Dependent Personality Disorder: What Is It and Who Does It Affect?

Dependent Personality Disorder: What Is It and Who Does It Affect?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

The inability to be alone, an almost suffocating dependence on others, insecurity, no personal responsibility and an obsessive fear of being abandoned … These are the draining symptoms of one of the most common disorders around, but one which is the least recognized and treated. We’re talking about dependent personality disorder.

To understand this type of disorder a little more, we’re going to start with a simple example. George is 42 years old and today he has a job interview. When he finishes getting dressed that morning, his wife suggests that he wear another tie: the one he’s wearing is too dark, too serious looking. George takes it quite badly, although he doesn’t say anything, and confusion sets in. He soon begins to wonder if the shirt and trousers he chose are the right ones too, and if the shoes are ok…

“The state of your life is only a reflection of the state of your mind”

Wayne Dyer

Bewilderment and exhaustion

Bewildered by doubts and fears, he tells himself that he’s not going to get that job. Almost without him realizing, his negativity starts to increase, and sends him spiraling into obsession. He starts thinking that if he doesn’t get that job, his wife will most likely end up leaving him. However, his wife, already knowing what will be going through his mind, tells him that this is not going to happen and that she is there to support him, that she trusts him and that there is no reason to have those irrational fears.

He seems to cheer up, but Eva, his wife, breathes deeply, feeling once again the sting of despair. She knows that she’ll have to be encouraging and giving him boosts all day long… and maybe the whole week. She knows that George may not feel strong enough to attend the job interview any more. She also understands that her husband’s behavior is not normal. Sometimes it is very difficult for her to live with him and she is feeling more and more exhausted. She thinks that it is just his personality, and that he’s never going to change.

However, it is here where the root of the problem lies: to think that this type of behavior is normal and that nothing can be done about it. We just link them with this personality pattern and let them do what they want and go where they want. We accept them without understanding that what they are suffering is a disorder, an illness. A type of behavior that nullifies the person and their environment.

personality dependent disorde

Dependent personality disorder or the fragile ego

Among the 10 types of personality disorders included in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the most common one is the dependent disorder. The disorder is characterized, in essence, by a remarkable lack of self-confidence and the constant need to receive reassurance, security and support. During adolescence signs can sometimes be detected, but the symptoms are far more extreme and obvious when someone reaches 40.

On the other hand, as we pointed out at the beginning, people with dependent personality disorder are rarely aware that what they are suffering from is an illness. They only ask for help when they get to the end of their tether and see that they can’t control what is going on.

Characteristics of people with dependent personality disorder

  • Inability to be alone
  • Avoidance of responsibilities
  • Extreme passivity
  • Difficulty accepting or facing criticism
  • Inability to cope with the break up of a relationship
  • Obsessive fear of being abandoned
  • Extreme passivity in interpersonal relationships
  • Lack of initiative: they can’t make decisions without the support or advice of others

What are the causes and how is it diagnosed? Who does it usually affect?

It is currently unknown what causes this disorder. It is clear that it appears in adulthood and that some patients experience an anxiety disorder associated with the physical separation of their parents in their childhood or adolescence. It should, however, be noted that this is not always the case.

personality dependent disorde

On another note, the estimated prevalence of this disease in the general population is two percent (although we know that many people who never get diagnosed). It is also more common in women than in men.

Now, as regards how this diagnosis is carried out, it is important to highlight here the work of the doctors. They are almost always the first point of contact, the first step to diagnosis, and they should refer these patients to specialized professionals.

The patient will first of all have a blood test to rule out any possibility of hormonal imbalance. After that, the symptoms and the medical history of the patient will be analyzed.

Treatment for dependent personality disorder

As with any disorder, each patient is unique. Sometimes, there may be more complications, such as depression, anxiety disorders, personality avoidance disorder etc., which further increase the medical issues to be addressed.

It is surprising to see how all emotional problems are in our mind: even dependencies such as alcoholism or smoking. If we have the mental key to free ourselves, it is easy to do so. But yes: change can only be found within us, in our way of thinking 

Rafael Santandreu

However, it should be remembered here that the combination of psychotherapy with medical treatment is in most cases very effective. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, for example, focused on thought-patterns, beliefs or the inability to make decisions. is the most successful one. We can’t forget that they are long-term treatments either, approaches that are often combined carefully with antidepressants or sedatives, and where progress is regularly assessed.

And finally, we mustn’t forget the support of the patient’s family and friends. This close contact is the third pillar in the treatment, where the sufferer must combine a continuous effort, commitment and a strong will to improve and to fight for a much better quality of life.

Images courtesy of MEGHAN HOWLAND

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.