Ways to Cope with a Problematic Boss and Protect Mental Health

In any career, success is not only determined by you but also by your boss. The way they conduct themselves at work and treat you directly… Trista - August 5, 2020

In any career, success is not only determined by you but also by your boss. The way they conduct themselves at work and treat you directly affects how you will perform and handle yourself throughout your career, or at least as long as you’re working for them. Unfortunately, not everyone who has the role of a boss is right in their seat. Some people work their way up because they manipulate other people into believing that they deserve the title of supervisor. Sometimes they can be dangerous in this role because of a personality disorder known as narcissism.

Narcissism has lately been a popular term, but many people don’t directly understand what it means, at least not until you face it. People who are narcissists believe that they are better than everyone else. They think that people should be grateful to know and work with them. They’re often known as egotistic or arrogant, but it’s a bit different because they don’t realize how they’re conducting themselves, and they don’t think anything is wrong with what they do. If you believe your boss fits this category, this article will help you understand what narcissism is and what you can do to cope with your boss.

Most narcissistic bosses didn’t deserve their position; they manipulated their way to the top to control everyone else. Shutterstock

You Need to Understand Narcissism

It’s essential to do your research if you believe your boss has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. First, know that it is a mental illness. Second, you need to know that they need to feel in control of everything around them. They will use manipulation to gain and keep control and make other people see them as perfect.

Narcissist and selfish man. Image via Shutterstock

Narcissists are like emotionally underdeveloped children. They don’t have empathy or self-control; they don’t understand or control their emotions, and their self-esteem is unstable. They see the world in black and white. Other people’s problems are not their issue, and they don’t want to help you. Your boss doesn’t just believe they are more deserving than you – their identity and self-esteem depend on it.

Take steps to ensure that your mental health is a priority, even if it means saying goodbye to your job. Shutterstock

Your Mental Health Comes First

It’s not easy to put your job to the side. It’s easier to feel that your life is dependent on your work because it is your primary source of income. This notion makes it harder for you to put your mental health and how you feel emotionally in front of your career, but it’s a must.

Image via Shutterstock

If you don’t have a strong foundation, you’ll find yourself mentally and emotionally struggling down the road. You’ll let your boss emotionally, psychologically, and physically beat you down, so you start to believe that you’re worthless. This idea is a tactic they use to ensure that they stay above you. It’s essential that you realize your mental health comes first. If you need to stand up to your boss or even leave your job to take care of yourself, you do. You will find another job.

Don’t try to become friends with a narcissistic boss as they don’t have boundaries for friends, and it can negatively affect your mental health. Image via Shutterstock

Forget About the Idea of Friendship

Becoming friends with your boss is something that you might not be open to naturally. At times it just happens because you two just click or your boss is a friendly and caring person. However, you don’t want to think about even trying to become friends with your narcissistic boss. All they will do is use, manipulate and control you for their needs. Plus, you don’t want to welcome that type of negativity into your life.

Bad-tempered business executive yelling at subordinates in office. Image via Shutterstock

You will start to feel betrayed if you think you’re becoming friends with them. They don’t know how to show emotion or how to care about other people. Furthermore, if they want something, they will find any way to get it, and if you think you’re a friend with them, you only place a target on your back.

No matter what your boss says, you are not the problem. Shutterstock

It’s Not You

Narcissists can blame everyone else for problems. They genuinely believe that they can never do anything wrong and turn away any facts, even if you can prove them. It’s not in their brain waves to connect the mistakes they made to themselves.

Image via Shutterstock

Even if you had a part in the mistake, it’s not your fault. It was a team effort, and your boss should take some responsibility, but they won’t. Instead, they will blame everyone who is in front of them or whom they worked with. They will come up with dozens of reasons why everyone else did a poor job, and they did the best they could’ve done under the circumstances. This action can mentally and emotionally break you down, especially when you’re faced with this often, so it’s crucial that you remember it’s not you. You’re not to blame for anything but your mistakes. At the same time, you need to learn from your mistakes and move on, even when your boss won’t do this.

Find techniques to help you remain calm and collected when situations between you and your supervisor become heated. Shutterstock

Respond But Don’t React

Your boss will do and say many different things that will make you frustrated, angry, and feel like you’re going to “lose it.” This action is one of their tactics to get what they want when they want it and how they want it done. It is complete manipulation, and when you react, you give them what they want. You provide them with an outlet to shine, even with their bad behavior.

Image via Shutterstock

You can respond in an effective way that keeps you in control of the situation around you. It’s vital that you have some control over your choices and options. If you feel that you’re about to react and give them more power, take a step back to regain your control.

Narcissists have exceptional characteristics that helped them find their way to the top, including excellent communication skills. Shutterstock

Find Ways to Learn from Your Boss

Finding ways to learn from a self-obsessed boss is challenging. However, by doing so, you can put the relationship in a more professional light. While you’re learning how to manage your distance to protect yourself and keep your self-esteem in check, you also want to find the admirable qualities that you can learn from them.

