How to Manage a Narcissist (Hunt et al)

This section contains:

How to Manage a Narcissist (Joanne Hunt)

Covert Narcissism (Jodi Clarke)

Malignant Narcissism (Elizabeth Scott)

How to Cope With a Personality Disorder (Amy Morin)

What is the grey rock method? (Jessica Caporuscio)

How to Manage a Narcissist (not that they will care)

Joanne Hunt THE IRISH TIMES March 5th 2022

They can drag you down and destroy your self-esteem, but only if you let them

Narcissism spells trouble for the narcissist and everyone around them.

Narcissism spells trouble for the narcissist and everyone around them.

What is a narcissist?

An inflated sense of importance, a deep need for attention and admiration, a lack of empathy – if these traits sound familiar, you could be dealing with a narcissist.

Of course, if you’re the narcissist you won’t recognise yourself at all.

Jekyll and Hyde

Oh Lordy. Narcissism spells trouble for the narcissist and everyone around them. Frequently charming and convincing, it can take a while to see their darker traits. Their manipulation is gradual.

“It’s difficult for us to see what’s really going on, particularly if we care about the person,” says Alison Winfield, counsellor at Mindfully Well Cork.

Criticism is one thing, but the narcissist takes it up a notch. “It’s more the slow and insidious nature of the criticism,” says Winfield.

“It leads to somebody, over time, completely losing their self-esteem. The narcissist is very good at working out what buttons to press. They know exactly what to say and when to say it to have the most devastating effect.”

Frankly my dear…

The narcissist doesn’t know how to give a damn.

“It’s a lack of empathy. They really don’t care about anyone apart from themselves,” says Winfield.

Not only do they not recognise their fault, they are certain it’s your fault. The narcissist can bring out the worst in us, too.

“It can be completely crazy-making in a household, a workplace or a family,” she says. “It’s almost like there is a dance going on where the narcissist controls everybody behaving in a certain way.”

Label them

In between the criticism, the narcissist can be lovely. That’s what makes things so confusing, says Winfield. However, grasping who the person really is can put you back in the driving seat.

“Once you realise the type of personality you are dealing with, it gets a bit easier. You realise, it’s not me, it’s them. Also, there is nothing you can do that will ever make them change. They won’t change.”

Stop focusing on them

Accommodating and pacifying a narcissist partner, family member, friend or boss can be a full-time job. If their argy bargy is filling your head and dominating your life, quit.

“Focus on yourself, your own life, your interests, your friends. Stop focusing on them,” says Winfield.

Pick your battles

With a narcissist in your life, it is easy for there to be constant tension and argument. Pick only those battles that are important to you.

“Decide what boundaries you absolutely need to set for yourself. If they step over those, call them out. Let some things go, but other things, say, no, I will not let that go.”

By appeasing them, you may inadvertently be prompting them to further dominate you. Other strategies include ending the relationship or minimising contact. If they must attend your family event, set strict parameters.

Don’t take the bait

Cutting them out might not be the end of it. Be wary. Their modus operandi can be to lure you back into battle. A long, long text message, an email, an invitation to meet and talk things over, a promise to change – this can be bait.

“It can be about drawing you back in. You want to reply because you are angry, then suddenly you are sucked back in,” says Winfield.

Don’t feed their narcissism. A narcissist is unlikely to commit to counselling.

“They wouldn’t feel they are wrong or that it’s them that needs to change. They don’t question themselves.”

Covert Narcissism: Signs, Causes and How to Respond

By Jodi Clarke, MA, LPC/MHSP Updated on October 20, 2021
Medically reviewed by David Susman, PhD


Sometimes it’s easy to spot the narcissist in the room. They are the ones who are working the crowd, loudly sharing fabulous stories that convey a sense of importance and accomplishment so that they can feel admired. Someone behaving like this tends to send out a clear signal to those around them that they are not approachable or compassionate.

Could there be other people in the room with those same exaggerated motivations for admiration and importance but are harder to identify? Yes, in fact, there could be someone close to you who is a narcissist but shows up in less obvious ways.

What Are Narcissistic Traits?

Common narcissistic traits include having a strong sense of self-importance, experiencing fantasies about fame or glory, exaggerating self abilities, craving admiration, exploiting others, and lacking empathy.

This article discusses how to recognise the signs of covert narcissism and some of the factors that cause this behaviour. It also covers what you can do to protect yourself if someone you know is a covert narcissist.

What Is Narcissism?

The word narcissist is a term regularly used in casual discussions to describe anyone who seems a bit self-involved. However, in terms of clinical mental health, someone needs to meet specific criteria in order to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder.

In general, people with narcissistic personality disorder are preoccupied with their own success and have a grand sense of self-importance that influences their decision-making and interactions.

Narcissists find it difficult to build or maintain connections with others because of their manipulative tendencies and lack of empathy. They often feel entitled and lack compassion, yet crave attention and admiration.

The following are some elements of narcissism:

  1. Having a sense of self-importance or grandiosity
  2. Experiencing fantasies about being influential, famous, or important
  3. Exaggerating their abilities, talents, and accomplishments
  4. Craving admiration and acknowledgment
  5. Being preoccupied with beauty, love, power, or success
  6. Having an exaggerated sense of being unique
  7. Believing that the world owes them something
  8. Exploiting others to get what they want (no matter how it impacts others)
  9. Lacking empathy toward others

What Is a Covert Narcissist?

In the field of psychology, behaviour can be described as overt or covert. Overt behaviours are those that can be easily observed by others, such as those of the traditional narcissist described earlier. Covert behaviours, however, are those that are more subtle and a bit less obvious to others.

