The DSM-5 defines dependent personality disorder as an excessive and pervasive need to be taken care of with behavior that is submissive, clinging and needy due to fear of abandonment. Continue reading to learn more about this mental health condition.

Dependent personality disorder can create sorrow for both those who have the illness as well as their loved ones. Signs and symptoms of dependent personality disorder may include an enduring need to be taken care of and fear of being separated from important individuals in their life. This dependent personality often displays submissive characteristics, which provokes care-giving and protective behaviors in other people. The dependent behavior may seem needy to family, friends and acquaintances.

Individuals with dependent personality disorder, also referred to as DPD, are often described as gloomy and self-doubting. It is common for them to belittle their talents or abilities, and may constantly refer to themselves as worthless.

What Is Dependent Personality Disorder?

Dependent personality disorder is a mental disorder where individuals have a difficult time making everyday decisions without advice and reassurance from people who are important to them. Any criticism or disapproval may give them self-proof of their assumed worthlessness. They may easily lose faith in themselves and might avoid situations that involve responsibility to evade making decisions.

These individuals might feel so incapable of functioning alone that they will agree to situations and experiences that make them uncomfortable, rather than risk losing the person they are dependent on for guidance. They might pretend they agree with something they are opposed to rather than lose the support or friendship of the person they depend on.

With dependent personality disorder, regular daily activities may be impaired if independence or creativity is required. These individuals usually keep a limited few others in their social circle, mostly only people who they are dependent on. When an individual with dependent personality is in a relationship that has ended, they may immediately seek another relationship to provide the support they need. Fears of abandonment may preoccupy their mind.  

Symptoms of Dependent Personality Disorder

While being clingy as a child or in a relationship may seem like a common occurrence, an individual with dependent personality disorder may become emotionally over-dependent on others. They may focus more time and effort on trying to please others. Individuals with dependent personality disorder tend to display needy behavior that’s caused by an underlying fear of separation.

Symptoms of dependent personality disorder may also include:

  • Inability to make everyday decisions, such as what to wear, without the reassurance of other people
  • Dependence on other people to make decisions like where to work and live
  • Escaping adult responsibilities by acting helpless
  • Overly sensitive to criticism
  • Willing to endure being neglected or abused, and often putting other people’s needs before their own
  • Intense and unrealistic fear of abandonment or being alone and a sense of devastation or helplessness when relationships end
  • Avoiding starting tasks or projects because of lack of self-confidence
  • Evading disagreements with other people for fear of losing their support or friendship

Like many personality disorders, dependent personality disorder naturally decreases in intensity with age. Most commonly, individuals experience their most extreme symptoms before they reach their 40s or 50s.

Causes of Dependent Personality Disorder

A determined cause for dependent personality disorder is unknown. However, the disorder usually appears in early adulthood and is linked to separation anxiety in an individual’s childhood. Youth who experienced a prolonged physical illness may also be at higher risk of developing dependent personality disorder. Women are more likely than men to have dependent personality disorder.

Although the exact cause is not known, it almost certainly involves a combination of biological, developmental, psychological and temperamental factors. Some researchers believe an overprotective parenting style can contribute to the development of dependent personality traits in individuals who are already vulnerable to the disorder.

How Is Dependent Personality Disorder Diagnosed?

Personality disorders are typically diagnosed by a trained mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. While the individual can consult a family physician about this problem, they should be referred to a mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment. Rather than blood tests and genetic tests are given by a physician, this disorder will need to be measured by a dependent personality disorder test.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines dependent personality disorder as an excessive and pervasive need to be taken care of with behavior that is submissive, clinging and needy due to fear of abandonment. This disorder may be expressed by the need for reassurance and desperately seeking relationships when one ends. It may also be expressed by other symptoms listed above.

The onset of dependent personality disorder usually occurs during young adulthood, although it can appear in adolescence as well. In an adolescent, there may be natural dependence on the parent, which is completely age appropriate. This is why it is not diagnosed often in adolescence. It becomes concerning when they may not be able to function or adapt without their parents making everyday decisions for them.

Who Is at Risk for Dependent Personality Disorder?

It is statistically more likely for a female to be diagnosed with dependent personality disorder than a male. The disorder is also more prevalent in individuals who grew up with a very strict authoritarian parenting style where decisions are made for children, giving them little to no independence. Some other risk factors that might contribute to the development of this disorder include:

  • History of neglect
  • An abusive upbringing
  • Being in a long-term, abusive relationship
  • Family history of anxiety disorders

Dependent Personality Disorder Statistics

As the most commonly diagnosed personality disorder, dependent personality disorder is found in about 14 percent of individuals who have personality disorders, which is around 2.5 percent of the general population. Dependent personality disorder patients have a higher rate of emotional abuse during childhood than those who have other personality disorders.

These individuals may also have a higher risk of cognitive function deficits, which could explain their difficulty with everyday decisions.

Dependent personality disorder has also been shown to present itself with mood and anxiety disorders, such as depression, phobias and obsessive‐compulsive disorder. Patients have shown to have less successful treatment outcomes when they have the combination of mood disorder and dependency traits.

If you are or a loved one is in need of help or assistance in treatment, The Recovery Village has several facilities that can help individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. People who struggle with dependent personality disorder symptoms can receive help from one of The Recovery Village’s facilities located in five states throughout the country. If you or a loved one has dependent personality disorder, call The Recovery Village to speak with a representative today.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Krisi Herron, LCDC
Krisi Herron is an Adjunct Psychology Professor, a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor and a freelance writer who contributes to several mental health blogs. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

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.