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Dealing With Dependent Personality Disorder

Meloncauli is a former nurse and anxiety management therapist. She hopes everyone can take something away from her articles.

Are you leaning on someone too much?

Are you leaning on someone too much?

What Is Dependent Personality Disorder?

There are probably many more undiagnosed people with dependent personality disorder than you imagine. The main reason for this is that it would take a referral from your doctor to a psychiatrist to get a diagnosis, and some people would not like to admit to the traits of this disorder. The people usually diagnosed are already mental health service users with other problems, mainly anxiety disorder, depression, or behavioral-type problems.

I personally think the term “personality disorder” is a rather confusing term to many people, and it is an unfortunate diagnostic label to have with much stigma attached. The layman will think that a person with a personality disorder is mentally ill, but illness implies there will be a need to medicate to cure.

Personality is something we are stuck with, and as such, you can’t “cure” it! You can try to adapt your personality to fit in with the rest of the world, but if others begin to see you as “different” or “not fitting in,” you have a problem! We are all expected to behave in a socially and culturally acceptable way; therefore, being told you have a personality disorder immediately suggests that you simply don’t fit in with the rest of society.

There are many types of personality disorders, some of which I hope to write about in later articles, but this article will discuss dependent personality disorder (DPD). I want to look at it from the perspectives of both the person who has this disorder and their immediate loved ones.

Causes of Dependent Personality Disorder

The causes of DPD are difficult to ascertain; it would suffice to say that as this is to do with personality, it may be that some of the behavioral traits have been around since early childhood. Overprotective parents will probably not have helped, nor will those parents who have asserted high levels of authority, but there could be so many underlying reasons. It could be that some overprotective parents have DPD themselves, and part of their disorder has been to keep their children close and do everything for them to keep them in good favor.

Other parents could have asserted such authority that the growing child was never allowed to make decisions for himself, or overpowered at every turn, thus knocking his confidence. Learning to become independent and have a sense of security about yourself starts in childhood.

Simply put, there isn’t one single factor that causes this disorder. It could be several factors, and we may have a susceptibility to it with regards to our character or personality. We are hopefully learning how to behave in an acceptable way as we grow up, but much will depend on our personality traits as to how we handle our behavior.

Symptoms of Dependent Personality Disorder

A needy or dependent person will also have some of the following signs that would indicate DPD:

  • Low self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Find it difficult to disagree with people
  • Intense fear of being alone or abandoned
  • Always putting everyone else first
  • Always seeking advice and approval
  • Difficulty making decisions without the help of others
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Acting helpless
  • Intolerant of criticism, overly sensitive
  • Questioning your own judgment
  • Avoiding responsibility
  • Mood swings
  • Trust issues
People have a need to be loved and wanted

People have a need to be loved and wanted

If you look at the above symptoms, you can perhaps imagine that a dependent personality will also suffer from anxiety problems and possibly levels of depression. The above symptoms will also cause:

  • Difficulty with friendships
  • Difficulty maintaining a personal relationship
  • Being perceived as difficult or trouble-causing
  • Self-isolation despite fears of being alone
  • Risk of drug or alcohol abuse to feel better

People with DPD will have an exceptionally difficult time when a relationship ends. The thought of someone who doesn’t love them anymore is too much to bear. It is a difficult time for anyone who has been abandoned by a loved one, but those with DPD will literally go to pieces, and the personal devastation will be huge. Because of this, these people are quick to want to jump into another relationship to gratify their needs and often turn to drugs or alcohol in the interim. There will be a profound feeling of an inability to cope alone. This fear of being alone is so strong that often people will even stay in abusive relationships willingly.

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It should be noted that some of these symptoms fall in with the co-dependency label. It can sometimes be confused with avoidant personality disorder as both disorders are based on self-perception issues, but someone with an avoidant personality will avoid being around people because of the anxiety this will cause.

It is a sad state of affairs when people have no self-esteem, feel inadequate, and do not feel responsible for themselves but push that burden on others. It has an almost child-like quality about it, and in relationships, it can cause much frustration on the part of those closest to the sufferer. It is ironic that the very behavior intended to keep people close will often drive those people away. It has to be recognized that people who have this disorder are not often aware of how much their behavior is affecting others and that fear/anxiety is driving their behavior.

Treatment for Dependent Personality Disorder

Psychotherapy would be an obvious choice for people with DPD. It is not something that can be righted in a few sessions, however, and tends to be a lengthy process. Talk therapy is necessary to address the perceptions and behaviors of the individual. A psychotherapist will want to ask about childhood and relationships as this could be very important in getting the patient to see how and why their behavior started. People with DPD are often confused as to why they behave as they do and think as they do.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is useful, especially with regard to confidence and self-esteem issues. It is also useful when looking at personal relationships and how the behavior affects those relationships. The therapist may also look at decision-making.

