Dependent Personality Disorder

Full description of Dependent Personality Disorder. Definition, signs, symptoms, causes of Dependent Personality Disorder.Full description of Dependent Personality Disorder. Definition, signs, symptoms, and causes of Dependent Personality Disorder.

Description of Dependent Personality Disorder

Dependent Personality Disorder is characterized by the surrender of responsibility to other people. Affected people may submit to others to gain and maintain support. For example, they often allow the needs of people they depend on to supersede their own. They lack self-confidence and feel intensely inadequate about taking care of themselves. The Merck Manual states that people with Dependent Personality Disorder "believe that others are more capable, and they are reluctant to express their views for fear that their aggressiveness will offend the people they need."

Diagnostic Criteria for Dependent Personality Disorder

A pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of that leads to submissive and clinging behavior and fears of separation, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  • has difficulty making 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 because of fear of loss of support or approval. Note: Do not include realistic fears of retribution.
  • has difficulty initiating projects or doing things on his or her own (because of a lack of self-confidence in judgment or abilities rather than a lack of motivation or energy)
  • goes to excessive lengths to obtain nurturance and support from others, to the point of volunteering to do things that are unpleasant
  • feels uncomfortable or helpless when alone because of exaggerated fears of being unable to care for himself or herself
  • urgently seeks another relationship as a source of care and support when a close relationship ends
  • is unrealistically preoccupied with fears of being left to take care of himself or herself

Causes of Dependent Personality Disorder

The cause of Dependent Personality Disorder is unknown. One theory suggests that people with Dependent Personality Disorder have a biological tendency toward anxiety and pessimistic expectations and that, as a young child, their parents or primary caretaker encouraged reliance on others and cautioned against independent thinking and behavior.

Caretakers may foster dependence in the child to meet their own dependency needs and may reward extreme loyalty but reject attempts the child makes towards independence. Families of those with dependent personality disorder often do not express their emotions and are controlling; they demonstrate poorly defined relational roles within the family unit.

For comprehensive information on dependent and other personality disorders, visit the Personality Disorders Community.

Sources: 1. American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. 2. Merck Manual, Home Edition for Patients and Caregivers, last revised 2006.

APA Reference
Writer, H. (2009, January 2). Dependent Personality Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, October 20 from

Last Updated: July 5, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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