10 Tips on How to Survive, and Maybe Thrive with a Narcissist Boss

i'm in the relationship narcissistic abuse narcissistic relationships narcissistic religious leaders May 21, 2024

Have you ever worked for a boss who was deeply entitled or had unreasonable expectations? Maybe they were callous and unemotional, manipulative, or pathological liars. They seemed to lack empathy and didn’t feel guilt. And, maybe worst of all, they used people for their own purposes. 

If you notice these traits in your boss or leader, you may be working for a narcissist at best, and possibly even a psychopath.

There's a statistic out there that 20 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are psychopaths. If it seems like that number is only rising, I wouldn’t be surprised. The rise in narcissism is predicted in the Bible, in 2 Timothy 3:1-4 which says: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” Those are all features of narcissism.

So what happens if you find yourself working for a narcissist? Either it’s something you find yourself in, and you can’t get out of it, or you feel you are meant to be there because God has called you there.

In this blog, I’m going to give you 10 tips on how you can survive, and even thrive with a narcissistic boss. 

Working for a narcissist or psychopathic boss is not for the faint of heart! You could come out of it stronger, or you may have to go for much inner healing after it’s all said and done. Be sure to count the cost before you accept a job offer with this type of toxic leader. It’s not to be taken lightly. That being said, however, if it is something God is calling you to do, He will protect you, and give you a grace for it. There could be a higher purpose for your role there, just like Joseph, Daniel, and Esther were used by God to accomplish great things despite the psychopathic kings they served.  

I can’t guarantee that these ten tips I’m going to give you will work. If you have some trait or habit that just rubs your boss the wrong way, they might still tear you to pieces even if you do all these things I’m about to tell you. Hopefully, even if your boss does find you irritating, some of these tips might help to reduce the wrath you receive.

I’m also not suggesting that these tips are a healthy practice. In fact, I would almost always recommend that you exit an environment that requires these kinds of coping mechanisms. However, if you cannot leave, or you want to survive in, and possibly thrive in this environment, these tips could help you navigate for a season, and maneuver around the worst of the narcissist’s rage, humiliation, and punishment. These tips might give you an idea of the cost of staying in favor with this person. 

Furthermore, I do not recommend this for the long term. These tips are not appropriate for your relationships in general, but specifically related to dealing with a narcissistic boss. (Not sure if your boss is a narcissist? Read more here.)

Please also understand that I absolutely do not condone abuse. While I am offering you tools to manage toxic leadership, that toxic leadership is also completely unacceptable.

I recognize that it may be necessary or inevitable for a season to deal with a toxic person who holds influence or power over you. You can’t always avoid narcissists, go no contact, or quit your job. Sometimes, you just have to navigate and make things work as best as possible. If that’s you, this blog is for you. I’m giving you tips so that you can make the most out of your assignment right now with a narcissistic boss, to minimize stress and trauma. These are not a long-term solution.

So, for what it’s worth, here are my 10 tips:

Tip #1: Posture Yourself as a Student

Often, narcissistic leaders are highly gifted, intelligent, or have expertise. If that’s the case, posture yourself as a student or mentee. The narcissistic mindset is filled with grandiosity and a sense of superiority. If you sincerely believe you have a lot to learn from them, this can smooth out the relationship. Be aware, though, that they can smell insincerity from a mile away. Have a notebook with you every time you are around them. Take notes every time they talk. Learn everything you can from them. Ask questions that draw out their wisdom and intelligence, but don’t ask questions that they feel are a waste of their time.

If you cannot leave this toxic situation and believe that God has you there because there are things He wants you to learn from this person, even if they are narcissistic, ask God for the heart to sincerely learn from them. Also, pray for discernment so that as you learn from them you can take with you only the true things and leave behind the parts of their thinking that come from inner wounds. 