Recognizing how you think and therefore behave can be achieved through talk therapies. It will feel at times as if you are indeed attempting to change the core of who you are, but with motivation and a willingness to take on the challenge of change, you will see some success. You are required to see situations more realistically; also admit to and learn how to change negative behaviors. With growing self-esteem comes independence and confidence that will prevent the same pattern of behaviors.

Many people simply do not like to admit to DPD or any personality disorder, but if the evidence shows that their lives are being severely disrupted because of their behavior, the only way forward is for that person to want to change. They may not be able to change their personality, but they can learn to control the way they behave.

Note: A person with a long-term DPD and in therapy may latch on to the therapist. I can vouch for this, as I came across this as an anxiety management therapist. After several months of helping this client, when I felt she had made good progress with her anxiety disorder, I began to realize she was trying to deny her progress despite the evidence. I felt we had a good rapport, but I hadn’t realized this lady also had a dependent personality disorder. She was simply trying to prolong the contact and needed to lean on me because it made her feel safer. She had, in fact, been lying about some of her progress, too, because she didn’t want to be criticized in any way (not that I would have done that). I expect this is a problem for other therapists dealing with this disorder.

Medications can help at the same time as therapy is tried. Anxiety or depression can be part of the problem, and if these factors are not being addressed whilst in therapy, they may interfere with a potential improvement. Likewise, it is important to address any alcohol or drug issues.

Assertiveness classes may prove to be very useful also, although wherever possible, there should be a realistic time limit on any therapy or classes to prevent dependence.

Family and Partner Advice for Dependent Personality Disorder

You don’t need telling that life can be difficult around a person who has DPD! It causes a great deal of strain and requires much patience. Everyone has needs and wants to be loved, but living with a needy, dependent person for a long time will take its toll. If you recognize that the person you live with or a family member has this disorder, you will be doing them a great service by recommending they see a psychiatrist or therapist. Explain that you realize their behavior is not their fault but that there are ways to rectify it.

It may be that asking a spouse to attend marriage guidance counseling will unearth the DPD cause and be a way forward to getting the help needed. As with family members, you could also offer to attend any therapy sessions with the agreement of all parties. Sadly, many family members will not want to attend therapy for fear of being exposed as part of the cause of the disorder.

  • You should actively encourage the person with DPD to take the responsibility for his/her actions. By this I don’t mean pointing the finger, losing your temper and making that person feel totally unloved (it will probably be seen as criticism). The encouragement should be gentle and backed up in a caring compassionate manner.
  • Remember people who suffer with DPD have a low self-esteem and to criticize will send them recoiling in horror.
  • Remember to praise any improvements in behaviour no matter how small, and encourage independence very slowly.
  • You could also help your family member or spouse by buying self-help books on subjects such as assertiveness, decision making, self-esteem and confidence issues.
  • Friends and families of those who have DPD should be aware of the potential for the sufferer to be abused. This doesn’t mean you should impose your opinions on the sufferer’s relationships, but be supportive because they are vulnerable people.
  • Last of all, get help yourself if you feel overburdened by this problem. Share the problem with your doctor, a close friend or family member.

Online Support for Dependent Personality Disorder

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2012 meloncauli


meloncauli (author) from UK on October 03, 2013:

Many thanks for dropping by Kathryn L Hill :)

Kathryn L Hill from LA on October 01, 2013:

Great information!

meloncauli (author) from UK on October 17, 2012:

Hi gsidley. At present we don't even have a psychologist for the NHS service! The CMHT provides a service of up to six therapy sessions. This is extended only if there is a problem with the flow of sessions because of ill health, or there is a need for a couple of extra sessions. 90% of the time it would be kept to six sessions. A patient has to understand this at the outset.

Dr. Gary L. Sidley from Lancashire, England on October 16, 2012:

Our NHS Primary Care Psychology service does set an upper limit of sessions (12 I think). I work in a NHS secondary care service (a Community Mental Health Team) where there isn't any upper limit as such, although the sparsity of psychology resource means we are spread very thinly.

meloncauli (author) from UK on October 16, 2012:

Thanks for your comment gsidley. Our local NHS therapy is usually set to six sessions now, but I'd imagine it is a bigger problem for private therapists.

Dr. Gary L. Sidley from Lancashire, England on October 15, 2012:

Hi meloncauli

I can certainly echo your comment about DPD making therapy more difficult to deliver and (particularly) to end. Indeed, I have known clinical psychology colleagues state that the only way they could end the therapy were to change jobs!

Best wishes

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