I spent a few horrible years working closely with someone who was a full-blown narcissist. I don’t mean difficult to work with, I mean ticked every single box when I googled “what is a narcissist”. It was only after watching this person systematically destroy others in the same way that I managed to feel less emotionally traumatised by our professional relationship (ie I don’t break out in a cold sweat at the mere sight of their name on an email). Here’s how to spot a narcissist – and some advice if you ever find yourself in this situation.

They have an inflated sense of self importance

The narcissist is the centre of their universe and everyone must bend to their will. They believe themselves to be far more skilled, knowledgeable and admired than they are — and therefore will not adapt their way of doing things. You must drop everything and fit to their schedule, which will alter at any moment with no regard for your other obligations. They will also take credit for your work, and you might find yourself agreeing to all of this because it is easier than dealing with the consequences of refusing them. Be warned: it’s going to be painful either way.

They’ll make you feel stupid and incompetent

The narcissist will constantly put you down because it is the only way to validate their sense of self-importance and wield power over you. Because you hear how terrible you are at your job constantly, you will start to believe it. They are always right and you are ALWAYS wrong. You will be compelled to give frequent apologies for your behaviour, if only to end an argument. But this will not end the argument. In fact, this will only inspire the narcissist to spend a further hour repeating at length all the ways in which you are stupid, useless and incompetent.

They are wildly unpredictable

However, the narcissist is not consistent in their treatment of you. At semi-regular intervals, you will receive an effusive text, social media post or phone call telling you how wonderful and talented you are. This will make you want to weep and laugh at the same time — it is even worse than all the times they are telling you the exact opposite. You see, the narcissist will do this so that they can use these messages as evidence that in fact they were the ones who “picked you up” and “encouraged you”. They will completely ignore the fact that if it wasn’t for their relentless belittling of you, your self-esteem wouldn’t have been shot to pieces in the first place.

They have a non-existent relationship with the truth

The narcissist twists the truth to suit their own purposes, and the facts can change at any given moment. They will tell you that you’re imagining or making things up — and that what you recall never actually happened. They will speak to you like you’re a child, slowly explaining that their instruction was the only way they could “help you to learn”. You will wear yourself out trying to get an apology or acknowledgement from them — the narcissist has no capability for self-reflection, and does not notice that the same patterns continue to occur in relationships with people around them.

So how do you cope with a narcissist?

There is no point in arguing with the narcissist, trying to change them or convince them of their wrongs. The only person who will suffer is you. All you can do is sever contact and hope that karma really is a bitch

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