Dependent personality disorder (DPD): Signs, symptoms, treatment, and more

Personality disorders are characterized by problematic thought and behavioral patterns. Sometimes, these thoughts and behaviors appear odd or eccentric – at others, they’re dramatic and unpredictable. But with dependent personality disorder, and other cluster C personality disorders, they’re rooted in anxiety and fear. 

Let’s learn more about what dependent personality disorder is, what signs and symptoms look like, and — perhaps most importantly — what effective treatment looks like.

What Is Dependent Personality Disorder?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), dependent personality disorder (DPD) is “a pattern of submissive and clinging behavior related to an excessive need to be taken care of.” 

This need and the subsequent behaviors are driven by the individual’s belief that he or she cannot take care of themselves sufficiently without help. Individuals who suffer from dependent personality disorder underestimate their abilities, have trouble making everyday decisions on their own, and seek out constant nurturing.

This disorder begins to develop 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.

What Are the 3 Types of Personality Disorders?

There are three types (or clusters) of personality disorders: cluster A, B, and C, with dependent personality disorder falling into Cluster C.

Cluster A personality disorders are characterized by odd or eccentric thoughts and behaviors. Under this umbrella, you’ll find schizoid personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder.

Cluster B personality disorders are characterized by overly emotional and/or unpredictable thoughts and behaviors. As such, antisocial personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder are categorized here. 

Cluster C personality disorders are characterized by anxious thoughts and behaviors. This type of personality disorder consists of dependent personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. 

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Dependent Personality Disorder?

Again, the main characteristic is submissive and clinging behavioral patterns, related to an excessive need to be taken care of. In addition, dependent personality disorder signs and symptoms include: 

  • 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 their life.
  • The individual has a difficult time disagreeing with others due to their fear of abandonment and subsequent loss of support.
  • The individual has trouble doing anything on their own, due to a lack of self-confidence in their capabilities.
  • The individual does whatever it takes to receive support and nurturance from others.
  • The individual feels uncomfortable alone because they have an exaggerated fear of the inability to take care of themselves.
  • When a close relationship ends, the individual urgently searches for another to provide that care and support.
  • The individual unrealistically fears being abandoned to care for themselves.

Symptoms of DPD can vary from person to person – one might display all of the above, while another might experience just five or so.

How to Tell the Difference Between Anxiety and Dependent Personality Disorder

Anxiety disorders and dependent personality disorder are not the same. Instead, anxiety and fear are features of dependent personality disorder. People with DPD fear being unable to take care of themselves as well as being abandoned by their loved ones and thus left to care for themselves.

In addition, those with dependent personality disorder are at an increased risk of developing anxiety, as well as other mental health conditions like depression and different types of personality disorders.

Who Is Most Affected by Dependent Personality Disorder?

Dependent personality disorder is diagnosed more often in women than men. Overall, though, it is diagnosed in only 0.49% of the total US population, according to the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. In addition, those with a family history of DPD are more likely to develop it. 

As previously mentioned, it’s important that age is considered when assessing whether or not an individual has dependent personality disorder. Further, cultural factors should be considered, too. 

A diagnosis should only be made if the dependent behaviors or fears are clearly excessive compared to one’s age and/or cultural norms. In the latter case, different societies may foster passiveness and deferential treatment, which should not be confused with dependent personality disorder.

Does Dependent Personality Disorder Get Worse with Age?

Dependent personality disorder and other personality disorders can worsen with age — however, with effective treatment, dependent personality disorder can get better over time instead.

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Dependent Personality Disorder Treatment

Living with dependent personality disorder can be incredibly challenging until the individual seeks professional help. Therapy is the primary form of treatment, the main goals being for the client to gain more independence and foster healthier relationships. It is very important, however, that the therapist and client pay special attention to their own relationship — as the individual might develop dependence and reliance on their therapist, like they do with others. 

While there aren’t any medications used specifically to treat dependent personality disorder, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication can sometimes help one manage their symptoms. In addition, these medications may be prescribed if the individual is also dealing with a co-occurring condition like depression or anxiety (remember: Those with dependent personality disorder often do). 

As with any mental health condition, the first step in receiving proper treatment is recognizing that you might have a problem. If you’re experiencing symptoms of dependent personality disorder, talk to a medical professional. You can start with your primary care physician who can put you in touch with a mental health professional, or you can schedule with a mental health professional directly. 

If, on the other hand, you think that someone close to you has dependent personality disorder, find an appropriate time and place to broach the subject. Then, talk carefully, calmly, and compassionately with them about your concerns. Instead of saying that you think they may have a personality disorder, simply share the behaviors that you’re worried about. And if they are receptive, encourage them to talk to a professional. 

Table of contents

What Is Dependent Personality Disorder?

What Are the 3 Types of Personality Disorders?

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Dependent Personality Disorder?

How to Tell the Difference Between Anxiety and Dependent Personality Disorder

Who Is Most Affected by Dependent Personality Disorder?

Dependent Personality Disorder Treatment

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  • Clinical reviewer
  • Writer
  • Update history
Laura Harris, LCMHC in Durham, NC

Laura Harris, LCMHC

Laura Harris is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC). She specializes in anger, anxiety, depression, stress management, coping strategies development, and problem-solving skills.

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Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett is the Head of Content at Thriveworks. She received her BA in multimedia journalism with minors in professional writing and leadership from Virginia Tech. She is a co-author of “Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book.”

We update our content on a regular basis to ensure it reflects the most up-to-date, relevant, and valuable information. When we make a significant change, we summarize the updates and list the date on which they occurred. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  • Originally published on August 12, 2017

    Author: Taylor Bennett

  • Updated on October 28, 2022

    Author: Taylor Bennett

    Reviewer: Laura Harris, LCMHC

    Changes: Removed “Characters with Dependent Personality Disorder” section; added sections “What Are the 3 Types of Personality Disorders?”, “How to Tell the Difference Between Anxiety and Dependent Personality Disorder”, “Who Is Most Affected by Dependent Personality Disorder?”, and “Does Dependent Personality Disorder Worsen with Age?”; clinically reviewed to confirm accuracy and enhance value.

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