A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
March 8th, 2013 by William

The Co-Dependency Syndrome

Do you work in a dead end job yet too afraid to leave? Is your boss a bully yet you keep telling yourself it’s not that bad and “what doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger?” Are your co-workers back-stabbing yet you silently tolerate? Do you keep asking yourself “why me?” Or worse yet, do you stay in your current hellish job because you’re convinced there’s nothing better out there, or that no one would hire you anyway?

If you answered yes to any of these you’re probably suffering from “The Co-Dependency Syndrome.”

While co-dependency is defined as a psychological condition, it’s really a relationship, in which one person lets themselves be controlled or manipulated by others. On the other side of the relationship the controlling parties are people with their own psychological condition, e.g., narcissism and, by their very nature, have the need to control others. Unfortunately this is the typical sort of personality that migrates to the top levels in management.

When these two personalities meet it can become a lethal mix for the person being controlled. The relationship becomes one of love-hate between what can be called the oppressor and the oppressed. This is the essence of The Co-Dependency Syndrome.

It should be noted that in a co-dependent relationship, the oppressor and oppressed are usually not on equal ground (in the organizational hierarchy) and thus there is an imbalance of power in all aspects of the relationship. This makes it tough for the oppressed to break free of the syndrome–the oppressed may consciously want to stop the relationship but they find themselves powerless to do anything.

The oppressed will withhold their true feelings for fear of rejection by their oppressor. They harbor hidden (often fantasy) expectations about their relationship with the oppressor e.g., that the oppressor is really on their side or looking out for them with best intentions. They then resort to resentment and passive aggressiveness, or depression, when their (unexpressed) needs are not met. Typically the co-dependency relationship has a dysfunctional, or one-sided, communication pattern, i.e., communication flows only from the oppressor to the oppressed.

Despite it taking a certain mindset to become the victim of this syndrome we are all vulnerable to falling prey and becoming co-dependent on someone. Typically the affected person is forced to place a lower priority on their own needs, while being excessively expected to service the needs of another. This is the heart of the syndrome and explains why workers feel the need to constantly please their bosses.

As mentioned above, and especially true in the work-a-day world, the relationship is really only a one-way dependency–that of the workers to the boss. The sociopathic upper levels of management are only dependent on their subordinates to the extent that they need them do the work so as to make the organization (and thus them) successful–0ther then that they have no need for the dependent person. This helps to understand why lay-offs are the action of choice in the business world when times get tough.

Co-dependency is one of the least recognized but still dangerous areas of dysfunction in the modern workplace. People become dependent to the habitual dysfunctional behavior patterns of management which inhibits their freedom of choice–their ability to reach out and find a new job. Workers see their managers almost as parental substitutes and develop an unnatural obsession with pleasing them despite getting little in return.

People suffering from co-dependency do not challenge the dysfunctionality and by doing so provide unspoken approval for the inappropriate behaviors of management or co-workers. This explains why once dysfunction sets into an organization it becomes near impossible to purge.

The irony (if you can call it that) is that in the face of widespread management dysfunction, workers often believe the “system” will protect them. They believe that management must represent the good guys and thus be on their side. They miss the point that the dysfunctional management “is” the system. They believe this all the way to point when their name pops to the top of the lay-off list.

There are a couple reasons why people become co-dependent. The first is insecurity. Even emotionally secure people with high self-esteem will develop a co-dependency after prolonged exposure to a dysfunctional organization and command and control behavior patterns of sociopathic management.

The second reason people behave co-dependently is fear. A fearful or dysfunctional workplace nurtures co-dependency in its members. And remember, fear is a key component of the typical command and control management style in use in today’s workplace. Command and control doesn’t work without widespread fear.

Bullying (in all forms) is also an enabler of co-dependent behaviors. The co-dependent becomes so convinced of their inferiority (reinforced over time by the management bullying) that they begin to believe they cannot find another job because they are not worthy and thus must “stick it out,” or worse yet begin to believe they somehow deserve their treatment.

In the end the co-dependent spends their miserable time dreaming of how work life could be different rather than focusing on the reality of the situation–the need to leave the harmful organization.

This syndrome has an effect on the oppressor also. Too often dysfunctional management teams mistakenly believe they’re “leading” because they think they have followers. Unfortunately their followers are really only the co-dependents they have created who have no choice. Remember the old leadership adage: “if you turn around and find no one is following you then you’re really only out taking a walk.” Management teams seeking to establish shared accountability and employee engagement need to self-assess whether they are nurturing followers or an army of co-dependents.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reload Image