Image via Shutterstock

Narcissists have a mental illness, but this doesn’t mean they are entirely “bad” or “corrupt” individuals. They are still human and can easily persuade people so they like them or they get their way. They usually find themselves in higher professional positions because they know how to communicate well and be visionaries. Notice the complementary characteristics your boss has that will help improve your career.

You don’t need to answer the phone to your boss at every moment of every day. Shutterstock

Establish Your Boundaries and Stick to Them

Your supervisor doesn’t understand boundaries, and they won’t follow them well, so it’s your job to ensure that they don’t overstep their boundaries. While this won’t make your professional life more comfortable, it’s essential to do what you can in a way that won’t make them angry or frustrated with your behaviors toward them.

Image via Shutterstock

Don’t allow yourself to comply with unreasonable requests. If you have a vacation coming up, stick with it because they don’t care about it and will probably want to keep you working instead of letting you go on your trip. If they call you later in the evening or on the weekend, let the phone ring.

It’s best not to criticize a narcissist because they can’t handle it, and it will just make your time working with them a bigger nightmare. Shutterstock

Don’t Criticize Them

It’s easy to tell your supervisor that they are wrong, especially when you present facts in front of them. It can also be easy for many people to bring up a mistake or tell them that they didn’t perform a task correctly, especially when you know the right way to do it. When you work with someone who doesn’t have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, they’ll better handle the criticism or information. When dealing with someone who believes they are never wrong, you can’t allow yourself to fall victim to their cold-hearted and manipulative ways, so it’s best and more comfortable just not to say anything.

Yelling boss. Image via Shutterstock

A narcissist can spark into a fit of rage when they’re criticized. They can’t take it, not even constructive criticism. At the same time, they might not even acknowledge what you said because, as the old saying goes, it falls on deaf ears.

If your supervisor wants you always to be serious, act this way around them to help ease the tension of working with them. Image via Shutterstock

Change Your Expectations

As much as possible, you need to realize that a narcissistic boss doesn’t have the same mental layout in their brain as someone without Narcissistic Personality Disorder. You know that mental disorders such as depression and anxiety change the chemicals and connections in your brain, and the same goes for narcissism.

Image via Shutterstock

One way to work alongside your boss is to change your expectations. Understand that it doesn’t matter if you’re right and they have no clue what they are talking about, they will still need to hear that they’re right. Try to work around their difficulties as much as possible so you can do your job without expecting them to help you.

It’s always important to never bad-mouth your boss to anyone who can repeat your words to them, such as another coworker or negatively talk about them when they can hear. Shutterstock

Sometimes You Need to Stroke Their Ego

Your manager wants to look good in front of everyone. They don’t care how many people are around, and they need to ensure that you know they’re the best. They want you to know that they’re superior to you, and there is a reason they’re sitting in the boss’ chair, and you’re not.

Image via Shutterstock

While you don’t want to stroke their ego too much, you can use this tactic to ease the tension in the work environment. If you find that you said something to anger them or someone else did, compliment them or look good.

Your boss will try to do everything to step on you emotionally and mentally, so you want to do everything in your power to protect yourself. Shutterstock

Don’t Let Them Get Under Your Skin

A narcissist will try everything they can to get under your skin. They want to make you squirm because it makes them feel powerful. They will try everything, including bringing up weak moments in your past, mistakes, or even childhood traumas to assert their control.

Image via Shutterstock

They will do anything they can to make you react from guilt to shame. They will use mental and emotional strategies to try to embarrass you and manage your actions and thoughts. It’s crucial to find a way to handle these moments, so you don’t ruin your own self-esteem. Realize that these words and actions are a reflection of the narcissist and not you.

You don’t want to give them many options, but you want to give them a few so they have some to choose from so they can feel important. Shutterstock

Let Your Boss Make the Decisions

You can probably tell by now that the best course of action to take when it comes to someone needing to make decisions is it’s gotta be your supervisor. They feel that they know best and that no one can make the right choice but them. Therefore, let them make it. Don’t argue with them, even if they are wrong.

Image via Shutterstock

You can present your ideas in a way that lets them come to an inevitable conclusion. For example, if you know the best option, lead into that by guiding them to believe they came up with the idea. You can also give them options that they can choose. The key is to ensure that every opportunity will work as a solution to the problem.

Have a business lunch at a fancy restaurant where you’ll use cloth napkins and wine glasses for water. Think big. Shutterstock

Treat Them Like They Want to be Treated

Your boss has a certain way they want to be treated, and they’re not shy to let you know how this is. Of course, you want to make sure that you don’t let them walk all over you. So, you don’t need to run to get them a hot coffee cup every morning, but you should note how they represent themself in front of other people.

Image via Shutterstock

If they act like they’re a high roller when you need to suggest meeting at a place people view as a high-end place, such as a fancy restaurant. The more you make an effort to see them as they want people to see them, the easier your workday will go.

Work harder on the projects that your boss thinks is important than the ones they could care less about. Shutterstock

Know What is Important to Them

There are many things that are important to your boss, even if it doesn’t make sense. Some things should be necessary, but they don’t seem to care about it. When it comes to this, you need to go with the flow and follow what they feel strongly about.

