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A Dialectical Look at Dependent Personality Disorder

Dependent personality disorder (DPD) is a cluster “C” Personality Disorder (PD) that is characterized by traits of anxiety and fearfulness. The diagnostic criteria of DPD is characterized by an excessive need to be taken care of that leads to submissive behavior and fears of separation. People with this disorder often have a difficult time making decisions for themselves and need others to take over responsibility for most major areas of their lives. Some examples include:

  • Having someone else deal with finances and financial decision making

  • Having a partner, parent, or friend decide where you live, work, and/or who you befriend

  • Need the approval from another person on what to wear or what to eat 


Dependant personality

In addition, people with DPD are often uncomfortable being alone and feel helpless when not surrounded by others. The clinging behaviors and excessive need for help typically arise from a self-perception of being unable to take care of themselves or make their own decisions. Some examples of clinging behaviors include fear of separation and becoming extremely overwhelmed when they may have to be alone for a day or even a few hours. 


Low self-esteem and lack of confidence are also common traits seen in individuals with this disorder. People with DPD often feel great discomfort in being alone and will struggle with being assertive and speaking up for themselves. Typically, someone with this disorder will be overly agreeable and feel uncomfortable with saying “no”.  DPD usually becomes a problem in early adulthood. Common comorbidities with DPD include eating disorders, somatization disorders, and anxiety disorders. 


Important Facts:

DPD affects less than 1% of the U.S. population and tends to affect women more than men. People who have a family history of DPD or other anxiety disorder are at an increased risk for developing this disorder.  Those who have a history of abusive relationships or a history of childhood trauma are at an increased risk for developing heightened traits of DPD. It has also been found that people who grew up with more authoritarian parents are at a higher risk of developing DPD. 


Benefits:

It may not seem like it, but there are some positives to having a dependent personality. People with this disorder are able to ask for help and admit when they need assistance from others to carry out a task or make a decision. Due to this, they are more likely to have stronger and longer lasting relationships.  Additionally, they are often seen as cooperative and willing, more prosocial than problematic.


Negatives:

Having a dependent personality has a myriad of negatives that can greatly impact a person’s interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships. For example, someone who is only dependent on others will have a difficult time making decisions for themselves and trusting their abilities which can affect all areas of their lives. They are also more likely to experience identity crises because of their difficulty speaking up for themselves and people-pleasing behaviors. Someone with this disorder may engage in activities that do not align with their values, due to their inability to disagree with others and act independently from the group. 


Treatment:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is commonly used to treat DPD to help clients change their maladaptive perceptions about themselves and others and to learn strategies to deal with these irrational thoughts. Because of the over-controlled nature seen in this population, radically open dialectical behavioral therapy (RO-DBT) is a strong approach for this type of disorder. RO-DBT is a therapeutic approach developed specifically for behaviors of overcontrol. The goal of this approach is to be willing to doubt or question ourselves without breaking down or falling apart. Mentalization-based treatment (MBT) is also a beneficial approach because it focuses on helping clients make sense of their thoughts, beliefs, wishes, and feelings. Trauma treatment can also be implemented to help clients with DPD through the exploration of childhood trauma, abandonment issues, and attachment styles. Trauma treatment can be especially helpful for treating this disorder due to the heavy research findings on the connections between trauma and dependent personality traits. 

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