Category Archives: anger

Inside a Killer’s Mind

  A murderer is regarded by the conventional world as something almost monstrous,
but a murderer to himself is only an ordinary man. It is only if the murderer
is a good man that he can be regarded as monstrous.

~Graham Greene~

We have had more than our share of unexplained shootings lately as well as a growing number of vehicle killings. I do not refer here to gang shootings, organized crime or war killings across the world. I mean what we call mass murders and random shootings now appearing around the world with troubling frequency.

Most of the time we don’t know what provoked the killer to take another’s life or many lives. We blame guns, mental illness, or political beliefs. Several years ago in the midst of the uproar about clergy sexually abusing children, no one seemed to care why they did it. Everyone looked for how to prevent it or punish it. We looked everywhere except inside the mind of the abuser. The same is now true of considering the killers among us.

We are too busy hating the killer to take time to understand him and it is usually him rather than her. Our anger rises to the surface. Our first thoughts are of vengeance and we are relieved if the murderer dies in the process or aftermath of the killing. But what about the murderer’s mind?

Can you imagine killing someone? I don’t think most of us reach this level of hatred without considerable provocation. Yet I do think that anger and hatred very often lie in the background. I don’t mean just a single incident resulting in anger. I dare say that people driven to murder usually experience a long history of very troublesome emotions.

A childhood marked by abuse, neglect, and even hatred shape and direct young or growing minds toward at least the possibility of violence. Being treated as if their lives have no value can leave some resentful toward society where they seem to find no acceptance. Being trained as a war machine can leave veterans estranged from traditional human values. Feeling left out of the privileges others seem to enjoy can build up resentment for society as a whole. Racial prejudice can leave people hating their oppressors. Even white men can feel left out of the benefits they see offered to those of other races.

Fortunately not all of these people end up as murderers. Yet many of them end up living angry lives and sometimes feel pushed to the extreme of violence and even murder. They are often drawn to anger-­driven groups and movements. To my mind, those who reach this extreme state feel isolated, unvalued, persecuted, treated unfairly, and generally left out of society which they come to see as their enemy. Maybe what they want is to be taken seriously or to be recognized as being of some significance.

What can we do about it as a society? That’s another topic which I will leave for the next post.

Action Steps

  • Think of the time in your life when you were your angriest.
  • What got you to that point?
  • How did you want to react?
  • How did you actually handle it?
  • What would have helped you handle it better?
  • How well do you handle your anger now?

Sign up for free Sliding Otter Newsletter to obtain regular posts from Dr. Langen
on the human condition.

Personal Origins of Violence

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

~Isaac Asimov~

Have you ever seen a violent newborn baby? I haven’t. No one is born violent in the sense of trying to harm others. So how does someone become violent? Psychologists and sociologists have conducted many studies over the years to try predicting violence without much success.

No way of understanding violence has been able to predict whether any given individual is about to become violent. Once a person displays violent behavior, it is clear that he or she is capable of violence and likely to be violent in the future.

But the question remains: Where does violence come from? Let’s look at some contributors to violence. One is the path your life takes. Your pattern of life experience can incline you toward acting violently, peacefully or somewhere in between. Dramatic events in your life can also steer you toward a peaceful life pattern or a violent one.

I refer here to violence done by an individual or group of individuals. A person may be influenced by what happens in his or her culture or peer group. Violence may be a group effort in which more than one person is responsible for the violence. Your being part of a group acting in a violent way can give you a reputation for violence whether or not you actually participate in the group’s actions. This is known as guilt by association.

Researchers have debated for years about whether violence or a tendency toward violence can be inherited. This debate continues and has yet to be settled despite years of research. Hormones appear to play a role. Testosterone is seen as a contributor to aggression, which may well account for the much greater number of male than female aggressors. Aggression is generally viewed as quite similar if not identical to violence.

Aggression might look similar but is not always intended to harm anyone. Remember that intent of harm is one of the parts of the definition of violence we discussed in the last chapter. Men tend to engage in more physical forms of aggression while women tend more toward verbal aggression although neither form is unique to one or the other gender.

Life circumstances and experiences while growing up appear to play a significant role in the violent tendencies and violent behavior of individuals. Here are a few developmental circumstances which can make a difference:

  • Your treatment in your family
  • Your family’s stability
  • The safety of your neighborhood
  • The adequacy of housing and food as you grew up
  • How others react to your racial or ethnic background
  • How you learn to react to threats

Other contributors beyond you developmental years and into adulthood include the following:

  • Your feelings in response to physical danger
  • How you think about yourself
  • How you view other people
  • How you see your life situation
  • Your prospects for a satisfying life
  • The adequacy of resources for managing your life

 

Reasons for Violence

 

Violence, even well-intentioned, always rebounds upon oneself.