A covert narcissist is someone who craves admiration and importance as well as lacks empathy toward others but can act in a different way than an overt narcissist.

When considering the behaviour of narcissists, it might be hard to imagine how someone could be a narcissist and be inhibited in their approach and behaviour. A covert narcissist may be outwardly self-effacing or withdrawn in their approach, but the end goals are the same.

For example, this might be described as listening to your favourite song while blasting the volume, compared to listening to that same song on a low volume. The song itself hasn’t changed, just the volume in which you are listening.

Causes of Covert Narcissism

The exact causes of covert narcissism are not entirely understood, but it is likely that a number of factors contribute. Experts suggest that narcissistic personality disorder is linked to factors including:

  1. Genetics
  2. Childhood abuse and trauma
  3. Upbringing and relationships with caregivers
  4. Personality and temperament

One study found that people with narcissistic personality disorder are more likely to have grown up with parents who were highly focused on status and achievements.3 Because they were often made to feel superior to other children, the belief that they are special and more valuable than others may persist into adulthood.

It is not clear, however, why narcissistic behaviour is sometimes displayed in covert rather than overt ways.


Covert narcissism is characterised by the same behaviours of overt narcissism that are displayed in less obvious, more subtle ways. The exact causes for this are not known, but genetics and early relationships may play a role.

Overt versus Covert Narcissism

Covert narcissists are only different from overt (more obvious) narcissists in that they tend to be more introverted. The overt narcissist is easily identified because they tend to be loud, arrogant, insensitive to the needs of others, and always thirsty for compliments.1

Their behaviours can be easily observed by others and tend to show up as “big” in a room. Overt narcissists demonstrate more extroverted behaviours in their interactions with others.

Researcher and author Craig Malkin, PhD suggests that the term “covert” can be misleading. In his work, he states that the term covert is often used to suggest that the covert narcissist is sneaky or that their strive for importance is not as significant as an overt (more extroverted) narcissist. In fact, he reports, the traits of the overt narcissist and the covert narcissist are the same.

Both covert and overt narcissists navigate the world with a sense of self-importance and fantasising about success and grandeur.

Both overt and covert narcissists need to meet the same clinical criteria to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, whether they are extroverted or introverted. Both have deficits in their capacity to regulate their self-esteem.

Many people have fallen victim to the manipulative behaviours of a covert narcissist without realising what has happened until they are already in emotional pain. It might be more accurate to suggest that the extroverted (overt) narcissist would be a lot easier to see coming than the introverted (covert) narcissist.

It is not unusual for people to find themselves in long-term relationships with covert narcissists only to be hurt by a sense of a lack of partnership or reciprocity in the relationship.

Signs of a Covert Narcissist

Although there are clinical criteria that need to be met in order for someone to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, there are some general traits and patterns to look for in everyday interactions if you suspect you might be dealing with a covert narcissist.

Being aware of these traits can help empower you, helping you to recognise and better navigate potentially unhealthy interactions.

Passive Self-Importance

Where the more overt, extroverted narcissist will be obvious in their elevated sense of self and their arrogance when interacting with others, the covert narcissist may be less obvious.

The covert narcissist certainly craves importance and thirsts for admiration but it can look different to those around them. They might give back-handed compliments, or purposefully minimise their accomplishments or talents so that people will offer them reassurance of how talented they are.

The reality for both the overt and covert narcissist is that they have a fragile sense of self.

The overt narcissist will demand admiration and attention, where the covert narcissist will use softer tactics to meet those same goals. The covert narcissist will be much more likely to constantly seek reassurance about their talents, skills, and accomplishments, looking for others to feed that same need for self-importance.

Blaming and Shaming

Shaming is a tactic that narcissists may use to secure their sense of an elevated position in relation to others. The overt (extroverted) narcissist might be more obvious in their approach to gaining leverage, such as explicitly putting you down, being rude, criticising you, and being sarcastic.

The introverted, covert narcissist may have a more gentle approach to explain why something is your fault and they are not to blame. They might even pretend to be a victim of your behaviour or engage in emotional abuse to put themselves in a position to receive reassurance and praise from you.6 Whether overt or covert, the goal is to make the other person feel small.

Creating Confusion

Although not always sneaky, some covert narcissists can take joy in creating confusion. They may not engage in blaming or shaming, but instead, causing people to question their perceptions and second-guess themselves.

Another way to create leverage between them and another person, the covert narcissist needs to use tactics like this to elevate themselves and maintain power in the interaction. If they can get you to question your perceptions, it allows them the opportunity to manipulate and exploit you more.

Procrastination and Disregard

Because their need for self-importance reigns supreme, covert narcissists will do whatever they need to do in order to keep the focus on themselves. So, where an extroverted narcissist will blatantly push you aside or manipulate you to accomplish their goal, the covert narcissist is a professional at not acknowledging you at all.

It is not a coincidence that narcissists, in general, tend to gravitate toward interacting with caring and compassionate people. The covert narcissist recognises those opportunities for manipulation as well.

They have no problem letting you know that you are not important.

Rather than explicitly telling you that you’re not important, they might stand you up on a date, wait until the last minute to respond to texts or emails, always show up late, or never make confirmed plans at all. There is no regard for your time or interests, leaving you feeling small, unimportant, and irrelevant.

Giving With a Goal

In general, narcissists are not givers. They find it difficult to put energy into anything that doesn’t serve them in some way. A covert narcissist might present themselves in a way that looks like they are giving, but their giving behaviour is only demonstrated with the intent of getting something in return.

