Does co-dependency or unhealthy narcissism affect the healthy functioning of your organisation ?

by Margaret Parkes: Systemic Psychotherapist, Supervisor and Management Consultant.

psychotherapytoday-corporate-dysfunction2

Is Dysfunction the New Norm

Are many organisations dysfunctional? Are they run by executives and employees who are replicating co-dependent or unhealthy narcissistic dysfunctional family system patterns of behaviour, at a cost to their people and the organisation as a whole?

I have noticed in my work that increasingly clients are presenting to my practice with major stress issues due to the unhealthy functioning of relationships, particularly those in authority, in their working environments. They feel stressed because they are not allowed to voice or express their feelings which leads to their creative input being stifled and their personal needs not being met. They feel undervalued and fear dismissal if they give their views. They eventually lose their confidence and can become confused, fearful and lost to themselves. Such organisations have a need to control their workers and foster a need for external approval in their workers (co-dependency).

The purpose of this article is to explore what might be going on and can it be changed, either for the client or for the organisation?
Co-dependency may cause one to avoid the possibility of conflict at all costs and such people have a high tolerance for confusion and crisis, they are also very often peacemakers. Is it possible this tendency for co-dependency may be a conditioning from their childhood? I have found in my work that these clients were unconsciously playing their part replicating patterns of the past. Co-dependents often play a serious role in keeping unhealthy situations going but at a huge cost to themselves and others in their organisation. Furthermore, they may facilitate the unhealthy narcissist to continue their behaviour which in the long term is not helpful to the organisation.

Narcissism comes on a spectrum from healthy to pathological. In this article I refer to the unhealthy narcissist who can be charming but is self-serving, controlling, manipulative, unfeeling and disrespectful. They may feed off co-dependents to survive. They do not genuinely allow others to express different views, be creative or express feelings, creating an intolerable and unhappy working environment.

Reduced Organisational Performance

This behaviour causes employees to become fearful, detached, mistrustful, demotivated and disconnected. This disconnection affects trust which is essential to the growth of an organisation and the company’s bottom line. Also, it can cause a large turnover in staff numbers.

Recently, I worked in a company where the managing director had just been replaced and the staff turnover in two years in this company was twenty out of twenty five staff members or 80 percent. I had the pleasure of working with their two newly appointed joint CEO’s and all other staff members, to achieve the development of shared values and vision for the system moving forward. We also worked on the development of skills that had not been encouraged in the old regime. Could your organisation benefit from this positive change?

I have found in my work as a consultant to companies where there is an absence of trust there can often be ‘political game playing’, where people’s energy is not being expended for the good of the company but instead for employee’s individual gains. And these ‘games’ are being played by the narcissists, and unconsciously colluded with by the co-dependents. Is this your company?

Just like families organisations tend to take on the personalities of those in authority. If these personalities are psychologically questionable – most people in the dysfunctional organisation will have been conditioned to act and think in a particular way, becoming either co-dependent and refusing to see what is happening – not unlike that of those caught up in the addiction process where one of the chief characteristics is denial or indeed they can also become unhealthily narcissistic and passively angry, thus spreading this behaviour throughout the organisation with devastating results. Again could this be your organisation?

Changing to Survive

The power of this denial could bring your organisation to the brink of destruction unless the dysfunctional/narcissistic behaviour is challenged just as one would challenge the alcoholic who is in the depths of their addiction. Again not unlike the addictive system – if the co-dependent is reconditioned and learns to behave assertively and constructively in the organisational system, the system has a chance of shifting for the better, and the unhealthy narcissist would lose their stranglehold.

However the avoidance and covering up of the destructive or narcissistic behaviour of senior executives and team members is an all too familiar story in organisations which if left uncorrected (a typical co-dependent reaction) – leads to serious consequences for the health and welfare of staff.

Having been a consultant and presenting leadership courses for over fifteen years, I have found that 70% of the people who have attended my courses are co-dependent. Perhaps this high percentage is because the narcissists don’t feel they need to change – or are not challenged to, so they don’t attend courses – this is a huge loss to the progress and growth of a company.

Effects of Co-dependency

However it is important at least that those vulnerable to co-dependency do get the support to change because if they do not this will interfere with their ability to carry out their role, which again is a loss to them personally and to their organisation. When we explore this vulnerability, we find that fear of rejection is the central issue – generally a childhood conditioning. Because they are looking for external validation they are therefore giving their power to others – and are at risk of being bullied or controlled unfairly – because they are seeking their colleague’s approval just as they sought their parent’s approval as children.

They therefore avoid important tasks such as being assertive, giving feedback, delegating, and generally communicating with their team – the important tasks of the leader or supervisor.

I also find that co-dependents are poor time managers or planners because they are so conditioned to please their plan goes out the window, they can’t say no. They are unable to stick to a schedule so some don’t bother planning and which can cause them to be unreliable. Or they end up staying late and their own life gets out of balance and they get burnt out.

Growing Through Change

In the training we correct this childhood conditioning and the unhealthy thinking that is causing their fear – they are enabled to act out of choice place rather than a fear place and become proactive leaders of themselves and others. We unearth what is causing this need to please, in order to free them to stick to their own vision and plan. The person is also helped to develop the skills required to enable them to be fully functional in their roles and to challenge respectfully, where necessary unhealthy narcissists within the organisation. Result – the organisation and everyone with the organisation benefits!

My objective when consulting with an organisation is to help them to become a healthy functioning company where all voices are heard and respected. Where vision and values are aligned and clear and everyone is working toward the same ends. Where the organisation has a happy workforce that work together to achieve a satisfactory bottom line. In such a company trust will be strong and the organisation is likely to go from strength to strength.

Benefits of change for the individual

With regard to the three of my ‘one-to-one’ clients this year that I referred to earlier, by the time they had finished their work with me they had the courage, confidence and the skills to make healthier choices. Because their organisations were unfortunately unwilling to change, they have all have now changed their jobs – one was offered three positions in one week and the other has gone from earning circa 60,000 to over 100,000, and the other has been made director of another company and has shares in the profits he generates for the company.

So the point being that if the organisation doesn’t change they risk losing good people and these people have a choice to move on (though I do realise that financial constraints can make this more difficult for some) – however, when they build their confidence again – I did it myself (even went out cleaning houses initially) – though very fearful –I never looked back because I was free – free from the dysfunctional systems of my past and present. We can’t let the dysfunctional organisation continue to damage our health.