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Dependent personality disorder

Dependent personality disorder (DPD) is a mental health condition characterized by a pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of by others. People with DPD often have difficulty making their own decisions, expressing their own opinions, or asserting their own needs. They may fear being alone, abandoned, or rejected, and may cling to others in unhealthy ways. They may also have low self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-reliance, and may avoid taking personal responsibility for their lives. DPD can interfere with one’s personal, social, and occupational functioning, and can lead to emotional distress and impaired relationships. In this article, we will explore the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of DPD, as well as some strategies for coping with this disorder.

What is Dependent personality disorder?

Dependent personality disorder (DPD) is a mental health condition that is characterized by a pervasive and excessive need to be cared for by others, leading to submissive, clingy, and fearful behaviours. People with DPD have low self-confidence and self-esteem, and they rely on others to make decisions for them, even in trivial matters. They also have difficulty expressing their own opinions or preferences, especially if they conflict with those of the people they depend on. They tend to avoid personal responsibility and independence, and they may volunteer for unpleasant tasks or tolerate abuse to maintain their relationships. People with DPD experience intense anxiety and distress when they are alone or separated from their caregivers, and they may desperately seek new sources of support when a relationship ends. DPD usually develops in early adulthood and affects various aspects of a person’s life, such as work, education, and social interactions. The exact causes of DPD are unknown, but some risk factors may include genetic factors, overprotective or authoritarian parenting, neglect, abuse, or chronic illness. DPD can be treated with psychotherapy, which aims to help the person develop more self-reliance, confidence, and coping skills. Medication may also be prescribed to manage symptoms of anxiety or depression that may accompany DPD.

The symptoms of dependent personality disorder

Some of the common symptoms of DPD include:

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  • Relying on others to make major and minor decisions
  • Feeling helpless or unable to cope when alone
  • Having difficulty disagreeing with others or expressing one’s own views
  • Feeling devastated or worthless when criticized or rejected
  • Having difficulty initiating or completing tasks without guidance or reassurance
  • Seeking constant approval or validation from others
  • Having difficulty forming or maintaining close relationships with peers or colleagues
  • Being overly submissive or compliant to others
  • Being preoccupied with fears of being abandoned or left to fend for oneself
  • Going to extreme lengths to obtain or maintain support from others, even at the expense of one’s own well-being
What are the causes of dependent personality disorder?

The exact causes of DPD are not fully understood, but several factors may contribute to its development. These include:

  • Biological factors: Some studies have suggested that DPD may be influenced by genetic factors, brain chemistry, or hormonal imbalances. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings.
  • Psychological factors: People with DPD may have experienced early childhood trauma, abuse, neglect, or separation from caregivers. They may have learned to depend on others for their emotional and physical needs, and to avoid conflict or displeasure. They may also have developed a distorted sense of self and others, and a lack of personal identity or autonomy.
  • Social factors: People with DPD may have been influenced by their family, cultural, or environmental factors. They may have grown up in a family that discouraged independence, encouraged dependence, or was overprotective, controlling, or authoritarian. They may have also faced social isolation, rejection, or bullying from peers or others.
What is the difference between anxious attachment style and dependent personality disorder?

Anxious attachment style and dependent personality disorder are both characterized by a strong need for closeness and reassurance from others, as well as a fear of abandonment and rejection. However, they are not the same condition and have different causes, symptoms and treatments.

Anxious attachment style is a pattern of relating to others, identified in Attachment Theory, that develops in childhood, based on the quality of the bond with the primary caregiver. Children who experience inconsistent, unpredictable or insensitive caregiving may develop an insecure attachment style, which can manifest as either anxious or avoidant. Anxious attachment style involves a preoccupation with the availability and responsiveness of the attachment figure, as well as a tendency to seek excessive approval and validation. People with anxious attachment style may have low self-esteem, high emotional reactivity and difficulty trusting others. They may also experience anxiety, depression and relationship problems.