A simple, everyday example could be something like putting a tip in the jar at your local coffee shop. A covert narcissist would be much more likely to put their tip in the jar when they know the barista is looking, in order to help facilitate some kind of interaction that allows them to be praised for giving.

The intent of giving for a covert narcissist is always more about them and less about those to whom they are giving.

Emotionally Neglectful

Narcissists are inept at building and nurturing emotional bonds with others. The covert narcissist is no different. So, although they may appear kinder and less obnoxious than their extroverted counterpart, they are not emotionally accessible or responsive either.

You will likely not receive many compliments from a covert narcissist. Remembering that they are always focused on staying elevated to maintain their sense of self-importance, it is easy to understand how a covert narcissist would find it difficult to compliment you. There is usually little regard for your talents or abilities—usually, a narcissist has no regard for these things at all.

Just as with an overt narcissist, you will likely find yourself doing most of the heavy emotional lifting in a relationship with a covert narcissist. Although the covert is more likely to appear emotionally accessible, it tends to be a performance and usually done with intent to exploit or eventually leave the person feeling small through disregard, blaming, or shaming.

Since one of the hallmark traits of narcissistic personality disorder is lack of empathy, the covert narcissist is not going to be emotionally responsive to their partner in a healthy way.


Covert narcissists often behave in passive-aggressive ways. They disregard others while exaggerating their own importance. They also blame, shame, and ignore the feelings and needs of other people.

How to Deal With a Covert Narcissist

You may currently be in a personal relationship with a covert narcissist, whether it be a family member, co-worker, or significant other. Although you cannot control what a narcissist does, you can control how you behave and interact with them. There are steps that you can take to protect yourself when having to deal with a covert narcissist.

Avoid Taking It Personally

When dealing with a narcissist, whether covert or overt, their manipulative behaviour can feel very personal. The lack of regard, sense of entitlement, patterns of manipulation, and deceptive behaviours can feel very personal when on the receiving end.

No matter how painful the behaviours might feel in the moment, it’s important to remember that they have nothing to do with you.

A narcissist behaves in negative ways because of something unhealthy within them—not because there is something unhealthy about you.

It is OK to look at the situation and the interactions in regard to how you contribute to them. However, it is very important when dealing with a narcissist that you let them “own” their part.

Narcissists want you to take it personally because that is how they maintain leverage. Remember, a narcissist feels small, so they have to make themselves “big” somehow.

Set Boundaries

Narcissists do not have healthy boundaries. Because covert narcissists lack empathy, have a strong sense of entitlement, and exploit others, boundaries are something that gets in the way of their goals. The more you can practice setting boundaries with a narcissist, the more consistently you are conveying to them that their tactics are not working.

Setting boundaries can be very difficult, particularly with a narcissist. Remember that boundaries are just a way for you to let someone else know what your values are. Consider what is important to you, what your values are, and work to create boundaries to support them.

Understanding why you are setting particular boundaries can help you have more confidence in establishing them and can keep you on track if someone attempts to violate or disregard your boundaries.

Advocate for Yourself

When interacting with a covert narcissist, it can be easy to lose your voice. Because the patterns of interaction are so manipulative, it may take time for you to realise that you’re not advocating for yourself.

Take time to tune back in with yourself, who you are, and what you are about. Take stock of your values, your goals, and your talents. Strengthening your relationship with yourself is key in being able to speak up during interactions with a narcissist.

When advocating for yourself, the narcissist gets a chance to meet the part of you that is aware and knowledgeable of their tactics, making it less appealing for them to keep trying those things with you.

Create a Healthy Distance

Being in a relationship with a covert narcissist can feel frustrating and overwhelming. There are times when it can be difficult to create distance between you and that person, such as with a family member or co-worker.

Limiting personal interactions, asking to be moved to a different location in your office, taking breaks at a different time, or simply cutting off contact might be what is necessary if you are being hurt by someone’s narcissism. The goal of creating distance is not to hurt the other person; the goal is to protect yourself and create space for you to heal.

When to Seek Help

If someone you know shows signs of covert narcissism that are creating distress or affecting areas of your life, encourage them to talk to their healthcare provider. A doctor or therapist can recommend treatments that can help address these symptoms and improve their ability to cope.


A covert narcissist is someone who has the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) but displays these behaviours in more subtle ways. Symptoms include a lack of empathy and a need for admiration.

While they may lack the obvious grandiosity and self-importance that people with overt NPD exhibit, their behaviour can still be harmful to others. If you know someone who is a covert narcissistic, your relationship with them may be challenging, but there are ways to protect your well-being.

Covert narcissism may be less apparent than overt narcissism, but this doesn’t mean it is any less harmful. If you know someone who is a covert narcissist, take steps to protect yourself and your emotional well-being. Learn to recognise the signs, don’t take their behaviour personally, and create distance between you and that person to help establish clear boundaries.

You may also find it helpful to talk to a therapist about your experiences. A mental health professional can help you understand the behaviour and develop coping skills that will help.

Malignant Narcissism

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD Updated on March 01, 2022
Medically reviewed by Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD


Narcissism is a personality trait recognised throughout history, but awareness of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and narcissistic personality in popular culture has grown.  As a result, people may wonder if they are dealing with someone who is selfish, thoughtless, or overly power-seeking—or if they are dealing with someone with a true disorder.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is an enduring pattern of inner experience and behaviour characterised by self-centredness, lack of empathy, and an exaggerated sense of self-importance.

