Dependent Personality Disorder is a mental illness which results in submissive and clinging behavior, a fear of separation and an inappropriate reliance on others.
The DPD sufferer often feels helpless or unable to cope independently - and frequently and inappropriately seeks to transfer responsibility for their situation or well-being onto another.
It's unusual for DPD to be diagnosed in children, since dependent reliance on adults is considered appropriate in minors. The disorder only has meaning in adults, for whom pervasive dependent tendencies are unhealthy or inappropriate.
People who suffer from DPD generally avoid professional occupations or positions of responsibility and become agitated or anxious when faced with certain routine, sometimes trivial decisions.
People who suffer from DPD often maintain a very small number of relationships with people who provide for them the kind of environment that protects them from having to take responsibility for themselves.
People who suffer from DPD may also exhibit symptoms of other personality disorders such as BPD, HPD or Avoidant Personality Disorder. They are also at an increased risk of: depression; substance abuse, and of suffering abuse at the hands of others.
Dependent Personality Disorder, is believed to occur in about 1 in every 200 adults. It is generally diagnosed more often in women than in men. It is most commonly diagnosed in young adults.
DPD is rarely, if ever, diagnosed in children for whom such dependent behaviors are generally considered appropriate. Dependent behavior is considered normal in childhood but, for some, this dependent behavior persists and intensifies into adulthood; thus they become diagnosed with this disorder.
Chronic physical illness, Munchausen's Syndrome or Intense separation anxiety in late childhood may be indicative of an early onset of DPD..
Living with a person who suffers from dependent personality disorder can be a frustrating, frightening, destructive experience. Yet despite being so common, few people have even heard of it.
As a caretaker to a person who suffers from Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD), you can find yourself with an ever growing sense of anger and injustice when a capable adult acts like a helpless child.
While it may seem easier in the short run to provide the kind of caretaking that a person with DPD seeks, in the long run you may be doing more harm than good to yourself and to the person you are caring for.
There are other people who have faced or are facing similar circumstances. Some of them are here on this site. We strongly urge you to read some of the stories, learn about coping with this devastating illness and ask your own questions at our message board.
DSM Criteria for Dependent Personality Disorder
Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD) is listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (DSM) as a Cluster C (anxious or fearful) Personality Disorder.
Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD) is listed in the DSM-IV-TR as a "Cluster C" (anxious or fearful) Personality Disorder. It is defined as:
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
A formal diagnosis of DPD requires a mental health professional to identify 5 of the above 8 criteria as positive. Some people exhibit all 8. Most exhibit only a few.
Most people occasionally exhibit one or more of the above criteria from time to time. This does not make a person DPD. A pervasive pattern of several of the above criteria is required for a diagnosis of a personality disorder and diagnosis can only be made by a qualified mental health professional.
Understanding the clinical criteria for DPD is helpful but learning how to cope with a loved-one who suffers from DPD is quite different and is not covered in the psychological literature..
One of the most effective ways we have found to deal with that is to get support from people who understand what it feels like to try to convince a partner to take responsibility for themselves, or try not to become a 'parent' to their own parent, or try to escape the inappropriate burden of being held responsible for someone else's decisions.
Dependent Personality Disorder Traits
The following list is a collection of some of the more commonly observed behaviors and traits of those who suffer from Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD). Note that these are not intended to be used for diagnosis. People who suffer from DPD are all unique and so each person will display a different subset of traits. Also, note that everyone displays "dependent" behaviors from time to time. Therefore, if a person exhibits one or some of these traits, that does not necessarily qualify them for a diagnosis of Dependent Personality Disorder. See the DSM Criteria on this page for diagnostic criteria.
Click on the links on each trait for much more information about a particular trait or behavior and some ideas for coping with each.
Catastrophizing - The habit of automatically assuming a "worst case scenario" and inappropriately characterizing minor or moderate problems or issues as catastrophic events.
Dependency - An inappropriate and chronic reliance by an adult individual on another individual for their health, subsistence, decision making or personal and emotional well-being.
Depression - People who suffer from personality disorders are often also diagnosed with symptoms of depression.
Engulfment - An unhealthy and overwhelming level of attention and dependency on another person, which comes from imagining or believing one exists only within the context of that relationship.
Fear of Abandonment - An irrational belief that one is imminent danger of being personally rejected, discarded or replaced.
Feelings of Emptiness - An acute, chronic sense that daily life has little worth or significance, leading to an impulsive appetite for strong physical sensations and dramatic relationship experiences.
Lack of Object Constancy - An inability to remember that people or objects are consistent, trustworthy and reliable, especially when they are out of your immediate field of vision.
Low Self-Esteem - A common name for a negatively-distorted self-view which is inconsistent with reality.
Mirroring - Imitating or copying another person's characteristics, behaviors or traits.
Panic Attacks - Short intense episodes of fear or anxiety, often accompanied by physical symptoms, such as hyperventilating, shaking, sweating and chills.
Parentification - A form of role reversal, in which a child is inappropriately given the role of meeting the emotional or physical needs of the parent or of the family’s other children.
Selective Competence - Demonstrating different levels of intelligence, memory, resourcefulness, strength or competence depending on the situation or environment.
Self-Loathing - An extreme hatred of one's own self, actions or one's ethnic or demographic background.
Self-Victimization - Casting oneself in the role of a victim.
Sense of Entitlement - An unrealistic, unmerited or inappropriate expectation of favorable living conditions and favorable treatment at the hands of others.
Stalking - Any pervasive and unwelcome pattern of pursuing contact with another individual.
Testing - Repeatedly forcing another individual to demonstrate or prove their love or commitment to a relationship.
Movies Portraying Dependent Personality Disorder Traits
Single White Female - Single White Female is a 1992 Columbia Pictures Release starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh which portrays the events after a young woman takes in a roommate who exhibits some of the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD) including mirroring, impulsivity and fear of abandonment.