What is Dependent Personality Disorder?

In everyday life, someone who relies on others for support and guidance may be thought of as ‘needy’ or lacking in self-confidence. However, people who are unfortunate enough to suffer from Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD) display symptoms, patterns of thought and behaviour which would be considered at the extreme end of this spectrum. A clinical diagnosis of DPD means that the sufferer is plagued with crippling anxiety around issues of abandonment, rejection and being alone. In addition, they will also have very little in the way of self-confidence. Consequently, the sufferer may cling on to relationships and situations because of an unhealthy conviction that they are worthless or that even a bad relationship is better than being alone.

Typically, people suffering from Dependent Personality Disorder can feel crippled with anxiety at the thought of carrying out everyday tasks on their own or in being without their significant other. This kind of behaviour may be viewed by others as ‘clingy’ however; there is a serious mental health condition here which can be successfully treated in those brave enough to seek professional help.

Recognising symptoms of Dependent Personality Disorder

People with DPD are passive in the extreme – being unable or highly unwilling to take any action on their own. Typically, they might well consider themselves to be ‘weak’ or completely incapable when it comes to asserting themselves. They struggle to make decisions or initiate any course of action themselves, instead allowing others to assume almost total responsibility for areas of their life. In such cases, a sufferer may not even feel confident about such everyday situations as to what clothes to wear without asking for another’s opinion or preference.

People with Dependent Personality Disorder may also be highly reluctant to express their own opinion – agreeing to things which they dislike because of their intense fear of losing support or being abandoned. In addition, they will have great difficulty in starting new projects or deciding on any future course of action, avoiding disagreements and even being subservient to another person.  Someone suffering from DPD feel, at their core, feels helpless with a strong aversion to being left alone – This kind of belief can lead to that person remaining in a negative or even an abusive relationship because they feel completely unable to cope on their own. This crippling lack of self-confidence can lead to sufferer’s urgently seeking new relationships – even unsuitable, inappropriate or highly undesirable ones – in order to allay the extreme fear of being alone.

Symptoms of Dependent Personality Disorder include:

  • Allows  or even encourages others to assume decision making for them in many areas of their life
  • An inability or reluctance to disagree with others, even if they find the other person’s opinion to be at odds with their own beliefs
  • Difficulty in making decisions without the advice and guidance of someone else
  • Extreme upset and agitation caused by the ending of any relationship
  • Feeling helpless or incompetent
  • Great reluctance to start new projects or decide on a course of action without someone else’s input
  • Harbouring feelings of being ‘weak’ or incapable. May also unfairly think of themselves as ‘stupid’ or undeserving of any praise.
  • Inability to function outside of a relationship. May also urgently seek another relationship (even a bad or inappropriate one) when a close relationship ends
  • Inability to take any kind of criticism – branding themselves as a ‘failure’ for little or no reason
  • Is extremely passive in both private and social situations
  • Is very uncomfortable at being left alone or at being separated from others
  • Lacking in any confidence in themselves or their own abilities
  • May be preoccupied with worries surrounding abandonment, loss of their partner or being unable to cope on their own
  • Willingness to tolerate mistreatment, even abuse, by others

As can be inferred from the symptoms above people suffering from Dependent Personality Disorder are at a greater risk of becoming involved and trapped in abusive relationships. In such situations, the unhealthy climate and abuse within the relationship can greatly exacerbate the symptoms given above.  For details of how a history of abuse can contribute toward people developing DPD see ‘causes’ below.

The causes of Dependent Personality Disorder

As with many serious mental illnesses, the roots of DPD can often be found in childhood. Typically, suffers often have experience of early rejection, abandonment or abuse in their history. As a child’s personality grows and develops the environment and conditions surrounding them has a significant impact on the formation of their character – In the example of Dependent Personality Disorder fear and anxiety forms around the prospect of being abandoned or rejected. Sufferers often have never felt safe enough to begin the process of developing their own sense of self and confidence in their ability to cope with stressors. It is this insecurity centring around the anxiety of being abandoned which leads suffers to attach themselves to others in such a profound and submissive way. People with DPD fear the idea of being rejected or abandoned, being willing to give up their own decision making to someone else who they perceive to be ‘better’ than they are. Ironically, it is the very act of attaching themselves to other people to feel secure only serves to reinforce their fears. In addition, because others all eventually fail in their consistency this is wrongly taken as confirmation that people will always leave them. This cycle of attachment and abandonment creates a vicious cycle which drives the person deeper and deeper into the disorder. Over time this circular pattern further erodes and diminishes the self-confidence of people with Dependent Personality Disorder, leading them to even greater fear of abandonment and causing them terror at the thought of being alone.

Treatment of Dependent Personality Disorder

The good news is that, with professional help, DPD can be treated successfully. Psychoanalytic therapy in combination with CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is most effective at exploring the roots of the problem and challenging a patient’s negative beliefs and replacing them with a more balanced thinking. Together with the therapist people can explore their own history, identifying damaging beliefs and actions to obtain a better understanding of how historical situations which were entirely not their fault have the power to impact them today. Sufferers are encouraged to learn about the vicious cycle of thinking, assumptions and behaviours have affected and influenced their lives – especially how fear of rejection can actually drive people away; a situation which only reinforces mistaken beliefs.

In particular, people in DPD therapy learn to view situations and people differently by combating “over generalisation bias”. This is the negative practice where people come to an incorrect general conclusion based on a single piece of evidence. For example, just because something bad happens once sufferers expect it will happen over and over again – a cycling pattern of anticipated defeat which leads them deeper into negative thinking and assumptions.  Through therapy, people can experimentally learn that others (the therapist in the first instance) can be reliable and that not everyone is the same. In addition, the person learns new skills, such as how to distinguish and evaluate people objectively with regard to their reliability and desire to be close.

Tell us your experiences with Dependent Personality Disorder

We would be delighted to hear your own personal experiences with DPD – either as a sufferer yourself or if one of your family or friends has been diagnosed with this condition. Sharing your story, experiences and successes can help others find the strength and courage to finally address the crippling lack of self-confidence and anxiety which is central to this serious and much misunderstood mental illness. Leave your comments, tips and observations below.

Alternatively, why not get in touch with us now to arrange a friendly, no obligation chat about how talking treatments could help you or someone you love afflicted with Dependent Personality Disorder.