Updated: Jan 12
No man is an island – we are social beings that are dependent on others to help us through life. But intensified and dependency becomes a disorder.
In this article
What is Dependent Personality Disorder?
Less than one percent of the population has been diagnosed with dependent personality disorder. Multiple studies say that women are more susceptible to the disorder, but conflicting research suggests that the prevalence is similar across the genders
Dependent personality disorder in the DSM-V
In the review of the DSM-IV, it was suggested the Dependent Personality Disorder, along with four other personality disorders, be taken out of the next edition of the guide. These disorders had proven to have low clinical utility and validity.
In a journal article, it was found that the criteria for diagnosing DPD presented in the DSM-IV were incongruent with the empirical research. 
How is dependent personality disorder different from separation anxiety disorder?
The two mental conditions can feel like the same thing. Separation anxiety disorder is defined as the fear of being away from a particular person, an environment, even a pet. 
The condition is considered a juvenile disorder, and it is rare that adults are diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder.  One critical differentiator between the two is that separation anxiety does not render a person completely helpless in making decisions for themselves.
While extensive research of the correlation between the two disorders are lacking, a study showed strong comorbidity links between the two. The study concluded that it is possible separation anxiety disorder is a result of dependent personality disorder. 
What are symptoms of dependent personality disorder?
Like other personality disorders, there are rarely any physical symptoms of dependent personality disorder. These are some observable traits that someone potentially with DPD may have:
Lack of independence
Those with dependent personality disorder find it difficult to start new tasks. Due to their wholehearted belief in their own incapability, they avoid working independently and doing anything that requires them to be held accountable. They also need supervision and constant reassurance. 
Lack of confidence
One of the key characteristics of someone with DPD is their low self-esteem. They naturally have low esteems as a result of belittling their own abilities. Any criticism will further cement the individual’s belief that they are inept. 
Extreme submissive behavior
People with DPD may end up in toxic situations that their condition refuse to let them get out of. As a result of their heavy reliance on other people, they avoid disagreements with anyone that is in charge of their welfare for the fear of that person leaving them.
Individuals with DPD are also willing to go to lengths and endure emotional and physical abuse. They refuse to be by themselves because they believe they are so incapable of taking care of themselves. 
What causes dependent personality disorder?
There is no exact cause for dependent personality disorder, and the lack of research means that there are a lot of criticism around the existing research and findings. Most journals hypothesize that the development of the personality disorder is owed to a combination of these factors:
Negative or traumatic events in one’s life might mean higher chances of developing personality disorders in adulthood. Stakes are further raised for people with high interpersonal stress but poor support systems. 
Events that happen in childhood may sometimes affect one’s behavior later as a grown adult. Journal articles cite upbringing as a possible cause of developing dependent personality disorder. Parents that were overprotective and authoritarian are more likely to create dependency because the child is unable to form any autonomy, instead, teaching them that there is always someone more powerful and capable. 
How is Dependent personality disorder diagnosed?
Physical exams are performed to see if another condition is causing the symptoms. If the individual is cleared of any physical conditions, they will be referred to a mental health professional.
The mental health professional will try to learn about the patient – how they’re feeling, the family’s mental health history, other mental health issues the individual may have and about their relationships to understand their thought processes and behavior. The responses are compared against the DSM-5 to determine if the person has DPD.
Dependent personality disorder treatments
Generally, personality disorders are difficult to treat. However, due to the inherent traits of DPD that include being in tune to someone else’s body language and being a people pleaser, it can aid in the treatment.
There have also been reports of psychotherapy going awry because the individual’s submissiveness and desire to be looked after that can test the therapist’s patience. At the other end of the spectrum, the patient may draw out the therapy because of their fear of abandonment. 
With psychodynamic therapy, it focuses on two correcting two main problems that make up the dysfunctional behavior in someone with DPD – reconditioning behavior and replacing dependency responses with autonomous and adaptive behaviors. 
In the limited case studies available, it is also highlighted that DPD patients with a more severe form of separation anxiety or very low esteem may require a supportive treatment approach. 
