Ways to Cope with a Problematic Boss and Protect Mental Health

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… Trista - August 5, 2020
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.