Dependent personality disorder is characterized by a long-standing need for the person to be taken care of and a fear of being abandoned or separated from important individuals in his or her life. This leads the person to engage in dependent and submissive behaviors that are designed to elicit care-giving behaviors in others. The dependent behavior may be see as being "clingy" or "clinging on" to others, because the person fears they can't live their lives without the help of others.
Individuals with Dependent Personality Disorder are often characterized by pessimism and self-doubt, tend to belittle their abilities and assets, and may constantly refer to themselves as "stupid." They take criticism and disapproval as proof of their worthlessness and lose faith in themselves. They may seek overprotection and dominance from others. Occupational functioning may be impaired if independent initiative is required. They may avoid positions of responsibility and become anxious when faced with decisions. Social relations tend to be limited to those few people on whom the individual is dependent.
Chronic physical illness or Separation Anxiety Disorder in childhood or adolescence may predispose an individual to the development of dependent personality disorder.
Dependent personality disorder is characterized by a pervasive fear that leads to "clinging behavior" and usually manifests itself by early adulthood. It includes a majority of the following symptoms:
As with all personality disorders, the person must be at least 18 years old before they can be diagnosed with it.
Dependent personality disorder is the most commonly diagnosed personality disorder in mental health clinics.
Like most personality disorders, dependent personality disorder typically will decrease in intensity with age, with many people experiencing few of the most extreme symptoms by the time they are in the 40s or 50s.
Personality disorders such as dependent personality disorder are typically diagnosed by a trained mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Family physicians and general practitioners are generally not trained or well-equipped to make this type of psychological diagnosis. So while you can initially consult a family physician about this problem, they should refer you to a mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment. There are no laboratory, blood or genetic tests that are used to diagnose dependent personality disorder.
Many people with dependent personality disorder don't seek out treatment. People with personality disorders, in general, do not often seek out treatment until the disorder starts to significantly interfere or otherwise impact a person's life. This most often happens when a person's coping resources are stretched too thin to deal with stress or other life events.
A diagnosis for dependent personality disorder is made by a mental health professional comparing your symptoms and life history with those listed here. They will make a determination whether your symptoms meet the criteria necessary for a personality disorder diagnosis.
Researchers today don't know what causes dependent personality disorder. There are many theories, however, about the possible causes of dependent personality disorder. Most professionals subscribe to a biopsychosocial model of causation -- that is, the causes of are likely due to biological and genetic factors, social factors (such as how a person interacts in their early development with their family and friends and other children), and psychological factors (the individual's personality and temperament, shaped by their environment and learned coping skills to deal with stress). This suggests that no single factor is responsible -- rather, it is the complex and likely intertwined nature of all three factors that are important. If a person has this personality disorder, research suggests that there is a slightly increased risk for this disorder to be "passed down" to their children.
Treatment of dependent personality disorder typically involves long-term psychotherapy with a therapist that has experience in treating this kind of personality disorder. Medications may also be prescribed to help with specific troubling and debilitating symptoms. For more information about treatment, please see dependent personality disorder treatment.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 11 Feb 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.