Some Faculty Types

     A question that I frequently encounter is about the source of my descriptions for the self-absorbed that I write and present about.  My response is always that as long as I attend faculty meetings I do not lack for material.  Kernberg (1985, 1990) says “narcissistic personalities can often be found as leaders in industrial organization and/or academic institutions” (p. 229) and goes on to say that “observation , however, of their productivity over a long period of time will give evidence of superficiality and flightiness in their work, of a lack of depth which eventually reveals the emptiness behind the glitter.” (pp 229 – 230).  Kernberg also differentiates between the narcissistic personality and pathological narcissism.

     I gravitated toward Kohut’s (1977) perceptions of narcissism that sees it on a continuum ranging from age appropriate for infants and adolescents, to stable and healthy for adults.  I have a reluctance to tern someone as a narcissist as I think that characterization should be reserved for someone diagnosed with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).  In my writings, I refer to a sub-clinical category of Destructive Narcissistic Pattern (DNP) (Brown, 1998, 2022) to refer to the attitudes and behaviors that are reflective of some of the criteria to diagnose a NPD, but the person has fewer of these, and they are less intense.  Nevertheless, their behaviors and attitudes are troubling to their interpersonal relationships which leads me to the main topic for this essay, types of faculty some of whom seem to be self-absorbed.   The primary focus for this essay will be on the behaviors and attitudes that some faculty display that produce some distress and frustration for those who have to interact and work with them on a regular basis and an attempt to classify them as types.  Also presented are some admirable and positive faculty behaviors and attitudes categorized as types.

     This focus is because there are numerous admirable characteristics that most faculty display especially as it regards their professional work, but there are other faculty, although professionally recognized and respected for their discoveries, creativity, and professional expertise, can also have some self-absorbed behaviors and attitudes that are troubling to relationships especially within the department.  These self-absorbed behaviors and attitudes are described, and some types illustrated to better understand that a collection of some self-absorbed behaviors and attitudes are determinantal to interpersonal relationships.  First will be described some behaviors and attitudes that generally reflect self-absorption, profiles for the negative self-absorbed types, and profiles of some positive types that have few self-absorbed behaviors and attitudes.  The essay closes with some tips on working with the self-absorbed faculty.


     Following are some behaviors and attitudes that, when exhibited often or most of the time, are reflective of self-absorption.  These faculty seem to frequently do and say things that put themselves at the center of attention and admiration, and they also show indifference to the existence and rights of others.  Your colleague(s) may exhibit some of the listed behaviors and attitudes but do so infrequently.  However, if they have several of these and frequently display them, then you will find the relationship difficult and troubling.  Read the following and think if the colleague you have in mind displays some, many, or all of the descriptors and to what extent

do you observe these almost always, frequently, seldom, never or almost never? 

This person inflates accomplishments, always has all of the answers, devalues the work of others, gives you or others work to do without the authority to do so, expects you to do personal favors for them, disparages input from others, expects you to stop what you are doing and attend to them, talks about how much they are doing but in reality does very little, does not knock or wait for an invitation before entering your office, uses your possessions without your permission, lies, cheats, distorts, misleads;  overly reacts to perceived criticism, and/or lacks creativity or originality but trashed others’ ideas.

Four Profiles and Types of Self-absorbed Faculty

     Just as in the general population, university faculty are very diverse in numerous ways, and some have behaviors and attitudes that are troubling to their relationships, especially to their colleagues who may have to work and interact with them on a regular basis.  There are other profiles and types, but this essay is limited to these four of the many types of difficult and puzzling faculty you may encounter.  Profiles are generalized and a particular faculty member may not have all of the descriptors listed, but most or many descriptors are their characteristic way of interacting and responding.  The profiles described here are Excessive self-focus, Demanding and impoverished, Exploitative and reaching, and Aggrieved and vengeful.

Excessive self-focus. This is the faculty member who displays an inflated sense of self and accomplishments, is dismissive of other’s accomplishments, boasts, seeks attention and admiration, takes charge without the authority to do so, thinks that only their ideas are worth consideration, perceives themselves as more worthy than others and displays envy, overly inflates personal characteristics e.g. family and children achievements, keeps others informed about themselves in minute detail, talks a lot, indifferent to others’ concerns or needs, seeks unfair advantage such as getting more resources than their fair share.

Emotionally demanding. This faculty member appears to be very demanding and dependent as they are always seeking reassurance, compliments, admiration; feels unseen if not always verbally noticed, wants observable appreciation for almost everything, pretends to need help (acts helpless), overly anxious, micromanages, easily offended, drops poisonous comments about others to undermine and denigrate them without taking responsibility for what they are saying.

