Dependent personality disorder is described as a pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of that leads to submissive and clinging behavior as well as fears of separation. This pattern begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts. The dependent and submissive behaviors are designed to elicit caregiving and arise from a self-perception of being unable to function adequately without the help of others.
Individuals with dependent personality disorder have great difficulty making everyday decisions (such as what shirt to wear or whether to carry an umbrella) without an excessive amount of advice and reassurance from others. These individuals tend to be passive and allow other people (often a single other person) to take the initiative and assume responsibility for most major areas of their lives. Adults with this disorder typically depend on a parent or spouse to decide where they should live, what kind of job they should have, and which neighbors to befriend. Adolescents with this disorder may allow their parent(s) to decide what they should wear, with whom they should associate, how they should spend their free time, and what school or college they should attend.
This need for others to assume responsibility goes beyond age-appropriate and situation-appropriate requests for assistance from others (such as the specific needs of children, elderly persons, and handicapped persons). Because they fear losing support or approval, individuals with dependent personality disorder often have difficulty expressing disagreement with other people, especially those on whom they are dependent. These individuals feel so unable to function alone that they will agree with things that they feel are wrong rather than risk losing the help of those to whom they look for guidance. Individuals with this disorder have difficulty initiating projects or doing things independently.
They may go to extreme lengths to obtain nurturance and support from others, even to the point of volunteering for unpleasant tasks if such behavior will bring the care that they need. Individuals with this disorder feel uncomfortable or helpless when alone, because of their exaggerated fears of being unable to care for themselves. When a close relationship ends (such as a breakup with a lover or the death of a caregiver), individuals with dependent personality disorder may urgently seek another relationship to provide the care and support they need. They are often preoccupied with fears of being left to care for themselves.
People with DPD become emotionally dependent on other people and spend great effort trying to please others. People with DPD tend to display needy, passive, and clinging behavior, and have a fear of separation. Other common characteristics of this personality disorder include
Although the exact cause of DPD is not known, it most likely involves a combination of biological, developmental, temperamental, and psychological factors. Some researchers believe an authoritarian or overprotective parenting style can lead to the development of dependent personality traits in people who are susceptible to the disorder.
The disorder usually appears in early adulthood. Individuals who experienced chronic physical illness or separation anxiety disorder in childhood or adolescence may be at higher risk of developing dependent personality disorder.
The estimated prevalence of this disorder in the general population is less than one percent. More women than men have been found to have dependent personality disorder.