Dependent Personality Disorder Symptoms, Diagnosis
People with dependent personality disorder symptoms become emotionally dependent on others and take great pains to please others, even to their own detriment. People with the condition exhibit overly needy, clingy behavior and harbor an intense fear of separation and abandonment. Since most don't recognize that they have a problem, they don't seek treatment for dependent personality disorder.
Specific Dependent Personality Disorder Symptoms
Below are some common dependent personality disorder symptoms along with a simple example for clarification. People with dependent personality disorder may:
- Have difficulty making common, everyday decisions. A person with DPD may need excessive encouragement and reassurance to decide what to wear on any given day.
- Need others to take responsibility for them. People with DPD see themselves as incapable of independence and need others to take the lead in every aspect of their lives. For instance, a woman with the disorder may manipulate her husband into deciding where she will work, whom she socializes with, and what she eats.
- Expend excessive effort to get others to support and nurture them. A man with DPD may volunteer to take on mundane tasks or even submit to activities they find repulsive to get a positive response from potential caretakers. This behavior is a form of manipulation disguised as self-sacrifice.
- Be overwhelmed with fears of being abandoned and having to care for themselves. Their most powerful fear is that they will end up alone and having to take responsibility for their own care and wellbeing.
- Feel distraught and helpless when alone. When alone, they deal with intense anxiety and may fill up the alone time with people they barely know or even dislike while they wait for their significant other to return.
- Avoid disagreeing with others. They fear that if they disagree with their nurturers, the caregiver may withdraw emotional and physical support.
- Immediately replace failed relationships with new ones. When a divorce occurs, or other intimate relationship ends, the DPD person urgently seeks a replacement, typically finding one to take over the role of the previous significant other.
- Not be able to start tasks or bring them to completion on their own. They lack the self-confidence to begin and follow through on even the simplest tasks. An individual with DPD may say they don't understand how to work appliances or steps they need to take to organize their closet, for instance.
The specific way symptoms of dependent personality disorder manifest depends on the individual, but they will always have the common underlying theme of helplessness and ineptitude.
Diagnosis of Dependent Personality Disorder
Only a qualified mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, can give a diagnosis of dependent personality disorder. The doctor will conduct a comprehensive medical and mental health history as well as give the client a full psychological evaluation.
The practitioner must distinguish dependent personality disorder from borderline personality disorder when assessing the psychological evaluation results. People with borderline personality disorder typically use rage to respond to fears of abandonment; whereas, those with dependent personality disorder respond to this same fear with submissiveness and neediness.
The clinician will further compare symptoms, evaluation results, and history to criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM 5) to determine whether a diagnosis of DPD is appropriate. Once a diagnosis is made, the doctor will begin developing a treatment strategy that fits the individual needs of the client.
If someone you know (or even you) exhibits characteristics and symptoms of dependent personality disorder, encourage him or her to consult with a mental health professional. The first step to a better life is admitting a need for help.
Last Updated: 20 July 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD