I sat at my desk, nervously checking the time every five minutes. I was waiting. Soon, a firestorm would rain down upon the office, whirling through the door in a tornado of panic and chaos. This was my morning. Every day, I sat with dread and anticipation, waiting for my boss to arrive.
Let’s rewind a bit — as an eager twenty-something who was working at a “real” job for the first time, I was excited to begin my career. But skip forward a few years, and you wouldn’t even recognize me. I was no longer the happy, friendly, optimist I once was. I was depressed and moody, unable to enjoy my life or the things I used to like. Even friends and loved ones had noticed a change. So what had happened to me? My boss was a narcissistic psychopath.
I didn’t notice the behavior at first. I was doing my job, and doing it well, distracted by working as hard as I could. But the warning signs were there. On the B-Scan 360 (a list that measures corporate psychopathy), my boss’ traits jumped out: “impatient,” “dramatic,” “unfocused.” But it took me a while to realize who I was dealing with. I had to learn, the hard way, how to distinguish unintentional misleading from manipulation as a means to an end. Psychopaths use people to get what they want, with no sympathy and no remorse. They’ll milk you for everything you’ve got, working long and unreasonable hours, using up all your productivity for their own benefit.
If these examples sound eerily familiar, you might be dealing with a psychopathic boss, too. Here's how I realized I was.
She Had No Sense Of Awareness Or Apology
My boss would essentially throw a tantrum when she didn’t get her way. I can’t even count how many times I heard my boss screaming at someone, whether it was a colleague or a customer service rep. Bullying is second-nature to a psychopath, and it’s one of their most effective tools. They are only interested in getting what they want — either for themselves, or for their company.
She Always Made A Great First Impression
Only those who work closely with a psychopath will know their true character. As Dr. Key Sun explains for Psychology Today of psychopathic bosses, “Because of their superficial charm, people often misperceive their impulsivity and unscrupulousness as being courageous and determined, and mistake their self-inflation and self-admiration as signs of self confidence.” Psychopaths are not solely driven by money and success — they also tend to be extremely narcissistic. Vanity is paramount. Since they’re extremely adept at socializing, they can achieve their goal: to charm someone initially, while laying the groundwork for later exploitation.
She Lied All The Time
You may often hear a psychopathic boss misrepresenting themselves or misquoting facts to put themselves — or the company — in a better light.
In the beginning, I started to joke with friends and family about my boss, rationalizing late nights at the office. But I realized something wasn’t right when the lies started adding up, and I began to doubt everything she had promised me. I finally saw these deceptions for what they were — lies designed to manipulate. My fears were confirmed when I discovered that lies were being told not just to me, but also to potential business partners, other colleagues, and virtually anyone who would listen. Lies are simply a means to an end for them, a behavior for which they feel no remorse, guilt, or regret.
She Was Full Of Sob Stories
Another method psychopaths use is playing on peoples' sympathies. My boss excelled at this, using the technique to negotiate lower rates, get work done for free, and even delay payment. In my case, I was manipulated into doing a large portion of my boss’ work (without any credit, of course). Constant complaining about how much they have on their plate all the time, how burnt out they are, and how they need help will always elicit a sympathetic response from employees.
People are good-natured, and if they don’t realize their boss is a psychopath, they will believe the struggle and offer to help. Dr. Sun writes they may suddenly appear to be “a helpless and sad person, needing immediately to be babied by others.” But don’t be fooled: this shift in behavior is part of their performance. They abuse and exploit others’ empathy — my boss would often take time off for no reason, going for massages, hair appointments, and other self-indulgent errands during the workday.
Other People Were For Using
Nothing made my boss's worldview more clear to me than how she treated other people and how she expected me to treat other people. She always made others wait for her, forcing them to rearrange their schedule to suit her needs. She even expected friends to drop everything to help out with our work: she saw everyone as a source of “free” labor, just another person to use as a means to an end. Everything revolved around her, personally and professionally. Preston Ni, author of How To Successfully Handle Manipulative People, writes “once a manipulator succeeds in taking advantage of you, he or she will likely repeat the violation until you put a stop to the exploitation.”
She Was Extremely Narcissistic
Unlike the average person you’d call egocentric, or full of themselves, the narcissism typically displayed by psychopaths is in a league of its own. My boss saw herself as the most important person in the world, with the most important and successful business ever. Her standing in the industry was always exaggerated, and it was easy to get swept up in her strident beliefs. The majority of her interactions with others in the “real world” consisted of talking herself or her business up. Bragging comes so naturally to a psychopath that their arrogance and bravado often fools people into believing their claims. In reality, they have a grandiose vision of themselves that is likely disproportionate to their actual level of success.
She Never Admitted To Making Mistakes
My boss could never acknowledge any of her failures as “mistakes” — a psychopath will always place blame on someone else, an external factor, a product of circumstance, or anything that will get them out of accountability — unless things work out well, in which case they'll take full credit. My boss always acted like she’d been planning things all along — even when it was pure coincidence. She considered her work groundbreaking, ahead of others in the industry, because psychopaths cannot admit anything that diminishes their “genius.”
She Made Me Absolutely Miserable
I was dealing with a toxic work environment. When your boss is a psychopath, it doesn’t matter if you have your dream job: you can’t help being unhappy. It’s impossible not to absorb some of their negative energy and sooner or later, no matter how resilient you are, your own psyche also becomes toxic.
The destructive nature of working for a psychopath cannot be overstated. It does devastating harm to your well being, and becomes damaging in ways you can’t even begin to understand. When I started, I was keen and positive, confident and enthusiastic. Where I ended up was such a dark, deep, well of despair that I thought I might never be able to climb out. It can take time to heal, but the immediate relief and freedom I felt (and continue to feel) since quitting has left me beyond grateful for what happened. I know what I truly want to do with my life, I know just how important a healthy workplace environment can be, and above all, I know what I am willing to put up with — and what I will never, ever give up again.