~Lao Tzu~

Violence is seldom random although it is often described that way in the news. There is usually a reason, although a violent person might not have much understanding of the reason. Wikipedia suggests a few possible reasons for violence:

To express anger or hostility– Many people show their anger by hitting someone or something or at least wanting to do so. Your first reaction might be to show how you feel by striking out which does not usually change anything for the better. It shows people you are angry, although it also shows how little control you have of yourself. If you often act violently to show your anger, you probably have no goal in mind other than to express your rage. It is a purely emotional reaction which shows others you are upset but does not convey why you are upset or what you would like to have different about the situation associated with your anger.

To assert dominance–Violence can be a way of trying to take charge of a situation or of another person or group by force. It is a way to show others that you are more powerful than they are and that they can’t push you around.

To intimidate or threaten–This is similar to the attempt to dominate others. Here you want others to fear you, and you act in a way to bring this about. If you are successful, others may be less likely to do whatever they did to make you angry next time. This is an emotional response and often does not have any specific goal or circumstances in mind other than to scare others into acting as you want them to.

To achieve a goalSometimes you may turn to violence when more reasonable methods do not get you what you want. You might not be adept at less aggressive ways of getting others’ attention. Yet, once you turn to violence, people are usually less likely to pay attention to what you want and concentrate on avoiding interaction with you.

To express possession–This is a way of dramatizing your control of property. It can also be a way to show others they are threatening your control of your possessions and you want to warn them to stay back. When they don’t back off, you might escalate your violence to make your point.

A response to fear–Protecting yourself in the face of danger is a basic animal instinct commonly seen in humans as well as other species. We saw earlier that violence is an attempt to cause others pain. While others’ pain might be a side effect of your attempt to protect yourself, deliberately wanting to hurt someone goes beyond the need for self-protection.

A reaction to pain–This is similar to your response to fear. Violence is an extreme reaction to managing pain. Aggression might well be necessary when someone is causing you pain, but again, wanting them to suffer goes beyond basic protection of your needs and rights.

To compete with others–This is a similar motivation to intimidation or threat. Violence is a way to lessen the competition for what you want. Deliberately going beyond fair competition, violence puts you squarely in the role of the bully.

(Excerpt from my book, From Violence to Peace)

Attempts to Understand Violence

Over the years many theories have emerged to explain violence. Here are some of them:

  • Self control–Whether someone acts violently depends on what goes on inside him or her. This theory assumes that acting violently is a rational choice. A person decides to be violent for some reason. It also assumes that the person knows what he or she is doing and knows the consequences of violent action for oneself and for others but decides to go ahead with it anyway. It also assumes that the person has the option to act violently or not and chooses violence over other possible courses of action.
  • Social control–Here the person’s environment explains the violence. According to this theory, the person’s environment calls for violence which might be the only viable response available. Others in the immediate environs would act the same way, making violence almost a normal and expected response based on the context.
  • Cultural theory–Each culture has its own values and standards for when violence is acceptable and for what actions are acceptable. Included are norms for when violence is seen as appropriate. People living in that culture are expected to follow the norms for appropriate behavior.
  • Social learning theory–Individuals learn how to act by observing others in situations similar to theirs. Families, schools and religions all have ways of acting to which the young are exposed. Even when the rules are not explicit, young people see how others around them act in response to different situations. This theory suggests that what young people see around them forms the basis for their action in a wide variety of situations in the future.
  • Exchange theory–Violence achieves certain goals and benefits which outweigh the costs of acting violently. In other words, there is something to be gained from acting violently. Perhaps revenge, punishment, the hope of heading off future unwanted behavior of others or similar motivations form the incentive for a person to act in a violent way. The cost of such behavior is the risk of retaliation, legal punishment or social disapproval. In terms of this theory, a person weighs the pros and cons and, all things considered, may choose violence as the best option.
  • Systems theory–This theory takes into account the thoughts, actions and principles operating at individual, group and community levels. The theory is complex and comes closest to providing a many-faceted explanation of why violence occurs. It includes influences based on an individual’s inner workings; what happens around the person; what rules are incorporated from the person’s family and friends as well as neighborhood, community and government. This last theory incorporates most of the other theories.

