How to Cope When a Narcissist Is Running the Family Business

If a narcissist is in charge of your family business it can be incredibly difficult to deal with, but there are things you can do to cope There are narcissists everywhere and they fall on a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum is the charismatic leader who, besides an inflated ego, isn’t that hard to manage. On the other end is an individual who genuinely has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This person is manipulative and easily angered, especially when they don’t get what they consider to be enough praise and attention.

It’s one thing to deal with a narcissistic boss at work. Theoretically, at the end of the day you can leave him behind and focus on your own life and family. Things get trickier when the narcissistic boss runs the family business. You can’t just leave that work and enjoy your family – they are your family.

So how can you cope when there is a narcissist running the family business?

Assess if the person truly is narcissistic.
Narcissists have an egotistical preoccupation with themselves, their preferences, their needs, and their successes. But just because your family member in charge demands respect or sometimes enforces policies you don’t like, it doesn’t make them a narcissist. However, if they are completely absorbed in themselves, especially to the detriment of others, you are likely dealing with more than just high self-esteem.

Look for the root of the problem.
Did this person have to overcome extreme trauma or hardship to get where they are today? Often a “survivor entrepreneur” will manifest narcissistic tendencies born from their circumstances. They had to depend on themselves to such an extreme degree to overcome poverty, lack of parents, illness, or disabilities that they have trouble giving other people a role in their success. Sometimes this quality is an extreme reaction to feelings of vulnerability. If you look honestly at a person, you will likely be able to find something that contributed to the development of their me-first attitude.

See the good.
The traits that make a narcissist difficult to handle are likely the same traits that drove their success. Appreciate the good things they do and the ways in which they are making the company succeed. If you can re-categorize their traits as positive instead of negative it will go a long way toward making them easier to deal with.

Communicate openly and honestly.
I say this regularly, but it bears repeating. When you work with your family, unresolved emotions can complicate the business relationship. Families in business together need to take the time to communicate regularly, openly, and honestly. You may need to express how their actions make you feel. Even if they don’t respond well, it will help you feel better to take a stand for yourself. (If you’re too afraid to speak up, then it’s time to get professional help from a therapist.)

Focus on yourself.
You can be happy if you keep your focus on what you can control, not what you can’t. You can’t make your family member change their personality. But you can continue to work on yourself. It’s not easy when it comes to a family business but remember that sometimes the healthiest choice is to walk away. You can work elsewhere!

Someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder has severe Empathy Dysfunction (EmD). This is characterized by an “all-about-me” attitude. It manifests as thoughtless, self-absorbed behavior, and rends contemptible harm. My upcoming book delves into Empathy Disorders and what you can do to protect yourself from people who can’t or won’t demonstrate empathy. To stay up-to-date on it’s release sign-up for my newsletter.

If you are dealing with a person with extreme narcissism, you would greatly benefit from therapy, as an individual or as a family group. Please contact my office. I have an office in Jantzen Beach and offer online therapy if that’s a better option.

6 Replies to “How to Cope When a Narcissist Is Running the Family Business”

  1. I am the youngest daughter of a large family business where my oldest brother is the President. In 2016 I left because he was having his second affair with female employees (married man in the same town, so everyone knew). I could not be complicit to his behavior and left a high paying salary. Over 80 employees knew about the affairs, and most expressed their disgust to me.
    I just wrote a book called Head Down. Shut Up.

    There is not a lot of conversation about personality disorders in the family business. When my parents found out about the affairs, they were disgusted, but there was nothing they could or would do to change the business structure. They worked together every day for over 55 years and never looked at another person. He was first upset that I was going to leave the family business but then realized how I was being treated.
    Once he understood this, my father encouraged me to leave and go to work for a larger competitor.

    I would love to work with you to write a story and find out if this is happening to other children of the family business. My parents started in 1955 and worked in their other business, which was art galleries.

    First, I was a whistleblower (I found out my brother was having a second affair and told my parents and other siblings).
    Then I wrote the book.
    Now I am going public to share my story! I would love the help!

    1. Of course this is an important story in many ways. One huge way is that by being complicit with the narcissist, your parents and others have compromised the future of the company. The culture is damaged and there are potential legal problems.

      Another tragedy is your own family relationships. You bravely stepped forward to help your family and the family business, but the pressures to maintain the status quo are immense in a family firm. Your parents were not up to the challenge. Hopefully your book will help turn things around.

      Narcissists often find a way to land on their feet, so no need to worry about your brother’s fate. Your parents, if they are living may be humiliated, but the success of the family firm will carry them through. As for yourself, the whistleblower, you can rest knowing that you did the right thing, but you will have to carry the burden of telling all. . .and you will be all alone with this burden. It is the fate of whistleblowers.

      Family firms are rife with problems like this. The business, if successful tends to isolate the family. The family’s natural tendency is to protect its members, so even if members are in distress, the family members and the business as a whole, will cover for them. It’s a tough system to regulate, let alone heal.

      Thank you for courageously sharing your painful situation.

    2. I do not have a brother but we do have a family business only the “one” who was “monkeying around” was my own father! This unfortunately happens all the time.

  2. Hi Ron my fathers concrete business and his entire personal life but because I was a young mother who lived with him and still does I am paid minimum wage under the table with no benefits no pay time off and I am not allowed to request days off.I protect him at all cost from everything and all he does is tell me how worthless I am and that he could do everything without me. He favors my younger brother and sister and despises my special-needs sister. Both of my parents are mentally ill my mother has an allowance my father is not a statistic. I’m so lost I don’t know what to do anymore

  3. I currently co-own our family business with my mother and brother. My mother owns the majority and by brother and I split the remaining shares evenly. While our business is doing ok, the current climate is one of extreme hostility due to my brother being a malignant narcissist. He essentially controls every aspect of the business. The hitch: he’s not very good as business and makes terrible decisions. Our staff is sick of him. He makes everything so much harder than it needs to be and uses the company credit card to essentially pay for all of his personal expenses. I’ve attempted to rectify many of these things, however, due to my mother having the deciding vote in everything, none of my attempts have succeeded. Her and my brother have and extremely unhealthy, codependent relationship wherein he uses his children as pawns to get his way. This has gone on for over a decade and I’ve realized that nothing I say or do will change this. My only option at this point is to resign. While I don’t want to leave my mother to fend for herself against him, I have a chronic illness that is very much exacerbated by stress and anxiety. I need to protect my peace…

    1. Protect yourself Kathleen. I have heard this scenario many times. It is almost impossible for a parent to choose between her children, so your mother is likely to allow the deterioration of the family and the business rather than confront her heartbreak.

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