Dealing with a Narcissistic Bully

My daughter played basketball and softball almost her entire life.  As a parent of a sports junkie, I have to admit, there were some games when I secretly hoped someone, either us or the other team, would get “10 run ruled.” Which means, that if either team is more than 10 runs ahead in the 6th inning (softball), then the umpire would call the game. Doing so prevented a really good team from annihilating and humiliating a much, much weaker team.

But what if there isn’t a 10 run rule and you had an opportunity to rack up run after run, basket after basket…would you?

If so, you could be considered a narcissistic bully.

Narcissistic bullies operate from a win-lose mindset. They are power junkies who seek to annihilate their competition and seek great pleasure when their victims feel like total failures. They seek admiration and devotion from others and to ensure a constant supply of admiration, they surround themselves with people pleasers.

But not all narcissistic bullies are the same. There are many different types and once you understand which one you’re working with, you can better protect yourself from them! Here are just two common types that show up in the workplace.

2 Types of Narcissistic Coworkers

  1. The Know-it-all Narcissist

The know-it-all narcissist loves giving her unsolicited opinion to anyone and everyone. They tend to be loud and obnoxious and will argue with anyone. In their mind, they know everything and everybody else is an idiot (even the physicians).  They go out of their way to make everyone know that they are so highly intelligent and everyone else is stupid.

This is the nurse who constantly throws in her opinion and expertise everywhere she can – in huddles, during shift report, during staff meetings, in services, etc. During workshops, these are the people who believe they know more than the instructor and will challenge everything said.

Solution – These narcissists are actually quite harmless. Since their focus is on letting everyone else know how great they are, they don’t spend time and energy squashing others. Their time and energy is spent on bragging about themselves. The recommendation is to offer a polite thank you when they offer you advice and move on. Just ignore them.  

  1. Bully Narcissist

The bully narcissist builds himself up by humiliating others. He belittles, threatens, mocks and spends time and energy finding reasons to squash others. His tactics are brutal and his goal is total annihilation of his competition.  

This is the nurse who targets an unsuspecting new nurse to pick on and then launches an attack equivalent to D Day! The bully’s weapons may be overt (openly criticizing, mocking, threatening) or covert (secret sabotage, withholding information, exclusion). Whether overt or covert tactics, the intent is the same – complete and total annihilation.

This is the coach whom despite knowing his team is going to win the game, won’t settle until his competition is pummeled to the ground, even when his competition are 10-year olds.

Solution – These narcissists are dangerous and pose a threat to coworkers and patients. The recommendation is not to directly challenge them because it may make the situation worse. Avoid the bully as much as you can (although not always possible), start a documentation trail, and file a formal complaint. It’s best to gather evidence and seek support from your manager and/or HR rather than trying to handle the situation on your own. You will need help with these types of narcissists.

Keep in mind that when small acts of disruptive behaviors/aggression go unchallenged, the bully narcissist gains a sense of power. This power leads to more and more acts of aggression to the point where they feel untouchable. If you see this behavior, especially in a new employee, please don’t ignore it – address it immediately before your entire department gets destroyed.


About Renee Thompson

Dr. Renee Thompson is a keynote speaker, author and professional development/anti-bullying thought leader. Renee spends the majority of her time helping healthcare and academic organizations address and eliminate bullying behavior. To find out how you can bring Renee to YOUR organization or nursing event, visit www.healthyworkforceinstitute.com

There are 6 comments on this post
  • Renee Thompson
    Barbara C Phillips
    Jul 16, 2019 Reply

    Great timing on this article. We'll find these folks in all walks of professional and personal life. It's always sad when I realize a colleague belongs to this club. I'm actually working with a client now who has had to deal with a narcissistic bully all her life...her mother! Fortunately, she and her siblings have not adopted this behavior, but there is a lot of healing that needs to take place. To Anne's question, it's important that we teach our children about healthy and effective leaders, healthy and inclusive communities, and the difference between right and wrong. Of course that means, we all need to step up to the plate and make sure we are setting a positive example.

    • Renee Thompson
      Brenda Violette
      Jul 17, 2019 Reply

      Thanks Barbara! Unfortunately, you're right. Interesting...I just had a conversation with a colleague who's son is marrying someone with a narcissistic mom too! WE all need to do a better job promoting humility - and it starts with our youngest. I'm so grateful you took the time to comment. You're doing great things out there Barbara!

  • Renee Thompson
    Lou Ison
    Jul 16, 2019 Reply

    This is a topic of most importance. What if this person is in a management position and is supported by those above? A person that has convinced those above they are in dispensable and then treating those below as threats to the position they hold.. I am going to try to find more about this.

    • Renee Thompson
      Renee Thompson
      Jul 16, 2019 Reply

      Sometimes you can document well enough and show how that person's behavior has a negative impact on something important to the organization - like retention, outcomes, finances, etc. Then you can file a complaint. However, sometimes, it's an uphill battle, especially when their leaders support the bully. There are times when I recommend leaving the organization - especially if your health is affected.

  • Renee Thompson
    Anne Llewellyn
    Jul 16, 2019 Reply

    Thanks for your article, Renee. I am sending this post to the President of the United States as you detailed his behavior to a T. How do you recommend people who are offended by his rhetoric and behavior manage? How do we teach our children, his behavior and words are not how WE act. He is fueling unrest and legitimizing this dysfunctional behavior. HELP

    • Renee Thompson
      Renee Thompson
      Jul 16, 2019 Reply

      When I wrote this, I didn't intend to make this about any one person - we see these behaviors way to often every where! Regarding how to manage people who totally offend you...funny...my daughter just asked me how to handle a similar situation - how to respond to hate messages on facebook. My answer was not to argue back...it just gives her a platform...there is no winning this "argument"...you know she's wrong so delete the person as a friend. Don't spend any of your time and energy focuses on the badness. Instead, launch a counter attack of goodness,

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