It is one of several different types of personality disorders recognised by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is used by many mental health professionals to diagnose this and

There are different types of narcissism, including malignant narcissism, which many consider the most severe. That’s why it helps to recognise when you have someone with this condition in your life and what to expect from interactions with them. This knowledge can also provide insight into how to deal with them in the healthiest way possible.

What Is Malignant Narcissism?

Beyond the desire to focus primarily on themselves and be held in high regard by virtually everyone in their lives, people with malignant narcissism tend to have a darker side to their self-absorption. These individuals can be highly manipulative and don’t care who they hurt as long as they get their own way.

Although there is only one official diagnosis for narcissism, there are different types. Someone with grandiose narcissism, for instance, requires excessive praise and attention, while someone with vulnerable narcissism tends to have a lot of anxiety and need a lot of supportive attention.

Among the different types, people with malignant narcissism are by far the most harmful to others. Social psychologist Erich Fromm, who first coined the term malignant narcissism, called people with this type “the quintessence of evil.“1

People with this narcissism subtype contain the general traits of NPD, including regular egocentricity. They also have antisocial traits and even a sadistic streak, as well as a poor sense of self and lack of empathy. There is often some paranoia involved with malignant narcissism as well.

Some experts see little difference between malignant narcissism and psychopathy in that both have antisocial behaviour and low empathy.4

Signs and Symptoms of Malignant Narcissism

Signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder (and the severity of these symptoms) vary. But the following are often characteristic of someone with malignant narcissism:

  1. Preoccupied with fantasies about beauty, brilliance, success, and power
  2. Unable to handle criticismTendency to lash out if they feel slighted
  3. Likely to take advantage of others to get what they want
  4. Overly concerned about their appearance
  5. Have an expectation of being treated as superior
  6. Lack of empathy for others
  7. Inflated sense of self and inability to self-regulate
  8. Have no remorse for hurting others and no interest in apologising unless it benefits them
  9. Have an attitude of deserving the best of everything
  10. Tendency to monopolise conversations and/or mistreat those who they perceive as inferior
  11. Hidden insecurity and a weak sense of self
  12. Tendency to blame others for their own bad behaviour

Additional signs of malignant narcissism can include:

  1. Seeing the world in black-and-white terms, including seeing others as either friend or foe
  2. Seeking to win at all costs, leaving a great amount of pain, frustration, and even heartache in their wake
  3. Not caring about the pain they cause others—or maybe even enjoying it and experiencing it as empowering
  4. Doing what it takes to protect themselves from loss, inconvenience, or failing to get what they want in any situation

Causes of Malignant Narcissism

The exact cause of malignant narcissism is not known.5 As with most mental health disorders, NPD can develop as a result of a combination of factors. For instance, the following childhood experiences can contribute to the development of NPD:

  1. Abuse
  2. Excessive parental pampering
  3. Overly authoritarian parenting
  4. Unpredictable care

Evidence shows that having a close relative with NPD can increase the risk of developing the condition as well. It’s also possible that neurobiology may play a role. According to research published in 2021, some patients with NPD have been found to have altered grey and white brain matter.

Diagnosis of Malignant Narcissism

While malignant narcissism isn’t recognised as an official diagnosis in the DSM-5, which is the standard for diagnosis of psychiatric conditions, mental health experts often use this term to describe a combination of the following:

  1. Antisocial personality disorder (APD)
  2. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)
  3. Aggression and sadism (toward self, others, or both)
  4. Paranoia

Antisocial Personality Disorder

According to the DSM-5, a person with APD must be at least 18 years old and have a pattern of disregard for the rights of others, including at least three of the following:8

  1. Disregard for the safety of the self and others
  2. Failure to obey laws or social norms
  3. Impulsive behaviour
  4. Irritability and aggression
  5. Lack of remorse for actions
  6. Lying or manipulating others for profit or amusement
  7. Pattern of irresponsibility

What Is Antisocial Personality Disorder?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

The following is an abbreviated summary of the diagnostic criteria for NPD according to the DSM-5:8

  1. A grandiose sense of self-importance
  2. Persistent fantasies about unlimited success and power
  3. A belief that they are “special” and unique and can only be understood by or should associate with similar high-status people and organisations
  4. A constant need for attention, admiration, and praise
  5. A sense of entitlement and expectation of special treatment
  6. A tendency to use others for their own needs or wants
  7. A lack of empathy or unwillingness/inability to recognise and honour the needs and feelings of others
  8. Proneness to envy or having a belief that they are envied by others
  9. A sense of arrogance shown in behaviours and/or attitudes

Narcissism versus NPD

It’s important to note that not all narcissistic traits necessarily indicate a personality disorder which, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), involves at least two of the following four areas:

  1. Affective (ways of responding emotionally)
  2. Cognitive (ways of thinking about oneself and others)
  3. Impulse control (ways of controlling one’s behaviour)
  4. Interpersonal (ways of relating to others)

Even if your [coworker] or loved one isn’t officially diagnosed with NPD, narcissistic behaviours can still be difficult to deal with and have a negative impact on your relationship.

While not every person who displays narcissistic traits is a classic “narcissist” in the sense that they have NPD, even those who fail to meet the criteria for diagnosis can create a lot of harm with the traits they do possess.

Treatment of Malignant Narcissism

Treating malignant narcissism can be challenging, especially since people with NPD often fail to follow through with treatment.


Counselling or therapy is the most common treatment for NPD. If you or someone you care about has narcissistic personality disorder, there are certain therapies that may be helpful. Although there is relatively limited data on this topic, the therapy approaches often applied include:11

Psychodynamic psychotherapy: helps people better understand their thoughts and emotions

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): helps people identify and change destructive thoughts and behaviours

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT): teaches people healthy coping skills, emotional regulation techniques, and how to stay in the present

Couples counselling: helps people improve their relationships with their partners or spouses

Family therapy: helps people recognise and effectively deal with family relationship issues, such as those related to communication and conflict

People with NPD generally resist therapy because they fear criticism; however, a willingness to change combined with counselling can provide positive results.

