Part III: When Co-Dependents Are Identified in the Workplace

Sometimes co-dependents may be identified by their behavior in the workplace. You may think that is impossible, because co-dependents tend to be good employees. They work harder than anyone else, they anticipate the needs of management and the are very dependable. However, there are two types of behavior that often identify them. The first type of behavior may be identified by management and, in some instances, the referral to the Employee Assistance Program may be on a mandatory basis. The second type of behavior generally comes in as a self referral unless it is extreme.

The first type of behavior involves problems with co-workers. The co-workers may complain that the employee is always angry and very stressed. The employee may be bossy, withdrawn or very short with them.. This comes to the manager’s attention and he or she refers them to the Employee Assistance Program. Why does the co-dependent person behave this way? If you remember the first two articles describing how co-dependents are affected in adulthood, you’ll recall that they feel responsible for everybody and everything. They think that it is their job to make certain that everything gets accomplished even if they are not managers. In order to ensure that everything gets done, they over-function. Of course, they expect everybody else to do the same. When people do not, then the co-dependent becomes very resentful. The co-workers can sense the co-dependent’s annoyance. Sometimes, even though it is not their job, the co-dependent may give other workers suggestions. They may also constantly complain to management, implying that the manager is not doing their job. That may or may not be true, but managers do not want that to be implied, especially by someone who reports to them. Occasionally, with this type of problem, the employee may experience enough anxiety or anger, that they decide to seek help, before they are sent to EAP.

The second type of behavior involves a meltdown. This is when the co-dependent becomes extremely upset at work. They may start crying and not stop. They may get so angry that they shout at other people. It may be a co-worker, or it may even be the boss. The co-dependent may be sent home to recover. Sometimes the manager may say to the employee something like, “If you are having some personal issues, the company provides an Employee Assistance Program to help employees with things like that. Or, if the meltdown is severe enough, the co-dependent may finally realize that they could use a little help.

So, what causes such a meltdown? The answer is similar to the last paragraph. Remember that the co-dependent feels that it is their personal responsibility to ensure that everything gets done. If work is behind, they work faster and faster and try to get the impossible done. They may work through breaks and lunch or dinner and come early and stay late. Of course, they would never ask for help because they do not believe that it is okay to do so. They also constrict their anger, frustration and worry until it is coming out of their ears. Just like a pressure cooker or a volcano, they eventually explode. Out comes all the constricted feelings, and to someone who doesn’t know what is happening, it can look pretty scary. Occasionally, I have had managers bring the employee right to our offices, because they are afraid to send them home.

Generally, when the employee comes to see me, we are quickly able to identify that they comes from a dysfunctional family. We identify how they are affected. and try to work on some of their irrational beliefs. They try to figure out what is and what is not their responsibility. This gives them quite a sense of relief. Then we work on the fact that they are powerless over other people, places, and things. Then, we redirect some of the energy they expend trying futilely to control others into working on taking better care of themselves. In just a short period of time they feel dramatically better.

The next article will begin a workbook on healing the co-dependent within us.

Related Articles:
Part I: How Co-Dependents Come into Therapy
Part II – How Co-Dependents Come to Therapy – Teens

© Copyright 2011 by Joyce Henley, MSW, LCSW, CEAP, SAP. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Chas

    October 20th, 2011 at 4:46 PM

    I guess I only think about co dependency in terms of friends and families, and not having a place in the work environment so this brings a lot of new info to light.

  • Heather

    October 23rd, 2011 at 5:27 AM

    Such things at workplace can really put co-workers off.Why would anyone comply if one person is having problems and is behaving in a strange manner?

    Of course,many people would say their manager or boss has this problems because they always say do this or that and impossible targets set by them are not impossible to come by ;)

  • Lucille

    July 30th, 2013 at 1:08 PM

    I hate the codependent at my work! She’s been there the longest and the bosses love her. She makes me sick. I’m the youngest woman at work and they put her right next to me so she can make sure nobody’s talking…basically she’s the company rat and they think she is so cute because she’s old and she cares so much about the place. she makes me sooooo sick…she’s rediculous and never minds her own bussiness all shse does is watch other people. She really gets upset when someone goes to the bathroom and always wants to find out why.