These are theories from the fields of sociology and social psychology. They suggest explanations of complex behavior and soon become complicated themselves as they try to explain everything that comprises a pattern of violent behavior.

Violence is not an easy topic to explain or even define in simple terms. We need to take  a closer look at what contributes to violence on various levels including the biological, rational (or not so rational), emotional, family, social, community and societal.

(Excerpt from my book From Violence to Peace)

https://www.amazon.com/Violence-Peace-Calming-Emotional-Storms-ebook/dp/B0714R5CM9/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502206324&sr=8-1&keywords=From+Violence+to+Peace

Emotions, Violence and Mindfulness

Emotions, Violence and Mindfulness

Even today we raise our hand against our brother… We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death.

~Pope Francis~

Based on my experience and reading, it seems clear that everyone has a breaking point when  they feel forced to act in ways not typical of them. Perhaps some people turn to violence as a way to be taken seriously for once. Some commit suicide when they feel their life challenges are more than they can bear.

The result can also be a lashing out toward other individuals or society in general if you see others as responsible for your predicament. If you could understand the workings of others’ minds, much of the violence in the world might not seem quite so senseless. Violence often makes sense to people feeling overwhelmed by life burdens. Most people tend to react emotionally to such situations without giving their response much thought.

If you could step back from your emotions, you might see more constructive possibilities and be able to choose one of them. Once you are overwhelmed, it might be too late to step back. You could make a practice of learning to take a break from your daily routine even when you are not under pressure. Then you will have a better idea how to handle stressful life events when they arise.

But what can you do about that pressured feeling? Perhaps the best place to start is to realize that technology has resulted in amazing inventions allowing you to contact others around the world in a matter of seconds. Yet the overload of immediate communication has resulted in separating people rather than bringing them closer together. Here is what General Omar Bradley had to say, “The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we do about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”

In the process of becoming immediately connected, we seem to have forgotten the purpose of communication. It is to help us understand each other and learn to work together to find harmonious ways for us to exist together. Instead, we use our channels of communication to persuade others to think as we do. We use them for entertainment, validating ourselves and for advertising.

Although our technology to some extent helps us understand each other, we need to do much more to appreciate each other in our search for meaningful lives. People who tend toward violence may have goals not much different from our own. Yet they might have had their dreams crushed along the way. They no longer see any path toward a fulfilling life and look for a way to express their frustration.

Violence is seen as aggressive behavior with the intent to cause physical or psychological harm. Hostile aggression also fits our definition of violence for the purposes of this book. It is performed in anger for the purpose of harming another person. By constant exposure to it, we have come to be more accustomed to violence in our society, regardless of the presence or absence of a relationship between perpetrator and victim.

Mindfulness is a way you can come to understand yourself and your inner workings. It involves reflecting on your thoughts and emotions rather than acting on them impulsively. It is a form of meditation and involves making your body and mind still.

You do this by being in a place of serenity free of distractions. You pay attention to your inner state as well as the sounds, sights and smells around you while making no judgments about anything in your awareness. This is a practice where you can exist in just this moment without any concern for the past or future. You can practice mindfulness in order to take your mind and your body down a more constructive path than it might have otherwise taken. Rather than letting your emotions direct your whole day, you could step back from them and put them in context. We will look at this in greater detail later.

Do you usually react with immediate anger when something upsets your routine and then let it consume you for the rest of the day? Do you look for someone to blame for everything that happens to you, when you might be at least partially responsible? Do you let your mood take over your decisions and actions rather than trying to look at situations more rationally? Are you always on alert to find someone at fault? These are a few things to explore in a calmer mood once you find one, but it takes practice to set this mood.

Excerpt from my new book From Violence to Peace.

Managing Aggression and Anger

Anger is a normal emotion and can be helpful in some situations, such as those related to survival and self-protection. We have also seen that resorting to aggression is often a strong temptation when you feel angry. Aggression might be appropriate to ensure your safety but in most situations is not necessary and just inflames the situation.

