Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD) is one of the anxious personality disorders whose primary symptoms are overwhelming consistent nervousness and fear. It is marked by feelings of helplessness, neediness, a tendency to be submissive, and difficulty making decisions. It is among the most frequently diagnosed personality disorders and is diagnosed equally in men and women. The signs usually appear in early to middle adulthood. In childhood early signs may show up as an attachment disorder.
The exact cause of dependent personality disorder is not known, however, it is most likely a combination of biology and environment. It is thought that perhaps authoritarian or overprotective parenting style can lead to the development of dependent personality traits in people who are already genetically predisposed to the disorder. An over-bearing or smothering caretaker can inhibit the natural development of a healthy sense of self that feels capable and independent.
Symptoms of Dependent Personality Disorder
Individuals with DPD are emotionally dependent on other people and they spend much effort trying to please others to avoid abandonment. Individuals with dependent personality disorder are at risk for depression, anxiety, and phobias, as well as substance abuse. They are also at risk for being in an abusive or violent relationship because they are willing to do anything to maintain their relationship.
Symptoms of DPD Include:
- Inability to make even everyday decisions, without advice and constant reassurance
- Fear of abandonment
- Avoidance of jobs that require independence and responsibility
- Intense fear of abandonment
- Feelings of devastation or helplessness when relationships end
- Serial monogamy – jumping from one intense relationship to another
- Profound sensitivity to criticism
- Lack of self-confidence
- Low self-esteem
- Believe they are unable to care of themselves
- Avoid conflict for fear of losing approval
- Inability to start and complete projects
- Inability to tolerate being alone
- Willingness to tolerate abuse for fear of being alone
- Placing the needs of others above their own
- Tendency to be naive and to live in fantasy
If symptoms are present, a medical evaluation is recommended to rule out physical illness as being the cause of the symptoms. If a medical illness is ruled out, a referral to a psychiatrist or psychologist is recommended where a specially designed interview and assessment tool can be used to evaluate a person for a personality disorder.
Individuals with DPD generally do not seek treatment for the symptoms of the disorder itself. Rather, they may seek treatment when a problem in a relationship arises which is often resulting from thinking or behavior related to the disorder. They may become overwhelmed and feel they are no longer able to cope. Or they may present themselves as wanting to save a failing relationship. Also individuals with DPD are at high risk of developing depression or anxiety, and symptoms of these disorders might prompt the individual to seek help.
Psychotherapy is the most popular method of treatment for DPD. The goal of psychotherapy would be to help the individual to become more independent, and to develop healthy relationships. Specific methods might include assertiveness training to help develop self-confidence. If appropriate, medication might be used to treat individuals with DPD who also suffer from depression or anxiety.