Exploitative and reaching.This faculty member is manipulative, uses others to meet their needs, lies, distorts, misleads; very ambitious and focused on climbing the ladder, steals (co-ops) others’ ideas, associates with those considered to be of higher status or that will be of help to them, takes unearned credit, pretends to be collaborative but somehow ends up with all of the credit; can use disguised threats to intimidate and bully.

Aggrieved and vengeful.  holds grudges, resentments and never relinquishes, hypersensitive to perceived slights or criticisms, feel treated unfairly by almost everyone almost all of the time, holds on to outdated or ineffective ideas, actively verbalizes their discontent.

Additional Faculty Self-absorbed Types

     Following are some additional types with brief descriptors that were not included in the profiles. 

Charmer – Makes you the center of their interest for the moment and makes you believe that they  

                 care about you but is insincere.

Husk – Inconsistent, says one thing and means something else, no stable enduring relationships, lacks meaning and purpose for their lives.

Bully – Uses sarcasm, taunting, interruptions, denigrates others and makes extensive use of  put


Superstar – Always on stage, uses considerable attention getting behaviors, loud, boasts, brags,    sulks (for attention).

Suck-up – Overly complimentary of and to those they consider having higher status or are

         authorities. Usually is insincere with these compliments.

Shape shifter – No central core, follows where the wind blows, no convictions, few values to

       guide their behavior.

     There are also some positive faculty types, but they usually have few if any troubling behaviors and attitudes and can establish meaningful relationships as well as having some good interpersonal relating and communication skills.

Some Positive Faculty Types

     Not all faculty are very self-absorbed although almost all of us have some undeveloped narcissism along with our developed healthy adult narcissism.  These faculty behaviors and attitudes are mostly constructive and positive for their relationships, and they are also professionally responsible and productive. 

Crafter – the faculty member who is deeply dedicated to their profession as a university professor and emphasizes teaching, scholarship, and professional service to the discipline.  Their time and energy are mostly focused on gaining a better understanding of their subject matter, conveying this to students, and expanding the knowledge in their discipline.  Some descriptors include, supportive and positive, reliable, sincere.

Altruistic Mentor – this is a faculty member who is willing to expend considerable time and effort to help and inspire other faculty who seek guidance and understanding.  They ask for nothing in return, they are not helping other faculty in hopes or expectations of being named on an article or grant, or of other such benefits.  Their help is freely given.

Artist – this faculty member is creative and inventive regardless of their discipline.  They provide new and novel ways to extend and expand their discipline, their dissemination of knowledge, and work to establish professional relationships that are mutually beneficial.


Some of the following tips may be helpful when interacting and working with the self-absorbed colleague and the four profile types.

1. Regardless of preached collegiality and cooperation, the university department is very competitive, and you may be unknowingly competing with colleagues for resources, recognition, support and the like. Do your best to be cooperative and collegial but also stay alert to signals of competition.

2. If you have to interact with one or more of the described types on a regular basis, remember that nothing you do or say will change them.  You cannot change another person and continuing to try and get them to see that they are impairing relationships and possibly their effectiveness with their attitudes and actions only produces more frustration for you.

3. It is very important for you to know and accept that they cannot see their troubling behaviors and attitudes so trying to make them aware of these and the impact on you is futile.  In addition, just as they cannot see theirs, you cannot see yours.

4. Do not confront.  It is futile, will be turned back on you in some way, can promote hostility and resentment from them, and most of all, increases your openness to projective identification and emotional contagions which increases your frustration, and may even lead to some self-doubts.   

5. When interacting with them, try to reflect the content of what they are saying, but do not try to tune into their feelings as this will open you up to “catching” their negative feelings.

6. Stay aware of their self-focus and be cautious with your personal disclosures especially about your perceptions and interactions with other department colleagues.  Do not gossip or pass on rumors or engage in speculation about other colleagues’ behaviors and attitudes.

7. Do not complain about your department colleagues with other colleagues in the department or the department chair unless there has been a violation of university policy.  Find a colleague in another department or part of the university who will keep your confidence and do your complaining to them.  Also, try to not take your complaints to other parts of your life.


Brown, N. (1998). The destructive narcissistic pattern. Westport, CT: Praeger

Brown, N. (2022) Understanding narcissists: How to cope with destructive people in your life.

     Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

Kernberg, O. (1985,1990) Borderline conditions and pathological narcissism. North Vale, NJ:   

     Jason Aronson.

Kohut, H. (1977). The restoration of the self. Madison, CT: International Universities Press.

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