Steven Laurent presents a series of tips on reducing anger and therefore limiting the possibility of reacting to anger with unneeded aggression. I will list a few of his suggestions and my comments about them:

  • Understand that anger is a problem. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that anger is sometimes a problem. We have seen that anger is a normal human emotion. As long as it is limited to a brief emotional response, does not take over your life and does not remain for a long time, it is nothing to worry about. If your anger quickly escalates into rage, it is a problem. If you continue to brood about what angers you, it can affect your body systems as we have seen and create lack of emotional equilibrium in your life.
  • Monitor your anger. It is useful to be mindful of many things in your life including your emotions. The more aware you are, the better chance you have of changing patterns which make life more difficult for you and for those around you. You might have a feeling that your anger is a problem, or you might hear it from others who are affected by your anger. Laurent suggests keeping a log of upsetting events, the anger they cause and how you react. It sounds a bit tedious but might be a good way to track how well you manage your anger. It is easier to see patterns when you write them down in an anger journal. Writing also gives you a chance to think about what you are doing rather than reacting automatically.
  • Feel the anger and don’t do it anyway. Laurent suggests here that you be aware of your anger but don’t rush into a response. He prefers thinking about how you feel and why that feeling arose. Waiting to react until after you have had a chance to consider the situation helps you see what alternatives you have available. Writing down what you think in your anger journal would also help keep you aware of the process of your thinking.
  • Look after yourself. Several things can make it more difficult for you to manage your anger constructively. One is your health. When you feel run down physically, you will have less ability to think clearly about how to react. The same is true if you are in a bad emotional state or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
  • Understand the ultimate source of your anger: “shoulding.” Here you tell yourself how things should be, especially other people and how they interact with you. Most people have fairly clear expectations of how they would like others to treat them, which is fine. When you set yourself up as the judge of how people should react, you are more prone to react with anger and see it as your job to correct or even punish them. Along with that goes the suggestion to be less judgmental of others.
  • Empathize. You most likely have a good idea of how you would like to react in any given situation, at least one you have faced before. Yet surprises wait along the way to throw you off balance. If someone asked you why you reacted a certain way, you could probably tell them why. Instead of judging people who act in a different way, consider that they might view things differently from you. You would find it easier to be less judgmental if you took the time to understand why others feel and act the way they do.
  • Get your facts straight. One of the main contributors to anger at others is faulty assumptions you make about them. You might assume that have hostile intentions toward you, are aware of what your needs and desires are or know what is likely to arouse your anger. In reality, none of these assumptions may be true.

The better you are able to use suggestions such as these, the less likely you are to let your anger get the best of you. In addition, your chances of moving toward aggressive behavior are also lessened.

Excerpt from my recent book, How to Transform Your Anger and Find Peace.

Book Release: Transform Your Anger and Find Peace

 


How did we get so angry?

Anger surrounds us these days. It shows up on the nightly news, on talk shows and the newspapers as well as on the Internet, not to mention in interactions on the street. Unplanned events in our daily lives invite us to summon and express our anger. It is as if we have become an angry culture. How can we make sense of anger, cope with it and find alternative ways of dealing with our own and others’ misfortunes besides giving vent to our anger in destructive ways? That question is the challenge I pose for you and invite you to explore with me in this book.
As a psychologist, I worked with angry people for thirty­five years on anger management. They have been in my life longer than that. Our country seems angrier now than I can remember it being in the past. Not everyone barks at other people, attacks them or shoots them. Yet the national mood seems to be one of anger coming from a national divide on both sides of every issue.

What to do about anger

I have thought about how this happened and have consulted a variety of publications and also drew on my own professional and personal experience. I came up with a few findings and thought you might find them useful as well. Here are the questions I posed:

  • What is anger and what causes it?
  • How does it affect your life?
  • What kinds of anger problems are there?
  • Who is the target of your anger?
  • How do you manage anger directed toward you?
  • How can you transform your anger?

Have you wondered about any of these? Are you still looking for answers? Join me in an adventure to move away from anger and toward peace.
This book is available through Amazon. Take a look at the free sample (Look Inside) on the Amazon page for Transform Your Anger and Find Peace.

Reasons for Violence

 

Have you ever seen a violent newborn baby? I haven’t. No one is born violent in the sense of trying to harm others. So how does someone become violent? Psychologists and sociologists have conducted many studies over the years to try predicting violence without much success.

No way of understanding violence has been able to predict whether any given individual is about to become violent. Once a person displays violent behavior, it is clear that he or she is capable of violence and likely to be violent in the future.

But the question remains: Where does violence come from? Let’s look at some contributors to violence. One is the path your life takes. Your pattern of life experience can incline you toward acting violently, peacefully or somewhere in between. Dramatic events in your life can also steer you toward a peaceful life pattern or a violent one.

I refer here to violence done by an individual or group of individuals. A person may be influenced by what happens in his or her culture or peer group. Violence may be a group effort in which more than one person is responsible for the violence. Your being part of a group acting in a violent way can give you a reputation for violence whether or not you actually participate in the group’s actions. This is known as guilt by association.

