What Is Dependent Personality Disorder And What Does It Mean For Me?

By Sarah Fader |Updated July 11, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Ann-Marie Duncan, LCMHC

We all know what a dependent person is, but not many people have probably heard of dependent personality disorder. It's one of those that's less frequently talked about, but it's something that you should definitely be able to recognize because if it's you, then you want to seek professional help and if it's someone you love, you want to help them get the professional help they need. It's difficult to live a happy and healthy life with untreated dependent personality disorder, because by nature, you're not really living your own life.

Living With Dependent Personality Disorder Is Challenging

What is Dependent Personality Disorder?

We all think of a dependent as someone who relies on someone else. Your child is your dependent because they are relying on you to take care of them and make decisions for them. They need you in order to survive because they just can't do it on their own. In many ways, dependent personality disorder is very similar. The person who has it is similar to a child who needs someone else to take care of them and make decisions for them. But it's a little more than that as well.

Symptoms of Dependent Personality Disorder

Those with this disorder are, in a nutshell, very emotionally dependent on others and doing whatever they can to try to please those individuals. They are extremely passive, clingy and suffer separation anxiety. But there is a whole lot more to it than that as well:

  • Incapable of making decisions on their own including basic decisions (what to wear, what to eat, etc.)
  • Require advice and reassurance from others for any decisions
  • Incapable of starting projects on their own
  • Dependent on others for choice of where to work or live
  • Naïve and fantastical in their plans/dreams
  • Passive and helpless in regards to any needs
  • Extreme fear of abandonment
  • Fear of disagreeing with others for fear losing support
  • Difficulty with being alone
  • Devastation and helplessness with loss of relationship
  • Jumping into new relationships quickly
  • Extreme sensitivity to criticism
  • Tolerates negative behavior, abuse and mistreatment from others
  • Puts others needs before their own
  • Extremely self-conscious and lack of self-confidence
  • Belief of inability to care for themselves
  • Extremely passive about things happening around them
  • Very clingy to people who they believe are more intelligent/capable or view as caregivers

How It's Diagnosed

If you think you have dependent personality disorder, you first need to visit your doctor. They will be able to look at the symptoms that you exhibit and will be able to determine whether they relate to dependent personality disorder, borderline personality disorder (which shares a number of common characteristics) or something else entirely. Once they've determined that a number of the symptoms exist, the doctor will evaluate the medical history and psychiatric history of the individual to get a better idea of what's going on.

Your doctor is going to look for physical causes for the symptoms that you are experiencing and, if they find none, will likely refer you to a psychiatrist or psychiatrist to get a better understanding of your mental health. They will be able to conduct an interview that will help them reach a decision on your diagnosis. Of course, once your doctor or psychiatrist has diagnosed you with this disorder, it's only the beginning. There are still plenty more steps that are going to take place in order to help you overcome the symptoms and go on to live a healthy and happy life on your own, without the need for such dependence on another person.

The Treatment Path

When it comes to treatment, your psychiatrist is the best asset you have. The important thing is to be open and honest with them about what you are experiencing and how you are feeling at every stage of the process. They will help you to become more independent and work towards making decisions for yourself and becoming more of an active participant in your own life. This can help you to feel less dependent and to create healthier relationships rather than ones where you are overly dependent on your partner.

Your therapy will be different from more traditional types of therapy to ensure that it does not develop a new style of dependency between you and the therapist that you are working with. They'll help you to start making small decisions your own and start feeling more confident and comfortable with your own mind, slowly helping you to integrate this into the rest of your life and the way that you live. It's definitely important to start small as you could find yourself struggling if you jump into being dominant in your own life. After all, you're going through this therapy because these things are difficult for you.

Medication can be another form of treatment, but it's important to note that the medication is actually designed to treat other aspects of the disorder. It's not intended to treat the actual disorder. Instead, you can use medication for things like depression and anxiety that are often side effects of the disorder itself. It's important to closely monitor use of any of these types of medications as problems can and often do occur for those who are taking them. These are extremely strong medications and therefore have problems with abuse and misuse.

Living With Dependent Personality Disorder Is Challenging

Stats on Dependent Personality Disorder

While this is a much rarer type of disorder than most personality disorders, it's definitely something that you'll want to understand more about. If a loved one is suffering from this disorder. it's important to get them help as quickly as you can so they can live their own productive life, especially since this disorder can lead them to abusive situations.

  • Between 0.1% and 0.3% of people in the UK have this disorder
  • Approximately 0.3% of people in the US have this disorder
  • In the UK approximately 0.2% of men and 0.02% of women have the disorder
  • In the US approximately 0.33% of women have the disorder versus 0.2% of men
  • Emotionally abused children have a higher than average rate of developing this disorder
  • The rate of developing dependent personality disorder if a parent has it is approximately 0.81
  • Approximately 28% of people with dependent personality disorder is alcohol dependent
  • Approximately 27% of people with dependent personality disorder is drug dependent
  • Approximately 53% of people with dependent personality disorder is nicotine dependent
  • A large number of people with panic disorder suffer from dependent personality disorder
  • There are believed to be some genetic and some environmental factors that influence the development of this disorder

Why It Hurts

For those who are suffering from this disorder, the inability to make any decisions for themselves is extremely difficult. The constant worry about what others will think about what they do, say, wear or even eat takes a constant toll on their mind and leads them to relationships where they can be entirely dependent on someone else. These relationships could be platonic friendships as well as romantic relationships and because one individual is entirely dependent on the other, they are not considered 'healthy' relationships in any form.

For the person who is dependent, it becomes a struggle to do anything at all throughout the day without some kind of input from someone else. For the people that they form this type of relationship with, it can also be difficult because they feel like they have to constantly watch out for this other person. Where most friendships and romantic relationships feature a bit of give and take where each person is able to give advice, feedback, suggestion and even criticism, in this type of relationship, the dependent person is incapable of doing these things.

They are incapable of accepting criticism or negative feedback in a positive way but require positive feedback constantly. They are also incapable of giving advice or making suggestions other than to build up the other person because they so strongly want the other person to like them. They are also incapable of giving negative feedback for fear of hurting the other person or losing them as a friend. This leads to an unhealthy relationship for both parties where the dependent person is afraid of losing the friend and the independent person feels responsible for them and in many cases smothered by the clinginess and the need for attention.

In order to really get through the experience of dependent personality disorder, the individual must seek out help but often they won't because they don't necessarily recognize that they have a problem. Instead, they continue the behavior and may get caught up in abusive relationships. If you think you have this disorder and need help or if you believe someone you know has it and needs help, you can talk to a professional on BetterHelp to get advice on where to start with your treatment plan. Even better, you'll be able to do it right from the comfort of your own home so you can start working toward your future, sooner than ever.

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