Tip #2: Anticipate Your Boss’s Needs

Do your very best to anticipate the boss’s needs. Don’t ever expect them to communicate what their expectations are. They are terrible communicators. They rarely communicate, but when they do, they communicate in ambiguous or indirect ways and expect you to decipher their exact needs—what they want and when— from their vague communications. You must study them, read them, listen carefully to what they say and don’t say, watch them carefully, and anticipate their every need. If something didn’t happen that should have happened, then you will be blamed for it even if they never communicated their expectations to you. You might even be demoted or fired. These leaders tend to blame shift, so it will be your fault if something fails.

Tip #3: Don’t Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve

Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve around your boss. Find a therapist, friend, or coach—anyone else to talk to to deal with any stress, depression, or feelings of burnout. Do not try to initiate any kind of heart-sharing conversation, and do not broach subjects with your boss that involve asking them to adjust their behavior for example, confronting them about their unreasonable demands. I’ll save you the trouble and tell you right now: Your boss does not care. Instead, anything you open up about can be used as ammunition against you, getting your boss to believe you are incompetent and not up to par for the work. Whatever you share with them, they can turn around on you at some later point to persecute you or harass you. Do not talk to them or engage them too much, unless it is worth their time and will benefit them in some way. If they feel you are wasting their time in the slightest way, they will write you off or put a middleman to be a buffer between you and them. 

Tip #4: Be Short, Factual, and to the Point.

Keep your communications short, factual, and to the point. When you are writing emails or texts to such people, do not go into a long narration, or lengthy paragraphs. Just write a few key bullets. If you ramble on too long or write them long essays of information, they will get agitated and install middlemen to avoid dealing with you directly.

Tip #5: Never Challenge Them in Public.

Never challenge, critique, or contradict a narcissistic leader in public. Never say anything negative about their ideas in a meeting. That may be the last time you are invited to a meeting. If you don’t like their idea and have nothing good to say, just nod your head, listen, and keep silent in the meeting. Chances are, your boss will find out some other way that their idea was a bad one. If their idea is posed to be costly for the whole team, and no one else will bring it up, you can preamble your suggestions with “This is not to challenge you or anything, I’m just trying to understand better. Can you help me to understand XYZ…” Keep in mind that narcissists are enemy-focused. The moment they feel someone is challenging, contradicting, or criticizing them, they get up in arms. You want to find language to make it clear you are on their team, and that you are not attacking or undermining them. 

Tip #6: This Is a One-way Relationship.

Always remember that this is a one-way relationship, not a two-way relationship. Your boss is not interested to hear about your day, how you are doing, or what you did on the weekend. They just want you to be available at their beck and call. They do not want to hear from you. 

Tip #7: Avoid Displaying Emotion.

Avoid any display of emotion or affection towards them. Do not try to hug them, or get a hug. This only makes you look weak in their eyes and invites contempt and disrespect.

Tip #8: Never Submit Mediocrity. 

Do not submit anything mediocre to them. If they are in a CEO-type position, chances are that they are highly perfectionistic. They may have the capacity to be both high-level and extremely attentive to details. So take the time and make the painstaking effort to comb through your work, to submit a piece of work that they will accept. Make sure you anticipate every single potential question this boss might ask you once they see the work and have the answer ready on the spot. If you don’t have an answer, you may be in for it. Your boss may accuse you of being lazy, not doing your homework, or not being prepared. Or if they are covert, they may not say anything to you but will punish you, penalize you, demote you, or withhold some opportunity from you at a later date.

Tip #9: Do Not Voice Complaints.

Do not voice any complaints to your boss. Ask God for the grace to get through this trying season in your life. If you voice any complaint, expect your boss to hand all your work to someone else and leave you on the periphery with uninteresting or menial work. If your boss enjoys inflicting punishment, they may humiliate you by giving opportunities that you would have otherwise gotten to someone more junior than you, and promoting that person while making you subordinate to people who are less experienced or skilled than you. 

Tip #10: Make Their Vision Your Vision.

