Understanding Dependent Personality Disorder: Symptoms, Treatment, And Tips

Updated January 30, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many people in life have someone they depend on for advice from time to time. But some people struggle with depending on others for constant approval and help with decisions. They experience anxiety and fear around the idea of being alone or not having someone to rely on to an unhealthy level. If you are struggling with this, you’re not alone. There’s the possibility that it could be a mental health disorder. Understanding Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD) can help you learn what steps you can take if you think it’s impacting you.

What Is Dependent Personality Disorder?

Is A Fear Of Being Alone Impacting Your Relationships?

DPD is one of many different types of personality disorders, which are broken into multiple clusters based on their symptoms. Studies have found that around 10% of the population is impacted by some type of personality disorder.

The Mayo Clinic states that personality disorders affect the way a person thinks and how they behave. It can impact the way they perceive social interactions and relationships. Without help, this can negatively impact both their personal and professional life.

The severity of personality disorders falls all over the spectrum. They include diagnoses such as Schizoid Personality Disorder, where people prefer to be alone and tend to not find enjoyment in most activities, and Antisocial Personality Disorder, which in some cases can cause people to frequently lie, even creating aliases, and disregard the needs and feelings of other people.

Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD) falls in Cluster C, which is characterized by anxiety and fearful thinking.

Symptoms Of DPD

Someone that suffers from DPD is likely to come across as highly needy. They tend to feel a desire to be cared for by others, don’t want to be separated, and are fearful of not pleasing people. Simply put, they are “dependent” on others.

Here are some of the symptoms and characteristics of those with DPD:

  • Overly sensitive when given criticism

  • Anxiety

  • Struggles to make decisions, even small daily decisions

  • Constantly looking to others for advice and reassurance

  • Fear of being abandoned

  • Often moves from one relationship directly into another because they’re afraid to be alone

  • Lack of self-confidence

  • Has a hard time being left alone with themselves

  • Avoids personal responsibility

  • Dislikes confrontation

  • Tends to be more pessimistic

  • Has a hard time getting started on projects

What Causes DPD?

There is no exclusive list of risk factors that can lead to a DPD diagnosis. It is believed to affect men and women fairly equally. But it is also believed that some of the factors that put you more at risk include things like:

  • Growing up with overprotective or authoritarian parents

  • Having been in a long-term abusive relationship 

  • A history of neglect

  • Family history of anxiety disorders

  • Suffering from a chronic physical illness

  • Having childhood anxiety

However, if you’re having symptoms of DPD, it’s wise to seek professional help even if you don’t believe that you have any risk factors for the diagnosis.

How Is DPD Diagnosed?

If you have some of the symptoms of DPD,  you may be concerned about what your next steps are for getting help. Like other personality disorders and anxiety disorders, DPD is treatable.

The first step in getting diagnosed is to talk to your doctor. Some of the symptoms such as anxiety can be caused by physical issues as well. Your doctor can do tests such as blood work to rule out any physical health concerns before referring you to a mental health specialist. Make sure that you communicate any symptoms that you’re experiencing to your doctor. Even if you don’t think something is that big of a deal, it may be able to help your doctor come up with a diagnosis.

The majority of the time, a diagnosis for DPD comes from a psychiatrist or psychologist, and this is where your treatment can begin.

DPD Treatment Options

The good news is that while DPD can have a negative impact on your life and mental health, it’s a treatable disorder. With the proper treatment, you can experience an improvement in your symptoms. There are several different options for treatment to consider. Some of the most common options include:


While medication is not usually the first form of treatment recommended, there are some instances when it can be helpful. For example, if you suffer from panic attacks along with or related to your DPD, your doctor or psychiatrist may prescribe medications to help.

If you are interested in exploring medication options that exist, you’ll want to talk to your medical doctor or a psychiatrist. Psychologists are unable to write your prescriptions, although some work with psychiatrists that are able to assist you.


Harvard Health Publishing reports that some of the symptoms of DPD make therapy a good option. If you experience the desire to please others and win their approval, you will be likely to show up for your therapy appointments and do the work that your therapist is asking you to do. This can be good for helping you make progress in overcoming the symptoms of the disorder. However, it can also be a challenge for the therapist as they work with you on coping strategies.

Because some people with DPD rely on the advice and help of others, it can become easy to start relying on your therapist to fill that role in your life. If this is something that you struggle with, your therapist might take the approach of using psychotherapy on a short-term basis to help you make positive changes and experience relief from your symptoms, without becoming dependent on therapy.

Tips For Living With DPD Or Living With Someone That’s Been Diagnosed

Is A Fear Of Being Alone Impacting Your Relationships?

Before talking about tips you can use to help overcome your DPD symptoms on your own, it’s important to note that if you are suffering from severe symptoms or if it’s impacting your daily life, it’s a good idea to seek help from a mental health professional. There are tips that can help you overcome some of your challenges, but please remember that they are not a replacement for therapy.

Identify Any Codependent Behavior

If you have DPD and depend heavily on someone in your life, there’s a chance that they could struggle with codependency. While you think that you’re the one depending on them, they also may feel like they’re benefiting from being the person that you depend on. It can help you in your recovery if you’re able to identify if this is happening in any of your relationships.

If you have a loved one that has been diagnosed with DPD, it’s important to consider if you struggle with codependency. To help your loved one with their treatment, it will be helpful for you to address this in yourself as well. If you feel that you are struggling with overcoming codependency, talking to a therapist could be a good idea.

Joint counseling can also be an effective way for someone with DPD and someone that is codependent on them to recover together.

Create A Supportive Environment

When you’re trying to recover from seeking someone’s approval and overcome the anxiety around making decisions on your own, it can be beneficial to be in a supportive environment. It may help you take the necessary steps forward if you feel comfortable that those around you will support you in the efforts that you’re making.

If your loved one has DPD, it’s important that you stay aware of this fact yourself. Look for ways to support and encourage them as they take steps to make decisions for themselves. Remember that if you criticize a decision they are making, it could set them back in their progress. If you need to disagree with them on a decision, remember to be kind and gentle as you communicate with them.

Practice Decision Making

If you’re working on overcoming the symptoms of DPD, one thing you may want to practice is decision making. This is something that a therapist can help you make progress with, but it’s something that you’ll need to actively decide to do on your own at home. It can be helpful to start with small things like choosing what you’re going to wear for the day without asking anyone for their opinion. Or try deciding on where to go for dinner.

If your partner struggles with DPD, look to provide them with opportunities to make decisions. And then support them in what they decide.

Get Started With Addressing Your Symptoms

If you’re reading through this and feel like you can identify with a lot of what you’re reading, reach out to your doctor or a therapist to discuss your options for help. You can work with a local therapist or talk to an online therapist like those offered at BetterHelp.

Online cognitive behavior therapy is an effective way to deal with many types of mental health issues, including DPD. You will work with a therapist to determine the root causes of your DPD and develop strategies for combatting it.

BetterHelp offers the opportunity to work with a licensed therapist at a time and place convenient for you.

As you work on addressing your symptoms, take time to celebrate your successes. Every time you make a decision on your own, stop yourself from asking for advice, or spend time on your own, acknowledge your progress. Take time to celebrate your success along the way.

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