How to Deal With Malignant Narcissism

How does one deal with NPD in a loved one or in someone they must deal with, like a boss or co-worker? Here are a few guidelines that can help.

  1. Put some distance between you and them. This may be challenging as those with narcissistic traits tend to have poor boundaries. As a result, they may resent when you try to set them, but it is healthier for you.
  2. Don’t try to change them and don’t expect them to change or you might be disappointed.
  3. Know that if you challenge them directly, they will likely retaliate. This doesn’t mean that you agree with whatever the person with narcissism asks of you, but you may want to find less confrontational ways to communicate your boundaries or disagreements.
  4. If you do need to confront the person, try not to do so in front of a large audience. Confronting someone with narcissism in front of others may make them want to save face. It can also cause them to feel more threatened, sparking retaliation.
  5. Surround yourself with supportive people as much as possible. Use your support group to absorb some of the negativity you may experience with this person.

When to Seek Help

Because NPD can impact personal relationships, getting help may improve the quality of their interactions with others. Though, in the end, it is up to them whether they seek help and if they put in the work to get the most benefits possible.

Whether or not your [coworker or] loved one is receiving treatment for their condition, you may want to consider speaking with a mental health professional yourself. In addition to helping you better understand their narcissistic behaviours, a therapist can help you develop coping strategies to protect your mental and emotional well-being.

Interacting with someone with malignant narcissism isn’t easy, so it’s simplest if you can put distance between yourself and this person. Admittedly, if this person is a family member or co-worker, creating distance can be difficult. In this case, it helps to know who you are dealing with and how to handle communication in the healthiest way possible.

If you think your [coworker or] loved one might have malignant narcissism, talk to your healthcare provider [or HR team]. A trained mental health professional can help you learn coping skills and how to set boundaries and practice self-care strategies. Group therapy and support groups may also be helpful resources.

How to Cope With a Personality Disorder: Strategies for Feeling Your Best

By Amy Morin, LCSW Updated on July 19, 2021
Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD

Approximately 9% of the general population has a personality disorder. Despite the high prevalence, many individuals with personality disorders don’t know they have one, let alone understand how to cope with one.

By definition, a personality disorder involves one or more pathological personality traits that create significant impairment in an individual’s life. The features must be stable across time and consistent across situations.

Learning how to cope with a personality disorder is key to functioning at your best. With professional support, you can learn how to manage all aspects of your life.

Types of Personality Disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), recognises 10 different personality disorders. And while each personality disorder involves different symptoms and treatments, there are some strategies that can help anyone living with a personality disorder cope better.

Personality disorders are separated into three different Clusters or groups:

Cluster A – Includes odd, bizarre, and eccentric behavior. Paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and schizotypal personality disorder are Cluster A disorders.

Cluster B – Refers to dramatic and erratic personality disorders. Antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder are Cluster B disorders.

Cluster C – Involves anxious and fearful personality disorders. Avoidant personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder are Cluster C disorders.

Workplaces and Organisations

Solutions to maintaining a job—and working in an environment you enjoy—depend on the type of personality disorder.

Someone with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder may struggle to be productive. Their perfectionism makes it difficult (if not impossible) to complete tasks. Some people with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder may immerse themselves in work at the expense of friends and family.

Someone with narcissistic personality disorder may do well in a leadership position (at least in the short-term). Narcissistic personality disorder involves a grandiose view of oneself—something that may lend itself to being in charge.

Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder may be viewed as tyrants by their colleagues which can cause long-term problems. By nature, they tend to lack empathy and may have little compassion for other employees.

[With “ruth” meaning compassion for the situation or misery of others”, being described as “ruth-less” or compassion-free has for far too long been wrongly associated with business success, including by business school students, who would not be likely to respond well to one of their lecturers who consistently ridiculed them. With leadership involving “motivating a group of people to achieve common goals” many of the behaviours associated with narcissism are quite the opposite of motivation, not least criticism, discouragement and even humiliation.

Behaviour which makes the manager or leader feel better by making others feel worse, could never be associated with “successful” management or leadership, as described by many of the articles / papers in this Leaders Lacking Integrity section.

Those who see nothing wrong in words, deeds and actions which many others couldn’t even countenance, who seem to operate within their own parameters of what may be right and wrong, especially when others may see these as being confused and bizarre but they believe to be entirely normal and the way they have always lived life and dealt with other people, thriving on discouragement, disagreement, dissent, disruption, disharmony and even outright conflict rather than harmonious cooperation, may indeed have something wrong with them.

At its most basic, society needs more self-less than self-serving people in managerial and leadership roles, appreciating that those who seem to “lack a sense of wrong” may indeed have something wrong with them. Global society in all its branches of endeavour certainly does not need those who can seem to be at their happiest when making others miserable, especially when they who can seem to “get a kick” out of criticising, diminishing and humiliating other people, aspects which some can misconstrue as being indicative of “strong leadership” rather than a fundamental character flaw and perhaps even a “personality disorder”.

Indeed knowledge of “Personality Disorders” can appear to be one of the world’s best kept secrets given the number of those this research refers to as “Disordered Leaders” who avail  of their “ICE features” of “Intelligence, Charm and Eloquence” to persuade others they are capable of leadership and managerial roles which those they (mis)lead or (mal)manage would be given significant grounds to doubt, without necessarily realising that they actually may be ice-cold emotionally, given they they are equally adept at “acting normal” when so required.

