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How Narcissists Get Away With It

Updated on June 16, 2016

Gossip and Divide

Anyone who's ever worked with a malignant narcissist knows how much discord one person can sow. A fog of confusion descends, and the environment seems to become more toxic by the minute. That's because people with disordered personalities thrive on drama and division, which they create by spreading false rumors with a little bit of truth mixed in, to make the story more plausible.

They also recruit flying monkeys, whom they artfully manipulate to carry out their agenda. Typically one target is chosen, and the idea is to drive this person out of his or her job. After a short breather, another target is selected.

Meanwhile, because the air has become poisoned, no one is happy. However, it's very difficult to figure out exactly what's going on. That's because an adult who suffers from a character flaw, serious enough to bully another, knows their number will be up if they don't use a lot of smoke and mirrors to deflect attention away from their own misdeeds. One tried and true trick is to blame everything on an innocent person, who happens to be their target. Then, they need to convince everyone else that things will improve if this person is banished.

If you continue reading, I'll explain just what tools a malignant narcissist likes to use as a wedge, to divide, conquer and emerge victorious.

Advancing an Agenda Through Divisions

How narcissists get away with it.
How narcissists get away with it. | Source

The Art of Projection

Narcissists are masters of deception. They like to project their own faults and shortcomings onto others, and, when they pick a target, this is what they do. This defense mechanism serves two purposes. It effectively shields them from the blame. It also allows them to operate under the delusion that the victim deserves or has somehow earned this treatment.

Oftentimes, this is done as a pity ploy. A malignant narcissist will drum up sympathy by claiming to be the victim. In a role reversal, they claim the target is the one causing trouble for them. Eventually, the entire office sympathizes with the perpetrator and turns upon the target.

Some experts believe malignant narcissists and sociopaths are really two different manifestations of the same disorder, or at least there's only a very fine line separating them. In her classic book, The Sociopath Next Door, Dr. Martha Stout, PhD., tries to give us clues as to how to spot these charlatans when we first encounter them. This is a very difficult task, she concedes, because character disordered people often come across as charming, at least initially.

However, she notes, there is one tip off. Beware of a new acquaintance who tries to play upon your sympathies. This is a common thread she's noticed among sociopaths.

Watch for the Sympathy Ploy

Narcissistic abuse dynamics.
Narcissistic abuse dynamics. | Source

Grooming the Victim

The word "grooming" usually applies fixing one's hair and putting on some makeup. But, in this case, it means the narcissist is set on sizing up his or her target. If the predator is a woman, this usually involves getting to know you better by establishing a fake friendship.

She'll pretend to share a lot of intimate secrets with you. Actually, some of what she's telling you make make you a little uncomfortable, because it seems as if she's revealing too much too soon. But don't worry. She knows not to say anything you could ever use as leverage against her. She's way too clever for that.

However, most of us are socialized to reciprocate in our speech. If someone says something, we'll usually respond. A malignant narcissist will bait you to respond. She share some of her secrets, hoping you share yours. This is a tactic that often works because she'll also ask you pointed questions, and stare at you while waiting for an answer. To counter the awkwardness this creates, you just might spill your guts.

Sociopaths do seem to be able to maintain sustained eye contact longer than the rest of the population. Some people have referred to this as the "predatory stare."

Manipulating Everyone Else

People with narcissistic personality disorder would register high on the scale of manipulative behavior, if they were tested. They are extremely clever and seem to have superhuman ability to "read" other people, and to assess various social situations.

They tend to zero in on people's weaknesses, and then adjust accordingly. A target's weaknesses will be used against her. If the narcissist wishes to draw people to their cause, they'll work hard to fulfill their most pressing needs.

Say, for instance, someone has an unhealthy desire to fit in and be accepted. The narcissist will make this person her right hand gal. Another coworker may be juggling a work schedule with caring for an aging parent. In order to win their loyalty, the narcissist will offer to stay with your parent on Saturday afternoon, so you can go grocery shopping. She'll also bring you a nice, home-cooked meal every Wednesday night.

