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Don Burleson Blog 









Dealing with people with narcissistic personality disorders

Tips by Donald Burleson

Most computer professionals have a very high opinion of themselves as suggested by these Computer Motivational Posters, but everyone agrees that computer people have a very high opinions of themselves.

I have a BA degree in Psychology and I've found that the course work of memorizing personality disorders was by-and-large a too much theory and psycho-babble, but it's fun to diagnose street schizophrenics ("look over there, that hobo pooping on the sidewalk has a copromanic disorder").  I'm no fan of the trend to label every weirdo with a DSM V code just so that they can have a "clinical" diagnosis.  Sometime, nuts is just nuts, and you can get way too clinical.  For example, have you seen the recent crap on Intermittent Explosive Disorder?

Anyway, there are many "common sense" parallels to people with personality disorders, and I'm dealing with a computer professional who has a a textbook case of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).  Other terms I hear used to describe NPD victims include "prick", "assh*le", and "twit", but I've learned that there is a lot that a savvy computer guy can do to get along with the computer narcissist, and get them to cooperate.

Because I work exclusively with computer professionals, I'm exposed to all sorts of personality disorders, a regular DSM-V of weird behavior, but narcissism is right up there at the top of the heap. 

Personally, I think that many of the narcissists that I meet in the computer profession got their low self esteem from being picked-on as the class "geek", and the behaviors of many narcissist's that I've seen remind me of the "98 pound weaklings" that I used to see getting teased and tormented in the playground. 

Now, I'm not a psychologist, but I've noticed that it's helpful to have an understanding of the motivators of various personality types, especially narcissistic personality disorders.  I firmly believe in Personality profiling for Business Success, so lets take a closer look at the information technology narcissist.

What compels people to hurl insults?

When I was studying for my degree in Psychology we learned that people who frequently insult others may have a deep-seated neurosis.  According to psychologists, people with an unwarranted sense of accomplishment often present as arrogant, elitist snobs, and are known to hurl insults at anyone who threatens their fragile self-esteem (also, see my related notes on the Narcisstic personality disorder). 

Psychologist Dr. Beatty has coined the term "Flamer Personality Disorder" (FPD), to describe people with a history of  insulting others.

Inside the narcissistic personality

Narcissistic personality disorders seem rampant among computer professionals, as here we see some major traits of people with narcissistic personalities, characterized by strong feelings of being ashamed of themselves all-the-while presenting a grandiose front. 

The old saying "He is a legend in his own mind" describes to-a-tee someone with narcissistic personality disorder and these types of weirdoes are super-common in the computer science and information technology industries where geeks and misfits can become zillionaires, despite their crippling mental problems.

The Office Narcissist

For a real treat in office narcissism, I love the NBC TV show "The Office", where the manager has a fancy certificate on his wall declaring "Michael Scott is the proud owner of a Seyko Timepiece" and the other twit who relishes his made-up job title of "Assistant to the Manager"!  Evidently, some British folks agree that this is narcissistic and find the American version of "The Office" as a hilarious exercise in weird narcissism "Employing both over-the-top narcissism and self-delusions of grandeur".

My list of Narcissistic personality characteristics

When I see anyone with low self-esteem covered-up by a grandiose presentation, I always suspect a narcissistic personality.  These are the characteristics that I look out for:

  • Rigid, inflexible thinking - Anyone with a different approach is seen as personally attacking the narcissist.  Rules rule, and some narcissists get inappropriately angry when they see little things, like grammar errors.  I knew a narcissistic computer programmer who would refuse to answer any e-mail that used non-accepted word abbreviations! - ("My way is the ONLY RIGHT way and any other way is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG").
  • Cannot be wrong - The narcissist is never, ever wrong, and they like to present "proofs" that they are correct.  The narcissist cannot accept responsibility for making a mistake and they are expert at diverting the blame to others - ("It's not my fault.  I lost that promotion because my team let me down").
  • Arrogant, boastful and pretentious - These are people with stupid/fake certificates and awards on their walls, the kind of people who exaggerate their accomplishments or use inflated job titles like "Engineer, Physicist" in their resume job histories. - (i.e. "I'm a Sanitation Engineer").  This narcissistic trait is especially prevalent in computer work where people elevate themselves to "expert" status, and then treat people in a demeaning way when they get questions ("Boy, now that's a really stupid question.  Where did you go to college?)".
  • Aggressive responses to criticism - ("How dare he criticize me?  That lying bastard, I swear I'll get even, if it takes years").  This essay notes that it especially difficult to do anything critical with the narcissist because they see the criticism as a threat to their self, making them great fun during job performance reviews:

