A personality disorder is a long-standing and enduring pattern of behavior that differs from society's norm. Dependent personality disorder is one of the ten identified types, and it is classed within anxious personality disorders. The condition is characterized by submissiveness, excessive clinging, and the need to be taken care of by someone else. Personality disorders are typically incurable, but people can manage their symptoms and behaviors on their own or with help from a professional.

Three Clusters

Personality disorders are grouped into three distinct clusters. Cluster A is characterized by appearing odd or eccentric. Examples include paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal personality disorders. Cluster B is characterized by appearing dramatic, emotional, or erratic. Antisocial, borderline, narcissistic, and histrionic personality disorders are included here. Dependent personality disorder belongs in cluster C, along with avoidant and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders. These anxious personality disorders are, as the name implies, characterized by anxiousness or fearfulness.

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According to research by the American Psychiatric Association, dependent personality disorder is diagnosed in only 0.5% to 0.6% of the general population. It is also diagnosed more often in women, although some research suggests that the actual numbers are nearly equal for both genders.

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Gender Norms

Statistically, women are slightly more likely to be diagnosed with dependent personality disorder than men. Some research suggests that this is, in part, due to socialized gender roles. Women are more likely than men to rely on a partner for emotional and financial support, thus appearing more dependent. Traditional gender roles also used to encourage women to appear as if they need taking care of to attract a partner.

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Diagnostic Criteria

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM 5), a person with dependent personality disorder exhibits a persistent and excessive need to be taken care of, which results in submissiveness and clinging. To receive a diagnosis, a person must also have five or more of the following:

  • difficulty making daily decisions without reassurance,
  • difficulty expressing disagreement for fear of losing approval,
  • difficulty starting projects due to a lack of confidence in judgment or ability,
  • a need for others to be responsible for their life,
  • feelings of helplessness and discomfort while alone,
  • an unrealistic preoccupation with being left to care for themselves, and
  • an urgent need to establish a new caregiver relationship when another relationship ends.

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Examples of Dependent Personality Disorder

Some real-world examples of dependent personality disorder include a teen allowing parents to decide what clothes they wear, who their friends are, what books and television shows they watch, and what classes they take at school. Another example is an adult allowing a parent or spouse to decide what job, friends, and hobbies they have, and when and what they eat each day. The allowance of these structures is an important distinction; this is not the same as being forced to follow such structure from a caregiver or significant other.

An In-Depth Look at Dependent Personality Disorder



The exact cause of dependent personality disorder is not yet known. Research suggests that people who experienced separation anxiety, chronic illness, emotional abuse, or certain parenting styles — specifically authoritarian and overprotective — during childhood and early adolescence are at a greater risk for developing this disorder.

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Comorbid Conditions

It is common for people to have multiple personality disorders. Comorbid means two or more psychological conditions exist and require treatment at the same time. Conditions that commonly occur with dependent personality disorder include other anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and substance abuse conditions.

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It is a common misconception that dependent personality disorder only occurs in romantic relationships. The condition can, however, also occur in parent-child relationships, sibling relationships, and even friendships. Some people also wrongly assume people with personality disorders are violent. That is generally untrue of the disorders in clusters A and C, but the disorders in Cluster B, particularly antisocial and borderline personality disorder, may lead to violent behavior.

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Real-Life Impact

The real-life impact of dependent personality disorder can reach beyond the immediate relationships of the person with the condition into all areas of their life. Aside from an inability to have healthy, mutually fulfilling relationships, the individual will often have trouble finding and keeping a job. They may have self-esteem issues because they doubt their judgment and abilities. They may even engage in self-harm as a way to maintain a relationship.

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Although not technically curable, treatments and modifications are available to people with personality disorders. Antidepressant medications, specifically MAOI and SSRI antidepressants, can effectively manage symptoms. Research suggests cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic therapy are the most helpful therapeutic models for modifying problematic behavior.

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