Most People Go Along with the Program

Narcissists are arrogant.
Narcissists are arrogant. | Source

Recruiting their Flying Monkeys

By manipulating everyone else in the office, the narcissist now has a loyal team of supporters. They've all been fed lies about the target, who is now showing signs of emotional fragility. She looks glum and she seems a little angry. This fits perfectly with the bully's assessment of her of being emotionally "unstable."

If any of the team members also happen to have a cruel streak, or happen to have an empathy deficit, they will be recruited as flying monkeys. That means they can each do little tasks meant to wear down the victim. These are assigned by the narcissist either directly or by "hinting." (I'll explain more about this later.)

That way, if the target tries to complain, she won't know where to begin. Each incident alone will sound petty and trivial. If she goes to the Human Resources department, and points her finger at several people, you can guess the rest. She'll be quickly branded as the troublemaker.

Some Tactics Used by Malignant Narcissists

This is when a narcissist in a position of power divides two other parties by abusing one, and showing preferential treatment to the other.
This is when a narcissist accuses you, typically in conversations behind your back, of the same destructive behavior he is engaged in.
This is a form of emotional abuse in which the narcissist attempts to make you doubt your own recall and perceptions
Character disordered people are usually manipulative and persuasive. They drop "hints" with the full expectation you will take the bait. Oftentimes, this is done to set you up for a fall.

Narcissists and Hinting

Disordered personalities often subtly direct others to accomplish certain tasks by a behavioral mechanism called "hinting." They don't directly come out and ask you to do something. Instead, they drop a hint you'll likely follow through on.

They like to pull this tactic out of their toolbox when setting their target up for a fall. For instance, they might complain to your supervisor that you spend a lot of time away from your desk, with the implication that you aren't getting a lot of work done. To cement this impression, they drop some "hints" that encourage you to walk around the office more than you normally would.

To do this, they exploit your natural willingness to help. "My office needs an overhaul, because more clients are starting to visit," they may tell you. "Would you mind coming in and giving me some suggestions?"

Thinking that you're aiding the company, you agree to stop by after lunch. The narcissist prolongs the conversation about redoing her office. Then, she tells your supervisor you disrupted her workday with useless chitchat.

Video About "Dark Souls" and Empaths

Manipulated Conversations

Directed conversations is a tactic often used by flying monkeys, whom are partner bullies. They will be fed lines to say within your hearing range, designed to confuse or disturb you. Here is an example. Someone being edged out of a job may no longer be invited to key, important meetings that once required their presence.

However, because they are still invested in their job, they may be highly interested in what's being discussed. The narcissist will make sure one or more of her flying monkeys walks by your desk, and lets you catch a snippet of the conversation, about how someone else is now being assigned tasks once delegated to you. This is done solely to hurt your feelings.

The Destruction Doesn't End With You

The immediate goal of the abuser is to make you so miserable that you can no longer do your job, and ultimately leave the organization. Most of the time this tactic works. An estimated 75 percent of targets are either fired from their position, or submit a voluntary resignation, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute, an advocacy group established to help victims of workplace abuse.

However, this doesn't mean the abuser will suddenly turn nice and the office will now run smoothly. The narcissist will soon select another target and the cycle will continue.


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  • suzettenaples profile image

    Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

    ologsinquito: This is an excellent hub and explanation of narcissism. I have seen this happen in offices and in teaching, believe it or not. It is insidious and horrible. I don't know what can be done to stop it, because as you said, reporting it to supervisors or HR only makes the situation worse. What is necessary is being strong and ignoring the tactics of the narcissist. Responding with strong statements of your own sometimes helps. Just showing up and enduring is another way to stop eing a target, and if fire, fight back!

