Codependency and Narcissism in the Workplace

Does a narcissist control your behavior at work?

Codependents feel a compelling need to defend the behavior of a narcissistic colleague, so they take on the psychological defenses and survival behaviors of the narcissist. This ultimately results in codependent behavior characterized by dishonesty and denial. Thus the behavior of codependents in teams mimic in many ways the behavior of the narcissist.

The glue that holds all the pieces in place for an effective and efficient team is trust. All the other characteristics of successful team members are dependent upon their ability to trust both themselves and one another, something virtually all the commentators agree upon.

Likewise, virtually all the commentators writing about codependency agree that people who are codependent trust no one.1

Possibly the most significant difference between the behavior of codependents and the behavior of narcissists is in decision making. Codependents don't trust themselves to make a decision. On the other hand, narcissists are decisive when making decisions. They know what they want; it's whatever is best for them. But codependents use external referencing whenever possible, that is, they always check with others before making choices.2

Codependents often experience a sense of being lost, having low self-esteem and being unable to form healthy and productive relationships.4 One of the most difficult problems they experience is 'boundary distortion'. They are unable to discern where their own person stops and that of others begin.5

They rarely allow others to glimpse their true feelings, displaying rather what they believe others expect of them. Through this 'false self', they internalize the disappointment and anger, holding it like a time bomb for later use. When it finally explodes, it has the capacity to sabotage the whole team process.6

The following table was published in the Journal of Business and Psychology.3 It describes the characteristics of successful team members versus codependents.

Problems created by Codependents

Benefits of Self-Managed Teams Problems Created by Co-Dependent Individuals
Open-mindedness Tend to operate in a dualistic world where everything is seen as black and white.
Emotional Stability Described as individuals with constant anxiety and boundary issues, constantly inhibited in relationships by lack of self-esteem and fear of rejection.
Accountability Have not learned the distinction between accountability and blame, and because of their insecurities always try to shift responsibility to others.
Problem-solving Abilities Unable to make decisions and implement actions to carry them out.
Good Communication Skills Tend to hoard information, seeing it as a valuable commodity in short supply.
Good at Conflict Resolution Caught in a web of self-defeating behaviors that....
July Learn very early in life that it is dangerous to trust anyone, and carry that into adulthood.

If you want to learn more about codependency and teamwork, read Narcissism: Behind the Mask.

1, 3, 6 Cook, R.A. and Goff, J.L. (2002), Coming of age with self-managed teams: Dealing with a problem employee, Journal of Business and Psychology, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 485-496.
2 Baker, R. and Newport, S. (2003), Dysfunctional Managerial Behabior in the Workplace: Implications for Employees, Supervisors, and Organizations, Problems and Perspectives of Management, Vol. 1, pp. 108-113.
4 Whitfield, C.A. (1992), Co-dependence, Addictions, and Related Disorders, A Comprehensive Textbook, 2nd Edition, pp.816-831. Eds. Lowinson, J.H., Ruiz, P., Millman, R.B. and Langrod, J.G., Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore.
5 Cermak, T.L. (1986), Diagnosing and Treating Co-dependence, Mpls: Johnson Institute.