Researchers have debated for years about whether violence or a tendency toward violence can be inherited. This debate continues and has yet to be settled despite years of research. Hormones appear to play a role. Testosterone is seen as a contributor to aggression, which may well account for the much greater number of male than female aggressors. Aggression is generally viewed as quite similar if not identical to violence.

Aggression might look similar but is not always intended to harm anyone. Remember that intent of harm is one of the parts of the definition of violence we discussed in the last chapter. Men tend to engage in more physical forms of aggression while women tend more toward verbal aggression although neither form is unique to one or the other gender.

Life circumstances and experiences while growing up appear to play a significant role in the violent tendencies and violent behavior of individuals. Here are a few developmental circumstances which can make a difference:

  • Your treatment in your family
  • Your family’s stability
  • The safety of your neighborhood
  • The adequacy of housing and food as you grew up
  • How others react to your racial or ethnic background
  • How you learn to react to threats

Other contributors beyond you developmental years and into adulthood include the following:

  • Your feelings in response to physical danger
  • How you think about yourself
  • How you view other people
  • How you see your life situation
  • Your prospects for a satisfying life
  • The adequacy of resources for managing your life

Action Steps

  • Do you ever feel on the verge of violence?
  • Do any of the above sound familiar?
  • Can you understand how they led to violence?
  • Can you do something to change it?
  • Who could help you?

Excerpt from my new book, From Violence to Peace.

Rage and its alternatives

Anger is a killing thing: it kills the man who angers,
for each rage leaves him less than he had been before –
 it takes something from him.
~Louis L’Amour~

Have you tried passing a car on an expressway only to find another car five feet from your back bumper? Have you tried to do something for a friend only to hear you are stupid for not doing it his way? For some people, annoyance can quickly escalate into rage.

Babies cry when they are uncomfortable but they are not in a rage. It seems clear that expressing rage is something that must be learned. Sometimes family patterns date back several generations. While there may be a few people affected in each generation, fortunately not all family members are tainted by a tendency to rage.

What is rage? The dictionary defines it as uncontrollable anger. Sometimes anger is justified. Being angry is appropriate when someone deliberately wrongs you. Other ways to handle anger besides rage exist. You can express your anger directly to the one who had wronged you. You can explain how you feel in case the other person was unaware of how their behavior affected you. You can stop to consider your reaction to see if your anger is justified.

Rage means allowing your anger to consume you to the extent that you lose control. You might talk louder, carry on incoherently, dump venom on your aggressor, or perhaps lash out in a physical fury. Rage is generally an overreaction to a situation, out of proportion to the circumstances.

How does rage develop? On the surface, it seems that someone does something you don’t like and you react with rage. There is another step, an inner one. You tell yourself that the other person had no right to do what he did. He is only doing it to upset you. If he had any sense, he would not do such a thing. You don’t deserve what he did. You should not have to put up with him acting in such a stupid way. He is so dense the only thing he could possibly understand is your blasting him. Do any of these thoughts sound familiar?

You can work yourself into a rage quickly. If you frequently entertain thoughts such as the above, it does not take long to end up in a rage. Once you are in a rage, you have little control of your emotions. Rage is, by definition, uncontrollable anger. It is easier to interrupt the process of becoming angry than it is to stop it once it explodes.

You have two other choices. One is to avoid situations where you know you are likely to go off the deep end. Unfortunately, you can’t always predict when this will happen.You can also think about what you tell yourself when something upsetting happens. Is this person deliberately trying to upset you? Does she know you are likely to be upset? Could you explain how you feel in a milder way than rage? You can also think about your ability to share other emotions besides rage. If you don’t know how to show embarrassment, fear, sorrow or loneliness, you may end up expressing all your negative emotions as rage. You can learn to change this pattern by talking with a friend, working with a counselor or taking an anger management course.

Action steps:

  1. How do you deal with angry feelings?
  2. Stop to think about why you are angry?
  3. Think of how you upset yourself.
  4. How do you progress from anger to rage?
  5. How can you express your anger so it will be better understood?

(Excerpt from Commonsense Wisdom for Everyday Life, 2nd edition, forthcoming).

Dealing with Narcissistic Rage

Dealing with Narcissistic Rage

Hate is the complement of fear and narcissists like being feared.
It imbues them with an intoxicating sensation of omnipotence.