  • MJennifer profile image

    Marcy J. Miller 3 years ago from Arizona

    In the dozens of articles and texts I've read on Narcissism, this is the finest for actually covering the techniques a Narcissist employs in undermining and destroying their target. Having worked in an agency in which high-functioning sociopaths in the upper ranks definitely exceeded the 10% that Dr. Stout estimates represent the American population ("The Sociopath Next Door"), I am all-too-aware of how destructive they are -- and how they'll happily destroy a career or a life as a simple caprice. (Fortunately, I was rarely in any of their front sights.) Interestingly, I find that even more of them reside in the back alleys and byways of the internet -- just as Dr. Stout theorizes that our society breeds sociopathy due to the reverence for individuality, the internet is providing whole new generations due to the existence of non-face-to-face communication and anonymity.

    You've done a great job with the subject. Naturally, I have to share!

    Best -- Mj

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi suzette, thanks so much for reading. I like your approach of staying strong and pushing back if you have the resources. Bullies often respond well (by backing off) to such an approach. Some targets are so worn down that they can't do this. Ignoring the drama, if possible, is another good approach.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Mj, thank you for the kind words. I've learned about this disorder not through a formal education, but with hands-on experience. But I'm happy to have learned it. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jeannieinabottle profile image

    Jeannie InABottle 3 years ago from Baltimore, MD

    I have worked with a couple of people like this in the past, and I know exactly what you mean. I did end up quitting on job due to a total psycho I worked with. I tried to explain to management the situation, but they never fully grasped the fact that I was rather afraid of her. I am sure she is still tormenting her co-workers now. Later, I worked with a narcissist at my current job, but they eventually figured out he was the issue. He actually had the nerve to go after my boss, not just co-workers. It did not work out well for him.

    Great hub and voted up!

  • CMHypno profile image

    CMHypno 3 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

    Interesting stuff. I just wonder what the narcissist thinks they are going to get out of their behaviour in the long run. The truth usually comes out in the end. Maybe its more about the game or controlling people to them

  • rebthomas profile image

    Rebecca Shepherd Thomas 3 years ago from Westerville Ohio

    Ologsinquito, as always very interesting! I too have had a few too many encounters with the total narcissist. I would love to hear your story of yours!

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Jeannie, then you know just what I'm talking about. They make for miserable coworkers. Thanks so much for reading.

    Hi CMHypno, The truth always does come out in the end. You just have to be patient.

    Hi reb, sorry to hear of your encounters. It's very unpleasant to work or deal with a narcissist. My story in a nutshell is that I encountered a very malignant personality in a church setting. Narcissists like to act pious.

  • NathaNater profile image

    NathaNater 3 years ago

    Very well-said and you nailed it. I've dealt with these manipulative abusers in relationships and at work. It's disgusting and even worse we are pressured to go to work and end up in these kinds of environments that are soul-wrecking. Thanks for bringing this out into the open, it is valuable to create awareness about these issues.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi NathaNater, More people seem to be writing about this societal scourge. I'm hoping, somehow, that exposure will help to curb this behavior. If just one or two people would not tolerate this in a workplace, then the target would be greatly aided.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

    Very enlightening! Thank you for exposing the narcissist. You also discourage the behavior in the reader. Thank you and voted up!

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Ms. Dora, thanks so much for reading. I truly hope to spread the word about this insidious condition.

  • Writer Fox profile image

    Writer Fox 3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

    Wow! You've certainly hit a lot of nails on the head here. It seems to me that jealousy is behind much of this type of bullying, too. Bullying is a tactic used by people who cannot otherwise compete in a legitimate arena. Enjoyed your article and voted up.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

    Flying monkeys is the perfect description. I was watching the off-Broadway play, Wicked recently and when the flying monkeys entered the scene at several points bullying and manipulation and the workplace is precisely what I thought about. Then they get promoted! This a a fantastic hub, ologsinquito. The tactics that you spoke about rang 100% true with me. Voted up +++, pinning, and sharing!

