Dependent personality disorder (DPD) is a psychiatric diagnosed disorder found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It affects a small percentage of the people.
Dependency is a needed characteristic for human survival, especially in childhood. It helps people to form emotional attachments and build relationships. However, when dependency increases, a person’s ability to live a normal day to day life can become hindered. As a result, a dependent personality disorder diagnosis by a professional psychologist or therapist can help the individual to overcome their symptoms to lead a healthy and happy lifestyle.
What Is Dependent Personality Disorder?
A dependent personality disorder is when an individual exhibits a pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of. Some other symptoms include clinging behavior and fear of separation from their “caregiver”. It is a personality disorder in which anxious and fearful symptoms are present. It may appear as separation anxiety in the individual. But the symptoms are more specific and hindering to a person’s life.
An individual with a dependent personality may have difficulty making decisions without reassurance. They have the need for someone to take responsibility for a majority of their life, along with the difficulty initiating tasks or doing things alone. They may not be able to cope with the stresses of everyday life. Even simple decisions can cause a sense of insecurity.
For example, making a decision on what to wear to a dinner may be simple for many people. But it can be a cause of stress for a person with a dependent personality disorder. Making decisions, no matter how big or small, is intimidating to the individual.
Approval and Attachment
Gaining approval in an important part of his or her life. This makes it difficult for the person to express disagreement. At times, they will exhibit fear when they show too much confidence. This, in turn, causes the person to believe too much competence will lead to abandonment.
As a result, he or she may appear submissive, overly obedient and pessimistic to others. He or she can appear withdrawn, shy, and inhibited as well. Often times, those with dependent personality disorder feel a sense of helplessness when alone. They may eagerly seek relationships as a source of care and support should one attachment end.
Those diagnosed can exhibit behaviors that are attention seeking, suggestible, and self-dramatizing as a way to gain the approval of others. However, because of their dependent personality traits, they become vulnerable in various ways. For example, it can be easy for others to manipulate and take advantage of the person with this personality disorder.
Adult Onset Diagnosis
An interesting aspect of this diagnosis is that the symptoms often begin in early adulthood. Because of this, the dependent personality disorder diagnosis should not be given to children or adolescents. They often rely and depend on a caregiver depending on their developmental stage.
Since this diagnosis is seen in adulthood, the symptoms of dependent personality disorder have the ability to affect an adult’s ability to flourish in their occupational, personal, and social life. They are more likely to remain stagnant in many personal areas of growth. For instance, they may refuse job opportunities due to their reliance on their primary caregiver.
Causes of Dependent Personality Disorder
The causes of dependent personality disorder are not known according to the DSM-5. However, according to research, it is a combination of factors contributing to the overall diagnosis of dependent personality disorder.
For example, childhood temperament can be a contributing factor. A shy or fearful temperament in childhood can persist into adulthood. In addition, generalized anxiety disorder and phobias in a family increase the risk for a person to develop a dependent personality disorder.
Theories of Causes
Social learning theory comes into play as a possible origin of dependent personality disorder. Children can learn from parents through conditioning and reinforcement that modeling a dependent personality is beneficial for their well-being.
For example, if parents reward their child for excessive demands of care, these habits persist as he or she gets older. In addition, overly anxious and protective parents may reinforce a lack of independence in their child, and, therefore, lead to more dependent personality traits.
Theories of unconscious emotional conflicts, negative thought processes, and fears can also contribute to a dependent personality disorder diagnosis. Those diagnosed with this disorder may be a result of self-perception and cognitive thoughts of others. A dependent person may view themselves as powerless, while others around them are powerful and capable.
Furthermore, a dependent personality disorder is commonly observed in women in comparison to men, and those who have experienced a chronic physical illness. A major physical illness requiring much caregiving and less autonomy can cause a person to feel more worthless, pessimistic, and feel less capable to care for or make decisions for themselves.
In addition, children with separation anxiety are at a greater risk of developing a dependent personality disorder.
Dependent personality disorder has the ability to affect a person socially, occupationally, and emotionally. Psychotherapy treatments tend to be effective when helping to treat this diagnosis.
For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy helps clients to alter their thinking patterns, identify maladaptive behaviors, and analyze underlying beliefs and emotions. As a result, the person is able to resolve those automatic thoughts and behaviors as a result of their negative thought processes.
Working through negative thoughts and maladaptive behaviors often take significant time, resulting in long-term psychotherapy treatment for dependent personality disorder. Furthermore, self-help groups in addition to psychotherapy can help the patient later on in treatment.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2017, April). Dependent personality disorder.
- Psychology Today. (2018, March 6). Dependent Personality Disorder.