At New Beginnings, we have long been fascinated by the possibilities afforded by differing personalities working together. At its best, diversity of personality can be hugely positive for both the business and the individuals working together. A range of personalities can spark creativity, innovation, allow issues to be seen from differing perspectives, enable assumptions to be questioned and challenged.
But sadly, on occasion, contrasting personalities can come together and create a toxic relationship, with potential for severe mental stress imposed by one party on the other.
One person who knows more about these difficulties than most is Emma Davey, Counsellor and Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coach at My Trauma Therapy. Following her own personal struggles with narcissistic relationships both at home and at work, Emma has made it her life’s mission to raise awareness of the issues and help others to both recover and protect themselves from the impact of narcissistic abuse.
We are extremely grateful to Emma for taking the time to speak to us about her work.
New Beginnings: We’ve all had experience of trying to work with someone who seems “difficult”, but what actually are narcissistic personality traits?
Emma: Narcissistic traits can be quite difficult to spot. Often your initial dealings with the person will seem very positive – they can seem warm and friendly at first. But over time, this will change. Typical signs are that they put you down or humiliate you, often in front of other people. They tend to be highly critical – regularly picking up faults instead of achievements. Their expectations of you can be unrealistic so that no matter how hard you try, they criticise what you do. Conversely, they may try to take credit for your work behind your back.
These things tend to build up slowly over time however, so it can be difficult to realise it’s happening to you. Particularly if you are focusing on trying to work harder to get the positive recognition you deserve.
New Beginnings: What was it that made you decide to train as a specialist in this area?
Emma: I have myself experienced narcissistic abuse and domestic violence which subsequently led to PTSD, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and self-harm. I reached the point where I needed help to get away from the abusive personal relationship I was in. I left the UK and went to Australia. While I was recovering, I realised that there wasn’t a lot of help available specifically for narcissistic abuse. So I decided that I wanted to use my own experience to help others recover, and I began to train as a counsellor.
It was during my recovery that I realised that I had also had to deal with narcissistic abuse at work. Early on in my career when I was just 18, my boss took advantage of my vulnerable position as a new, young employee to control and bully me. This took a massive toll on my confidence and I received very little support from other managers at the time. I realised that my new skills as a counsellor could help people dealing with these issues in all walks of life. I also want to raise awareness of it so people realise that it is happening to them and that it is unacceptable.
New Beginnings: Are there any signs we should look for in ourselves that suggest we may be experiencing narcissistic abuse at work without realising it?
Emma: Yes absolutely, it’s really important to be able to recognise the impact it is having on yourself and your own mental health. If you can see that your confidence has reduced, that you are constantly doubting and questioning yourself in a way you wouldn’t usually do. If you find yourself working longer and longer hours trying to keep up with everything, only to never receive recognition for it, and only receiving criticism.
Overtime, you may even find yourself feeling like you’re losing your mind and start questioning your own sanity. These are all danger signs that you may be suffering from narcissistic abuse and gaslighting.
New Beginnings: How would you advise someone in this position to respond?
Emma: The first thing to do is to start documenting all your dealings with the narcissist. This will help you to get clarity on what is happening, and to start believing in yourself again.
Regularly refer to your job description. You must set boundaries as this is a way to protect yourself from the ambiguity that narcissists love. By getting requests clearly set out in writing and perhaps getting your boss to sign it, will enable you to be clear about how you’ve achieved what was asked for.
If you feel 1.2.1 meetings are becoming too uncomfortable for you, it is entirely reasonable to ask for a third person to be present. Speak to HR about what support is available to help even out the power between you and your manager.
You can also try using what is known as the “grey rock method”. This is where you consciously behave in a totally emotionless way (like a rock) when interacting with the narcissist. Your emotional reactions are what the narcissist feeds off. They get satisfaction from seeing you angry or upset. You are therefore protecting yourself by being emotionless and it will remove some of the power and control that the narcissist has over you.
New Beginnings: Are some people likely to get more deeply affected by it than others?
Emma: Everyone is vulnerable to it but yes, the more of an empath you are yourself, the more affected you will be by narcissistic abuse because you will instinctively try to behave in a way that you think will make the narcissist feel better. You are also more likely to spend time trying to analyse what is going on leading to confusion and distress.
New Beginnings: If we are the type of person who could be vulnerable, is there anything we can do to protect ourselves?
Emma: Definitely. I always say that an educated empath is a narcissist’s worst nightmare. In other words, by arming yourself with knowledge about a narcissist you can use it to reduce their impact on you. By calling them out in a non-emotional way that you know what they are doing and you will not tolerate it will start to shift the power to yourself.
Keep control of the narrative in your meetings, they will most likely want to keep going off on a tangent and deflect what you are saying, but if you can hold firm you will show them that they can’t control you. Just like the bully in the school playground.
Remember too however that your mental health is paramount. If you are really struggling, perhaps having difficulty sleeping and hating going into work, it may be best for your own health to decide to move on. Try to share your experience with someone else you trust if you can before you go.
New Beginnings: Do you think there is anything organisations should be doing to minimise this behaviour?
Emma: Being aware of these types of behaviours is so important. In an ideal world the culture of organisations would simply not allow a person behaving like this to thrive. However, I think there’s a statistic that says something like 1 in 3 CEO’s have psychopathic traits because in modern, western business, an element of narcissism can often be helpful in order to get to the top.
I do think business is starting to change. The mental health of employees is being talked about much more these days, and employers are beginning to realise that they have to take responsibility for this.
There’s still a long way to go but the signs are encouraging.
It was absolutely fascinating to hear Emma’s story. She has shown such incredible strength to have taken her own deeply personal experiences and turned them into a force for good. To find out more information about Emma’s work, head to https://www.mytraumatherapy.co.uk. Emma also runs a free narcissistic abuse victim support group on Facebook for anyone seeking help: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1173575726175953