Indeed those lacking a “sense of wrong’ may actually have something wrong with them, failing to see that they may be steering their organisation and people in directions which satisfy themselves personally, but may be difficult for the organisation (or nation) to recover from.

At the end of the day it isn’t all about them, although they constantly believe it is, given that at the end of the (very long) day the narcissist really only cares about him/herself. Those who make enemies out friends rather then friends out of enemies lack the core essentials of leadership especially when others believe to be unnecessarily self-centred, challenging and confrontational, contributing to the significantly sub-optimum outcome of a BLAME environment or culture which can arise when a leader can only praise himself but not others and thrives on being critical but cannot accept even an iota of criticism without a volcanic reaction, typically blaming others for faults and failings which are his own.

Given the considerable impact leaders can have on many aspects of organisational and even national life, from highly positive and constructive to deeply negative and destructive, John Milton’s astute observation in 1667 that

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven”

could be as apt today, describing the impact of strong personalities on the prevailing culture of not only the organisations they both lead and mis-lead, but even the nations.

While many leaders may be well capable of making a heaven of hell, others are more naturally disposed to making a hell of heaven.

Employees unfortunate enough to work in “5C environments” involving “Counterproductively Competitive & Combative Corporate Cultures” may well describe the resulting environment as “Paradise Lost”.

Intolerance of low integrity by leaders of high personal integrity with a strong and active conscience ensures unfair, unjust and unethical acts are not condoned and are unlikely to be repeated, given the more constructive, cooperative, honest, harmonious and less adversarial culture such leaders engender throughout their organisation, being based on positivity, praise and encouragement rather than negativity, critique, fear, discouragement and blame.

However the acceptance of low integrity by narcissistic leaders ensures instances are permitted and hence more likely to recur by the more combative, fearful and destructive nature of the culture prevalent within their organisation, none of which are associated with successful leadership.

Indeed those who feel better by way of making others feel worse, rather than encouraging those they are responsible for to do well, may be displaying traits which the psychiatric and psychological profession associate with the grouping described as Cluster B personality disorders  including Narcissistic, Antisocial, Histrionic and Borderline].

When Borderline (BPD) and Narcissistic personality disorders (NPD) occur together, symptoms of each may worsen. It may be more challenging to diagnose and treat the conditions. But it’s possible that treating BPD may help alleviate some of the symptoms of NPD.

Know Yourself

No matter which type of personality disorder you have, one of the keys to succeeding at work is to recognise your patterns. Do you have a history of losing your temper in the office? Do you struggle with productivity? Do you get fired after a couple of months or do you tend to quit jobs after only a few weeks?

While recognising workplace patterns won’t solve the problem, self-awareness can help you identify changes you want to make. In conjunction with a therapist, you may be able to identify strategies that prevent you from repeating the cycle.

Another key to living your best life when you have a personality disorder is finding the right job. Someone with avoidant personality disorder, for example, is likely to feel overwhelmed as a sales professional in a crowded office. But, that same individual may do well to work in a smaller environment with a few trusted colleagues.

It’s also important to consider whether you should reveal your personality disorder to anyone in the workplace. There’s certainly a stigma attached to mental illness. But, notifying a hiring manager as you’re ironing out the details of employment could ensure that your employer will make reasonable accommodations for you.


The emotional pain associated with a personality disorder may cause you to turn to unhealthy coping skills for instant relief. Abusing drugs or alcohol, smoking, overeating, or self-harm are just a few of the strategies you might be tempted to turn to when you’re having a hard time.

Individuals with Cluster B personality disorders are at a greater risk for suicide attempts. Feeling abandoned, being rejected, or experiencing a career-related crisis are some of the factors that may increase an individual’s suicide risk. A healthy self-care plan may reduce that risk.

Some people with personality disorders struggle with basic self-care. They struggle to maintain their household and their health. They may require assistance to stay organised, manage their finances, and attend appointments.

Some individuals with personality disorders do well for a time but then become dysregulated. Then, their symptoms and behaviours become increasingly disruptive. A healthy self-care plan can reduce some of the ups and downs.


One of the hallmarks of a personality disorder is interpersonal problems. Each personality disorder presents a slightly different challenge when it comes to relationships.

People with paranoid personality disorder have a pervasive distrust of others, including friends, family members, and partners. They’re constantly looking for clues that validate their fears that other people are out to get them. Consequently, people with paranoid personality disorder struggle to form and maintain relationships.

People with histrionic personality disorder strive to be the centre of attention. They depend on approval for others to feel OK. They take great care in their appearance and may seem insincere, superficial, overly charming, or inappropriately seductive. Their behaviour can repel people—which is very distressing to them. And the more rejected they feel, the more histrionic they may become.

People with dependent personality disorder have an excessive need for help making everyday decisions. They often defer important life decisions to other people. They see themselves as helpless and have a major fear of loss of support or approval. They view other people as protective and more competent than they are. They can be easily victimised by people who take advantage of their neediness.

Some people with personality disorders manage casual relationships quite well. But, close relationships can be quite difficult for them.

Others, though, actually do best when they’re involved in close relationships. Being in a stable partnership, for example, may reduce symptoms.

Establishing healthy relationships is often a goal of treatment for personality disorders. In order to reach those goals, people with personality disorders may need to learn new social skills, learn healthy ways to regulate their emotions, or improve their self-worth.

It’s important for partners, parents, or adult children to be educated about an individual’s personality disorder. They may be invited to attend family therapy or may be encouraged to attend a support group.


