There has been a lot of news coverage recently about different types of mental disorders and abnormal behaviors. Insanity, a catch-all term, is frequently used as a defense in criminal trials. Every day the news reports on psychopathic killers, paranoid schizophrenic murderers, depressed moms drowning their children, the percentage of the homeless population that are mentally disturbed, etc. Many people with varying degrees of mental illness, social disorders or abnormal behavior work alongside us. Not all commit violent acts, but they are often very difficult to work with daily.
One of the most frustrating personality traits that I found among career foreign service officers at the State Department was narcissism. According to Psychology Today, narcissistic traits include things like a grandiose sense of self-importance, lack of empathy, belief that the person is “special” and no one is their peer except those higher in the social pecking order. Narcissists are also exploitative, arrogant and have an exceptional and unrealistic feeling of entitlement.
The State Department does not generally employ idiots (well, idiots in the clinical IQ sense). Foreign Service officers generally are usually highly educated. A large percentage of officers have advanced degrees. Many have PhDs or law degrees, and graduated from very prestigious universities. They are not used to failure. Like with some medical doctors, a few (not all and not the majority) develop god-complexes. If you mix this sort of intellect with a personality disorder like narcissism, it can make for very difficult working conditions for other employees, particularly subordinates.
I have no medical or psychiatric training of any sort. As a layman, I just know that narcissists annoy the hell out of me. During my career I had no choice, if I wanted to avoid mental illness myself, but to learn how to deal with them. My advice is strictly based on personal experience, and success more than failure, when working for or with these sorts of individuals. It may not be scientifically or medically based, and perhaps is Machiavellian, but it worked for me over the years.
If a narcissist works with you or underneath you, be inscrutable. Don’t play into their need for worship and recognition. Just make non-committal statements, do not agree or disagree, and try to mask your thoughts. Avoid the common nod of your head when you agree with something they may say. Do not give them any non-verbal or verbal clues as to what you are thinking. It will drive them crazy. Frankly, I found it makes them want to please you, as they will think you do not understand how magnificent they are (sic). This way too, he or she will be more inclined to follow your instructions in hopes of showing you how they can do whatever better than anyone else. This tactic works particularly well if you are an investigator and are interviewing a narcissist. Keeping any suspect off balance is often important during interrogations.
If you work for a narcissist, it can be a bit trickier. Narcissists do not want your input. They want you to bask in their glory. If you have any pride at all, it will be difficult to keep your mouth shut. Psychiatrists say that narcissists really have, subconsciously, very low self-esteem. In my experience this is true. There usually is something or some task that the narcissist has done that is admirable. Whatever it is, letting them know that you admire that thing or trait at least will keep them partially satisfied that you are recognizing their superiority and make them less likely to target you. Be stingy with your praise, however. Only give them a one or two word compliment and only when they truly deserve it.
Do not get sucked into the narcissist’s world of how great they are and how their ideas are the best and only solutions to whatever problem you are addressing. Listen carefully, keep quiet, and if the idea or solution is particularly dumb, figure a way around it.
Narcissists, unlike sociopaths, unlikely will cause you physical harm. Nevertheless they take special handling, especially if you are their subordinate.
As Vice President of a Security Fusion Center, Bill has provided risk management advice and direction to major Fortune 100 defense industry, ultra high net worth and other clients.
As Global Director for Security, Alem International, Bill planned and directed all facets of the security and risk mitigation strategies for the 2004 Olympic Torch Relay that took place in over 34 countries.
Bill was commissioned as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Officer in the US Army immediately after college.
Mr. Gaskill has a Bachelor of Science degree in Ancient History with a math minor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.He has a current Top Secret/SCI clearance.He has professional fluency ratings in Spanish, Greek, Hebrew and French, and has a working knowledge of Russian.