Dependent Personality Disorder: Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, we look at dependent personality disorder. Learn how to differentiate this disorder from other personality disorders, the key identifying symptoms, and the most effective treatment options.

Beyond Clingy

You may have heard friends complain about a friend or significant other who was extremely 'clingy.' Perhaps even you have experiences with people who attached themselves to you and just wouldn't give you space. Well, there is a chance that person had dependent personality disorder. It really depends on the degree of clinginess, the cause, how long they were clingy, and how it affected the rest of their behavior. However, we should remember that only a mental health professional should diagnose psychological disorders, as they are trained to look at all the underlying details that we might not think about or notice.

People with dependent personality disorder are sometimes called clingy by others.
clingy kitten

Definition and Symptoms

Dependent personality disorder is a pattern of thoughts and behaviors defined by an extreme reliance on other people for physical and emotional need fulfillment. It usually develops by early adulthood. People with this disorder adopt behaviors of helplessness and inability in order to get others to care for them. Often, they are submissive, allowing others to make decisions for them ranging from clothing to career choices. They avoid disagreement for fear of losing the emotional and physical support, thus subjugating their will to others.

At the core of it, these people do not believe they are capable of functioning properly without the care and support of others. People with dependent personality disorder avoid (and even fear) being alone, especially when they will be required to care for themselves. If a relationship ends, causing them to lose a caregiver, they usually latch onto a new person as soon as possible.

People with dependent personality disorder fear being alone or abandoned.

For easier reference, we will list the key symptoms below:

  • Avoid being alone / fear being alone
  • Extremely passive as evidenced by difficulty expressing disagreement and willingness to endure abuse
  • Low self-esteem and extremely hurt by criticism or rejection
  • Unable or unwilling to take personal responsibility for making decisions or meeting life's demands
  • Experience a preoccupying fear of abandonment, leading to enduring extreme situations to retain or replace a caregiver


Mental health professionals are still unsure what causes dependent personality disorder, but they have identified a number of issues and conditions that may predispose someone to develop the disorder. While less than 0.5% of the population experiences this disorder, it is much more common in women than in men. This either means there is a sex-linked genetic component or a cultural factor involving attitudes toward sex, gender, and gender roles.

Additionally, those with chronic illness during childhood or those who experienced extreme separation anxiety in childhood are especially likely to exhibit the disorder in adulthood. They may be predisposed to anxiety disorders and depression, developing low self-esteem as a type of gateway to developing dependent personality disorder.

Finally, there is some correlation between the disorder and being raised in an overly controlling environment. Ultimately, much more research is needed to understand the disorder. But from the contributing factors, we can tell it is influenced by a number of biological and environmental factors.

Treatments Options

The primary form of treatment for dependent personality disorder is psychotherapy, also called talk therapy. The most effective form is cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps the patient identify harmful thought and behavior patterns followed by efforts to change those patterns or modify them to less harmful manifestations.

The most effective treatment for dependent personality disorder is psychotherapy.
therapy couch

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