    "Since the narcissist is incapable of asserting his or her own sense of adequacy, the narcissist seeks to be admired by others. However, the narcissist's extremely fragile sense of self worth does not allow him or her to risk any criticism."

Working with the Computer Narcissist

This entertaining site has a great description of how a narcissist reacts to criticism, something I've witnessed many times. 

"Narcissists react angrily to criticism and when rejected, the narcissist will often denounce the profession which has rejected them (usually for lack of competence or misdeed) but simultaneously and paradoxically represent themselves as belonging to the profession they are vilifying."

This article titled "The Narcissistic Boss" has a great insight on dealing with a narcissist boss:

"he suggests workers bite the bullet and allow a supervisor to take credit for their ideas. Such sacrifice may eventually "accrue to your benefit, because the boss comes to rely on you,"

If you recognize any narcissist traits in a boss or co-worker it's never a good idea to confront them directly.  Make notes, do your homework, and use a Machiavellian approach so that you can manipulate them when necessary.  Ah, we need to discuss the Machiavellian personality, and the MMPI Mach scale sometime. . .

A clinical list of Narcissistic personality characteristics

This article on dealing with narcissistic children has a good list, and has some of the items that I noted.

Reality distortion and Inability to See and Hear -- The child sees situations through his own sense of woundedness and neediness.  . .

Mood Switching --The child's fractured self is caught in mood swings. She may go back and forth between "I'll be good" and pouting or outrage because she isn't getting what she wants.  . .

Poor Impulse Control and Frustration Tolerance -- The child is highly reactive to outside stimuli that seem to threaten his sense of self and cannot delay gratification. He wants things NOW!  . . .

Poor Ego Boundaries and Need for Control -- The child cannot view things from any other perspective other than his own. He is so caught in his own neediness that he cannot feel empathy for others.

Denial of Uncomfortable Feelings --The child keeps the focus on what he wants not how he feels. His constant demanding keeps him from feeling the pain inside.

Frequent Anger and Rage --The child substitutes anger and tantrums as a way of keeping her uncomfortable feelings from being experienced. She becomes a master of rationalization and justification of her explosive actions . . .

Need for Admiration --The child erroneously believes that he is special and should be given special privileges. . .

Grandiosity and Fantasy --The child spins grandiose fantasies to cover up the internal wounds of his fractured self. He sets up elaborate fantasy schemes of winning, becoming powerful or gaining revenge for injustice. Daydreams of becoming rich and famous without talent or hard work are common.

Idealization and Devaluation of Teachers or Therapists --The child will make you feel that you are wonderful and special as long as you humor her. "As long as you give me what I want, you are the ideal person for me" . . .

Externalization of Blame --The child cannot allow the bad feelings of being at fault for anything. He/she/they/YOU are the problem! He avoids feeling vulnerable by blaming others.


Most computer professionals have a very high opinion of themselves as shown by these Computer Motivational Posters.

Reader comments:

I just want to say thank you.  It has made my day, and given me some good food for thought in how to deal with a peer at work who fits this profile perfectly.  Not to mention a few laughs. ;)  I have ruined my last day being upset by HIS problem.


You sure got it right when you said, "Because I work exclusively with computer professionals, I'm exposed to all sorts of personality disorders, a regular DSM-V of weird behavior, but narcissism is right up there at the top of the heap. "

I couldn't agree more. I've worked in IT for years, and it seems to be a refuge for the maladjusted; maybe folks who can't get any other kinds of jobs. This is what can sometimes make it so damned frustrating to work in IT. It's not the work, it's the people and all their convoluted passive aggressive nonsense.

Anyway, your site gave me a laugh. I like your computer motivational posters. You have to laugh to keep your sanity in this line of work.


Mona Temchin




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