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Dependent personality disorder

Dependent personality disorder (DPD) is one of a group of conditions called anxious personality disorder. Read about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of dependent personality disorder.

What are the symptoms of DPD?

People with DPD become emotionally dependent on other people and make great efforts to try to please others. People with DPD tend to display needy, passive, and clinging behaviour, and have a fear of separation. Other common characteristics of this personality disorder include the following:

  • Inability to make decisions, even everyday decisions, without the advice and reassurance of others
  • Avoidance of personal responsibility; avoidance of jobs that require independent functioning and positions of responsibility
  • Intense fear of abandonment and a sense of devastation or helplessness when relationships end - a person with DPD often moves right into another relationship when one ends
  • Over-sensitivity to criticism
  • Pessimism and lack of self-confidence, including a belief that they are unable to care for themselves
  • Avoidance of disagreeing with others for fear of losing support or approval
  • Inability to start projects
  • Difficulty being alone
  • Willingness to tolerate mistreatment and abuse from others
  • Placing the needs of their carers before their own
  • Tendency to be naïve and live in a world of fantasy

What causes DPD?

Although the exact cause of DPD is not known, it is most likely to involve both biological and developmental 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.

How Is DPD diagnosed?

If symptoms of DPD are present, the doctor will begin an evaluation by performing a complete medical history and physical examination. Although there are no laboratory tests specifically to diagnose personality disorders, the doctor can use various diagnostic tests to eliminate physical illness as the cause of the symptoms.

If the doctor finds no physical reason for the symptoms, he or she may refer the person to a psychiatrist or psychologist, health care professionals who are specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Psychiatrists and psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to assess a person for a personality disorder.

How Is DPD treated?

As with many personality disorders, people with DPD generally do not seek treatment for the disorder itself. Instead, they might seek treatment when a problem in their lives - often resulting from thinking or behaviour related to the disorder - becomes overwhelming, and they are no longer able to cope. People with DPD are prone to developing depression or anxiety, and symptoms of these disorders could prompt the individual to seek help.

Psychotherapy (a type of counselling) is the main method of treatment for DPD. The goal of therapy is to help the person with DPD become more active and independent, and to learn to form healthy relationships. Short-term therapy with specific goals is preferable because long-term therapy can lead to dependence on the therapist. Specific strategies could include assertiveness training to help the person with DPD develop self-confidence.

Medication could be used to treat people with DPD who also suffer from depression or anxiety. However, medication therapy must be carefully monitored because the person might become dependent on or abuse the drugs.

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