Here is a story most people will recognize: A young girl’s mother passes unexpectedly, and her father quickly remarries a widower with two young daughters. Upon the father’s untimely death, the young girl’s stepmother and stepsisters reveal their true nature. They force the young girl to become their servant, and she complies with their whims and demands. The young girl begins to lose her own identity and stops exerting her own will. Outsiders—her animal friends and fairy godmother—come to her rescue, and eventually, she meets her prince charming. Cinderella is such a well-known story that it is hard to disguise it, but what people may not know is that Cinderella is also a story that illustrates a serious mental disorder: Dependent Personality Disorder. Sometimes, this disorder is even called “The Cinderella Complex” because it was initially thought to be a disorder for women who fear being independent. However, men and women can suffer from Dependent Personality Disorder.
The main characteristics of the disorder are low self-esteem, a deep desire to please, and a need to be cared for (or rescued). Dependent Personality Disorder can introduce many personal and professional challenges into an individual’s life, but there are also treatment options available for it. People can learn how to live their own, unique life. Skilled therapists often formulate a unique treatment plan that can teach people with the disorder how to be self-reliant and secure in their individuality.
“Every human has four endowments—self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom…
The power to choose, to respond, to change.”
The mental health professionals at Thriveworks Grand Rapids have experience working with clients who struggle with dependency and may have Dependent Personality Disorder. We know the resources that are available for healing, and we want our clients to live their own, unique, independent lives.
The Development of Dependent Personality Disorder
Diagnosing dependency can be tricky because some cultural practices or developmental stages look like Dependent Personality Disorder. Certain cultures emphasize deferential treatment toward caretakers and authority figures that, in isolation, can look like symptoms of the disorder. However, with the broader cultural context, it is clear these respectful behaviors are not a disorder. Similarly, it is developmentally appropriate for children and teens to depend upon their parents as caretakers. Again, these behaviors are appropriate.
Often, Dependent Personality Disorder is not diagnosed until adulthood because of these factors. When people have the disorder, it can become clear as they mature. They often do not make the transition from adolescence into an independent adulthood. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) outlines further symptoms that keep people from becoming self-sufficient and self-reliant.
Dependent Personality Disorder’s Symptoms
Dependent Personality Disorder teaches people a number of untrue things, and two of the most toxic are different sides of the same coin. First, the disorder leads people to believe that they are helpless and cannot fulfill their own material and emotional needs. Second, the disorder leads people to believe that another person must meet those needs. Because of these beliefs, people often have difficult with mutual, reciprocal friendships. They may be clingy or experience separation anxiety within their relationships. People with the disorder are often overly submissive, and they become their own worst critics by emphasizing their fault which ignoring their strengths.
Three significant symptoms of Dependent Personality Disorder (301.6[F70.7]) are:
- Anxiety when separated from care givers.
- Behavior that is overly deferential.
- A core need for someone to care for them.
At least five of the following signs will also be present:
- Being uneasy and uncomfortable with one’s own uniqueness, independency, and individuality.
- Seeking advice guidance and encouragement for making everyday decisions.
- Abdicating significant areas of one’s life in favor of an authority figure or caregiver taking over responsibility.
- Feeling acute fear of abandonment by an authority figure or caregiver.
- Complying with what others think and feel in an extreme way and often, to ensure their care.
- Replacing a caretaking relationship that has ended quickly with another authority figure.
- Establishing relationships that do not remain mutual but escalate into dependence.
- Minimizing one’s opinions, feelings, thoughts, perspectives, and preferences in order to please others.
These symptoms cause a number of troubles in people’s personal and professional lives. Because people with the disorder rarely take initiative and often lack confidence, they often have trouble securing and staying in a job. The disorder raises people’s risk of other mental health problems like anxiety, adjustment, personality, and depression disorders. They often have small social circles, limiting their social interactions to their family.
Scheduling Counseling at Thriveworks Grand Rapids for Dependent Personality Disorder
“You are constantly invited to be what you are.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
People are supposed to be free, unique, and responsible for their own lives. Interdependence is healthy, but dependence is not. If you are struggling with dependence, know that help is available. Many options for treatments are available, and the mental health professionals at Thriveworks Grand Rapids have worked with many people to find the right treatment for them.
If you are ready to see a therapist, we are ready for you. When you call our office, your first appointment may be within 24 hours. We do not put our clients on a waitlist, but weekend and evening sessions are available. We also accept many forms of insurance. Call Thriveworks Grand Rapids today.