7 signs your boss is a psychopath

When you hear the word "psychopath," you likely imagine the villain from the latest horror film – a ruthless murderer or a conniving criminal.

In reality, psychopaths are real people that can live seemingly normal lives. They are everywhere – in politics, on your TV screen, around your neighborhood, and in your workplace.

Psychopaths thrive in leadership positions, whether in politics, entertainment, or business. In fact, recent estimates suggest that one in every five CEOs is a psychopath. This is because the same traits that make someone a successful leader can also describe a psychopath.

Becuase psychopaths usually appear normal, or even charming, they can be very difficult to spot.

You may be wondering:

How can I tell if my boss is a psychopath?

The key is to familiarize yourself with typical psychopathic behavior and assess whether your boss fits the description. Being aware of these red flags can help you recognize these master manipulators and protect yourself from harm.

What is a psychopath? (Know the warning signs)

Psychopathy, commonly referred to as anti-social personality disorder, is a personality disorder characterized by anti-social behavior, an inability to empathize or feel remorse, and egotistical tendencies. Psychopaths appear to have no moral compass and disregard the feelings of others. People with this disorder are known to manipulate others and treat people with callous indifference.

Characteristics of anti-social personality disorder include:

  • Lying in order to take advantage of others.
  • Arrogance, and a grandiose sense of superiority.
  • Hostility, aggression, or violence.
  • Using charm to manipulate others.
  • Lack of empathy or remorse.
  • Abusive relationships.
  • Violation of rules or the law.

Anti-social personality disorder can co-exist with other mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidal tendencies.

Read more about the definition and symptoms of psychopathy.

How to spot a psychopath in your workplace

There are several red flags that could indicate your supervisor is a psychopath. Seven of the most common warning signs include:

  1. Lack of empathy. Does your supervisor bully his employees on a regular basis? An absence of empathy is the classic characteristic of a psychopath. Psychopaths completely lack the ability to understand the feelings of others.
  2. Lying. Psychopaths do not live by the same moral code as the rest of society and will lie at any moment to get what they want. Does your boss regularly accuse you of misunderstandings and false assumptions? This could indicate an underlying web of deceit. Psychopaths are skilled at deflecting blame, even if this means using their employees as "reputations shields" to guard their own professional standing.
  3. Parasitical.  Psychopaths are corporate vampires, on the hunt to leech your confidence and suck out your valuable new ideas. A psychopathic boss will likely take credit for your ideas or the work you've done.
  4. Unpredictable behavior. Does your boss shame you when you do everything according to his instructions? Do you feel that you work in a perpetual state of confusion? Psychopaths are prone to changing their minds without admitting it to others. Personality changes are also commonplace. If your boss appears charming one day and then next day torments you in a meeting, you may be dealing with a psychopath.
  5. Emotional powerplay. Psychopaths will play on your emotions and feel no qualms about manipulating you to get what they want. Masters at eliciting pity and compassion, psychopaths will tug at your heartstrings just to get ahead.
  6. Power-hungry. Why do you disproportionately find psychopaths in leadership positions? Psychopaths gravitate towards positions where they can fulfill their need to control others. If your supervisor regularly steps on his inferiors in order to impress his superiors, he may be revealing his insatiable hunger to control and manipulate others.
  7. Narcissistic. Psychopaths are driven completely by their own self-interest. A psychopathic employer may feign interest in your life or work – and he may even come across as warm and friendly – but this is only a ploy to exploit you in the future. Once you cease to be of use to them, psychopaths will sever the friendship and reveal their true egotistical essence. If your boss appears to fire his workers for no apparent reason or steals the spotlight from others, this could be a clear red flag.

My boss is a psychopath....now what?

You've been suffering emotional abuse at work for quite a while. Your boss regularly manipulates, lies, and bullies you. After researching the signs, you've found that your boss exhibits several psychopathic characteristics.

Now what?

One option is to simply leave. This may be the best option for some, but, leaving suddenly could also cause potential damage to your career. In these cases, escaping the clutches of a psychopathic boss requires careful maneuvering.

If leaving immediately is not a viable option, below are some tips to navigate a psychopathic working relationship.

  • Don't be a target. Once you discover you are dealing with a psychopathic supervisor, it is best to stay under the radar as much as possible while you plan your next move.
  • Record all inappropriate conduct. Make note of all psychopathic incidents including the date and any witnesses. Since psychopaths are master liars and experts at avoiding blame, extensive documentation will put you at an advantage. 
  • Stay calm. If your boss abuses you, try not to lash out or lose your temper. At the same time, it's important not to let your supervisor take advantage of you. Defend yourself calmly, and ideally, in private.
  • Avoid badmouthing your boss. Although it may be tempting to vent about your boss' crazy behavior, it's important to remain professional and leave your company gracefully. Business networks are small, and negative words could come back to bite you.

Get help

Dealing with a psychopathic boss can be confusing, hurtful, and stress-inducing. Discussing your situation and brainstorming coping strategies with others can help you protect yourself and your career.

If you suspect you are suffering abuse from a psychopathic supervisor, psychotherapy can help you assess the severity of the situation, navigate your emotions, and devise strategies to avoid falling victim to the psychopath in your life.

Contact one of our therapists today to learn more about how they can help or to learn more about online therapy.