  • Lucille

    July 30th, 2013 at 3:22 PM

    I am a happy go lucky person, I’ve always treated her with respect and i’ve always been nice, I don’t like bringing people down, she usually has a biting remark towards me because i’m a happy person. She talks to me like i’m a piece of shit when I’m trying to make small talk…I’m her main target I think because I have no power in the company and I’m laid back and comfortable with who I am….codependents are not! If I laugh at something with someone else she always wants to know what it is and when i tell her she gives a dirty look (it’s never inappropriate) instead of at least fake laughing like a nice person would do. She is so mean but everyone thinks she’s just a good worker and sweet old lady…she’s horrible …she’s always mumbling at her desk “i hate this place” i always feel like it’s directed at me….I do have add and always have… we work in a factory…my job is so easy and mindless i can’t focus without having fun …. she is from italy and came here uneducated she can’t read all she can do is this job….sometimes i wonder if she’s jealous that she is stupid and finds this work challenging .she’s makeing me miserable and feel like i don’t deserve to smile, nor do i deserve credit for all the work i accomplish…i know shes watching me so sometimes my stubborness takes over and i just stop working and sit there on purpose…i can’t stop feeling so much hate..nobody believes me when i tell them how she is but they aren’t stuck with her all day …and i’d get fired if i told managment that she’s a codependent and i can’t stand sitting near her …i hate people at the end of the day i don’t want to go anywhere when someone looks at me i’m paranoid liike they are looking for something wrong because i deal with it all day at work

  • Lucille

    July 30th, 2013 at 3:25 PM

    sorry for my grammer errors, i just wanted to get everything out

  • Joyce

    July 31st, 2013 at 12:33 PM

    I am sorry. It sounds like this is painful for you. If you can somehow learn to see her as sick, it may help you with your intense anger and you would feel better. Good luck and let me know how you are doing.

  • anthony

    August 20th, 2013 at 9:22 AM

    Sometimes….it takes one to know one. I am revisiting the idea that I have some CoDep behaviors coming into my awareness…especially at work. Owning my own behaviors and taking my sight off of others has allowed me to see my feelings of anger and resentment towards what I can’t control…others. Somebody said, ” People are hell”….for codeps?

  • Red

    July 5th, 2015 at 3:07 AM

    Anthony–it was Sartre who said that “hell is other people.” From what I have read, he was decidedly the antithesis of codependency.

  • Red

    July 5th, 2015 at 3:05 AM

    This sounds like a great way to get employees to shut up and quit complaining. So Lumbergh wants 10,000 TPS reports completed and ready to read on his desk by five o’clock, and you feel overwhelmed and resentful that you’re being treated this way? Yeaaah…you must be a codependent. You asked for it. You want your boss to treat you like dirt. There’s an alcoholic in the workplace who nearly ran you over with a forklift, and now you want to sue the company for damages? That’s a codependent reaction. Just be quiet, go to CODA or Al-Anon, and whatever you do, don’t demand money from your employers. Are you having a meltdown simply because you hate the hell out of your vapid, meaningless, repetitive job and you feel as if your life is being wasted? Whatever you do, don’t quit–after all, the capitalist economy will never survive that way. Instead, get a therapist, learn to blame your parents for things that should really be blamed on your boss, and be a happy little drone.

    I’ve been disgusted with this concept for a long time, but this has got to be the cherry on the cake.

  • Natasha

    April 21st, 2016 at 5:40 PM

    Question : what is it called if my co-worker feels that it’s my responsibility to make her happy, to help her get ahead in her work or work related opportunities, that I’m responsibly for everything in her work related life? If I say or do something she feels is wrong then she’ll give me the cold shoulder for hours, or even days. If she forgot something, her first comment is ‘why didn’t you remind me’. Is that still considered codependency?

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