People with DPD may become incredibly anxious and distraught when on their own. They may need the support, care, and reassurance of others around them to feel calm and make decisions.
Experts define personality as a unique set of traits and behavior styles or patterns that make up a person’s individuality or character.
A person’s personality may be influenced by their life experiences, environment, and inherited characteristics. A person with a personality disorder may think, feel, and behave in a way that is significantly different from what is culturally expected. This may cause distress and impact their day-to-day life.
There are several categories of personality disorders. Dependent personality disorder (DPD) is a relatively rare type of personality disorder, with researchers estimating it affects less than 1% of adults in Western countries.
This article discusses the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of DPD. It also answers some common questions about DPD.
A person with DPD may believe they are unable to take care of themselves and need the help of others around them to function. This can severely impact a person’s day-to-day life and make even small tasks feel impossible to manage alone. A person with DPD may exhibit behaviors that appear clingy and needy.
Common symptoms of DPD include:
- difficulty being alone
- difficulty doing tasks on their own
- difficulty making decisions by themselves, even small decisions such as what to wear
- experiencing an ongoing need for reassurance
- a strong sensitivity to criticism
- low self-confidence
- fear of people abandoning them
- a tendency to take on a submissive role in relationships
Researchers are not entirely sure about the exact cause of personality disorders such as DPD, but theories suggest that they are likely due to a combination of factors.
A 2022 study found there to be a significant genetic component to the onset of personality disorders. In addition to genes, environmental factors and trauma experienced during childhood may contribute to the development of personality disorders.
The authors of a 2020 paper theorized that a potential cause for the strong dependence a person with DPD experiences may be due to having overly protective or controlling caregivers in early life. In this situation, a person may not learn how to be self-sufficient and believe that they are unable to manage on their own.
To diagnose DPD, a mental health professional will work with a person to understand their symptoms, their duration, and how they affect various aspects of their life.
They may base their evaluation on criteria set out by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). A person may receive a DPD diagnosis if they meet five or more of the following criteria:
- has difficulty making decisions without a significant amount of reassurance and guidance from others
- relies on others to take responsibility for most parts of their life
- has difficulty expressing problems they have with others, as they have a disproportionate fear of others then leaving them without support
- has difficulty starting projects or creating plans for themselves
- goes to extreme lengths to receive support from others
- feels distressed when left alone as they believe they cannot manage or look after themselves without help
- rapidly seeks out a new close relationship for support after a close relationship ends
- has an ongoing fear of being left alone without support, which consumes much of their time and thoughts
Diagnosing DPD can be challenging as there are several other personality disorders that involve a strong sensitivity to rejection and a fear of abandonment in relationships. A mental health professional will aim to exclude similar conditions such as:
Treatment for DPD tends to involve some form of psychotherapy. A mental health professional can help determine why a person may feel so dependent on others and work to help them build more confidence in themselves and how to have healthier relationships.
During psychotherapy, a person will work with a therapist to gain a better understanding of their thoughts and behaviors and learn new ways of responding to situations.
Below are some of the most common questions and answers about DPD.
How does a person with dependent personality disorder act?
A person with DPD may go to great lengths to keep another person around to help them, even to their own detriment. They may avoid bringing up problems or expressing difficult emotions with people for fear they will leave. People may perceive their behavior as clingy or needy.
They may become extremely uncomfortable with being left alone and have difficulty making decisions or plans by themselves.
What are the risk factors for dependent personality disorder?
Although researchers are unsure as to the exact cause of DPD, some risk factors may include:
- environmental factors
- experiences in early life
What are the three types of personality disorders?
There are three categories of personality disorders, based on the types of behavior associated with each condition.
Cluster A personality disorders include:
Cluster B personality disorders include:
- antisocial personality disorder
- borderline personality disorder
- histrionic personality disorder
- narcissistic personality disorder
Cluster C personality disorders include:
DPD is a condition that involves a person consistently finding difficulty in managing and functioning through life without the support of others. They may exhibit clingy and needy behavior that stems from a strong belief that they cannot look after themselves.
While the symptoms of DPD can be distressing and greatly impact a person’s life, there are different forms of psychotherapy that aim to help a person understand their condition and work toward having healthy and meaningful relationships with those around them.
A person should speak with a healthcare professional for further information and advice.