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Handling the office narcissist

Q: Our co-worker is a narcissist. In any conversation, he immediately jumps in to talk about himself. Needless to say, we are all exhausted. We believe that this is a part of who he is, so we’re having problems balancing being good people toward him and maintaining our sanity. How can we handle this situation in a way that is best for everyone?

A: Ordinarily, I’m not a fan of unsolicited personality critiques from co-workers, but when he has characteristics that are so off-putting that an entire swath of colleagues is writing to a psychologist, it’s better to confront him than let it fester.

Try this: “Rob, can I give you a little honest feedback? Sometimes when I try to talk about something important to me, it seems you jump in with your own stories. It can come across as being disinterested in others, and I’m not sure you’re aware of it.” Awkward, but no worse than enduring his behavior in perpetuity. If nothing changes, continue to be “good people” by being civil. Don’t reward his interruptions, but instead change the topic back to what you were originally talking about.

Q: My wife is self-conscious about her body, and it’s gotten worse since she had our son. She’s developed all kinds of habits to keep me from seeing her unclothed, and she obsesses over what she wears. It’s changing her personality. I always tell her I think she looks great - and I do. But it doesn’t seem to help.

A: Whether this is just new-parent self-consciousness or depression or anxiety or possibly body dysmorphic disorder, simple reassurances from you likely won’t do the trick.

Depending on how far back this goes, it might be more serious than an adjustment to the (sometimes shriek-inducing, though totally normal!) changes in a postpartum body. Does she ruminate on other things? Is she isolating herself socially? Does she recognize that her focus on these supposed flaws is excessive?

Try talking to her about what’s going on inside rather than outside: “It’s hard for me to listen to how unhappy you seem about your body. It’s like you can’t see what everybody else sees. Can we talk about what might be going on, and how to get you feeling better?”

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