People with dependent personality disorder tend to be overly reliant on others for making decisions and rarely initiate tasks or responsibilities alone.

An individual’s personality refers to a set of traits and behaviors that constitute their individuality or character.

Dependent personality disorder (DPD) may have some overlap with other personality disorders, but it also has unique characteristics that define it.

This article examines DPD, possible signs and symptoms, and examples of behaviors. It also compares it to histrionic personality disorder and looks at the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and outlook for DPD.

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People with DPD may show dependent and submissive behaviors, meaning they can act overly dependent on others.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), people withDPD may have difficulty making daily decisions without reassurance from others. They may also feel uncomfortable or helpless due to fear of being alone.

Research suggests less than 1% of the United States population have DPD, which tends to be more common in females.

Symptoms of DPD may include:

  • requiring excessive reassurance and advice
  • responding negatively to criticism and disapproval
  • feeling devastated when a close relationship ends
  • having a strong fear of rejection
  • lacking in self-confidence

Examples of behaviors

DPD may cause people to demonstrate behaviors such as:

  • submissiveness
  • reliance on others to make decisions
  • not initiating projects
  • not doing things independently

People with both personality disorders may prefer to be around others. However, those with DPD tend to be more submissive and inhibited due to their fears of rejection.

Researchers have long recognized that both DPD and histrionic personality disorder (HPD) cause people to have exaggerated and inflexible dependencies.

However, those with HPD more often seek attention rather than reassurance. They tend to act more flamboyant and actively seek attention, whereas those with DPD are self-effacing and shy.

Read more about HPD.

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is one risk factor for developing DPD. Children who develop SAD have a 10-fold increased risk of developing DPD.

Additionally, 2022 research showed an association between genetic factors and personality disorders. Environmental factors and childhood trauma may contribute to their development.

Research from a 2020 study concludes that a combination of factors increases the risk of developing or triggering these disorders, including:

  • Environment and social circumstances: These include:
    • unstable family life
    • limited support from parents or caregivers
    • traumatic event or situation
    • negative experiences during school life
    • migration from abroad
    • poverty
    • discrimination
  • Early life experiences: These include:
    • neglect during childhood
    • loss of a parent or caregiver
    • emotional abuse
    • a major incident or accident
    • feelings of invalidation or fear
  • Genetic factors: Some behaviors and symptoms may pass down through families, though more research is necessary.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR), for doctors to diagnose people with DPD, these individuals must have a persistent, excessive need to be taken care of. This results in:

  • acting submissive
  • excessive attached behavior
  • fear of separation

A person may receive a clinical diagnosis if there is there are five or more of the following criteria:

  • difficulty making daily decisions without an inordinate amount of advice and reassurance from others
  • a need to have others be responsible for the most important aspects of their life
  • difficulty expressing disagreement with others because they fear loss of support or approval
  • difficulty starting projects on their own because they are not confident in their judgment or abilities
  • a willingness to go to great lengths to obtain support from others
  • feelings of discomfort or helplessness when they are alone because they fear they cannot take care of themselves
  • an urgent need to establish a new relationship with someone who will provide care and support when a close relationship ends
  • unrealistic preoccupation with fears of being left to take care of themselves

Differential diagnosis

DPD behaviors, such as fear of rejection and abandonment, also occur in other personality disorders, making it challenging to distinguish between them. Medical professionals must differentiate between disorders, such as:

Doctors must also distinguish between traits of dependency that are present in other disorders, such as:

General methods for treating DPD are similar to those for all personality disorders. Common methods for treating DPD include:

In addition to a treatment plan, other self-care measures may be helpful, such as:

  • engaging in physical activity to help manage associated symptoms of personality disorders
  • avoiding drugs and alcohol
  • joining support groups for personality disorders
  • journaling
  • using relaxation and stress management techniques
  • attending regular check-ups and appointments

Read more about treatment for DPD.

Without treatment, personality disorders may be long lasting. A person may also speak with a doctor or mental health care professional about DPD support in their area.

Dependent personality disorder (DPD) causes people to exhibit submissive behaviors that make them overly dependent on others for emotional support and initiating physical tasks.

DPD and histrionic personality disorder (HPD) both cause people to have exaggerated and inflexible dependency. In contrast, HPD makes individuals seek more attention than reassurance and tend to be more flamboyant than inhibited than those with DPD.

To treat DPD, doctors will combine cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and in some cases, antidepressants. A person can speak with a healthcare professional for further information and advice on measures to help manage their condition.