The link between narcissism and bullying

A few years ago, I suffered extreme workplace bullying at the hands of my HR manager while working in the resources sector in the Top End. That experience was the catalyst for creating Bullyology, a global business devoted to breaking the silence on bullying and dedicated to helping business leaders and schools develop positive, healthy interpersonal relationships.

At the time, I couldn’t understand my perpetrator’s motivations. His behavior made no sense to me. It was only later that I came to understand it was all about his own insecurities and had little to do with me. Mostly, he was threatened by my successes in the workplace which undermined his power position. What’s interesting is that much later, while learning about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (a recognised psychological condition), I discovered that he showed all the personality traits associated with the diagnostic criteria:

  • A pattern of grandiosity and self-importance
  • An acute need to be admired
  • An absence of empathy
  • The dismissing and devaluing of others’ achievements
  • Boastful pretension
  • Angry reactions to criticism
  • Inflating of accomplishments
  • A desperate need for attention
  • Fragile self-esteem

Amazingly, my bully ticked every box (and may have added some of his own). What stood out for me most was the ‘absence of empathy’ part: he wasn’t so much unaware of the incredible hurt he was causing – he just didn’t care. There was zero emotional intelligence. He may have even deluded himself into believing that his my-way-or-the-highway approach was ‘strong leadership’. In fact, his behavior created a toxic environment, reduced productivity and sent employee morale (and emotional health) plummeting.

He was living proof that a single intimidating presence can poison the climate of an entire workforce, especially when supervisors fail to take immediate and appropriate action to stamp out unacceptable behaviours.