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Dealing With Dependent Personality Disorder

Updated on February 16, 2017
meloncauli profile image

Meloncauli is an ex-nurse and anxiety management therapist. She suffered for many years with both anxiety and depression.

Are you leaning on someone too much?
Are you leaning on someone too much? | Source

There are probably many more undiagnosed people with dependent personality disorder than you imagine. The main reason for this is that it would take a referral from your doctor to a psychiatrist to get a diagnosis, and some people would not like to admit to the traits of this disorder. The people who are usually diagnosed are already a mental health service user for other problems, mainly anxiety disorder, depression or behavioural-type problems.

I personally think the term “personality disorder” is a rather confusing term to many people, and it is an unfortunate diagnostic label to have with much stigma attached. The layman will think that a person with a personality disorder is mentally ill, but illness implies there will be a need to medicate in order to cure.

Personality is something we are stuck with and as such you can’t “cure” it! You can try to adapt your personality to fit in with the rest of the world, but if others begin to see you as “different” or “not fitting in”, you have a problem! We are all expected to behave within a socially and culturally acceptable way; therefore being told you have a personality disorder immediately suggests that you simply don’t fit in with the rest of society.

There are many types of personality disorder, some of which that I hope to write about in later articles, but this article will discuss dependent personality disorder (DPD). I want to look at it from the perspectives of both the person who has this disorder, and that of their immediate loved ones.

Causes of Dependent Personality Disorder

The causes of DPD are difficult to ascertain, suffice to say that as this is to do with personality, it may be that some of the behavioural traits have been around since early childhood. Over protective parents will probably not have helped nor will those parents who have asserted high levels of authority but there could be so many underlying reasons. It could be that some over protective parent actually have DPD themselves, and part of their disorder has been to keep their children close and do everything for them, in order to keep them in good favour.

Other parents could have asserted such authority that the growing child was never allowed to make decisions for himself, or overpowered at every turn, thus knocking his confidence. Learning how to become independent and have a sense of security about yourself certainly starts in childhood.

Simply put, there isn’t one single factor that causes this disorder. It could be several factors, and we may have a susceptibility to it with regards to our character or personality. We are hopefully learning how to behave in an acceptable way as we grow up, but much will depend on our personality traits as to how we handle our behaviour.

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Symptoms of Dependent Personality Disorder

A needy or dependent person will also have some of the following signs that would indicate DPD.

  • Low self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Finding it difficult to disagree with people
  • Intense fear of being alone or abandoned
  • Always putting everyone else first
  • Always seeking advice and approval
  • Difficulty making decisions without the help of others
  • Impulsive behaviour
  • Acting helpless
  • Intolerant of criticism, overly sensitive
  • Questioning your own judgment
  • Avoiding responsibility
  • Mood swings
  • Trust issues

We all need to be loved.

People have a need to be loved and wanted
People have a need to be loved and wanted | Source

If you look at the above symptoms, you can perhaps imagine that a dependent personality will also suffer from anxiety problems, and possibly levels of depression. The above symptoms will also cause:

  • Difficulty with friendships
  • Difficulty maintaining a personal relationship
  • Being perceived as difficult or trouble causing
  • Self isolation despite fears of being alone
  • Risk of drug or alcohol abuse to feel better

People with DPD will have an exceptionally difficult time when a relationship ends. The thought of someone who doesn’t love them any more is too much to bear. It is a difficult time for anyone who has been abandoned by a loved one, but those with DPD will literally go to pieces and the personal devastation will be huge. Because of this, these people are quick to want to jump into another relationship to gratify their needs, and often turn to drugs or alcohol in the interim. There will be a profound feeling of an inability to cope alone. This fear of being alone is so strong that often people will even stay in abusive relationships willingly.

Self-esteem issues
Self-esteem issues | Source

It should be noted that some of these symptoms fall in with the co-dependency label. It can sometimes be confused with avoidant personality disorder as both disorders are based on self perception issues, but someone with an avoidant personality will avoid being around people because of the anxiety this will cause.

It is a sad state of affairs when people have no self-esteem, feel inadequate, and do not feel responsible for themselves but push that burden on others. It has an almost child like quality about it, and in relationships it can cause much frustration on the part of those closest to the sufferer. It is ironic that the very behaviour intended to keep people close will often drive those people away. It has to be recognized that people who have this disorder, are not often aware of how much their behaviour is affecting others, and that fear/anxietyis driving their behaviour.

How to Stop Being Needy

Treatment for Dependent Personality Disorder

Psychotherapy would be an obvious choice for people with DPD. It is not something that can be righted in a few sessions however, and tends to be a lengthy process. Talk therapy is necessary to address the perceptions and behaviours of the individual. A psychotherapist will want to ask about childhood and relationships as this could be very important in getting the patient to see how and why their behaviour started. People with DPD are often confused as to why they behave as they do and think as they do.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is useful, especially with regards confidence and self-esteem issues. It is also useful when looking at personal relationships and how the behaviour affects those relationships. The therapist may also look at decision making.

