Dependent Personality Disorder

It is normal for you to rely upon others for physical and emotional support. However, in some cases, this dependency can become excessive and unhealthy.

What is Dependent Personality Disorder?

If you have dependent personality disorder, you depend on others to help you fulfill your physical and emotional needs. Diagnosing a dependent personality disorder can be complicated because it is normal to be dependent on others from time to time and for certain wants and needs. In addition, the amount of dependency which is considered normal varies greatly between cultures, social-economic backgrounds, and also amongst gender roles.

If you have this disorder, you may become dependent on a specific person such as a family member, spouse and/or friend. However, the specificity of the person does not always matter. For example, if you have this disorder and an important relationship ends, you may become so dependent on the next person that you become undesirable. It is the attachment that matters – not the person of attachment.

Characteristics of a Dependent Personality Disorder:

Dependent Personality Disorder

Dependent personality disorder can leave you dependent on a close friend or loved one.

Despite the variance in dependent personality disorder diagnoses, there are some common traits that occur among people with the disorder such as: assuming the “helpless” role in relationships, inability to cope with life’s challenges, feelings of low self-worth, self-confidence and/or self-esteem and little to no ambition.

If you have this disorder, you may be very submissive to others. This submission can include tolerance of behaviors which would normally be unacceptable to others such as: putting up with verbal or physical abuse. In addition, you may volunteer for unpleasant or burdensome tasks in order to gain approval from others.

How is Dependent Personality Disorder Diagnosed?

The Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV), states that in order to be diagnoses with dependent personality disorder, you must meet at least five of the following conditions:

  1. You have difficulty making everyday decisions without an advice and reassurance from others.
  2. You need others to assume responsibility for most major areas of your life.
  3. You have difficulty expressing disagreement with others because of fear of loss of support or approval. Note: do not include realistic fears of retribution.
  4. You have difficulty initiating projects or doing things on you own (because of a lack of self-confidence in judgment or abilities rather than a lack of motivation or energy).
  5. You will go to excessive lengths to obtain nurturance and support from others – to the point of volunteering to do things that are unpleasant.
  6. You feel uncomfortable or helpless when alone because of exaggerated fears of being unable to care for yourself.
  7. You quickly seek another relationship as a source of care and support when a close relationship ends.
  8. You are unrealistically preoccupied with fears of being left to take care of yourself.

Note that, under the DSM IV, anyone being diagnosed with dependent personality disorder must also meet the criteria for personality disorders in general.

How Common is Dependent Personality Disorder?

Dependent personality disorder is fairly common. Approximately 3% of Americans suffer from this disorder.  In addition, dependent personality disorder typically occurs with other psychological disorders such as: borderline, avoidant and/or histrionic personality disorder.

What Causes Dependent Personality Disorder?

There are numerous possible causes of dependent personality disorder. Studies show that raising a child in a very protective environment can lead to the child becoming overly dependent. Family dynamics can also lead to dependent personality disorders because it typically occurs in the youngest child in the family. Dependent personality disorder can also occur when a child is punished for expressing his/her creativity and/or independence. Furthermore, this disorder can occur when you become dependent on another person for your happiness and well-being. For example, if a child becomes seriously ill, he/she may become dependent on the caregiver even after the illness is remedied. There is also evidence that the disorder could be genetic.

How is Dependent Personality Disorder Treated?

Dependent personality disorder is most commonly treated through psychotherapy. The goal of the therapy is for you to be able to assert autonomy, but still be able to maintain relationships with others. During therapy, you are encouraged to recognize your patterns of dependency and see how the dependency is negatively affecting your life. You are then encouraged to find other ways of maintaining relationships. Cognitive behavioral therapy treatment is beneficial for helping you learn how to work with others instead of being submissive to others.

Medications may be used to treat dependent personality disorder. However, there is little evidence supporting the effectiveness of medications for this disorder. Thus, psychiatrists only prescribe medications if another psychological disorder is present along with the dependent personality disorder.

What is the Prognosis for Dependent Personality Disorder?

Currently there are no studies available that analyze the efficacy of treatment solely for dependent personality disorder. However, studies have been performed to test the treatment of other psychological disorders when dependent personality disorder is also present. Unfortunately, the prognosis for dependent personality is not promising compared to anxiety-type personality disorders. Treatment is possible, but you should expect long-term therapy before improvements are gained. Even with treatment, some social adjustment problems may still remain.


American Psychiatric Association. (2001). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, D.C.

American Psychological Association. (2004). Dependent personality disorder. Retrieved from

Perry, J. C. (2011). Dependent personality disorder. Armenian Medical Network. Retrieved from


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