Image via Shutterstock

There will be particular tasks that they want you to do perfectly. They might say something like, “This needs to be great or else…” It’s the “or else” or a similar statement that can teach you what you need to focus on and what you don’t. When you know you need to do something exceptionally well, excel at it. Put everything you have into it.

Fact-checking everything and believing what you read over your boss can help protect your mental health because you know the truth without being told that you’re making things up. Shutterstock

Fact Check Everything

Narcissists will make up “facts” on the spot. They will try to convince everyone that what they know is true, even if you can Google it or look in the reports and see that they’re wrong. You don’t need to call them out on their falsehood, but you should always double-check the facts they tell you.

Image via Shutterstock

Look back in the reports or complete research in one way or another. You can always email or text a coworker to see if they know the truth, but be careful not to let your boss know you’re questioning them as this can make them irritable and make your work life worse. It can also cause them to go on an angry rampage, which can cause people to work on eggshells for days or weeks because a narcissist doesn’t forget or forgive.

It won’t be your fault, you might not have even been part of the situation but accept the blame if they point a finger or be ready to battle with a narcissist. Shutterstock

Take a Deep Breath and Accept the Blame

You’re not the only one who realizes that the boss is a narcissist. Chances are nearly everyone in your office knows or has some idea. Therefore, when you take the blame, they know that you’re not really to blame. They probably know who is but also realize it’s best to let the supervisor say what they say.

Image via Shutterstock

When these moments come, just take a deep breath and let them come. You don’t need to agree or apologize unless you know it’ll cool them down. When it’s all over, take a moment to collect yourself and then spend extra time to take care of your mental health by doing something you love or just be alone.

Jot any personal information down that your boss thinks you should remember, so you stay on their good side. Shutterstock

Remember the Details of Their Life

Usually, people will understand if you forget their child’s name – but not a narcissist. They will never forgive you and will continue to hold it above your head. They can use it against you later if they want. Therefore, do what you need to do to write down any details about their life that you feel you need to remember.

Image via Shutterstock

You don’t need to memorize them, but you might want to keep the note handy, so you can quickly look at the information when it pops up. It might also be a good idea to review the information before you need to meet with your boss because you never know what they will say and when.

Don’t tear yourself down like your boss will do to you because you don’t deserve their words, and they’re not true. Shutterstock

Be Extra Kind to Yourself

It’s hard to be a punching bag for someone continually. It’s harder not to let them tear you down, which is exactly what a narcissist will do. While it’s best just to let them do what they do, this doesn’t mean you need to treat yourself the same way.

Image via Shutterstock

When they’re hard on you, be extra kind to yourself. Take a little more time in the evening and morning for self-care. Take breaks when you need a moment to yourself, practice positive self-talk, stay late or come in early when your boss isn’t there, get work done, and re-group with coworkers when without your boss.

Even when you want to disagree with them, find a way to maintain peace because this will help your mental health more than anything else. Shutterstock

Don’t Argue With Them

You will want to argue. There will be days when you feel like you’re biting your tongue until it starts to bleed, but it’s important not to start a verbal disagreement because you won’t win. Even if you’re right and you have other people backing you, the narcissist always needs to win – at least in their mind.

Image via Shutterstock

The only step you’ll take when you argue with them is possibly losing your job (which might not be bad) or putting a target on your back. They will spend their workday making your day miserable for as long as they want or until they find another person to pick on.

No matter what, you need to remember that your narcissistic boss will only see what they want to see, and that’s never you succeeding because they view that as a threat. Shutterstock

Don’t Compete With Them Because You Can Never Win

No matter how well you can do their job, you will never be better in their mind. You need to stop wanting to compete with them or telling yourself that you’re better for the position (even if you are). Instead, you need to focus on the job you need to do and complete your responsibilities as well as possible.

Image via Shutterstock

In a sense, when you’re in front of your narcissistic boss, you need to tap yourself down and work around their worldview. When you’re not in their presence, you need to build yourself up to where you deserve to stand. Remember, even when you do your job perfectly well, they will still find fault because that is what they want to see. It helps them feel on top, and the only thing you’ll do by trying to argue against them is becoming their punching bag.


“The Dos and Don’ts of Working for a Narcissist Boss: Here’s your guide to what works and what doesn’t.” Julie L. Hall, Psychology Today. January 2020.

“Surviving a Narcissistic Boss or Toxic Work Environment.” Jan Hoistad, Choice Point Solutions.

“5 hidden signs your boss is a narcissist—and how to trick them into liking you.” Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, CNBC. March 2019.

“How to Work for a Narcissistic Boss.” Rebecca Knight, Harvard Business Review. April 2016.

“Helpful Tips For Dealing with a Narcissistic Boss.” Susan Price, Ivy Exec.

“6 Ways to Deal With Your Narcissistic Boss.” Samantha Rodman, Talk Space. December 2017.

“10 Powerful Ways to Deal With Your Narcissistic Boss: The smarter you become about your narcissistic boss, the less power your boss will have.” Lolly Daskal, Inc.