There is a certain type of person who seems needy, indecisive and clingy. More than most they seem to need reassurance, advice and have a need for someone else to take the lead. In an attempt to ingratiate they will readily take on the beliefs and values of the other person and lose all sense of individuality or personal difference. They dread being alone and when this happens they feel even higher levels of anxiety. In short, they rely almost totally on other people to meet their emotional and physical needs. Clinically, this cluster of emotions and behaviors may be regarded as a psychiatric condition known as dependent personality disorder.
Dependent personality disorder, is the most frequently diagnosed form of personality disorder. There are no clear risk factors for the disorder although some commentators believe an over-protective or authoritarian upbringing may be influential. Others have noticed that separation anxiety in childhood, or long-term physical illness during childhood, can sometimes be risk factors. When we consider the features commonly associated with the disorder it perhaps isn’t surprising to note that both anxiety and depression are common symptoms.
People with dependent personality disorder tend to be pessimistic and overly sensitive to criticism. Some are so dependent they will ask what to eat, drink, what to wear, and what to do. They will avoid jobs that require responsibility and will never assert themselves for fear of being rejected or disagreed with. Unfortunately this excessive dependence, typically focused on a particular individual, can lead to one of two types of relationship. The first relationship type sees a bond between the person with the disorder and someone who, for whatever reason, has a need to care. The second, probably more toxic relationship, can lead to emotional and/or physical abuse as the partner enjoys the sense of power. For the person with dependent personality disorder their constant anxiety that the person they rely on may leave means they will tolerate activities ranging from simple pastimes they actually hate, to emotional and physical abuse, leading them to do anything in order to keep their ‘partner’ happy.
There are no specific treatments for dependent personality disorder. Psychotherapy may help to encourage confidence, although for the therapist the issue is one of not allowing the person to depend on them. As the person gets older they tend not to feel the symptoms in such extreme forms. As for anxiety and depression, these are the symptoms that most often get the person to see the doctor. Although the doctor may suggest specialist treatment or further diagnosis for what they suspect is the personality disorder, anxiety or depression will be treated in its own right.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.