This strategy relies on a very close therapist-patient relationship to help build self-esteem and teach healthy coping mechanisms. It is referred as a supportive treatment approach because it mimics a parent supporting a child in order to override past traumas. 
Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT is also used to increase the patient’s confidence in themselves, especially their autonomy and self-reliance.
Just like in psychodynamic therapy, there has to be a close relationship between the therapist and patient in order for the patient to feel comfortable to interact. Once that bond is established, the therapist can then question beliefs, and help them form more adaptive behavior to face situations that may trigger dependency.  
There are no medications that directly treats personality disorders. However, medical professionals may prescribe medication to manage other comorbidities, like depression, that come with dependent personality disorder.
Where do I get help for Dependent Personality Disorder in Singapore?
Institute of Mental Health
Buangkok Green Medical Park 10 Buangkok View
$39 (subsequent visit)
$72 - $103 (subsequent visit)
National University Hospital
5 Lower Kent Ridge Road
$36 - $51 (subsequent visit)
$109.14 - $145.52
$89.88 - $108.07 (subsequent visit)
Please contact clinic for costs and financial advisory
Please contact clinic for costs and financial advisory
How does dependent personality disorder affect daily life?
Dependent Personality Disorder may affect interpersonal relationships. People around an individual with DPD may be uncomfortable with the burden of having someone so heavily reliant on them.
People suffering from DPD are very prone to comorbidities, one of which is substance abuse. Those who cannot access help may turn to alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms.
Culture and Dependent Personality Disorder
Several social psychology studies have observed the correlation between collectivist communities and dependent traits.
In the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, an article asked for the professional community of mental health to relook its criteria for dependent personality disorder in the DSM.
They argued the need to take into context the context of environment and culture that an individual is brought up, especially in East Asian philosophies like Confucianism prize submission and dependency over the unreserved expression of one’s individualism. 
Another study comparing students from Boston and Istanbul found this to be more applicable to people on either extreme of the individualist-collectivist spectrum. 
What happens if you don’t get help for dependent personality disorder?
Left alone, the mental wellbeing of someone with DPD can significantly deteriorate.
DPD is known for its high comorbidity rate. Someone with dependent personality disorder may develop a myriad of anxiety disorders, mood disorders, other personality disorders as well as alcoholism and substance addiction. Depression is also a known comorbidity of DPD patients but its likelihood is lower. 
Without help, persons with DPD are also likely to stay in abusive and dangerous relationships. They may also be coerced into performing dangerous acts to appease someone they rely on.
How is dependent personality disorder and codependency different?
Codependency is derived from the term “co-alcoholic” that was used to refer to the relatives or spouses of alcoholics. Codependency suggests that both parties are dependent on each other. 
The main difference between codependency and dependent personality disorder is the range of people it affects. A codependent person focuses their attention on one person while someone with DPD tend to feel the need to be taken care of regardless of the person in contact.
Dependent personality disorder tests
Different psychology centers do offer online tests that people can take to get a sense of whether or not they have DPD. Here are a couple tests to see if you have symptoms of dependent personality disorder:
3-minute Dependent Personality Disorder test by Individual Differences Research Labs
The Depedent Personality Disorder test by Barends Psychology Practice
If you have symptoms of DPD, please consult a medical professional. These tests are in no way proper diagnoses.
Dependent Personality Disorder is a potentially life-threatening disorder. Not only does it affect the individual, but a lot of other people around them can also feel burdened and uncomfortable.
Though the research for DPD is lacking and what we currently know can be conflicting, consult a medical professional if you or anyone around you present these symptoms. The disorder may not be present but everyone deserves a better quality of life.
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About Our Writer
Rachel is an anxious INFJ with a slightly concerning obsession with coffee and true crime. She loves feeling smart and dislikes playing games she knows she will lose. Learning about mental health is her way of helping people around her. IF the world was perfect, she wishes she could bring her friends flowers in a little red wagon.
This editorial section solely expresses the opinion of frankie and is not endorsed nor commissioned by any external party. The list is non-exhaustive. At frankie, we believe that your best provider of medical advice is your doctor. Please consult a doctor before undergoing any treatment or procedure.
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