Dependent Personality Disorder

What are personality disorders?

We all have unique personalities that have developed as a result of both genetics and environment. As we grow our personalities are constantly shaped by our experiences and behaviour choices.

Those with a personality disorder have developed rigid or extreme thoughts and behaviours that they cannot control. They have trouble relating to others and are often limited in their ability to deal with daily life. Personalities normally continue to develop through teenage years so disorders are generally not diagnosed until adulthood.

There are 3 main groups or clusters of personality disorders.

Cluster A – odd or eccentric behaviour

  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder
  • Schizoid Personality Disorder
  • Paranoid Personality Disorder

Cluster B – Dramatic or erratic behaviour

  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • Histrionic Personality Disorder
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Cluster C – Anxious or fearful behaviour

  • Avoidant Personality Disorder
  • Dependant Personality Disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder


What is Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD)?

DPD is a type of personality disorder characterised by excessive anxious or needy behaviour. Sufferers lack self-confidence and look to others for approval and direction. Overwhelming feelings of isolation and helplessness contribute to a heightened level of anxiety making normal daily activities very difficult.

There are no statistics showing the prevalence of DPD in Australia but it is believed that personality orders in general may occur in up to 10% of the population. DPD is slightly more common in women than in men.


What causes Dependent Personality Disorder?

DPD currently has no definitive cause. However it is widely accepted that a combination of biological, social and psychological factors are involved.

Onset is believed to begin in early adulthood but the roots of the problem may extend further back into childhood. How the child is taught to interact with others or the interactions they witness can strongly influence personality development. In particular, the attention they receive or the amount of stress they are exposed to can have a significant impact on them.

Having someone in the family with a mental health issue also increases the risk of developing Dependant Personality Disorder.


What are the most common symptoms?

Sufferers of DPD have an intense need to be taken care of. They cling to others obsessively and fear separation.

They also:

  • Lack confidence in their own ability to make decisions.
  • Prefer others, such as parents or spouses, to make important life decisions for them.
  • Fear to express disagreement even if they hold a different opinion.
  • Rarely show initiative, preferring to follow others. They may have many ideas but fear they may be seen as stupid.
  • Lack confidence in their own skills and abilities when completing tasks and constantly seek direction or reassurance from others.
  • Are overly sensitive to criticism.
  • Are pessimistic towards most situations.
  • Go out of their way to gain the support or approval of others.
  • Feel uncomfortable and helpless when alone and avoid it at all costs as they fear they will be unable to cope.
  • Urgently seek to start a new relationship soon after an earlier relationship ends.


What are the main treatment options?

Treatment for Dependent Personality Disorder usually involves counselling with a qualified mental health care professional. Counsellors or therapists often utilise a combination of proven therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Interpersonal Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapy and Group Therapy.

While it is often the family of DPD sufferers who suggest they seek help, they are usually compliant with most treatment suggestions. This may seem like a positive step, however it may be a symptom of the disorder itself. The person may go along with it all simply because they lack the ability to say no. A skilled therapist will acknowledge this and endeavour to help the person regain a sense of personal control.

During counselling sessions, the therapist will often help the sufferer explore the underlying negative thoughts and beliefs they developed as a child or young adult. This approach to treatment is based on the premise that our thoughts determine our behaviour so by examining why the negative thoughts and behaviours occur sufferers can learn to replace them with more constructive and positive ones.

As DPD impacts strongly on the sufferer’s relationship with others, therapy sessions usually focus on ways to improve those relationships. Often partners or family members are invited to participate in the sessions to share their experiences and to work as a team to help the sufferer learn to become more self-confident.

The earlier that Dependent Personality Disorder is diagnosed and treated, the more likely that the person will have a positive outcome and be able to participate normally in daily life.


Why seek professional help?

Mental illness can be frightening and isolating, especially if you are in a depressed or suicidal state. Talking to friends and family may help but having the support and guidance of a professional counsellor is usually more beneficial. Therapy sessions are confidential and non-judgemental. Seeking help early gives you a greater chance of overcoming your condition and getting your life back to normal.


Where to find help

Our True Counsellor Directory lists hundreds of psychotherapists and counsellors from Australia.

Some psychotherapists and counsellors listed in our directory offer counselling over the phone and online in addition to one-on-one consultations. Many also offer workshops and seminars.


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