Codependency and Narcissism in the Workplace

Does a narcissist control your behavior at work?

Codependence is used increasingly to describe various dysfunctional relationships.1 Dysfunctional managerial behavior is often characterized by narcissistic leaders and their codependents, and is now widespread in the workplace. As a result, codependent employees spread their narcissistic boss's damaging behavior throughout the workplace. The narcissistic boss needs codependent individuals around him as a source of admiration and the codependent is attracted to the security he offers; the 'you look after me and I'll look after you' behavioral approach.

The codependent functions to protect the narcissist from the consequences of his or her behavior, often by lying.

Codependents crave security so they tend to be drawn to the strong and powerful image presented by the narcissist boss. Unfortunately for the codependent, the image is false. The narcissist uses the codependent's natural desire to help others to his own ends, usually as a boost to his self-esteem.

Codependents live for others, feeling responsible for them and attempting to regulate the world around them.2 When the codependent is working for (or working with) a narcissist, he is in a position where he can easily be exploited as a characteristic of the narcissist is lack of empathy.

Codependent characteristics vary from individual to individual, but their dysfunctional behaviors have negative consequences and outcomes in the workplace.

Patterns of behavior

Codependent patterns of behavior include, among others, avoiding decision making and confrontation, external referencing (always checking outside oneself before making choices), subordinating one's needs to those of the person with whom one is involved (the narcissist), perfectionism, over-controlling, manipulation, lack of trust and lying.3

"Helping managers who come from dysfunctional backgrounds... presents a new and different problem for organizations. There is no management development model for dealing with dysfunctional managers. They cannot be "cured" through projects or seminars. Dysfunctional patterns result from early patterns, not lack of skills, knowledge, or ability."4

Both narcissists and codependents bring their own dysfunctional childhood patterns into the workplace. The codependent's behavior can be damaging to the organization when influenced by, for example, a narcissistic boss. On the other hand, the codependent can be a considerable asset to the organization when influenced by, for example, a good effective leader.

If you want to know more about codependency and narcissism in the workplace, read Narcissism: Behind the Mask.

1, 2 Hogg, J.A. and Frank, L. (1992), Towards an Interpersonal Model of Codependence and Contradependence, Journal of Counceling & Development, Vol. 70, pp. 371-375.
3 Baker, R. and Newport, S. (2003), Dysfunctional Managerial Behavior in the Workplace: Implications for Employees, Supervisors, and Organizations, Problems and Perspectives of Management, Vol. 1, pp. 108-113.
4 Hall, F.S. (1991), Dysfunctionalmanagers: The next human resource challenge, Organizational Dynamics.