~Sam Vaknin, Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited~

Psychiatrist Mark Goulston tells us that engaging people in the midst of narcissistic rage is not likely to be productive. If it is safe, you might just listen until they are finished ranting. You can later request that they talk with you in a calm and respectful manner. If that does not happen the next time, it might be best to just walk away if you can or avoid such people altogether.

Susan Whitbourne, Ph.D. suggests specific ways to handle narcissists:

  • Determine which type you’re dealing with. A grandiose narcissist might be a good ally if your goals exactly match theirs. Vulnerable narcissists are harder to deal with because they are constantly on the lookout for people who might further diminish their already poor concept of themselves.
  • Acknowledge your annoyance. Learn to recognize where your annoyance lies, usually related to the person who constantly interrupts you when you are trying to accomplish something.
  • Appreciate where the behavior comes from. Understand that vulnerable narcissists need to make themselves feel better. A modicum of reassurance for them is necessary to focus them on a group task. Just don’t get carried away with praising them or they will take over a project.
  • Evaluate the context. Some situations will worsen tendencies toward being defensive, vindictive and spiteful. One example is a narcissist who is passed over for a promotion  but still needs to work with the team who they are not leading.
  • Maintain a positive outlook. Some narcissists enjoy seeing others suffer. Letting them see your annoyance is likely to just increase their efforts to make your life more miserable.
  • Don’t let yourself get derailed. Stay focused on your own goals despite a narcissist’s efforts to take center stage and monopolize the direction of your group.
  • Keep your sense of humor. Try using humor to react to a narcissist’s attempt to monopolize group goals rather than direct confrontation.
  • Recognize that the person may need help.  Narcissists whose low self esteem leads them to their disruptive behavior may be in need of help to find better ways to improve how they see themselves.

These suggestions appear to be good ones when you are the one in charge. If the narcissist is the one in charge, your chances of using any of them successfully will be quite diminished. Using any of these approaches when you are in a vulnerable or one-down position is likely to be seen as undermining the power of the narcissist in charge. In such a situation, your options for improving the situation do not look good. Your best bet may be to find a way to remove yourself from the situation or group.

Maybe you are not ready to flee or are in a position of not being able to afford doing so. Now what? Susan Price has some ideas. Here is one possible scenario: “Your boss is a complete narcissist: he expects you to be at his whim all day, he blames everyone for mistakes except himself, argues and contradicts employees with every small detail even things he said himself!” If this sounds familiar, read on. Here are her suggestions for handling the situation:

  • Forget being friends. You will have to sell your soul to be considered a friend by such a person. Remember that narcissists are not capable of making friends in the sense of having mutual respect and caring for each other. Your interests are never a priority.
  • Don’t criticize. Your criticism will never be taken at face value. Anger or rage is to be expected when you criticize a narcissist.
  • Focus on analyzing problems. Sharing your feelings is not likely to get you anywhere. Narcissists are interested only in their own feelings. Instead, concentrate on problems and potential solutions. Then, don’t count on receiving credit for a good idea.
  • Let him or her make decisions.  Presenting options works better than suggesting the best option. Then allow him or her to take credit for the plan.
  • Make him or her look and feel good. His or her importance and having it recognized are uppermost in such a person’s mind. Don’t be stingy with praise.
  • Absorb the blame. Narcissists never see themselves at fault. Someone else is always the blame for whatever goes wrong.
  • Set boundaries and keep them. Try to focus on solutions and temper criticism with praise.
  • Don’t compete. Don’t expect praise for yourself or thanks for doing a good job. A narcissist will always take credit for teaching you to do a good job.

To survive, you need to set aside your own needs and become a cog in the machine operated by a narcissistic boss. Staying afloat is a tricky business and has few rewards. You might be better off finding a more rational and rewarding position. If you decide to stay, don’t expect much for yourself.

You might be wondering whether dealing with a narcissist with power is a lost cause. It is difficult but not impossible. In a social group, you can work with others to reconstitute the group without the offending narcissist. In a corporation, the board of directors, informed by shareholders and workers, has power over any given boss. In government, citizens have power to elect representatives who have the power to contain if not remove narcissists not in touch with public needs.  In all these cases, your job is to start working with others and find a mutual path toward resolving the impasse.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Dealing with a narcissist is an uphill battle at best.
  • Don’t expect to do the impossible.
  • Don’t expect too much of yourself.
  • Get support from others in your venture.
  • Try to avoid situations where narcissists have power over you.

(Excerpt from my forthcoming book, Anger in America)