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Think twice before branding someone a narcissist

So, is your colleague narcissistic? Well, that’s not really something for us to determine or diagnose and the fact that your co-workers are trying, Dr Krupka says, tells us more about them than it does about Ash.

“Actually, if we think about narcissism in lay terms or in cultural terms, what the reader is talking about – that finger-pointing and scapegoating – is really part of a narcissistic process.”

Dr Krupka says everyone has these narcissistic defences and we can all occasionally become absorbed by ourselves, slipping into un-empathetic thinking. The behaviour becomes “dangerous” (as you say in your email), however, when the responses stop being mildly egocentric and start to be used as weapons – to hurt others. (Although Narcissus in the Greek myth is most famous for becoming obsessed with his own image reflected in a pool of water, in most accounts he’s also dismissive of others and in at least one telling his cruelty leads to the death of Echo.)

“When I say ‘You’re a narcissist’ I’m enacting my [own] narcissistic defences. I’m saying ‘You’ve got nothing to do with me. I never think I’m better than other people. I never brag. I never do that.’ And that is fundamentally problematic in any relationship. And in the workplace it’s deadly because it sets up a culture of alienation and separateness.”

It sounds from your question, Dr Krupka says, that as well as being concerned about the suitability of a word, you’re also worried that what your colleagues are expressing about Ash is completely incongruous with your experience of him or her. That’s understandably troubling.

“The terrible thing about narcissism is the inability to see anybody but the self. The reader may be saying in this question “I don’t think they’re seeing [Ash].” And if they’re not seeing [Ash], who are they seeing?”


Perhaps your accusatory colleagues are staring into their own pools of water.

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