the TN.
TN’s are often bright, skilled, and charismatic. They are articulate in their field and excel at self-promotion. Unfortunately, these are all characteristics which allow them to excel in the interview process and gain access to positions of power. Interviewers are often lacking in the social emotional intelligence skills necessary to spot the TN, and the brevity of the interview process does not allow them to spot the applicant as a TN. Often interviewers fail to do a thorough vetting, and even if they do, the applicant may be given an adequate reference as the former employer is elated to see the TN move on to another job site.
Once hired, the TN immediately begins to cultivate allies and scapegoats. The allies are soon Love Bombed as people tend to gravitate towards those who are complimentary of them. The scapegoats are devalued through belittling, name calling, embarrassing, excluding, and other bullying behaviors. The purpose of this TN exercise is for the TN to establish authority over the group and warn others that anyone who fails to recognize the eminence of the TN will be attacked.
Eventually the TN begins to use the power given to them to solidify their position and eliminate those who may come to question the TN and thus reveal the TN’s true nature. It is important to note the means the TN uses to do this. The vocabulary of toxic narcissism allows us to better understand and categorize the behaviors of the TN.
Narcissistic Supply: The complexity of the TN’s behaviors is simplified once one understands the common component in every instance. The TN is constantly seeking any means of validation for the superior identity they construct for themselves. The TN feeds on anything that makes them appear superior. The TN craves attention, preferably positive attention. They need to feel as though they are superior to all others in order to escape their own self-loathing. They are more than happy to volunteer their accolades and achievements. They revel in using polysyllabic industry jargon or acronyms so as to establish superiority over those unfamiliar with the terms. The TN seeks to establish narratives in which they can be viewed as superior. They welcome anything that feeds the narrative and tirelessly plot to defend against anything that calls this view into question. The TN uses terms like “me, my, mine, I” with astonishing frequency when terms like “us, ours, we” would be more appropriate. Usually they are unaware of how this reveals their self-centered view. The TN will also steer conversations back to themselves as they have no real interest in others. Every interaction is an opportunity for the TN to establish how superior and wonderful they are. They are addicted to narcissistic supply and behave like any addict when someone attempts to take their supply away.
Moving the goal posts: The victim achieves to a satisfactory level but then the TN claims the victim has failed because they have not reached a benchmark that has not been previously mentioned, explained, or discussed.
Love Bomb: The TN bombards the recipients with praise and attention in order to seduce them into becoming an ally in obtaining narcissistic supply or use them as a direct source of narcissistic supply.
Gaslighting: The TN diminishes the feelings or viewpoints of the victim. This causes the victim to question their own viewpoint. Victims may be told events never happened, that they are being overly sensitive, or that they are blowing things out of proportion.
Distraction/Chaos: The TN creates one fire after another in order to disorient and distract attention from their behaviors. They draw attention to any naturally occurring drama as a means of distraction. Victims and witnesses are unwittingly roped in to the sleight of hand.
Conflicting Behaviors: The TN uses their charisma and intelligence to project a positive and achieving persona in public while behind closed doors the TN is abusive. The TN will also take one position in a given moment and then inexplicably change their position the next. This is because they have no interest in a given position only in appearing authoritative and correct in a given moment.
Controlling: The TN is hesitant to include others in the decision making process. They may use words like discussion and collaboration, but in reality these do not exist. The TN seeks absolute power over absolutely everything and will not tolerate the questioning of their decisions.
Isolation: The TN executes a divide and conquer strategy. They do this in order to limit the interaction of those under their control. Interactions lead to the flow of real information between those under control of the TN as they put their collective experiences and perspectives together to better understand the pattern of behavior of the TN. The TN also works to isolate people so that they can pit those under their control against one another.
Manipulation: The TN will pound their wishes into the heads of others until they are compliant and move in the direction the TN wishes them to go. The TN will use any means of power at their disposal to make sure this occurs. This manipulation may be explicit badgering or threats, but most of the time it is nuanced so as to allow the TN to avoid responsibility through justification.
Justification: The TN will always have an answer for instances where they fail or their behavior may call them to be questioned. They only admit mistakes when it serves there interest. Their reasoning will sound plausible, especially if those who have witnessed this behavior are isolated from one another and can’t discover the TN’s conflicting stories.
Logical fallacy: TN’s are often drawn into debates because of the conflict they create. As a result they are masters at using logical fallacy against those who are unaware of this technique. TN’s also bait others into arguments. They will use logical fallacies to defeat an opponent who is unaware of these arguing techniques. The TN wins and thus gets their narcissistic supply of validation of their superiority.
