You have probably heard this story before: two sisters demand that their step sister served them without fail and without thanks. This step sister complies with every wish—cooking, cleaning, and serving. Overtime, she has difficulty making decisions for herself. Others come to rescue her—animal friends, her fairy godmother, and of course, the prince. Yes, Cinderella is hard to disguise because it is such a well-known storyline, but a lesser known part of the story is that Cinderella is often used to illustrate what it looks like to have dependent personality disorder. At one point in time, dependent personality disorder was actually dubbed the “Cinderella Complex.” The complex initially described women who wanted to be cared for and feared independent, but mental health professionals realized that dependent personality disorder can plague both men and women, young and old, rich and poor.
Dependent personality disorder is characterized by a need to be care for, difficulty establishing mutual relationships, low self-esteem, and a deep desire to please others. It can lead to significant personal and professional challenges in an individual’s life, but effective treatments are available. Often, therapists and psychologists combine some form of psychotherapy with medication to help clients establish their individuality and self-reliance.
Thriveworks Alexandria offers treatment for dependent personality disorder, and our staff has helped many people learn that they are capable and resourceful.
Risk Factors for Dependent Personality Disorder
Before diagnosing dependent personality disorder, age and cultural factors must be considered. For example, young teens may be dependent upon their parents in a way that is developmentally appropriate. This does not indicate a personality disorder. Similarly, cultures that values deferential or passive treatment for authority figures are not displaying a personality disorder.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) describes how dependent personality disorder (301.6[F70.7]) usually displays diagnosable symptoms when people transition from adolescents into early adulthood. People often have difficulty establishing an adult life—functioning independently and self-sufficiently. Dependent personality disorder can also raise people’s risk of other personality and adjustment disorders, anxiety, and depression.
Dependent Personality Disorder: What Is It?
Two key beliefs fuel dependent personality disorder. The first belief is that individuals cannot fully rely upon themselves to meet their own psychological and physical needs. The second belief is that individuals need someone else to care for them. People with this disorder may display clingy behavior and have separation anxiety. They may also be overly compliant—accepting criticism and disapproval of themselves without question. Many times, individuals with dependent personality disorder harshly criticism themselves and underestimate their own abilities.
The DSM-5 gives detailed diagnostics for dependent personality disorder. To be diagnosed, individuals must display:
- Behavior that is overly deferential.
- A core need for someone to care for them.
- Anxiety when separated from care givers.
In addition, they will display at least five of the following:
- An inability to make a decision about everyday things without excessive reassurance or advice from other people, particularly an authority figure. For example, adults may still consult with their parents about what groceries to purchase for the week.
- Experiencing severe discomfort when alone. For example, individuals may to go great lengths to never be by themselves.
- Relying upon another person for substantial help running an important facet of one’s life. For example, parents may still pay an adult child’s bills or rent.
- Going to great length to guarantee the support and nurture from caregivers continue. For example, individuals may sacrifice their own beliefs, values, and identity to keep the peace and please a caregiver.
- Dreaming abandonment. This fear often fuels dependent personality disorder, particularly the fear of having to care for oneself.
- Acquiescing to what a care-taker thinks, believers, or expects in order to appease them and keep their approval/support. For example, this may be as extreme as hiding one’s political convictions or it may be as simple as pretending to like the care taker’s favorite restaurant.
- Quickly replacing a failed care-taking relationship with another. Specifically, people with dependent personality disorder often fear providing for themselves and being alone.
These symptoms often inhibit people’s ability to function well in social and professional settings. People may have small social circles—limited to those who will care for them in some way. They may also struggle in the work place as their lack of confidence and ability can lead to poor performance.
Scheduling Therapy at Thriveworks Alexandria, VA (Franconia)
Thriveworks Alexandria offers therapy for dependent personality disorder, and our staff individualizes a treatment plan for each client. There are several therapies that have been proven effective in treating this disorder. Some clients may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy. Others may need psychodynamic therapy. Often, therapists prescribe a medication as well. The therapists and psychologists at Thriveworks understand that no therapy is one-size-fits-all, and our staff work for each client to find a plan that may fit their symptoms and their needs.
“You are constantly invited to be what you are.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you are ready to meet with a therapist about your dependent behaviors, know that Thriveworks Alexandria has appointments available. When you contact our office, a person will answer your call and help you find an appointment. You may have your first appointment the following day. We accept most forms of insurance. We also offer weekend and evening appointments. We want to work with you and for you. Contact Thriveworks Alexandria, VA (Franconia) today.