Dependent Personality Disorder
People with dependent personality disorder lack the confidence and the self-image to do things for themselves, and they come to rely on others to care for them and protect their interests. Dependent personality disorder is a debilitating condition of the mind, and only through intensive therapy and other forms of treatment can men and women who have this condition find the freedom to begin living as they choose.
What Is Dependent Personality Disorder?
People diagnosed with dependent personality disorder have an overpowering need to be watched over or cared for by other people, including parents, spouses, grown children, close friends with strong personalities, or members of their extended families.
Dependent personality disorder (DPD) is marked by a pervasive and lifelong lack of self-esteem and self-confidence. Men and women who exhibit its symptoms may develop a range of behaviors designed to elicit the support or assistance of others, since they feel incapable of accomplishing things on their own. Like others with low self-esteem, they are emotionally devastated by what they interpret as rejection or criticism, and such reactions only deepen their feelings of helplessness.
Personality disorders manifest early in life, but are not usually diagnosed until adulthood. They reveal themselves by rigid and inflexible patterns of thinking, reacting, interacting, and engaging with the world that are both problematic and outside the norm.
With a commitment to self-understanding backed by a dedication to personal evolution and growth, people with dependent personality disorder can improve the quality of their relationships as they work toward emotional independence. If they are willing to ask for help, they can benefit tremendously from mental health treatment programs, where trained professionals can show them how to develop their latent capacities for self-reliance and overcome their pattern of self-sabotaging thoughts and behavior.
Facts and Statistics
Dependent personality disorder is classified as a Cluster C personality disorder, in the same group with avoidant and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders. These conditions are diagnosed in those who have a pattern of anxious or fearful responses to a variety of situations, which are strong enough to play a determinant role in their life choices.
Based on various studies, dependent personality disorder is estimated to occur in about 2.5 percent of the adult population. Overall, approximately 14 percent of those who are diagnosed with a personality disorder will have this condition, giving it a higher-than-average incidence rate (there are 10 personality disorders in total).
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Dependent Personality Disorder
While its symptoms may be evident in childhood or adolescence, dependent personality disorder usually reaches full-bloom in early adulthood. At this stage of life, it is normal for young men and women to leave home and go out on their own, but the insecurities of people with DPD may prevent them from establishing an independent existence.
There is essentially one overriding characteristic of dependent personality disorder: a chronic and obsessive need to be cared for or supported by others, which leads to behavior that loved ones may classify as clingy or overly needy.
Some of the distinctive manifestations of DPD include:
- An inability to make decisions without the input or reassurance of others
- A habit of delegating responsibility for major areas of the person’s life
- Difficulty expressing disagreement or unique opinions, for fear of being criticized or rejected
- An inability to initiate and finish projects, or manage them independently
- Going to excessive lengths to obtain support, attention, and care
- Feelings of discomfort or insecurity when left alone, or when living alone
- A tendency to form dependent relationships, and a desperation to find a new relationship when a previous one ends
- Being preoccupied by fears of abandonment
People with dependent personality disorders experience life as unpredictable, unreliable, and frightening, and their ability to find peace and contentment is severely restricted by their negative outlook and the poor self-esteem that accompanies it.
Diagnosing Dependent Personality Disorder
Under standards established by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), dependent personality disorder can be diagnosed if five or more of the above symptoms are revealed during a psychiatric or psychological examination.
Significant life disruption is expected with dependent personality disorder, and that is the first indicator that something is seriously wrong and that a visit to a mental health professional is in order.
Causes and Risk Factors for Dependent Personality Disorder
People with Cluster C disorders show a natural tendency to react with excessive anxiety in a broad range of situations, based in part on neurological sensitivity related to imbalances in the emotional centers of the brain. Life experiences and genetic factors likely combine to create this type of neurological vulnerability, which is implicated in the onset of dependent personality disorder and other anxiety-related conditions.
The known risk factors for dependent personality disorder include:
- Genetic predisposition and family history. Studies reveal a significant genetic aspect is present in the development of personality disorders. Having a parent with dependent personality disorder is a strong risk factor for this particular condition.
- Childhood trauma. Exposure to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in childhood is a primary risk factor for most personality disorders, including dependent personality disorder. Similarly, being neglected or abandoned as a child also increases the odds of a personality disorder developing.
- Having overprotective or authoritarian parents. Parenting styles can contribute to poor self-esteem and a lack of confidence in children, setting a tone that can affect the evolution of a child’s personality.
- Being in a long-term abusive and/or dependent relationship. Dependency can be learned, although pre-existing genetic factors likely play a role when dependent personality disorder grows out of adult experiences.
- Family history of anxiety disorders. While there is a difference between anxiety disorders and personality disorders, Cluster C personality disorders are intimately related to poor stress management capacities.
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Because of the trouble they have coping with the world, most people with dependent personality disorder will develop other mental health conditions. In many instances, they may seek treatment for those conditions first, even without a personality disorder diagnosis.
- Anxiety disorders
- Eating disorders
- Somatic symptom disorder
- Other personality disorders
Among anxiety-related conditions, there is a high rate of incidence of social anxiety disorder in individuals with DPD, which is not surprising considering the connection between both conditions and a chronic lack of self-esteem.
Substance use disorders are more common among people with personality disorders, and those who have dependent personality disorder are at elevated risk as well. They are especially prone to substance abuse when they are alone or isolated, which can increase their feelings of helplessness and vulnerability.
Dependent Personality Disorder Treatment and Prognosis
Through inpatient and outpatient treatment programs offered by licensed mental health facilities, people with dependent personality disorder can begin the process of recovery while learning to handle their emotional, psychological, and behavioral challenges.
Individual therapy will make up the core of a dependent personality recovery program. A special emphasis must be placed on creating a stable, productive, and non-dependent relationship between client and therapist, since people with dependent personality disorder can sometimes transfer their dependency to their healers. Mental health experts who work with these clients understand this tendency, and that awareness is important in order to guarantee that therapy is as helpful and productive as it should be.
Given their need to form more constructive and positive relationships with others, men and women with dependent personality disorder can benefit by participating in group therapy and family therapy sessions as well. Interactions with peers and family members give them an opportunity to practice new ways of thinking and communicating, as they attempt to break their dependent habits and engage with others in ways that are advantageous to all.
Medication will not be prescribed for dependent personality disorder, but can be for co-occurring anxiety disorders and mood disorders, or possibly to help manage withdrawal symptoms if alcohol or opioid dependence has been diagnosed. Holistic healing practices such as acupuncture, medication, yoga, and arts and music therapy can be especially helpful for people with Cluster C personality disorders, who must learn how to manage stress and anxiety more effectively.
Personality disorders cannot be cured. They represent persistent patterns of reacting and behaving that have unfortunate consequences, and those who go through therapy for dependent personality disorder must develop the self-awareness and the commitment to change necessary to manage their tendencies more effectively.
From the beginning of recovery through its continuation in aftercare, men and women with dependent personality disorder will focus on boosting their self-image and increasing their independence, as they work to build healthier relationships supported by more productive habits of living. Over time they can experience dramatic improvements, with the help of loved ones, peers, and trained therapists who understand their goals and will do everything in their power to assist them in the weeks and months to come.