Lack of Empathy: Although they may feign empathy they only do so as a means to attract attention. The unfortunate reality is that the TN exists solely to gain narcissistic supply. They only do that which benefits them. They feel no regard for the plight of others. If a person can no longer be utilized as a means of producing narcissistic supply they will be discarded.
Narcissistic Rage: This is the final weapon of the TN and the TN uses this as a constant threat in order to keep their status and maintain the obedience of those under their control. Those who do not obey or jeopardize the glowing narrative established by the TN will be punished to the fullest extent by the TN with all of the power at the means of disposal by the TN.
Here are some tools and strategies that may be used to defend oneself from the TN:
Ask the next question: A TN will mislead others by presenting subjective opinion, subtle deceptions and outright lies as absolute fact. They will do this in an authoritative manner. When the TN presents something as a fact it is vital to ask further clarifying questions and research in depth their statements. Unfortunately, witnesses seldom feel compelled to ask the next question because it takes additional time and effort, because they are wholeheartedly unaware of the deception, or sadly because the witness falls for the façade of the TN’s position of authority and charisma. One must break down what the TN says by asking who-what-where-when-how questions in order to get beyond the surface layer deception and reach the truth. However, this is a pivotal technique in dealing with a TN. But beware as the TN who is confronted with emerging light being shone on their malingering often responds with the full fury of narcissistic rage or creates a chaotic distraction.
Learn logical fallacy: As the TN resorts to using logical fallacy when being confronted or questioned it is important that victims and witnesses become familiar with these techniques (Here is a link to an easy to navigate site for learning more about logical fallacies).
Know their agenda: As soon as one understands that every action of the TN is motivated by their desire for control -so that they may increase, or at least guarantee, their narcissistic supply-one can better explain and predict the conflicting actions, chaos, and manipulations of the TN.
Transparency: Make every interaction and communication with the TN public or publicly accessible. Have witnesses to closed door interactions, communicate via email, meet in a public setting etc. The TN abhors the daylight of public interactions or interactions which are verifiable. This disarms the ability of the TN to manipulate, justify, make conflicting statements, or use narcissistic rage as they would in a situation that would be isolated from outside view.
Avoidance: Have as little to do with the TN as possible. Unfortunately through this avoidance, and fear of narcissistic rage, the tenure of the TN is prolonged. But be aware that as the TN utilizes one person for narcissistic supply they will constantly be searching for new sources.
See them coming: In recognizing the traits and behaviors one may be able to avoid interacting with them, which in effect ushers them to move on to another location to seek unwitting victims. Recognize the TN’s lack of gratitude, empathy, manners, and personal accountability for past mistakes.
Help them leave: Give the TN an opportunity or justification to move on to the next locale.
Collaborate: Refuse to remain isolated. Establish and maintain communications. Do not let the TN pit those under their control against each other. The TN will lie and often the only way to discover the lie is to have people share instances when the TN has said one thing in one situation and another thing in another situation. The TN is highly skilled at one on one manipulations, but views from multiple perspectives reveal their tricks.
Look into their past: The TN often has gone through this before. In each new setting they repeat the cycle of narcissistic behavior. Some comfort may be found for victims as they learn that they are not alone in their victimization by the TN.
Do not forgive: The TN is suffering, but they seldom choose to change. Instead they choose to stay on the path of ruin.
In the end, one may take solace in the fact that the TN will be forced to move on as others put together the pieces and see the TN for who they really are. For all of the controlling efforts of the TN, the irony is that they can’t help themselves and their controlling actions ultimately lead to their own demise. The TN is well aware that they must stay one step ahead of the posse. They either manufacture a justification to move to another location or they fight their termination with narcissistic rage. Unfortunately, the TN leaves carnage in their wake. The collateral damage can be heavy on the witnesses and the victims may need a long time to recover from the anxiety and losses they have been forced to endure. The victims may take some small element of solace as they have learned from their time with the TN in their life and as such they will remain vigilant so as not be victimized again. Likewise they are now equipped to help others to navigate a TN experience.
Finally, realize that TN’s walk among us in any setting and in any form. They can be of any gender, age, race, religion, ethnicity, intellect, or socio-economic status. They can be found in our streets and in our markets. They can be found in our churches and schools. They can be found on our televisions and on our ballots. We can develop the ability to see and avoid them most of the time. However, sometimes we must do more-summon our courage, collaborate to shine daylight upon them, and help those that are being victimized.