Too Much Dependence

Dependent Personality Disorder

There are times in life when people rely on others. Children rely on their parents for their basic necessities, students rely on teachers to be the purveyor of knowledge, employees rely on their employers for their paychecks, and the list goes on. Can reliance towards others be overdone and disruptive? Yes. Sometimes, over reliance can evolve into Dependent Personality Disorder.

What is a Personality Disorder? 

A personality disorder is a class of mental disorders that are characterized by long-lasting rigid patterns of thought and behavior.1 A person with Dependent Personality Disorder engages in dependent and submissive behaviors that are designed to encourage care giving from others.2 They engage in these behaviors because they have a strong need to be taken care and they fear being abandoned by important people in their life. Their greatest fear is that they cannot take care of themselves.3

Usually people with DPD depend on one person to take care of them. They won’t make decisions without the person, and won’t tackle big projects without them agreeing to it. The world is a scary place because they believe they are unable to support themselves.3

These are the eight criteria of DPD:

  1. The person has difficulty make everyday decisions without the excessive amount of advice and reassurance from others.
  2. The person needs others to assume responsibility for most major areas of his or her life
  3. The person has difficulty expressing disagreement with others because of fear of loss and approval
  4. The person has trouble initiating projects and working independently because of lack of self-confidence and judgement in abilities, rather than motivation.
  5. The person goes to excessive lengths to obtain support from others to the point of volunteering to do things that are unpleasant.
  6. The person feels helpless when alone because of exaggerated fears of being unable to take care of him or herself.
  7. The person seeks another relationship as a source of care and support when a close relationship ends.
  8. The person is unrealistically preoccupied with fears of being left to take care of him or herself.

Individuals with DPD grew up with excessive separation anxiety. The disorder is only diagnosed if it begins no later than early adulthood, the behaviors occur at home, work, and the community, and the behaviors lead to clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.4


Clinicians are very careful when diagnosing this disorder because they are situations in life where people have all of these criteria. Examples include people with disabilities, people who have been through trauma, and children. Just because you’ve met the DPD criteria, doesn’t necessarily mean that you have it. The clinician has to look at family history, situations, and childhood as well.


The effectiveness of treatment for DPD is unknown because there are no randomized controlled trials. According to clinicians, there is a consensus that improvements are seen with long-term therapy. Cognitive Behavior therapy and Interpersonal therapy are thought to help. Anti-depressants may be helpful in controlling the anxiety associated with the disorder.4

Photo Courtesy: By Jason Regan (fell in the pool) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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