Do You Like Making Decisions or Do You Defer in ALL Things to Somone Else? Dependent Personality Disorder

For most of us, our teen years are simply the time between childhood and adulthood.  We can’t wait until we are adults and can make our own decisions and set our own path.  We long for independence.

But for some of us, we never truly become independent, fully functioning adults. Rather we develop and live with Dependent Personality Disorder

What is it?  Dependent personality disorder is a long-term condition in which people depend too much on others to meet their emotional and physical needs. They live with debilitating feelings of nervousness and fear and are also plagued by helplessness, submissiveness, a need to be taken care of and for constant reassurance, and an inability to make decisions. In short, they need to be taken care of and fear being abandoned or separated from individuals in their life.  As a result they often engage in submissive behaviors which causes other to become their care givers. From outside the relationship it looks ‘clingy’ and needy.

Symptoms of Dependent Personality Disorder

Dependent personality disorder is characterized by overwhelming fear that leads to “clinging behavior”. It can be diagnosed in early adulthood. It includes a majority of the following:

  • Avoids being alone; will tolerate abuse to avoid aloneness
  • Unable to make everyday decisions without an excessive amount of advice and reassurance from others
  • Needs others to assume responsibility for most major areas of his or her life
  • Has difficulty expressing disagreement with others; over-sensitive to criticism
  • Pessimism and lack of self-confidence, including belief in their personal inability to take care of themselves
  • Has difficulty doing things alone, without ongoing reassurances
  • Intense fear of abandonment; unable to be without a primary relationship,
  • Urgently seeks another relationship as a source of care and support when a close relationship ends
  • Goes to excessive lengths to obtain nurturance and support from others, to the point of offering to do unpleasant things
  • Preoccupied with fears of being left to take care of him or herself
  • Lives in fantasy and remain naïve

Dependent Personality Disorder is only diagnosed in adults.  It is determined by a psychological evaluation in concert with an evaluation of the duration and severity of the symptoms. Although it won’t be in the DSM-V, it is one of the most commonly diagnosed personality disorders.

Generally, people with this disorder do not seek treatment for it, but rather for a problem they’re experiencing. The problem usually arises because of one or more of their symptoms affecting their ability to function in a way they deem normal and healthy. They may seek help for depression or anxiety, common co-occurrences with this disorder.  Or they may seek help for substance abuse problems which also co-occur in alarming numbers.

If these co-occurring symptoms are serious, a physician may treat the patient with anti-depressant medications which also alleviate anxiety.

Treatment will include some form of talk therapy. Together all these approaches will help alleviate the symptoms, but at this time, the disorder is never ‘cured’. Rather the symptoms are managed and controlled, usually decreasing with age.

Ironically it is the very dependence on others that pushes people away. We get burned out taking care of someone who is so reliant on us. Or, the dependent person will attach themselves to an abusive partner who will affirm their belief in their inability to make decisions and to live without someone else controlling everything. It is logical to see how people with this disorder will stay in highly abusive situations, rather than risk being on their own – the responsibility is simply overwhelming.

How about you?  Do you know someone like this? Met someone like this?  Have you ever felt sorry for someone married to a control freak who told them when to go to the bathroom?  Have you considered that this may be the relationship the more passive or dependent partner needs?

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About Louise Behiel

Author, coach, therapist, mother and grandmother. I'm on a spiritual journey and consciously work to grow every day.
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26 Responses to Do You Like Making Decisions or Do You Defer in ALL Things to Somone Else? Dependent Personality Disorder

  1. Jill James says:

    Interesting condition. Guess we can’t throw my husband in there just because he makes me decide where we are going to dinner…every time.

    • oh bless his heart. My ex might have had this, although I think he had passive agressive disorder. But then I shouldn’t diagnose, since i was in the middle of it

  2. denisedyoung says:

    Wow. That sounds awful. I can see how people with this condition often seek help for anxiety and depression. I can’t imagine being so afraid of being alone that I would give up my sovereignty. I remember being a kid and thinking how awesome it would be to be an adult. Now I’m an adult and I still think it’s awesome.

    I don’t know anyone who meets all of the qualifications, but I suspect we’ve all met people who are afraid to disagree with someone and who are willing to stay in an unhealthy relationship so they don’t have to be alone. Is low self-esteem/confidence a root problem for people with this disorder?

    • absolutely, self-confidence is a part of this disorder. I always see this as a character in a book – the friend of the heroine and one in an abusive relationship but the heroine can’t help her friend. it would work so well…

  3. Kourtney Heintz says:

    I’ve always had a wicked independent streak. The second someone tells me to do something, I do the opposite or I refuse to do what they told me to do. Decisions are hard to make at times, but I’d rather struggle through and make my own.

