What is Dependent Personality Disorder?

Definition, causes of dependent personality disorder. Get insight into dependent personality disorder and why people with DPD are so difficult to live with.

People with dependent personality disorder (DPD) have a longstanding, persistent and inflexible pattern of relying too heavily on others to meet their emotional and physical needs. This excessive dependence leads to submissive and clingy behavior that arises out of an intense fear of separation. Individuals with this disorder do not trust their own judgment and typically defer to others when faced with making decisions. (Famous People with Dependent Personality Disorder)

Dependent Personality Disorder. "I Can't Live Without You."

What is dependent personality disorder, exactly? DPD causes those suffering from it to believe they cannot cope with life without the direct help of others. They take a passive role in both personal and work relationships and go to any lengths to gain nurturing and acceptance of others, even volunteering to do things they find unpleasant or repulsive. Individuals with dependent personality disorder are oversensitive to criticism and avoid disagreeing with others for fear they will lose support. The word obsequious describes this behavior quite well. Webster's defines obsequious as "obedient or attentive to an excessive or servile degree. "

The dependent personality's clingy, submissive behavior is designed to elicit caring behaviors from others, but in many cases, it actually pushes them away. Often, even if the caregiver is abusive, the dependent personality will remain in the relationship. When a primary relationship does end, an individual with a dependent personality immediately and urgently seeks a replacement. This can make dependent personality disorder treatment very challenging.

The dependency needs of individuals with this disorder differ from those of children.

Children need the caring and nurturing of others. They need help when making decisions beyond the scope of their age and experience and may exhibit mild to severe separation anxiety when left with people other than their parents. These are all normal and developmentally appropriate in children.

Most kids gradually grow out of separation anxiety by adolescence and dependency on parental nurturing also diminishes during the teen years. Keep in mind, as with children, it's also normal for the elderly and handicapped to have increased dependency and a need for others to assume responsibility for their lives.

But some kids don't ever go through the normal developmental path to independence from parents and caregivers. For these individuals, dependency on others increases over time and becomes excessive to the point that it departs markedly from the social norm and has a profound negative impact on the quality of life.

Causes of Dependent Personality Disorder

As with a great number of mental illnesses, experts don't have a clear understanding of the causes of dependent personality disorder. Most researchers agree with the theory that the causes are a combination of genetic, biological, and social factors. This means you probably wouldn't develop the disorder just because you had a genetic predisposition as long as you had no biological and social risk factors in your environment. Scientists refer to this three-pronged causation system as the biopsychosocial model.

Some researchers theorize that excessively authoritative or overprotective parenting can contribute to the development of dependent personality disorder in people with a predisposition for the condition.

Dependent personality disorder statistics show that approximately 0.6 % of Americans have the disorder. It's the most commonly diagnosed personality disorder and it seems to occur more often in women, based on gender splits of diagnosed cases. That said, it might occur just as often in men, but remain undiagnosed for a variety of reasons.

To make a diagnosis, a licensed mental health professional compares reported and observed symptoms and history with the dependent personality disorder DSM criteria. Once he or she has defined the diagnosis, the client can begin a treatment plan developed specifically to meet his or her needs.

article references

APA Reference
Gluck, S. (2021, December 17). What is Dependent Personality Disorder?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Last Updated: January 28, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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