Normal levels of narcissism are fundamental to the development of our self-respect, self-love, and pride. Unfortunately, perfectionism and obsession can lead to high levels of ego-inflated self-absorption that encourages the development of neurotic narcissistic traits.
The chief sign of narcissism is the loss of the Feeling function's other-directed focus, of the real authentic whole Self. In the extreme, narcissism becomes a personality disorder in which individuals are overly-invested in enhancing their public persona, the idealized image they wish to convey to the world. Similarly narcissistic-prone workaholics strive for the power and control necessary in order to manipulate situations and people to serve their own self-aggrandizing goals, often at any cost. Their arrogance and issues of entitlement affect judgment. Some are willing to say and do whatever would be expected or acceptable simply to impress others. Any information or challenge that conflicts with their unique perception of reality and their well-orchestrated plans is rejected, dismissed as irrelevant, or seen as a threat. No real interest is shown in seeking others' contrary opinions or expertise lest these offerings conflict with their own fixated ideas and ideologies. However, there may be no problem "borrowing" information and claiming ownership if it is useful for their own purposes.
While many workaholics gradually develop narcissistic attributes, some have a head start. The seeds of narcissism are often sown in the next generation in families where a narcissistic parent singles out a "chosen" child who is treated and told they are special, superior, even exceptional. As a consequence, much is expected and this child's accomplishments are highly rewarded. In contrast, the other children may be censured for natural negative feelings that can foster long-term denial and dishonesty—nothing they do is right, or enough.
The opinions of narcissistic workaholics are frequently stated with certainty because they are convinced that they are "right" and their way is "best." However, because they lack Feeling's sensitivity, and its conciliatory compassionate language, behavior and understanding, their thoughts are delivered as short blunt statements, often stated with a haughty, sometimes stinging quality that suggests a superiority or finality. Arguing your own point with them is typically fruitless because "agreeing to disagree" is not an option.
Narcissistic workaholics gradually opt out of personal responsibility because their energy must be directed to highly visible, results-oriented actions. As arrogance builds, spouses and assistants at work are expected to perform the essential everyday tasks that make it possible for these driven workaholics to devote their precious time and energy to reach the next ambitious goal. Even though these individuals are adept at controlling and manipulating, there comes a breaking point where others resist and blatantly challenge their tactics. Underneath their cocky exterior lies a fragile ego with deep-seated insecurities and the lack of self-acceptance that often stems from the conditional love they received as children.
These bright and talented workaholics crave being the centre of attention. They easily monopolize conversations talking about themselves and their concerns, and mention others when they wish to name-drop and impress. If their one-way conversations are interrupted, these poor listeners quickly self-reference back to their particular interests or expertise. Without Feeling's genuine other-directed focus, they rarely ask questions unless the forthcoming information might prove useful.
Invested in establishing their persona, narcissists often dress to fit the studied image they wish to convey. Extraverts use their considerable charm and seductive ways to impress and convince others of their importance. Some drive fancy cars and live in grand houses in the best neighborhoods, while more introverted types may downplay or belie their position in order to court sympathy and goodwill by driving old cars and living in unassuming surroundings.
Narcissistic workaholics are unable to truly love what they cannot control. As long as a spouse remains lovingly committed and supportive of their ambitions and values, things go reasonably well. However, because envy is inherent in their competitive nature, the very qualities that were initially found attractive in the spouse may prove threatening. As confidence wanes, growing insecurity causes these narcissists to put down and criticize their spouse in order to regain the superior position in the relationship. Spousal support eventually dissipates as the anxious workaholic's short-fused reactions and subsequent angry outbursts of rage become more frequent and destructive. Projection of blame and even dissociation may give these self-serving individuals license to be unfaithful, to go elsewhere to feed their sagging egos. An emptiness and disconcerting unease typically follow the pursuit of such sought-after excitement and adventure. True intimacy and close interpersonal connection is not possible without Feeling's nurturing and loving qualities.
The illusion of entitlement affects many areas of their lives, but none are more disturbing and far-reaching than the devious self-serving, self-aggrandizing decisions made by some narcissistic workaholics. Couple grandiose plans, together with the arrogant belief that they are above the law and accepted societal rules and regulations, and you have the components that can lead to unethical and immoral behavior. It is truly distressing to learn from the media that once again some prominent person in a position of power has lost his or her integrity through often outrageous acts of lying, stealing, committing fraud or infidelities.
Unfortunately, narcissism is the real evil of workaholism. In Integrity. Doing the Right Thing For the Right Reason (1) you will find an explanation of the historical and philosophical background of why narcissism and the excesses of the eighties have left us with the legacy of the "me" generation. You may also be interested in answering the Quiz, What is Your Level of Narcissism?
In the next blog we will begin an in-depth exploration of the "Breakdown Syndrome" that workaholism predictably follows.
McGill-Queen's University Press, 2007- ISBN 978-0-7735-3287-8 Second Edition, 2010 - ISBN 978-0-7735-3752-1
For other publications, see Website: www.drbarbarakillinger.com
(1) Copyright 2012 - Dr. Barbara Killinger