People with personality disorders are at a greater risk for health issues. They also have a reduced life expectancy.

One study found that women with Cluster B disorders are more likely to experience syncope, seizures, and arthritis, Cluster A personality disorders are more likely to experience gastro-esophageal reflux disease, and Cluster C are more likely to experience higher rates of recurrent headaches.


Personality disorders have also been linked to sleep disturbance. Many individuals with personality disorders, especially borderline personality disorder, report worse sleep quality than other people. Some studies have found, however, that sleep disturbances in individuals with personality disorders are on par with other mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression.


Individuals with chronic pain are more likely to screen positive for antisocial or borderline personality traits. Individuals with borderline personality disorder report more chronic back/neck problems, headaches, fibromyalgia, visceral pain, and higher pain severity.


Personality disorders have also been linked to obesity. Although people with any psychiatric disorder have greater odds of being overweight, individuals with personality disorders were more likely to be obese.

Higher rates of personality disorders are seen among obese patients referred for bariatric surgery. In one study, adolescents diagnosed with any personality disorder were 1.84 times more likely to be obese 17 years later, even after adjusting for demographic characteristics.

It’s important to take care of your physical health to live your best life. Attend appointments with your physician and follow medical advice. Having a supportive friend, family member, or case manager who can help you navigate the healthcare system can be helpful if you struggle to follow medical advice.


A parent with a personality disorder can be very loving, warm, and nurturing. But, that same parent may face some special child-rearing challenges.

A 2015 study that examined mothers with borderline personality disorder and their children found that the mothers with infants had less sensitivity toward their children and more difficulty identifying their child’s emotional state. They tended to be overprotective of older children. The children of mothers with borderline personality disorder had poorer mental health compared to other children.

A 2017 study found that individuals scoring high in narcissism were likely to express little empathy toward their children. Additionally, they were unresponsive to their children’s needs and likely to be overly authoritarian or permissive with their children.

If you have a personality disorder, you might benefit from therapy that targets your specific parenting needs. For example, a parent with narcissistic personality disorder may need to learn how to empathise with their children. Or, a parent with borderline personality disorder may benefit from learning how to improve their own emotion regulation skills.

A parenting group, in-home parenting coach, or family therapy may also be options to help you become the best parent you can.

Work With a Treatment Team

There’s a common misconception that people with personality disorders don’t get better. But, treatment for many personality disorders can be quite effective—although it’s often intensive.

Many people with personality disorders also have other mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Studies show:

42 percent of people with Cluster A personality disorders,

83 percent of people with Cluster B personality disorders, and

50 percent of people with Cluster C personality disorders have co-morbid conditions.

Studies also estimate 50 percent of individuals with personality disorders have substance use disorders, meaning they may abuse alcohol or be dependent on drugs.

Treatment may involve simultaneously treating the substance use as well as the personality disorder. Or, an individual may need treatment for anxiety for while also undergoing treatment for the personality disorder.


Treatment needs depend on the type of personality disorder a person has. But, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a common treatment strategy.

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is a derivative of CBT and it’s been found to be very effective in treating borderline personality disorder. It focuses on teaching individual’s specific mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness skills.

Traditional DBT treatment goes beyond one hour per week of therapy. It usually includes:

  1. Weekly individual therapy sessions to focus on managing crises and addressing how to create a life worth living.
  2. A two hour weekly skills training group. Members learn and practice specific skills each week and often, they’re assigned homework to help them begin implementing the skills in their everyday lives.
  3. Access to a phone number where a therapist can be reached 24 hours a day to help manage any crises.

A therapist who is following the traditional DBT model is likely to have weekly access to a consultant to address any problems, questions, or motivational issues that are arising in treatment.

DBT may be used as part of treatment for other personality disorders as well. But it’s important to follow the advice of your treatment providers.

You may be referred for psychological testing if a provider wants more information about your diagnosis, strengths, or weaknesses. Or, you may be referred to a psychiatrist if medication might be helpful.

Some people with personality disorders benefit from case management. A case manager may offer services like arranging for transportation, making referrals to community resources, or organising your calendar.

Depending on your treatment needs, family members may be invited to be part of your treatment. It may be important for them to learn more about your personality disorder and how it affects you.

The Best Online Therapy Programs

Very Well Mind have  tried, tested and written unbiased reviews of the best online therapy programmes including Talkspace, Betterhelp, and Regain.

Arising from THE IRISH TIMES COMMENTS on Joanne Hunt’s article:

What is the grey rock method?

Written by Jessica Caporuscio, Pharm.D. on February 1, 2021

Medically reviewed by Nathan Greene, PsyD


The grey rock method is a strategy some people use when interacting with manipulative or abusive individuals. It involves becoming as unresponsive as possible to the abusive person’s behaviour.

People often discuss this approach as a way to deal with people who have narcissistic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder, also known as sociopathy. However, researchers have not investigated whether the technique is effective, and it may carry risks for people who use it.

This article examines the grey rock method in more detail, including what it is, how people use it, and its potential risks. It will also provide other strategies for dealing with abuse, along with support resources.

What is the grey rock method?

The grey rock method involves communicating in an uninteresting way when interacting with abusive or manipulative people. The name “grey rock” refers to how those using this approach become unresponsive, similar to a rock.

The technique may involve:

  1. avoiding interactions with the abusive person
  2. keeping unavoidable interactions brief
  3. giving short or one-word answers to questions
  4. communicating in a factual, unemotional way

The aim is to cause the abusive person to lose interest and stop their antagonistic behaviour, to protect a person’s emotional well-being.