  • Barbara Kay profile image

    Barbara Kay Badder 3 years ago from USA

    I now understand a person that I worked with years ago. Thanks for the understanding.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi FlourishAnyway, thanks for reading and thank you for your ongoing support. Barbara, thanks for reading as well. These types are pretty predictable.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi WriterFox, it does seem to all come down to rivalry and pride. Thanks for reading.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    This is a very interesting and informative hub. I didn't know what "flying monkeys" were until I read your article! Thanks for sharing all the useful details.

  • europewalker profile image

    europewalker 3 years ago

    I've worked with a narcissist and it was a daily struggle to put up with her.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    I can just imagine. Sorry to hear about this bad experience.

  • ChristinRK profile image

    Christin 3 years ago from Sioux Falls, SD

    This hub describes my husband both at home and at work. He's a monster. He's been out of my house now for 49 days and the tornado I've lived in for 12 years is finally over. My heart goes out to all who have to deal with these kinds of people. They are the worst type of sociopath out there.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Christin, I am sorry to hear of your troubles. I'll pray for you.

  • ChristinRK profile image

    Christin 3 years ago from Sioux Falls, SD

    Thank you!

  • Eiddwen profile image

    Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

    This was great ;so interesting and voted up for sure. Wishing you a great weekend.


  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    You too Eddy, thanks for reading.

  • profile image

    Scorrar 3 years ago

    I was reading your article with interest and how it related to a job I had a few years back. The guy in question used a lot of the techniques you mentioned. I did not see him, at the time, as being of higher intelligence but probably bullied himself at some point in his life. His main aim was to be head of department, which he achieved, by the time I left. The manager did ask me once if I was being bullied, in front of everybody, which I took as a grave insult, to imagine that I am that weak. I only saw bullying as physical at the time. No regrets about leaving though.

  • Laura335 profile image

    Laura Smith 3 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA

    I love the images that go along with this article. Really smart.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Scorrar, sorry to hear about this bad experience. The bully you encountered got what he wanted, but probably not for long. There will eventually be trouble, and eventually the higher ups will catch on. But not until more people have been targeted and run out.

    Your manager shouldn't of asked you this question in front of people. I'm happy to hear you're out of there.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Laura, thanks so much and thanks for reading.

  • joedolphin88 profile image

    Joe 3 years ago from north miami FL

    Great pictures and interesting story. Very good read.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi joe, thanks so much for reading.

  • profile image

    anonymous 3 years ago

    I've been around narcs all of my life not kmowing this is abnormal. Once I got older, I realized it is ABnormal. Sibling, husband, a guy I dated AND coworkers. So these personalities are not a rarity. As described above, this was my ecperience. Word for word. It was if I were surrounded by aliens! It's natural for an offended person to go on the defensive but it's not when the perpetrator sets put to use their like minded or brainwashed ilk to aid in a crusade to destroy you. That insatiable need for power is most glorious when the target is gone then it simply repeats the cycle. I noticed from various experiences, when a target is pushed out of the group, this breed will fight among themselves. Now I know why. If you're in this environment, hit the job boards and get the hell out of there.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi anonymous, you're exactly right. If you're working in such an environment, it's time to update your resume and start the job search. This is not normal. I've also noticed that there's a lot of infighting once the target is gone. It's almost as if they need someplace to direct all their anger.

  • profile image

    tadpolesue 2 years ago

    I was forced into a IN existence by a severe classic narcissist, my father. After 10 yrs. of sexual abuse, other abuse a lot longer, I got out. Because of their surface similarities, I immediately married an Aspie. I was so hurt when my marriage was so......weird. I was working so hard at it. I have since gotten a measurable amount of help and have discarded and overcome a lot. My marriage of 35 years is still weird but at least I can understand a lot of the hows and whys. Thank you for the article.

  • profile image

    atchokins 2 years ago

    I recently had to relocate from my hi ome town because of someone like this.

  • janshares profile image

    Janis Leslie Evans 2 years ago from Washington, DC

    Excellent read, ologsinquito. This is very informative, extremely well presented and written. I appreciate the uniqueness of the photos as well, very strong. It's amazing how much disorders of character, especially narcissism, pervades relationships and environments. I enjoyed this very much. Voted up, useful, and interesting.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi tadpolesue, I'm so sorry to hear of all of this, but I am happy to hear you were able to save your marriage.

    atchokins, I totally believe this, especially if you are living in a relatively small town.

    janshares, you are so kind. Thanks so much for reading.

