It’s Narcissist Friday!
You work with a narcissist. The boss steps out of his/her office, report in hand, and says in a calm voice, “Who’s responsible for this?”
Now: What does the narcissist say?
Chances are that the narcissist will say nothing. He will not know which way to go. If the boss gave a clue that the work was good and there was a reward, the narcissist would claim responsibility quickly. But, if the boss gave an equal clue that someone would be held accountable for an error or inadequate work, the narcissist wouldn’t want to claim anything except distance. Without these clues, the narcissist wouldn’t know what to say.
Sometimes the hesitation you see in the narcissist is accounted for by this waiting to see which way the wind is blowing. Even if he recognized the report in the boss’s hand as his own, the narcissist would want to wait to determine the boss’s perspective.
Narcissists are some of the least responsible people you will meet. That is, they will rarely have to answer for their work. It is a quirk of the English language that being responsible can be either positive or negative. It means that the person responsible is the person accountable, for good or bad. You might be responsible for a big mess or for a good deed.
For the narcissist, responsibility means either blame or credit. The narcissist will avoid blame at great cost. He will push it off on others, lie to the person demanding accountability, or slip away from the situation. At the same time, he will try to take all the credit he can get. He will take credit for the work of others if necessary. I have heard stories of people lying to take credit for something and then asking the one who actually did the work to back them up on it. Nice people are there to use, according to the narcissist.
There is another way the narcissist thinks of responsibility: work. To be responsible for a project or a goal is to have to work. But the narcissist reduces even this to credit or blame. If the project, for example, is one that would further a career or make the boss grateful, the narcissist will begin a process of getting others to do the work and giving himself the credit. He will, at the same time, begin a narrative of blame to deflect any inadequacy or error away from himself. This is the real work of the narcissist. Others will do the project. The narcissist will handle the credit and blame.
Never expect the narcissist to embrace the blame. If it looks like he is willing to do that, it will be because he thinks the truth is unavoidable and humility will bring in enough points to offset the blame.
Always expect the narcissist to take the credit. If he does not, if he gives it to you, it will be to make himself look humble and to make you indebted to him. Somehow, he will win.
But the narcissist will twist and avoid what you think of as responsibility. Responsibility to you, and to most of us, has a sense of duty or accountability. We say that a person willing to take credit should also be willing to take blame. When we accept responsibility, we accept that equation. The narcissist cannot agree.
You see, it really isn’t that big of a deal for us to fail at something. We know that we fail. We have limitations, and we make mistakes. That’s part of life. The Lord who loves us knew that when He came to call us to Himself. That’s why, as a wise man once told me, we need a Savior. And now our identity is secure apart from our performance.
But the image the narcissist presents to the world cannot abide accountability for failure. Only praise and adoration can be attributed to that image. Some say that the narcissist thinks he/she is perfect. The truth is that the narcissist cannot accept any other option. Identity is based completely on what others think. So credit and blame, the fruit of responsibility in the narcissist’s heart, must not be left to chance or to others. They must be managed.