This is an interesting question, since lots of different labels can be attached to narcissists, and they can show up in all areas of life, but do narcissists tend to be workaholics? Is it a common pattern for narcissists to be addicted to excessive working, and overly absorbed into their careers? Do narcissists tend to define their identity by their work life?
Narcissists can sometimes be workaholics, but not always. An addiction to work can be a useful way for a narcissist to escape their inner emptiness and address their need for external validation, as well as generating wealth and status which can feed their grandiosity and ego. However, not all narcissists are workaholics, and not all workaholics are narcissists.
In other words, there is sometimes a clear connection between narcissism and workaholism – I myself have worked for several narcissists who had their entire ego and identity wrapped up in their work life, and also toxically imposed this mindset on others.
But workaholism isn’t the only outlet for narcissism, and there are many other ways these psychologically empty and hungry people can fill the void inside themselves that don’t involve an addiction to work.
Let’s cover in more detail the two topics of narcissism and workaholism, how and when they intersect, along with some clear examples of narcissistic workaholics.
Are Narcissists Usually Workaholics?
This is an interesting question, since it usually becomes clear to astute observers that narcissists are empty individuals, and are constantly looking outwards to manage their own fragile internal state (outer directed).
Therefore, developing an addiction to work can definitely be a useful distraction narcissists can use to escape from themselves. But narcissism and workaholism don’t always go together, because there’s lots of other ways they can distract themselves.
Here are some other ways a narcissist can find an outlet for the emptiness they feel inside:
- Other addictions (sex, gambling, food, alcohol, eating, social media etc)
- Excessive attention and validation seeking behavior (social media and dating apps can be a popular outlet for this)
- A need to provoke, annoy, belittle and attack others to inflate their own egos.
- Lazyness and entitlement (the opposite of workaholism).
- A need for constant entertainment (which can sometimes conflict with work).
Therefore, it’s clear that workaholism is really just one possible avenue of many that narcissists can use to escape from their unresolved emptiness and attachment issues. I’ve personally also seen narcissists who do the exact opposite – sit comfortable in part time jobs well into their 30s and beyond, still living with their parents, with no sense of growth or drive in their jobs, and no interest in changing at all. They’re happy to be stuck on the spot where they are, come home and play video games and watch movies, and have their lifestyle supported by their parents (entitlement).
Therefore it does vary, and you will not always see workaholism in narcissists, but you will always see entitlement.
Here’s how I’d summarize the issues:
Not all narcissists are workaholics, but some narcissists hide behind an addiction to work to avoid dealing with their psychological issues. It’s also true that not all workaholics are narcissists.
Therefore workaholism is one more form of escapism for the excessively outer-directed person (the person who needs external validation to feel good about themselves – of which the narcissist is one example) to avoid dealing with the unhappiness inside them.
However, it’s possible for someone to be dysfunctional, and use excessive work to run away from this dysfunction, but still not be a narcissist. Perhaps someone has suffered a loss in their life, and not grieved it, instead throwing themselves into their work to distract from doing this necessary grieving. Or someone can be in a relationship or marriage this isn’t working for them, and is using work to escape from it, but they don’t have a full blown personality disorder like narcissism.
Therefore the vector diagram works to some extent both ways – some (but not all) narcissists are workaholics, and some (but not nearly all) workaholics are narcissists.
Common Traits of The Workaholic Narcissist
Here’s some common traits I’ve noticed of workaholics who also have narcissistic personalities – these are probably some traits many readers will recognize in managers they’ve had now or in the past:
Exploitative – One of the two big E’s in terms of narcissistic traits – they always manipulate and exploit people for their own ends. In work, this means people are seen not as people but as objects to be manipulated and used for their own ends, and then discarded once they aren’t of any use anymore. Will often manipulate and play on people’s vanities and weaknesses to get to where they need to go.
Entitled – The second of the two big E’s – narcissists are always entitled. In work, this means feeling entitled to: promotions, pay rises, attention, adoration etc. Narcissists bosses will also often expect to be 100% followed and agreed with, without any objections or opposition, and may get annoyed if anyone does have the gall to question them on anything, however reasonably.
Overly Zealous & Imposing – Will often treat their line of work or company, even if it’s completely soulless, with an inflated sense of pomposity and self-importance. Will often talk about the company’s “mission” and “purpose”, even if it’s in a completely non-vocational and even immoral sector, like gambling. Will take their job very seriously, but even worse, expect everyone else working under them to do the same, often way beyond any reasonable level. They do not keep their zealousness self contained, but instead impose it on everyone else around them. Can be particularly annoying to work under if you do not “live to work”, and attach more weight to work-life balance and leisure, but they do not understand or respect that.
Grandiosity – The stereotype of the narcissist liking pictures of themselves on the wall is no joke – you will see it, especially with narcissistic leaders of companies, when there’s no one else to answer to. A general sense of grandiosity, ego and self importance will permeate out from them, and will be more pronounced the higher up in the company they are.