  4. August McLaughlin says:

    Woah. You just helped me understand a friend big time.

  5. This is my sister. Absolutely. She’s in a very abusive relationship and won’t leave despite all of our efforts. It gets so frustrating, but she’s 52 and won’t listen to any of us. Your series on the four type of children from an emotionally absent parent and this post have helped me to understand why she stays. I’ve finally come to realize I can’t save her. Still, it sucks and I wish I could.

    • How painful for you and the rest of the family. I’m glad these posts are making sense of her choices. It’s tragic to watch but you’re right – there’s nothing you can do to change her choices.

  6. emmaburcart says:

    I used to be like this. My friends all find it amazing that I’m now capapble of going to the bathroom by myself. And I checked with someone about every decision. There is a reason my nickname growing up was Emma the Dilemma. It fit. Through a lot of personal work I’ve been able to overcome this because I now actually like myself and enjoy time alone. And I trust my decisions. Understanding where it came from made sense, too. As a child I had no control and no security. Anything and everything could be taken from me at any moment and I was often left alone and scared of what would happen to me. Now I’ve realized that I have control issues because of that. So, that is the next thing I’ll be working on. I hope you’ll have a post on that! I could use some strategies for how to let go of control issues.

    • Emma, thanks so much for sharing your story with me. It does take work to overcome this limiting belief but is totally possible, as you prove. Your childhood is a common story for children who mature to have this disorder. But you’re so wise to have recognized it and got help to make these changes.

      control issues are the common outcome of therapy for this disorder. I think it arises because we only see one extreme and therefore we reach for the opposite of what we know – but that’s the opposite extreme and not the middle where we want to be. I’ll put ‘control issues’ in the list of things to cover. stay tuned.

  7. Heidi says:

    Louise– With my personality, I could’ve been trapped into a relationship with someone like this. I was spared. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have plenty of my own things to deal with, but as my post says today, I could no longer ignore my control issues (at the end of my drinking days). Extremes are just nasty, aren’t they? Thank you for this profile. I think it will help me in continuing to seek being a friend among friends and not a boss of them. Sometimes I forget the potential for damage goes both directions.

  8. Gerri Bowen says:

    I encountered a few people like that when I was a massage therapist. People talk, confide and then complain, and it soon became apparent that although they might complain, they would not do anything to change their situation. It took me a long while to understand they couldn’t as well as wouldn’t.

    • I don’t really understand being so dependent but if you are that way, okay be that way. don’t complain unless you’re willing to change. I am so with you on that, Gerri.

  9. This has been a really interesting post. I can identify these qualities in people I know (and have known), but I don’t see them in myself… a good thing. I’ve always been glad to have finally ‘grown up’ and being able to make my own decisions. Is the other end of this scale the loner?

    • alyssa, isn’t it wonderful not to see yourself in a post like this? The opposite to this, in my opinion, is the controlling person who usually teams up with the dependent person. These folks are dependent on everyone, but a few more than others. and close relationships the most. even though they complain about the control others people have over them.

  10. Oh I know someone who fits many of the symptoms. They’re very hard to take. They’ve never had an original opinion, just those from the ‘caretaker’ (who isn’t abusive). The only thing I didn’t see listed is that they’re hypercritical and mouthy to the point where you just want to smack them in the mouth. And I’m not a violent person.

    • oohh interesting combination of behaviors. Glad you know this person and I don’t. lucky the controller isn’t abusive. they aren’t always bad people.

      • Yeah, lucky me, lol. But I don’t think the caretaker is controlling. I think that person doesn’t have a choice because the other is so clingy, helpless and just unable to survive without someone to care for them. Granted, I don’t know the whole situation, but I’ve known the one for a long, long time and nothing has really changed.

  11. Interesting post! I never knew this was actually a personality disorder! I’ve known women who can’t be without a man, and as soon as one relationship ends, they’re in another within days. I never understood those women – but this is probably why they’re like that. Thanks, as always, for the insight!

  12. Agree with Jennette. I’ve had girlfriends that end a relationship with their guy and are in a new relationship by the end of the week. Seems so sad.
    I guess that if we just look for the motivation (like we must when we WRITE ABOUT these characters) we will find it, and then what they are doing makes sense. Still, it’s sad.

    • I’ve always believed that people’s behavior is perfectly logical to them. Might not look so good from the outside but it’s predictible if we can simply see beyond the surface. People are so fascinating.

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