Dependent personality disorder is characterized by one’s excessive need to be cared for by others, driven by the individual’s belief that he or she cannot do so sufficiently without help. This need leads to clinginess and fears of separation. Individuals who suffer with dependent personality disorder underestimate their abilities, accept criticism and disapproval, and even criticize themselves.

This disorder begins to develop in an individual by early adulthood. Diagnosis in children and adolescents should only be made after very careful evaluation, considering dependent behavior at this age may be developmentally appropriate.

Diagnostic Criteria for Dependent Personality Disorder DSM-5 301.6 (F60.7)

In addition to the desperate need to be taken care of, which leads to submissive behavior and fears of separation, five or more of the following indicate the development of dependent personality disorder:

  • The individual has a hard time making everyday decisions without an abundance of advice and reassurance from others.
  • The individual needs someone else to take over major areas of his or her life.
  • The individual has a difficult time disagreeing with others due to his or her fear or losing support and/or approval.
  • The individual has trouble doing anything on his or her own, due to a lack of self-confidence in their capabilities.
  • The individual does whatever it takes to receive support and nurturance from other.
  • The individual feels uncomfortable alone because he or she fears an inability to take care of himself or herself.
  • The individual searches for another relationship for care when a close one ends.
  • The individual unrealistically fears being abandoned to care for himself or herself.

Occupational and social functioning also may become impaired, as an individual with dependent personality disorder fears or is unable to take initiative and limits their social circle to their trustworthy caretakers. There also may be an increased risk of developing depressive, anxiety, and adjustment disorders, and a co-occurrence of other personality disorders.

Who Is at Risk of Developing Dependent Personality Disorder DSM-5 301.6 (F60.7)?

As previously mentioned, it’s important that age, as well as cultural factors, are considered when assessing whether or not an individual may have the disorder. A diagnosis should only be determined if the dependent behavior or fears are clearly excessive compared to these cultural norms. For example, different societies may foster passiveness and deferential treatment, which should not be confused with dependent personality disorder.

The 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions reported that only an estimated 0.49% of individuals have dependent personality disorder. Those that do, at least in clinical settings, are more frequently female. However, some studies contrastingly report parallel prevalence rates among males and females.

Is There Treatment for Dependent Personality Disorder DSM-5 301.6 (F60.7)?

Therapy can be tricky in these cases—long-term therapy treatment can lead to the patient’s dependency on the therapist, so the therapist must remain cautious. Still, a couple types of therapy can be used to treat individuals who suffer with dependent personality disorder:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy can help these individuals develop healthier and more accurate thinking habits. The therapist will use cognitive restructuring to change the patient’s distorted thoughts and emotions, as well as behaviors.
  • Psychodynamic therapy: Despite the long-term commitment, psychodynamic therapy is one of the most effective approaches to treating dependent personality disorder. It involves an exploration of the psyche and studying the root of the dependency problems.

Characters with Possible Dependent Personalities

Television shows and films often discuss disorders and illnesses using the world’s favorite characters. This can help those who suffer with a given disorder feel understood and not alone. Additionally, it helps the rest of the world understand better what it’s like to, say, be diagnosed with dependent personality disorder, as illustrated by the following characters:

  • Buster from Arrested Development: Buster is the socially awkward, youngest sibling in Arrested Development, but an adult nonetheless. He was severely coddled throughout his childhood, which resulted in panic attacks and a dependency on his mother. He’s a “mama’s boy” and has difficult maintaining relationships outside of this bubble, even as he grows older. Although it cannot be certain, these factors all point to a possible dependent personality disorder.
  • Cinderella: Everybody knows the classic Cinderella fairytale. The princess lives with her horrible stepfamily and tends to their every demand, cooking and cleaning her days away. While she is a hardworking young woman, Cinderella also appears to struggle with making decisions for herself, as she is dressed by her animal friends and freed only with the help of a prince and fairy godmother. The “Cinderella complex” emerged in 1981, in part due to this movie, and describes women who are motivated by an underlying desire to be taken care of due to a fear of independence. Could this explain why Cinderella stayed in such a dysfunctional situation for so long?