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Personality Disorder and the Workplace

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The Narcissistic Personality Disorder

The Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, extreme need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for the feelings and needs of others. These individuals overestimate their own abilities and overstate their accomplishments often appearing boastful and pretentious. They are likely to simply assume that others also view them and their accomplishments similarly and may be stunned or angry when they find that others do not provide the praise that they feel is justified. They firmly believe that they are superior or unique and expect others to view and treat them as such. They are likely to harshly devalue the contributions of others. They will often express that they can only be understood and appreciated by other gifted or high status people. They believe their needs are above and more important that “normal” people. They will tend to want to be associated only with “the best” in whatever field they are involved with, be that academic, career or simply their personal doctor or hairdresser.

These individuals require constant and excessive admiration and their self-esteem can be very fragile if they do not receive it. They are often charming, but this is almost always self-serving and they will tend to fish for compliments.  They have a grandiose sense of entitlement—for example, not feeling like they should have to stand in a queue at an airport like “normal” people. When they are not catered to or receive the kind of praise they expect and demand, they can become puzzled or furious.

Narcissistic personalities display a lack of empathy for others and have difficulty recognizing the needs and feelings of others. They assume that others are consumed with their welfare. They tend to discuss their own needs at great and lengthy detail, but become impatient and dismissive when others want to discuss their own feelings. They may be oblivious to their insensitivity and the hurt they create in others. They project a sense of emotional coldness and arrogance towards others. They are often patronizing and snobbish.

How the Narcissistic Personality Disorder may manifest in the workplace

These individuals are likely to expect or demand special treatment and be “hailed” for their profound successes, power, brilliance or beauty—at a level way beyond their real capabilities. In the workplace where tangible performance is expected, these individuals will likely either to struggle and possibly express anger and astonishment at their bosses and coworkers for not placing them on a perpetual pedestal. More destructive is the likelihood that they will be calculating and devious in their work relationships in order to get what they want at the expense of others. They are likely to display disdain for “lesser” people they consider weak and abuse the willingness of others to assist. For example, if the narcissistic personality is in a leadership role, they may expect total loyalty and overwork their team members, yet do little work themselves. They attribute all of the successful outcomes to their own superior capabilities and none to the team members who may, for example, have worked over weekends or overnight to produce the results.

Quoted by Cavaiola and Lavender (2000), Levinson (1994) suggested that  “organizational narcissism” often occurs when corporate and political executives  ascend to higher levels  in organizational power structures. The higher an individual rises up the higher one’s self esteem becomes, and the less candid is the feedback one receives. The combination of these two, says Levinson, can give rise to narcissistic inflation that leads, in turn, to overconfidence and a sense of entitlement.  This can produce an inflated self-image beyond ones real capabilities, and contempt for other individuals and organizations.

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