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Dependent Personality Disorder

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In-depth look at Dependent Personality Disorder - signs and symptoms, diagnosis, causes, and treatment.

Dependent personality disorder is a chronic condition involving over-reliance on others to meet emotional and physical needs. This pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of leads to a submissive and clinging behavior as well as fears of separation. This pattern begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts. The dependent and submissive behaviors are designed to elicit caregiving and arise from a self-perception of being unable to function adequately without the help of others.

Individuals with dependent personality disorder have great difficulty making everyday decisions (such as what shirt to wear or whether to carry an umbrella) without an excessive amount of advice and reassurance from others. These individuals tend to be passive and allow other people (often a single other person) to take the initiative and assume responsibility for most major areas of their lives. Adults with this disorder typically depend on a parent or spouse to decide where they should live, what kind of job they should have and which neighbors to befriend. Adolescents with this disorder may allow their parent(s) to decide what they should wear, with whom they should associate, how they should spend their free time and what school or college they should attend.

This need for others to assume responsibility goes beyond age-appropriate and situation-appropriate requests for assistance from others (such as the specific needs of children, elderly persons and

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handicapped persons). Because they fear losing support or approval, individuals with dependent personality disorder often have difficulty expressing disagreement with other people, especially those on whom they are dependent. These individuals feel so unable to function alone that they will agree with things that they feel are wrong rather than risk losing the help of those to whom they look for guidance. Individuals with this disorder have difficulty initiating projects or doing things independently.

They may go to excessive lengths to obtain nurturance and support from others, even to the point of volunteering for unpleasant tasks if such behavior will bring the care that they need. Individuals with this disorder feel uncomfortable or helpless when alone, because of their exaggerated fears of being unable to care for themselves. When a close relationship ends (such as a breakup with a lover or the death of a caregiver), individuals with dependent Personality disorder may urgently seek another relationship to provide the care and support they need. They are often preoccupied with fears of being left to care for themselves.

What are the signs and symptoms of Dependent Personality Disorder?

In-depth look at Dependent Personality Disorder - signs and symptoms, diagnosis, causes, and treatment.People with this disorder do not trust their own ability to make decisions. They may be devastated by separation and loss and may go to great lengths, even suffering abuse, to stay in a relationship.

Other symptoms include:

  • Inability to make decisions

  • Passivity

  • Avoiding personal responsibility

  • Avoiding being alone

  • Devastation or helplessness when relationships end

  • Unable to meet ordinary demands of life

  • Preoccupied with fears of being abandoned

  • Easily hurt by criticism or disapproval

Complications to this disorder may include depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and susceptibility to physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

DSM IV Criteria for Dependent Personality Disorder

A pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of that leads to submissive and clinging behavior and fears of separation, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  • has difficulty making everyday decisions without an excessive amount of advice and reassurance from others

  • needs others to assume responsibility for most major areas of his or her life

  • has difficulty expressing disagreement with others because of fear of loss of support or approval. Note: Do not include realistic fears of retribution.

  • has difficulty initiating projects or doing things on his or her own (because of a lack of self-confidence in judgment or abilities rather than a lack of motivation or energy)

  • goes to excessive lengths to obtain nurturance and support from others, to the point of volunteering to do things that are unpleasant

  • feels uncomfortable or helpless when alone because of exaggerated fears of being unable to care for himself or herself

  • urgently seeks another relationship as a source of care and support when a close relationship ends

  • is unrealistically preoccupied with fears of being left to take care of himself or herself

What causes someone to develop Dependent Personality Disorder?

Dependent personality disorder usually begins in childhood. Although the exact cause of dependent personality disorder is not known, it most likely involves both biological and developmental factors.