Make his or her interests, agenda, vision your interests, agenda, and vision. Do not express any personal goals, plans, or visions that are outside of what your boss is doing—otherwise, your boss will feel like you are not on board with them, and are competing with what they are doing. They will start to think about finding a replacement for you. Recognize that your boss may not have tolerance for your personal life conflicting with their demands for your constant availability. If you want to continue to have favor with this person, it may have to come at the cost of your interests and your personal life as you work around the clock. If you want to impress your boss, work when your boss is working even if it is during times when you should be off. Your boss will be super impressed by your commitment to them and the organization and probably promote you. 

God Is Your Ultimate Boss

A psychopathic narcissistic boss can have an extravagantly generous side if they are happy with what you are doing for them. They may lavish all kinds of opportunities, rewards, and favors to someone that they feel is sacrificially loyal and committed to them. So if you do well with this list, God could use this boss to open some big doors for you. However, make sure that in this situation, you keep your eyes on God. There is no way to twist a reward out of a narcissist, and trying to do so can come at a high cost.

Do not do anything that leads into sin or puts your relationship with God in jeopardy. Refuse to be involved in anything that could damage other people, and be meticulously careful not to become an extension of narcissistic abuse to others. Recognize that while you have grace in this season, that doesn’t mean that everyone else around you does. You will need the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and you need to be crystal clear on your limits. Depending on the trajectory of the environment and whether it is abusive, you may need to employ these tactics only long enough to plan a safe exit out. It is not sustainable to live in this kind of environment for long. 

On the other hand, it is important to consider that God may be allowing you to go through this trial with your boss. If that is you, I can deeply empathize with you. I’ve been there. And it was hard. Very hard. Seek God and do everything you can to learn from it. Embrace the trial. Put your identity and roots deep in Christ. Find ways to get away and be alone with God regularly so that you can be strengthened in Him. Do not lose sight of the calling and destiny that God has in your life. 

Take comfort in the stories in scripture about people with great callings who had to work for abusive leaders, such as David, who was under King Saul; Jacob, who served his uncle Laban; and Moses, who grew up around Pharaoh. While the assignments God had for them in those toxic environments, those assignments were not their ultimate destinies. God used those trials to prepare each one of those leaders for their true destinies. So, if you are working for an abusive leader, God may be preparing you to be a strong, healthy, leader in the future.  There are many great people in ancient Biblical times like Joseph, Daniel, and Esther who worked alongside narcissistic, psychopathic kings and had great influence to shift the futures of nations and people groups.

Remember, even if you are working for a strong leader who has narcissistic or psychopathic traits and who seems to hold a lot of power, no one has the power to demote or promote you in life. All promotions come from God. The Bible says, No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.” (Psalm 75:6-7). Don’t lose sight of God’s purpose and destiny for your life as you are working for a psychopathic leader. 

If you are thinking of leaving, or have left a toxic environment and are in a season of transition, check out my free 25-minute training on how to navigate transition. You’ll find 3 keys that brought a breakthrough in my life when I was going through a difficult transition.

Thanks so much for reading. See you in next week’s blog!

Related Resources

Watch the video version of this blog here.

Dealing with Toxic, Manipulative, and Abusive People:

  • How to Stay Your Course in the Face of Manipulation [Watch]
  • Top 10 Mind Games that Narcissists Play to Throw You Off Balance and Control You [Watch] [Read]
  • Narcissistic Rage in the Bible. What Triggers Narcissistic Rage? It Is Not About You. [Watch] [Read]
  • When Narcissistic Rage Becomes Dangerous. How Do You Protect Yourself without Dishonoring God? [Watch]
  • Five Forms of Gaslighting and How to Resist Them [Watch]
  • Benevolent Narcissists in the Bible and How They Show up in Church, Ministry & the Workplace [Watch]

Should I Leave?

  • How to Leave an Abusive Narcissist: Practical Steps to Planning Your Exit [Watch]
  • Should I Stay or Leave the Narcissist? [Watch]
  • Is It God's Will for You to Stay with the Narcissist? [Watch]
  • 7 Steps to Leave a Toxic Church Unscathed [Watch]

Downloadable Resources 

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