How to Help Your Adult Child with Dependent Personality Disorder Seek Treatment

Watching your adult child struggle with Dependent Personality Disorder is difficult, but by taking the time to familiarize yourself with the beginnings of Dependent Personality Disorder, you can learn not only how to recognize early signs of this disorder—and differentiate it from other, similar mental health challenges—but also how to approach your adult child living with this challenge and help guide them towards seeking help without pushing them away.

“I know I won’t actually die, but it often feels like it.” said Mona, who lives with Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD), describing her relationship with her boyfriend and the emotions that it creates. “I can’t live without him, that’s for sure. When he is gone, it’s like life switching from Technicolor to black and white. There is no excitement, this electricity in the air that seems to constantly surround him.”

Despite her boyfriend being physically and verbally abusive at times, unfaithful, and a drain on her financial resources, Mona continues to stay with him. Whether or not her relationship is “healthy” doesn’t matter to her, nor do the opinions of her friends and loved ones, who continue to be pushed out of her life due to symptoms of her DPD that she doesn’t know how to manage. When you live with DPD, living without your dependent seems unfathomable, so much so that you believe nothing else in the world could ever match up to being with them.

If you are the parent of someone with DPD, you are in a crucial position as a caregiver and figure of authority. With your child’s best interests in mind, you can use your bond with them to establish trust, make them feel valued, and guide them into treatment so that they can become aware of the dysfunction that their DPD is bringing into their life. But in order to do this, you must be familiar with the complex nature of DPD and the best way to approach someone struggling with it.

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The Beginnings of Dependent Personality Disorder

Although research on DPD is limited and its potential root causes are not known for certain, doctor Daniel Ploskin suggests that current theories point to an “inborn biological tendency toward anxiety and pessimistic expectations,” as well as an influence by an “environment that may encourage reliance on others and caution against independent thinking and behavior.” This means that a family history of anxiety, or a parenting style that created this kind of environment, could be two factors that bring out your child’s DPD.

Authoritarian parenting is a perfect example of a parenting style that creates an environment that works against independent thinking, opening up the possibility for the exacerbation of DPD. It is defined by strict rules and strong pressure to adhere to them, but unlike authoritative parenting, this pressure and enforcement of regulations is not mixed with warmth and compassion—rather, strictness is enacted without an explanation. This style of parenting has been linked to poor school performance, personal problems, and addiction.

No parent is perfect, and even if your child’s environment when they were young did contribute to the development of their DPD, laying the blame on yourself is not a healthy or productive way to cope with the situation. Instead, try to focus on understanding these contributors in order to give yourself the knowledge you need to help your child in the present. Through this process, you can work with them to forge a future that gives them the tools to manage their mental health challenge.

Recognizing Signs of Dependent Personality Disorder

DPD manifests by early adulthood, and people living with it have extreme difficulty making their own decisions. They rely on others for guidance and lack the confidence needed to initiate activities that require the use of their own judgment and abilities. At the core of this disorder lies insecurity and a perception of oneself as powerless. This perception acts as the motivator for seeking out caregivers and authoritative figures that can provide the guidance and protection that people with DPD believe that they need. Other symptoms include:

  • Unrealistic fears of abandonment. Your child might live in constant fear that the people closest to them—family, friends, loved ones—will cut them out of their lives, despite having no rational reason for believing it to be true.
  • A strong desire to receive support from others, even if it means doing unpleasant things. If your child doesn’t like to indulge in alcohol, for instance, they may push themselves to drink when out with coworkers in order to gain their peers’ approval and acceptance.
  • Exaggerated fears of being unable to care for oneself. This can be especially evident if you adult child lives with you. They may express fear at the thought of living alone and having to sustain themselves beyond the everyday concerns most of us harbor about paying rent and finding a good job. They may even actively or unconsciously avoid becoming more independent, financially or otherwise, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that they cannot survive without someone they can heavily depend on.
  • Difficulty expressing disagreement with other people. Even if they feel strongly about a certain belief, they may have troubling expressing that sentiment with people who harbor opposing opinions for fear that they will lose the respect of those people.

If you notice any of these signs in your child, approaching them about getting treatment is the best way to determine if DPD is a problem that they are living with. Professional treatment is crucial because some signs of the disorder could actually be rooted in other mental health issues that need to be addressed, or simply particular situations that bring about similar feelings.

For example, a difficulty in initiating projects that stems from a lack of motivation (as opposed to a lack of confidence) could actually be a sign of Major Depression instead of DPD. Similarly, in some cases, a difficulty expressing disagreement with others might be rooted in realistic fears of retribution and be a completely rational emotion. This potential for misunderstanding signs of DPD should paint a clear picture of why communicating with your child and talking to a professional that understands DPD is the right step.

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Approaching Your Adult Child

Knowing the underlying cognitive, motivational, behavioral, and emotional components recognized by clinicians as the cores of DPD can help in the process of approaching your adult child living with it and gently ushering them in the direction of treatment. Before you talk to them, consider the following components and their implications for your approach:

  • Cognitive features of DPD paint oneself as powerless, while others are perceived as powerful. Although many people in the lives of those with DPD might take advantage of this cognitive profile, as a parent you can use your authority and perceived power to instill positive beliefs into your child. Let them know that they mean something to you, and that you believe that they have the strength to take the road to treatment.
  • People living with DPD are motivated by “a desire to obtain and maintain relationships with protectors and caregivers.” Despite the unhealthy nature of this motivation in the context of some environments, when in a treatment setting comprised of caregivers that are professional and understanding, this motivation can be helpful in pushing treatment forward. Explain to your adult child that by seeking treatment, they will be surrounded by people that care for them, understand what they’re feeling, and can help them develop the skills that they need to thrive.
  • Behaviors observed in people with DPD tend to facilitate bonds with people that can care for them and avoid those that harbor the chance rejection and abandonment. Again, highlighting the healthy bonds that residential treatment can provide will help them realize that while their dependency can be maladaptive, there are plenty of opportunities for healthy bonding in the right environment.
  • The emotional roots of DPD, which are linked to fears of rejection, abandonment, and anxiety tied to evaluation by authority figures, can make treatment seem scary. After all, treatment begins with evaluation and diagnosis. However, by standing by your child and emphasizing the fact that treatment is designed to help, not hurt, you can help them see the benefit in addressing their emotions in a nonjudgmental manner.

By approaching your child in a way that makes them feel comforted and takes the core components of DPD into consideration, you can make the path to comprehensive residential treatment seem like much less of a scary thought. Through individual, group, and holistic therapies, your adult child can learn to harness the independence and potential for self-sufficiency that they have inside of them, whether they realize it or not.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for people living with Dependent Personality Disorder. Contact us to learn more about how your adult child can get the support they need to live independently and the positive role that you can play in the process.