  • Dana Lovrek profile image

    Dana 2 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

    Wow, absolutely LOVE this article! I certainly have someone like this in my life... For just over a year, this girl has tried to make me her "best friend," telling me the first time we hung out that she was suicidal and addicted to heroin (neither of them true). She tried to come between my now husband and me, she's attempted to come between friends and me, it never ends! Even now that I live 10,000 miles from my hometown, she still has an active part of my life and I can't get rid of it!! She has simply become an unavoidable fixture in my life, in one way or another. Fortunately, my friends, family, and husband know that her veins run thick with toxins, and all of us agree to keep her at arms length because her efforts to constantly remain in our lives is exhausting, so we let her believe she has control when the reality is that we don't trust her.

    This article explains a lot in regards to her personality (if you replaced "her" with this girl's name, this article could be written specifically about her). Thank you for writing this, it has certainly opened my eyes and has offered some answers to what I've endured this last year.

  • melissae1963 profile image

    Melissa Reese Etheridge 2 years ago from Tennessee, United States

    I really learned quite a bit from this article. It is well written and researched.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi Dana and Melissae, thank you both so much for reading. Dana, I'm sorry you're going through this experience. It's a blessing that she has some obvious issues and is not a covert type of personality.

  • profile image

    WalnutOx 2 years ago

    Thank you very much for writing. This is the best article I've read on narcissism in the workplace yet. I'm struggling with a N co-worker and every day is a challenge-- I feel so alone as my bosses have the best impression of the N and they have become the N's flying monkeys. Do you have any advice on how we can out-survive them? How can we prevent them from wearing us down? I don't want to leave my job.

  • profile image

    Martha Peddicord 2 years ago

    Can you give us some more insights into how to recognize these people early on? Are certain fields more populated with this personality? I deal with a lot of self proclaimed artists, and it seems like every other one fits this description. If removing yourself from the situation is the only protection, it could mean you have to be a hermit.??

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi Martha, please don't become a hermit. Certain professions do seem to attract self-centered and self-absorbed people. Actually, we're all this way, but to a greater or less degree. It's the extreme end of the spectrum that causes all the problems.

    Yes, you'll probably see some disordered personalities with self-proclaimed artists, as well as actors and movie stars. But, surprisingly, you'll find narcissists in the nursing and teaching professionals as well. They are everywhere, including church.

    But most people seem to be of very good will, and do not intend to cause others harm.

    I've written extensively about this stopping, with tips for spotting a narc, on my Female Bullies blog, which you can find at femalebullies @

  • roob profile image

    Ruby 16 months ago from United States

    those dolls are so creepy!

  • savvydating profile image

    savvydating 16 months ago

    Fascinating. The thing that drives me crazy is how some view the malignant narcissist as a "wise" person. How anyone can not see through their lies is beyond me. That being said, you are right---they do know how to ingratiate themselves to others. In truth, we are all fooled, initially. Great article.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 16 months ago from USA

    Hi savvydating, thanks so much for reading and for your feedback.

  • profile image

    Rhonda Marshall 8 months ago

    It can be very upsetting not to mention frightening when you find (literally out of the blue) that your supervisor at work has been gossiping about you and has turned all your co-workers against you. Suddenly you can do nothing right, your work is all wrong, your attitude and personality is wrong, even your manner of speaking , and where you come from, are wrong. She literally screams at you and confronts you over the smallest matters. It eventually gets to the point where you have to resign or end up with a heart attack or stroke because the pressure is so great. And to cap things off, she accuses you of being a narcissist!! It is just too ironic to be believed. I spent untold amounts of time trying to figure out where I went wrong and how I could have pleased her........ Eventually I just had to accept that there was literally nothing I could have done............

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