Recognizing how you think and therefore behave can be achieved through talk therapies. It will feel at times as if you are indeed attempting to change the core of who you are, but with motivation and a willingness to take on the challenge of change, you will see some success. You are required to see situations more realistically; also admit to and learn how to change negative behaviours. With a growing self-esteem come independence and a confidence that will prevent the same pattern of behaviours.

Many people simply do not like to admit to DPD or any personality disorder, but if the evidence shows that their lives are being severely disrupted because of their behaviour, the only way forward is for that person to want to change. They may not be able to change their personality but they can learn to control the way they behave.

Note: A person who has a long-term DPD and who is in therapy may latch on to the therapist. I can vouch for this, as I came across this as an anxiety management therapist. After several months of helping this client, when I felt she had made good progress with her anxiety disorder, I began to realise she was trying to deny her progress despite the evidence. I felt we had a good rapport, but I hadn’t realized this lady also had dependent personality disorder. She was simply trying to prolong the contact and need to lean on me because it made her feel safer. She had in fact been lying about some of her progress too because she didn’t want to be criticized in any way, (not that I would have done that). I expect this is a problem for other therapists dealing with this disorder.

Medications can help at the same time as therapy is tried. Anxiety or depression can be part of the problem and if these factors are not being addressed whilst in therapy, they may interfere with potential improvement. Likewise, it is important to address any alcohol or drug issues.

Assertiveness classes may prove to be very useful also, although wherever possible there should be a realistic time limit on any therapy or classes to prevent dependence.

A Psychiatrist Discusses DPD

Family and Partner Advice for Dependent Personality Disorder

You don’t need telling that life can be difficult around a person who has DPD! It causes a great deal of strain and requires much patience. Everyone has needs and wants to be loved, but living with a needy dependent person for a long time will take its toll. If you recognize that the person you live with or a family member has this disorder, you will be doing them a great service by recommending they see a psychiatrist or therapist. Explain that you realise their behaviour is not their fault but that there are ways to rectify it.

It may be that asking a spouse to attend marriage guidance counseling will unearth the DPD cause, and be a way forward to getting the help needed. You, as with family members, could also offer to attend any therapy sessions with the agreement of all parties. Sadly, many family members will not want to attend therapy for fear of being exposed as part of the cause of the disorder.

  • You should actively encourage the person with DPD to take the responsibility for his/her actions. By this I don’t mean pointing the finger, losing your temper and making that person feel totally unloved (it will probably be seen as criticism). The encouragement should be gentle and backed up in a caring compassionate manner.
  • Remember people who suffer with DPD have a low self-esteem and to criticize will send them recoiling in horror.
  • Remember to praise any improvements in behaviour no matter how small, and encourage independence very slowly.
  • You could also help your family member or spouse by buying self-help books on subjects such as assertiveness, decision making, self-esteem and confidence issues.
  • Friends and families of those who have DPD should be aware of the potential for the sufferer to be abused. This doesn’t mean you should impose your opinions on the sufferer’s relationships, but be supportive because they are vulnerable people.
  • Last of all, get help yourself if you feel overburdened by this problem. Share the problem with your doctor, a close friend or family member.

© 2012 meloncauli

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    • meloncauli profile image
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      meloncauli 3 years ago from UK

      Many thanks for dropping by Kathryn L Hill :)

    • Kathryn L Hill profile image

      Kathryn L Hill 3 years ago from LA

      Great information!

    • meloncauli profile image
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      meloncauli 4 years ago from UK

      Hi gsidley. At present we don't even have a psychologist for the NHS service! The CMHT provides a service of up to six therapy sessions. This is extended only if there is a problem with the flow of sessions because of ill health, or there is a need for a couple of extra sessions. 90% of the time it would be kept to six sessions. A patient has to understand this at the outset.

    • gsidley profile image

      Dr. Gary L. Sidley 4 years ago from Lancashire, England

      Our NHS Primary Care Psychology service does set an upper limit of sessions (12 I think). I work in a NHS secondary care service (a Community Mental Health Team) where there isn't any upper limit as such, although the sparsity of psychology resource means we are spread very thinly.

    • meloncauli profile image
      Author

      meloncauli 4 years ago from UK

      Thanks for your comment gsidley. Our local NHS therapy is usually set to six sessions now, but I'd imagine it is a bigger problem for private therapists.

    • gsidley profile image

      Dr. Gary L. Sidley 4 years ago from Lancashire, England

      Hi meloncauli

      I can certainly echo your comment about DPD making therapy more difficult to deliver and (particularly) to end. Indeed, I have known clinical psychology colleagues state that the only way they could end the therapy were to change jobs!

      Best wishes