What is Dependent Personality Disorder?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2019
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Dependent personality disorder is a chronic mental health problem characterized by an overwhelming need to rely on others. Sufferers constantly seek approval, companionship, and acceptance from significant others, friends, and even strangers. In the most extreme cases, people cannot even seem to accomplish basic physical tasks such as cooking meals without the aid of others. Psychotherapy and group counseling are often very effective at helping patients with dependent personality disorder come to terms with their problems and learn to become more self-sufficient and rational in their daily lives.

It is usually difficult for doctors and psychiatrists to pinpoint an underlying cause of dependent personality disorder. There is very little evidence supporting a biological component, such as a chemical deficiency or physical brain defect. Most professionals believe problems are more closely related to environmental factors that patients faced during early childhood. Based on patient and family member reports, a number of young adults who are diagnosed with dependent personality disorder had parents who were extremely overprotective and strict. As a result, they may not have learned how to deal with real-world struggles and relationships with non-family members in a healthy, productive manner.


A person who has dependent personality disorder may find him or herself unable to make decisions without reassurance from other people. While most people seek advice about major decisions such as selecting a college, an individual with dependent personality disorder may need to be told what jacket to wear, when to go to bed, and how to set the dinner table. Sufferers generally lack self-esteem and confidence and respond very sensitively to criticism. In relationships, they take on subservient roles and constantly try to gain acceptance from their significant others. Most sufferers feel devastated when their relationships end and quickly try to establish new ones.

Dependent personality disorder can significantly impair a person's ability to succeed in the workforce. Individuals tend to avoid any jobs where they must take individual responsibility for tasks and lead themselves. Asking for help and advice from coworkers and seeking the constant approval from bosses can make it difficult to hold down a meaningful job.

One of the unique elements of dependent personality disorder is that sufferers are likely to seek help when their loved ones encourage them to do so. Psychotherapy has proven very beneficial in helping people understand how others are affected by their abnormal behaviors and needs. With behavior modification exercises, many sufferers are able to become at least partially self-sufficient. Group therapy with other patients is also a useful component of treatment in many cases.


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