Control Freak – Narcissists are very often control freaks in the world of work, making them a nightmare to work under. Everything has to be just so, and behaviors and procedures are often tightly controlled and regimented. WWE boss Vince McMahon won’t even tolerate people sneezing in his meetings. If they are a high level manager or CEO, little or nothing will go on without their knowledge or consent, and everything has to be run by them. If they’re a lower level manager, they’ll often be that annoying line manager that nitpicks and micro-manages, for whom nothing is ever right (see next point).
Perfectionism – Linked to the control freak point, this trait can also make narcissist workaholics extremely difficult to work under. They will often micro-manage and over-manage, and hold people to impossibly high standards. The smallest mistakes may be pounced on and blown up into big issues. An extreme example of this is Klaus Schwab’s increasingly unpopular World Economic Forum or WEF, which operates a zero error policy – one mistake and you are out. Imagine working under that?
Callous & Cold – There is often not a great deal of warmth or humanity to how narcissists go about their work life, especially if they’re a boss or CEO. Will often coldly discard people who oppose them (even reasonably) or who they don’t consider of any use anymore. Will sometimes also screw over co-founders or partners in a business for their own ends, cutting them out of deals or finding ways to push them out and assume more shareholding/control themselves. Not much class or dignity with how they handle these situations, and they move quickly on without any self-reflection or regret (see Brian Rose section below). Pleas for more work life balance are often dismissed – they are totally absorbed into their work, so everyone else they work under must be as well, and there’s no room for discussion.
Materialistic & Status Seeking – Often goes with the territory, especially when the workaholism can generate wealth which can be used to fill the fill the narcissist’s external world, to again cover up the internal emptiness. Workaholic narcissists will often be wrapped up in their position and “tenure” in their workplace (especially where their next promotion is coming from), and use the money they earn to fill their life with status symbols (latest phones, cars, clothes, other expensive “stuff”) and readily show them off to others. Narcissists always need external validation, and their addiction to work can fuel their attachment to accumulation and “things” to achieve this. The sad irony is that despite often accumulating lots of material wealth, narcissists often never really know how to truly enjoy it.
An Example of The Workaholic Narcissist – Brian Rose
There’s load of examples of workaholism that can be found online, and loads of examples of narcissism. But one really interesting case study which I believe combines the two is that of London Real co-founder and current boss Brian Rose.
He initially co-founded the show with Nic Gabriel, but in 2013, after a few years together, Nic was suddenly gone, with no official explanation given by either party.
It’s only recently in 2021, that Nic decided to speak out, and the interview embedded below is revelatory in understanding both narcissism and workaholism and the link between the two.
Nic Gabriel on Brian Rose (Highly Recommended)
Here are some points I took out of the revealing interview, regarding the issue of narcissism and workaholism:
- Many of the traits mentioned above are described by Nic in relation to Rose, and more, including ego, entitlement, exploitativeness, lack of real emotions, emptiness, perfectionism, callousness, and inauthenticity.
- Exploitativeness in particular stands out to me – it appears Rose used Nic for the initial contacts for interviews, and then discarded him once he felt enough high profile people had been on the show for his contacts to not be needed anymore. Also his favorite book (“Pimp”) being specifically about exploiting others.
- Some bottom line quotes – “Brian Rose is literally empty…. a narcissistic husk of a human being”, “All he does is mimic, he doesn’t create anything within himself because he has no connection to source”.
- Trust issues – Gabriel mentions how the issue of whether Brian Rose could be trusted was raised by other people he worked with at the time, indicating other people who had seen the red flags of narcissism and insincerity in him.
- He mentions that the hiding behind self improvement jargon and principles is the small “kernel of truth” that masks the fact that Rose is coming from a place of emptiness, with his workaholism an attempt to fill this void.
- He also mentions that the “ex-banker” myth Rose likes to plug is not accurate – he was actually a stockbroker, not a banker. Narcissists often plug fake narratives about themselves and others.
- Gabriel is also particularly scathing about Rose’s incessant promotion of Ayahuasca, since the whole concept of plant medicine is for self reflection and healing, but narcissists never really do that. Ayahuasca can simply enlarge what is already in a person, even if it’s toxic. Another example of a narcissist attaching to something authentic to conceal their own inauthenticity.
- The cold and callous discarding of Nic by Brian is typical of narcissism, along with the thick layer of denial following it from Rose, who carried on literally as though Gabriel never existed after he left. I remember watching a 10 year London Real anniversary stream in 2021, and Nic is never even mentioned, despite co-founding the podcast, working on it for two years and providing most of the initial contacts. You’ll often find this weird denial from narcissists after they discard people – it’s literally like they never knew them, and there’s no gratitude or humility.
