Codependency and dependent personality disorder foster dependency issues and can hinder healthy relationships. Learn the key differences between the two.
Healthy relationships have aspects of dependency that are natural and create confidence and mutual trust. However, there are times when this dependency can go beyond the normal bounds, making a person feel unable to care for their own needs on their own. On the other side of the spectrum, because of a desire to feel needed, an individual may forego their personal needs to care for another person. This type of behavior can be seen in both codependency and dependent personality disorder (DPD).
Codependency and DPD are manifested differently and produce different types of behavior. One main difference between codependency vs. dependent personality disorder is that DPD is classified as a mental health disorder, while codependency is a behavior.
Codependency Definition and Characteristics
Codependency is defined as behavior in a relationship that is extreme and one-sided with the goal of helping or pleasing the other person in the relationship. An individual with codependency needs to be needed and will go to great lengths to sacrifice their own needs and wants in favor of the other person’s. Often, someone who is codependent bases their self-worth on being needed.
Common codependency behavior and symptoms can include:
- Happiness that is contingent on caring for another person
- Remaining in a relationship despite hurtful behavior from the other person
- Placing the needs of the other person above everything else
- Not expressing personal needs or desires or feeling guilty when doing so
- Experiencing anxiety within a relationship, yet finding it difficult to leave
Dependent Personality Disorder Symptoms
Dependent personality disorder is characterized by neediness and reliance on others. Beyond occasional clinginess, an individual with DPD suffers from anxiety and the fear of separation. True independence in any area of life is absent, and they will depend on the other person to make everyday decisions for them. In their quest for care, support and approval, a person with DPD will avoid disagreements and accept treatment they otherwise wouldn’t approve of.
Common DPD behavior and symptoms can include:
- Difficulty making decisions without excessive advice or reassurance from others
- Not taking responsibility for major areas of life
- Being passive and avoiding disagreements for fear of disapproval
- Not wanting to be alone and feeling uncomfortable caring for oneself
- Quickly seeking a new relationship after previous relationship ends
Similarities in Dependency Issues
The similarities between codependency and dependent personality disorder focus on dependency issues. A codependent person depends on another person needing them, while a person with DPD is dependent on the care provided by another person. The individual’s sense of self is skewed in both conditions, preventing personal growth and healthy development inside and outside of the relationship.
Both conditions foster unhealthy relationship dynamics. Good relationships are based on a balance of giving and receiving, of meeting a loved one’s needs while still fulfilling personal needs. Codependency and DPD both tend to lead to one-sided relationships, either through an excess focus on one’s own needs or an excess focus on the needs of a partner.
Differences Between Codependent and Dependent Individuals
Being dependent on a relationship can be a positive quality that fosters healthy relationships. Being codependent, on the other hand, is harmful to the person and the relationship.
There are some differences in a dependent person vs. a codependent person:
- Dependent: The relationship is a priority for both people, but happiness can be found in other interests, friends and pastimes. Both people in a relationship can express their concerns and needs openly. Reliance on each other is mutual, and both individuals value their relationship highly.
- Codependent: The relationship is one-sided in caring for the interests of one person in the relationship. Happiness is dependent on caring for the other person, often including sacrifices at the expense of the codependent person. Outside interests are severely limited as time and energy are focused on caring for the other person. The expression of personal needs and wants are considered unimportant or are not taken into consideration at all.
While dependency is a normal behavior in relationships, dependent personality disorder is an extreme one-sided display of dependency. Examples of DPD behavior vs. codependency behavior include the following:
- DPD: Not leaving the house because significant other is staying at home, not making decisions about clothing or food choices without advice from significant other or submitting to abusive behavior out of fear of the other person leaving.
- Codependency: Life is centered around the needs of significant others, and personal needs are overlooked in favor of the other person. Self-worth and satisfaction are tied to caring for and being needed by the other person, and personal pursuits and interests are absent or limited.
Key Points: Codependency vs. Dependent Personality Disorder
The dependency issues seen with codependency and DPD are harmful to meaningful relationships and personal growth. Although the issues are different, they can foster a negative emotional cycle in personal, social and professional settings. The first step in getting treatment involves identifying the issue. Some key points about codependency vs. DPD include:
- A codependent individual needs to be needed
- A codependent individual bases self-worth and satisfaction in life on caring for another person with little concern for personal needs
- An individual with DPD wants and needs to be cared for in an extreme way
- An individual with DPD fears being alone and relies on another person to make everyday decisions
If you or someone you know has signs of DPD or codependency behavior and struggles with alcohol or substance use, contact us at The Recovery Village. One of our representatives can discuss treatment plans appropriate for you.
Berry, Jennifer. “What’s to know about codependent relationships?” Medical News Today, October 31, 2017. Accessed May 17, 2019.
Health.harvard.edu. “Dependent personality disorder.” April 2007. Accessed May 17, 2019.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.