The Narcissist Client—The Dark Side of Freelance Writing

As freelance writers/editors, we have a revolving door of clients. Some are loyal and stay onboard for years. Others need you for a project and then you part ways. It’s all good. We’re female business owners, conducting our business and going about our lives. And we’re happy about it.

But every now and again, a narcissistic male client comes along and makes us feel less than zero. How does that happen? It certainly didn’t start off that way.

The Honeymoon Period Doesn’t Last

Well, you know the drill. At first, it’s the honeymoon period. He starts out talking big to impress us—simply because we are female. The easy smile. The firm handshake. The agreement to pay you what you rightfully deserve, including bonuses for a job well done. Oh, and the possibility that he’ll recommend you to his friends who are also writing books and need an editor. He praises your work to high heavens and says things like, “I wish my other writers were as good as you.” Too good to be true, right? But you overlook it, giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Then there will be another little tip that something ain’t quite right. Was it the ageist comment? Or the fact that he was prying into your personal life in a condescending manner? Or was it just a vibe you got—women’s intuition?

Keeping it Professional — At Least on Your End

Nevertheless, you decide to work together. You may write an article or two, do a blog update, or edit a paper. The next thing you know, his true colors come out. He’s overly critical about your work. He’s getting loud with you. He insulted you to the point of making you cry. The honeymoon work phase is now over and you’re in for another trip—his ego trip.

You don’t know exactly what you did wrong and the truth is, neither does he. It just makes him feel powerful arousing negative emotions in a woman because he’s a narcissist. And you are his victim.

But don’t get upset with yourself. This is not your fault and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. This happens to many female freelance writers/editors. The dude has serious issues that have nothing to do with you or your work. A narcissist is excellent at gaslighting which means making it seem like you are the problem. They have it down to a science. “You’re being too sensitive.”

No, you’re not being too sensitive—he’s being an asshole!

How to Recognize the Narcissist Client in Action

Here are some typical things a narcissist client might do:

  1. Acting like he owns you. Yes, he’s paying for your services, but so are many other clients! If someone expects you to be at his beck and call, including evenings and weekends, he is a narcissist.

  2. Micromanaging. This isn’t about getting the job done, it’s about his ego. He’s a control freak with trust issues. When someone is constantly scrutinizing you, it’s more detrimental than successful.

  3. Bragging. Not too long ago I met with a potential client who boasted about the millions he made yet tried to lowball me for my services.

  4. Complaining about money. I recently had a client flip out on me because PayPal charged him a fee when he paid my invoice. He called me, from out of the country, furious! He screamed into the phone, “From now on, you’re getting a check. I am not your bank!” I cut ties with him right then and there. Checks cost money too. Will he take a cut from my freelance check in order to cover the cost of his banking checks? I wouldn’t put it past someone like that. Which brings me to…

  5. Yelling. If a person can’t talk to you in a civil manner, don’t work for him. It will only get worse.

  6. Never being satisfied. In a normal world, you write your article and submit it. The editor will either accept it as is or ask you to make a few changes. The narcissist operates differently. He’s quick to nitpick and judge. He may say something hurtful and degrading like, “You call yourself a writer.” You know he’s just being mean because you are a writer—that’s how you make a living. Yet his words cut like a knife. You may even become sick because of it. Recently I did. For three days I had a headache due to stress from a narcissist client who did #4, 5, and 6 to me. Who, by the way, I got rid of!

In a normal workplace environment, or freelance environment, people are expected to do their job, and they are respected for it. If they are not doing their job correctly, the proper thing would be to discuss in a civil manner. Normal people do not behave in a narcissistic manner. They are professional and polite.

Sadly, unlike an office environment, freelancers don’t have a human resources department to go to if a client acts extremely unprofessional as in these narcissistic cases. The good news is, as freelancers, we are bosses too. We can hire and fire clients—just like that! There is no need for any female writer/editor to work with a narcissist. Don’t allow them to define your self-worth. You are better than that.

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