- Hypocrisy and double standards – Supposedly defending free speech, but at the same having a full time team delete all negative comments from his YouTube videos and other social media. Common with narcissists, who can’t handle criticism well.
- Fragility – A very telling aspect that comes out in the interview, whereby Rose would never take Jiu-jitsu lessons in group classes, only solo with Gabriel, because his ego was too fragile for him to lose in a group setting. Typical of narcissists, who’s egos are typically large, but also fragile and vulnerable to injury.
- Gabriel also mentions how Brian Rose still “taught him many things”, including a strong work ethic typical of workaholics, and professionalism, and “has some good aspects within him that he’s working with”, but that it’s poisoned by the narcissism and ego, and lack of respect for others.
- On a personal level, I also sense and see on Nic’s face a sense of hurt and pain regarding how Rose callously discarded him, even after all these years, even though he claims he has let go what happened. Indicative of what narcissists do to others unfortunately.
“(Brian Rose) is operating from a wound. If you look at the source of where he’s drawing everything from, it’s coming from a wound. It’s not coming from a good place”
The comments underneath the video are also very revealing and worth reading – lots of people seemed to have gotten this vibe of inauthenticity from Rose, despite the work ethic and seemingly positive message.
Regarding the “workaholism covering inner emptiness” issue, perhaps the most revealing comment was this one:
“I think it was the (London Real) ayahuasca documentary, it was a part where Brian’s wife was talking about how they went on a trip for their son’s birthday and Brian was so restless and discontent that he flew home….and missed his son’s birthday. It was heartbreaking and, from my perspective, indicative of the hungry ghost inside of him that is driving the bus-keeping him from being present with himself and those closest to him. For Brian, I wish healing for in true healing he may seek to make amends, ask for forgiveness and move forward with integrity and wholeness. I hope those who have been hurt by him are also able to heal”.
In summary, the detail Nic Gabrial gives in the interview above is screaming with red flags regarding narcissism in Brian Rose, and is the best video I’ve seen that demonstrates how narcissism and workaholism can mesh together in a person. It’s highly recommended viewing.
And one last quote from from the video that’s really instructive for anyone when dealing with a narcissist in work, or any other form of life – trust your gut instinct:
“I would say to anyone who’s considering working with Brian Rose….a lot of people have said to me, they had a gut instinct about him when they first started engaging with him that they intellectually overrode. I would say when you are considering working with him, trust your gut, trust your instinct, listen to that small voice if there’s a warning, or if something feels off. Just listen to that”
Testing For Workaholism & Narcissism
I’ve observed the workaholic pattern both in people I’ve actually worked for, and also from afar in people like Brian Rose (WWE chairman Vince McMahon is also a good example of this, though I’m not sure if he also qualifies as a narcissist).
Whilst workaholism and a strong work ethic can achieve some great things in the external world, it’s also important to look at where a person is drawing their energy and motivation to work from. So I came up with a simple test:
Ask yourself the simple question – could this person go away to a meditation retreat for a few weeks and not DO anything, and instead just meditate, reflect, introspect and BE, without some horrible psychological stuff coming up to the surface inside themselves? Would they become restless, anxious and quickly run away from such a scenario?
If the answer is yes, then at the very least, they are using their excessive work to run away from unresolved issues, but may not have a full blown personality disorder. In psychological terms, they’re a “human doing” rather than a “human being”.
If the answer is yes, and they also display pronounced narcissistic traits, such as arrogance, grandiosity, entitlement, exploitation, and also have a poor track record in terms of how they’ve treated others in their line of work, then they are also a strong candidate for narcissism as well.
There’s nothing wrong with working a lot – it’s genuine entrepreneurship that provides for the world – but it’s the underlying motive and energy which is driving someone’s work ethic that it’s important to identify. Is the person already coming from a healthy place psychologically regardless of how much they work or don’t work? Or are they using the work to run away from things inside themselves, or fill an emptiness that’s always there in the background? If their work life all fell away, would they still be happy and contented inside? Or is literally their entire identity built on work, to the point where they can’t live without it, and become depressed and anxious when it’s not there?
These are the questions I’d be asking when trying to identify whether someone’s work habits are healthy, and also whether there may be personality disorders like narcissism underpinning an addiction to work.
Academic Studies On Narcissism and Workaholism
Here are links to some studies which have specifically addressed this issue of a potential link between narcissistic personality traits and workaholism:
- 2012 Study – Andreassen, Ursin, Holger, Pallesen – The Relationship of Narcissism & Workaholism – Studies the effect of narcissistic personality traits on both workaholism and work engagement, and does indeed find correlations, though rather weak in this particular study.
- 2020 Study – Falco, Giradi, Di Sipio, Calvo, Marogna, Snir – Is Narcissism Associated With Heavy Work Investment? – Studies the effect of narcissism on both workaholism and work engagement, again unsurprisingly finding a correlation.