Having a narcissist in your work circle can have you scratching your head and wondering if they like you or are if they manipulating you. It’s a guessing game as their messages are often a mix of fake kindness or direct ridicule. It’s common for narcissists to “see-saw” back and forth. When they want you to feel valued they treat you as special, but when you decline their requests or fail to agree with them, suddenly you’re on their bad side.
We’ve asked experts for their take on how to level the playing field to better handle unpredictable, narcissistic coworkers.
Recognize their game
It’s both confusing and frustrating to feel like you’re in someone’s good favor one day and treated like the enemy the next.
“But it’s important to recognize what’s going on when you’re dealing with a narcissist,” says Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.
She recommends to take a step back and look at how you – as well as other people in the office – have been treated over time. “The person who is hailed a hero at one meeting might be blamed for ruining the entire company at the next meeting,” Morin adds.
Don’t take anything personally
Morin says don’t waste your energy trying to figure out what you did wrong or what you need to do to “fix” the situation.
“A narcissist doesn’t look at situations the same way you do so your logic won’t apply,” she explains. “Remind yourself that the situation reflects how the narcissist feels about themselves, rather than how others perceive you.”
When the narcissist feels good, they’re likely to hold you in high regard to others, but, says Morin, the minute they start feeling bad, they won’t hesitate to put you down, even when you’ve done nothing wrong.
Resist the urge to win good favor
Once you’ve cracked the code about what makes the narcissist hold someone in high regard, it can be tempting to try and win good favor. But doing so is a waste of time, Morin says.
“You won’t be held in high esteem for very long,” she adds. “It’s like trying to get ahead in a game where your opponent is cheating. All your effort will only get you so far — and it will backfire in the end.”
Focus on doing your best
Regardless of whether your efforts are praised or noticed, continue to do your best. “Your job isn’t to win favor, but instead, it’s to do your work to the best of your ability,” says Morin.
At the end of each day, ask yourself if you did your best. “When you put your energy into the right place, you’ll experience less distress about the rollercoaster of emotions that can come with working with a narcissist,” says Morin.
Realize you can’t change them
The one immutable truth when it comes to narcissists is that they cannot be changed, says Matthew Kelly, CEO of FLOYD Consulting, who also has an upcoming book The Culture Solution, published by Blue Sparrow Books to be released in January 2019. The “see-saw” narcissist at work, turns on and off, if for you and then against you for two reasons: massive insecurity and the lack of object constancy.
“He or she doesn’t actually see you as a real person, but rather as a conglomerate of various people from his or her past and imagination,” Kelly says. “The bottom line in their mind is; you cannot be trusted and are unreliable. The reality is: they are unreliable and cannot be trusted.”