Why do people use it?

People use the grey rock method as a coping mechanism for emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse includes any behaviours that a person uses to exert dominance and control over someone else. It can include:

  1. insulting, demeaning or humiliating someone
  2. attempting to control their finances, work, social life, or appearance
  3. extreme jealousy and possessiveness
  4. monitoring someone by reading their emails, texts or online search history
  5. gaslighting, where a person pretends someone is mentally unstable to undermine them

Emotional abuse has a significant impact on mental and physical health.

Consequently, people may try tactics, such as the grey rock method, to defend themselves from harm.

Individuals may have the temptation to use this tactic if interactions with the abusive person are unavoidable. For example, people may use this method with:

  1. co-parents
  2. coworkers
  3. neighbours
  4. family members
  5. ex-partners

Does the grey rock method work?

There is no research on whether the grey rock method is a safe or effective way to protect a person from emotional abuse. Anecdotal evidence suggests some people find it helpful, but it is not a technique that prominent abuse organisations cite as viable strategies.

Whether the method works may depend on a person’s situation, their relationship with the abusive person, and the abusive person’s temperament.

The grey rock method may be enough to deter some people, but there is no guarantee it will work for everyone. It also carries some risks.


Some of the potential risks of using the grey rock method include:

Escalating behaviour

If a person uses the grey rock method and the perpetrator does not immediately lose interest, they may try increasingly harmful tactics to get a reaction.

This may lead to the abuse or manipulation escalating or getting worse. In some cases, people may resort to threats or violence if someone does not behave the way they want.

Escalation is common in abusive relationships and can occur gradually or suddenly. For this reason, the grey rock method is not a long-term solution for people who live with abusive people.

Impact on self-image

Abusive people can attempt to control how others behave by eroding their personal identity. They may undermine someone’s individuality by pressuring them to change how they talk, dress, or act.

Over time, this can damage a person’s mental health and make them unsure of who they are. There is a chance that the grey rock method could exacerbate this effect by encouraging people to suppress their true emotions and personality.

It is a good idea to be mindful of this while using this technique. If the person practicing it notices the approach makes them feel worse, they should seek advice from a mental health professional or abuse advisor.

How and when to use the grey rock method

If someone is in close contact with a person behaving in an abusive way, the safest approach is to seek support from a qualified professional.

For example, people in abusive relationships can get advice on how to handle their partner’s behaviour and how to leave the household safely from organisations such as the (US) National Domestic Violence Hotline.

However, if contact with an abusive or manipulative person is unavoidable, the grey rock method may be a way to set boundaries and minimise harm during interactions.

When communicating with the abusive person, try to:

Be brief: When communicating with the abusive person, give short answers to questions, such as “yes,” “no,” or “I do not know.”

Be factual: Use simple, factual statements during conversation and avoid disclosing personal opinions or information unnecessarily. This keeps the conversation impersonal.

Avoid emotional engagement: This can be difficult, particularly if a person is acting in a threatening or antagonistic way. To remain detached from the conversation, try focusing on breathing, and avoid making eye contact.

Maintain privacy: Avoid sharing personal information with them, including on social media.

The grey rock method vs. social withdrawal

It is important to note that the grey method differs from social or emotional withdrawal.

Sometimes, people experiencing abuse retreat from their social life and avoid seeing their friends and family. They may also seem distant or unresponsive during normal conversations. This is an unintentional psychological reaction to the abuse.

By contrast, the grey rock method is intentional. People who use it do so on purpose and only around specific individuals. It does not involve distancing themselves from others — only from the abusive person.

What to do if the grey rock method does not work

If the grey rock method does not have the desired effect, or a person notices it impacts their well-being, there are other ways to cope.

The optimal strategy can vary depending on the situation. However, the following approaches can benefit many who have to interact with abusive people.

Emotional self-care

Looking after mental health is important when dealing with someone who is manipulative or abusive.

A person can try:

  1. practicing positive self-talk and self-compassion
  2. taking time for themselves
  3. creating a quiet space where they can feel safe
  4. seeking help from a supportive therapist or counsellor

Social support

Similarly, support from trusted friends, family, or community members can help someone build resilience. It can also prevent a person from becoming isolated.


  1. seeking out supportive people
  2. letting them know what is happening
  3. maintaining relationships with friends and family where possible
  4. joining support groups
  5. looking for local community support organisations

When searching for help and resources, it is possible that an abusive person can see someone’s online search history, so remember to cover tracks by deleting it.

Safety planning

Safety plans help people living in abusive situations cope with the abuse and ultimately create a safe way for them to leave. This may include:

  1. keeping potential weapons locked away
  2. avoiding wearing things that abusive people could use as a weapon, such as scarves or jewellery
  3. setting money aside in a place the perpetrator cannot access
  4. finding alternative accommodation or a shelter
  5. enlisting help to leave from friends or family
  6. creating plausible reasons to leave the house

The (US) National Domestic Violence Hotline have an interactive safety planning tool that helps people tailor plans to their situation.

Legal assistance

Some people may wish to pursue legal action, such as a restraining order. If this is an option, gathering evidence of the abusive person’s behaviour can help.

Taking photos, saving emails or letters, and documenting events in a diary may all help. Store this evidence in a safe place or send them to a trusted friend.

To deal with abusive behaviour in the workplace, a person can file a report with human resources or speak to a trusted superior.

When to seek help

Anyone who feels their mental or physical health is deteriorating because of a relationship with a manipulative or abusive person should seek support.

People can get support for their own physical or mental health from a doctor or therapist.


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