Dependent personality disorder is a lack of self-confidence coupled with
excessive dependence on others.
Persons affected by dependent personality disorder have a
disproportionately low level of confidence in their own
and abilities and have difficulty making decisions and undertaking
projects on their own. Their pervasive reliance on others, even for minor
or decisions, makes them exaggeratedly cooperative out of
of alienating those whose help their need. They are reluctant to express
disagreement with others and are often willing to go to abnormal lengths
to win the approval of those on whom they rely. Another common feature of
the disorder is an exaggerated fear of being left to fend for oneself.
Adolescents with dependent personality disorder rely on their parents to
make even minor decisions for them, such as what they should wear or how
they should spend their free time, as well as major ones, such as what
college they should attend or which career they should choose.
It is important to note that in other societies where cultural norms are
different, dependent and/or passive traits may be valued, particularly in
women. The criteria outlined here for dependent personality disorder is
applicable to Americans only, and even then may not apply to all cultural
groups within the United States.
Dependent personality disorder occurs equally in males and females and
usually begins by early adulthood. Overall prevalence is approximately one
to two percent of the general population. Because children and adolescents
are dependent on adults by necessity, dependent personality disorder is
very rarely diagnosed in these age groups.
Causes and symptoms
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition Text
, the American Psychiatric Association states that five of the following
criteria should be present for a diagnosis of dependent personality
Dependent personality disorder is more common in those who have suffered
from chronic illness in childhood. A child may also exhibit dependent
behavior in response to a specific stressful life event (such as the death
of a caregiver or a
). However, it should not be considered a potential symptom of dependent
personality disorder unless the behavior becomes chronic and significantly
interferes with day-to-day functioning and/or causes the child significant
It is developmentally suitable for young children to go through
"clingy" stages where overt dependent behavior on a parent
or caregiver is commonplace. However, if dependency in a child or
adolescent starts to interfere with school work, daily living, and the
child's sense of
and well-being, parents should seek professional help from their
child's doctor. If a child or teen indicates at any time that
he/she has had recent thoughts of self-injury,
, or of inflicting harm on others, professional assistance from a mental
health care provider or care facility should be sought immediately.
Older teens or young adults who have demonstrated at least five of the
criteria (or symptoms) outlined above are eligible for a diagnosis of
dependent personality disorder. In the
, the APA warns that a diagnosis of dependent personality disorder
"should be used with great caution, if at all, in children and
adolescents, for whom dependent behavior may be developmentally
appropriate." Children are dependent on parents and other adults in
their lives for support and physical and emotional
by necessity; it is only when the behaviors are excessive and age
inappropriate that a diagnosis of dependent personality disorder can be
The primary treatment for dependent personality disorder is psychotherapy,
with an emphasis on learning to cope with
, developing assertiveness, and improving decision-making skills. Group
therapy can also be helpful. In cases where parents or other adult
caregivers seem to be facilitating the behavior, therapy for them is also
Dependent personality disorder frequently occurs in tandem with other
personality-based mental illness, such as borderline, histrionic, and
. It is also believed that those diagnosed with dependent personality
disorder are at an increased risk of mood and anxiety disorders.
There is no known prevention strategy for dependent personality disorder.
However, some tactics that can promote healthy socialization and positive
self-esteem from an early age include encouraging healthy peer
relationships, investing a child with increasing levels of age-appropriate
responsibilities and independence, and offering choices to even the
Borderline personality disorder
—A mental disorder characterized by mood swings, unstable
interpersonal relationships, poor self-image, and self-destructive and
Histrionic personality disorder
—A mental disorder characterized by inappropriate
attention-seeking behavior, rapid emotional shifts, and exaggerated
expression of emotion.
—Childhood fear of leaving parents for any reason.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, text
Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Inc., 2000.
Grant, BF et al. "Prevalence, correlates, and disability of
personality disorders in the United States: results from the national
epidemiologic survey on alcohol and related conditions."
Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
65, no. 7 (July 2004): 948–58.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 3615 Wisconsin
Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20016–3007. (202) 966–7300. Web
National Institute of Mental Health. 6001 Executive Boulevard, Rm. 8184,
MSC 9663, Bethesda, MD 20892–9663. (301) 443–4513.