Dependent personality disorder is a mental disorder that affects the way a person thinks, feels and behaves. It is characterized by a pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of by others, leading to submissive and clinging behaviour and a fear of separation. People with dependent personality disorder may have difficulty making decisions, expressing opinions, initiating activities and being alone. They may also tolerate abuse, neglect or exploitation from others to maintain their relationships. They may experience anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Anxious attachment style and dependent personality disorder can co-occur, but they are not interchangeable. Anxious attachment style is a normal variation of human behaviour that can be modified through therapy, self-help and healthy relationships. Dependent personality disorder is a pathological condition that requires professional diagnosis and treatment. Both conditions can benefit from psychotherapy, especially cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), which can help people challenge their negative beliefs, cope with their emotions and develop more adaptive behaviours.

Treatments for dependent personality disorder

One of the possible treatments for dependent personality disorder (DPD) is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of talking therapy that helps people with DPD identify and challenge their irrational thoughts and beliefs that make them dependent on others. CBT also teaches coping skills and strategies to deal with anxiety, depression, and fear of abandonment that often accompany DPD. This can help people with DPD develop more confidence and self-reliance, as well as strengthen their interpersonal relationships. CBT usually involves individual sessions with a therapist, as well as group sessions or homework assignments.

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Besides cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), there are other possible treatments for dependent personality disorder (DPD). These include:

  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy: This is a type of talking therapy that explores the unconscious motives and conflicts that may contribute to DPD. It helps people with DPD understand their childhood experiences, attachment patterns, and emotional needs. It also helps them develop a more realistic and positive sense of self and others.
  • Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT): This is a treatment specifically developed for borderline personality disorder (BPD), but it can also be helpful for people with DPD. It uses individual and group therapy to help people with DPD learn skills to manage their emotions, cope with stress, communicate effectively, and regulate their impulses. It also helps them build self-esteem and self-respect.
  • Mentalization-based therapy (MBT): This is a long-term talking therapy that aims to improve the ability to recognize and understand one’s own and other people’s mental states, such as thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and intentions. It helps people with DPD examine their assumptions about themselves and others and see if they are valid. It also helps them develop more empathy and perspective-taking.
  • Medication: There is no specific medication for DPD, but some medications may be prescribed to address underlying symptoms, such as depression or anxiety. These may include antidepressants or antianxiety drugs. However, medication alone is not enough to treat DPD, and it should be used with psychotherapy.
Common coping techniques

Some self-care strategies that can help people with DPD cope include:

  • Start doing things alone: It’s useful to slowly challenge yourself to do things alone, starting with easier challenges and moving to difficult ones. For example, you could try going to a film by yourself, ordering food online, or taking a walk in the park. Doing things alone can help you build confidence and independence.
  • Get some physical activity: Physical activity can boost your mood, reduce stress, and improve your physical health. It can also provide you with a sense of accomplishment and autonomy. You can choose any activity that you enjoy, such as walking, jogging, swimming, dancing, or yoga. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week.
  • Keep a mood diary: A mood diary can help you track your emotions, thoughts, and behaviours over time. You can use it to identify patterns, triggers, and coping strategies that affect your mood. You can also use it to monitor your progress and celebrate your achievements. Furthermore, you can use a notebook, an app, or a template to create your mood diary.
  • Plan for difficult times: Sometimes you may face situations that are stressful or challenging for your DPD. For example, you may have to deal with a conflict, a separation, or a change in your routine. It can help to have a plan for how to cope with these situations in advance. You can write down what you will do, who you will contact, and what resources you will use if you need support.
  • Find peer support: peer support is when people with similar experiences or challenges share their stories, offer advice, and provide emotional support to each other. peer support can help you feel less alone, more understood, and more empowered. You can find peer support through online forums, groups, or organizations that focus on mental health or personality disorders.
Further reading

If you would like to learn more about DPD, here are some weblinks with URLs for further reading:

Dependent personality disorder – Wikipedia:

Dependent Personality Disorder | Psychology Today:

Dependent Personality Disorder Signs and Symptoms – Verywell Mind:

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