Over-committed Relationships: An Exhaustive Process

For years, we have seen individuals in organizations become overly involved in each other’s lives to the point organizational efficiency, productivity, and profitability are affected. The employee, no matter what their position, gives excuses: “I care about the person” or “the way to motivate people is to be invested in my employees.” These statements sound reasonable in a world where organizations are realizing the importance of focusing on “human capital.” Yes, we support employees who are honorable, respectful and compassionate with each other; yet, some people develop habitual ways of behaving that create an over-commitment rather than a healthy involvement. When this over-commitment occurs negative events happen between the employees and the organization suffers. We have also written articles on the opposite of over-commitment—emotional and relationship anorexia. Emotional and relationship anorexia is the emotional starving of relationships by being disconnected to such an extent people do not feel cared about. Both emotional anorexia and over-commitment lead to unhealthy relationships. Sometimes people switch between over-commitment and emotional anorexia. Whenever an unhealthy pattern of behavior becomes habitual, then it is important to look at the behavior in depth.

Many times the manager, staff member or officer of the company does not recognize the way they habitually behave with others creates superficial relationships. These relationships appear to be close and yet in reality they are not. In Escape From Intimacy, Anne Wilson Schaef states the following, “In creating pseudo-relationships, a person who strives for an intimate relationship uses what (s)he has been taught about relationship building to her/his own detriment. The manipulation of another person to attain closeness for one’s own needs creates a buzz in the person who initiates the process which is addictive.” Unfortunately, these superficial relationships do not build trust and cohesiveness in organizations any more than they do in personal relationships.

The most important issue to recognize about the over-committed person is they are often unaware of the depth of their investment with an employee or peer. They often do not see their investment as a negative experience. They are unaware of how detrimental their actions are to themselves as well as the other person. They believe their compassion, kindness and niceness are ways of caring for the other person. They do not see and often do not want to admit they get a “high” or excitement from being important to another. They do not see they use their relationship building skills indirectly to get their needs of recognition and importance met by using the other person. They seldom want to admit they do tasks for the other person to control or dictate the outcome of the project or event out of fear or concern they will look bad to others in the organization. Seldom will the over-committed person admit they are manipulating others through “apparent closeness and emotional connection” to get what they want even at the expense of the other person. The primary elements missing in these relationships are clarity of boundaries between each other and a respect for each other’s space in interacting and working with each other.

Below are patterns of behavior that hinder closeness and respect with others. (We like to warn the reader, you may want to argue in your mind as you read these items. You may think, “I am not as bad as ____________” or numb your emotions and disconnect with the listed behaviors. In doing any of these actions, you support behavior patterns of over-commitment or emotional and relationship anorexia in yourself.)

  • Establish “instant closeness” by speaking or talking with the other person in a “confidential” or confiding manner.
  • Emotionally disconnect with the person speaking to such a point you give a false sense to the other you are listening.
  • Appear to form a “friendly” connection and yet have no idea how to be a “real” friend and supporter of the other person.
  • Lay aside your own needs by compromising values, ethics or morality for the workplace and the “important” relationships in the work environment.
  • Excuse and justify your behavior with others, in or outside the organization.
  • Since you “know best,” quickly move in to take care of other person’s needs.
  • Act involved with the other person and at the same time do not share any information about yourself.
  • Spontaneously share secrets beyond the current emotional experience the two of you have working with each other.
  • Establish an immediate “high” in communication without having the experience of developing an important working relationship.
  • Believe communications skills are much more important than being emotionally connected to the other person.
  • Feel fear, emptiness, etc. when the other “important” person rejects ideas and projects.
  • Believe your job is to change the other person and they will have a “better” life than what he or she has.
  • Use the other person to escape the life you have created for yourself in the organization.
  • Create closeness with others through commiserating about the negatives of the organization.
  • Ignore behaviors you do not value or trust in order to maintain the illusion of the importance of the work relationship.
  • Use “compassion” to make the other feel valued.
  • See the “potential” in others and ignore daily behaviors not matching the potential.
  • Blame and fault others for tasks/activities going wrong in the working relationship, yet act as if you are willing to take responsibility.
  • “Hang in there” longer than is necessary when you are unable to work issues out with the other person.
  • Shut off your feelings and awareness in the service of the relationship.
  • Believe you understand the other person better than others and therefore can work with them better.
  • Manipulate others by being what the other person wants in order to establish a relationship.
  • Believe you know how others feel and understand what is best for them.
  • Act “honest” and “open” to get what you want from the other person.
  • Believe “intensity” is compassion and caring.
  • Tolerate inappropriate behavior rather than consistently providing discipline or guidance.

Our experience shows many of these behaviors (in moderation) can be supportive in developing relationships. The severity and degree of the behavior is a determining factor. When the behavior is habitual, often micro-managing, undermining others, feeling tired and an inflated sense of importance happens. If you recognize yourself in some of the listed behaviors, then challenge yourself to look seriously at every behavior to find ways to be more effective and productive in your professional and personal interactions.