Do you recognize this story? A young girl’s mother dies, and her father quickly remarries a woman with two daughters. Soon thereafter, the young girl’s father dies. The stepmother’s evil nature is revealed, and she forces the girl to become the family’s servant. The girl complies with her stepsisters’ outlandish demands and accepts any criticism her stepmother offers. It is not until the girl’s animal friends and fairy Godmother intervene that she then is freed and goes to live with her prince charming. Most likely, you recognized the story of Cinderella. It is well-know, but what is not as well-known is that the story is an illustration of Dependent Personality Disorder. Sometimes, this disorder is often called “The Cinderella Complex” because Cinderella displays so many of its symptoms. Mental health professionals used to believe that the disorder could only develop in women, but the reality is that all people can suffer from this disorder.
Like Cinderella, people with dependent personality disorder are often overly compliant—living to please those in authority over them. They often suffer from low esteem and believe that they cannot take care of their own needs. Instead, they rely upon others for their provision, or in Cinderella’s case, for their rescue. The disorder introduces a number of difficulties into people’s lives, but it also has treatments. Several therapies and medications have proven effective for healing the wounds the disorder causes and for helping people learn to live their own, unique, independent life.
“You are constantly invited to be what you are.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Thriveworks Counseling in Westborough helped many clients who struggle with dependency. We know how Dependent Personality Disorder can steal people’s uniqueness. Fighting for who you are can be a challenge, but it is worth the effort.
Dependent Personality Disorder’s Risk Factors
Understanding how Dependent Personality Disorder develops is important because it can easily be mistaken for normal childhood development or cultural practices. For example, certain cultural emphasize passive behavior toward authority figures and deference toward caregivers. Certain actions, in isolation, can look like dependency, but given an individual’s context, cultural practices are not Dependent Personality Disorder. Similarly, it is developmentally appropriate for children and teens to depend upon their parents or guardians. This is not dependency either.
The full diagnostics are outlined in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Dependent Personality Disorder (301.6[F70.7]) raises an individual’s risk factor for other mental health problems, including other adjustment, personality, anxiety, and depressive disorders.
Dependent Personality Disorder’s Diagnostics
Dependent Personality Disorder is about behaviors, but those behaviors are fueled by beliefs. The disorder teaches people several untrue things about themselves. It teaches them that they are not capable of fulfilling their own emotional and material needs. It teaches them that they are helpless on their own. It teaches them that they need other people to meet their needs. These beliefs fuel clinginess and anxiety and self-degradation.
The DSM-5 outlines the behaviors and emotions that result from these beliefs. The main diagnostics for the disorder are:
- Behavior that is very deferential.
- A core need for someone to provide for them.
- Anxiety when disconnected from care givers.
Additionally, at least five of the following will be displayed:
- Needing excessive advice and reassurance for making any decision, even what color sweater to buy or where to eat out for lunch.
- Feeling discomfort when by oneself—going to extremes not to be alone.
- Abdicating authority of a significant portion of one’s life—handing over responsibility to a caregiver for things like paying the bills.
- Changing one’s ideas, values, preferences, beliefs, and thoughts in order to ensure nurture and support from an authority figure or caregiver.
- Experiencing a deep-seated dread of abandonment, especially by a caregiver.
- Complying easily to what an authority figure demands.
- When one caretaking relationship ends or fails, replacing it quickly with another.
It is easy to see from these symptoms how Dependent Personality Disorder can severely hinder an individual’s ability to function well in life. Personally, people who struggle with dependency struggle to form and maintain true friendships that do not evolve into a caretaking relationship. They often have social circles that are limited to their family. Professionally, it can be difficult from them to secure employment or advance in a career because they often lack confidence and do not take initiative—two important factors for professional success.
Setting Up Therapy at Thriveworks Counseling in Westborough for Dependent Personality Disorder
If you are struggling with dependency, know that you can live your own, unique, independent life. With treatment, many people who have Dependent Personality Disorder are able to heal the wounds that the disorder causes and learn just how capable they are. The path to independence is unique for each person, but for many, working with a mental health professional is an important first step. A skilled therapist can tailor a holistic and individualized plan for your particular needs.
If you are ready to meet with a mental health professional, the therapists at Thriveworks in Westborough are ready to meet with you. When you call our office, a real person will answer (not a voicemail) and help you schedule an appointment. New clients are often able to meet with their therapist the day after their first call. Weekend and evening sessions are offered. We also accept many different forms of insurance. Let’s work together. Call Thriveworks in Westborough today.