If you find yourself needing reassurance and advice when making decisions other people might consider minor, you may have dependent personality disorder (DPD).

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Do you feel helpless or submissive to a partner, friend, or family member? Do you find it extremely difficult to make many everyday decisions alone?

If the answer is yes, then you may be experiencing dependent personality disorder (DPD).

Factors that can contribute to DPD include childhood trauma and a history of abusive relationships. Experts believe the condition is caused by a combination of your development, environment, and genes.

However, DPD can look very different from person to person. Your own experience is unique and valid.

It’s important to seek diagnosis and treatment if you think you have DPD. The condition is also associated with other mental health conditions.

If you have DPD, you may find yourself:

  • feeling incapable of making everyday decisions
  • avoiding personal responsibility
  • disliking alone time
  • fearing abandonment
  • being oversensitive to criticism
  • having a pessimistic attitude and lack of self-confidence

Try to remember that these are symptoms of DPD, but they’re not unchangeable parts of your personality. DPD is a mental health condition you may experience — it doesn’t define who you are.

To date, there aren’t defined subtypes of DPD, though some researchers have suggested that subtypes may exist and more research is needed.

The condition can look very different from one person to the next. Your experience with DPD may not be the same as that of others.

Causes

Mental health experts haven’t totally figured out and agreed upon what causes DPD. It may be that there isn’t one clear-cut answer, but instead a variety of potential factors that play a role in DPD, including your:

  • genes
  • environment
  • development

Here are some specific factors that may contribute:

  • Abusive relationships. People who have a history of abusive relationships have a higher likelihood of receiving a DPD diagnosis.
  • Childhood trauma. Experiencing abuse during childhood, including verbal abuse or neglect, may contribute to DPD. It may also affect you if you experienced a life-threatening illness during childhood.
  • Family history. If you have a family member who has DPD or another anxiety disorder, you may be more likely to have a DPD diagnosis.

By digging deeper into your own background, you may better understand DPD in your own life, and it may help you share your experiences with others who can help.

Trying to understand yourself by identifying potential causes and symptoms can help a clinician or psychiatrist give you an accurate diagnosis. Seeing a professional is the best way to find out if you have DPD.

Here’s what you need to know about how mental health professionals diagnose DPD, and the complications that might arise with the condition.

How is DPD diagnosed?

DPD can be difficult to diagnose. The reason for this is because there’s often more than one mental health condition present, according to research.

Other times, it may be because there are overlapping symptoms between different personality disorders.

Here are the typical steps to getting a DPD diagnosis.

You will first want to see your primary care doctor so they can do a physical exam. This is an important step in the diagnostic process because your doctor will be able to assess whether a physical health condition is causing DPD-like symptoms.

Once a doctor evaluates you and decides there’s no physical condition at play, a mental healthcare professional may make a diagnosis.

For a diagnosis of DPD, a doctor will need to see at least five of the criteria for the condition established in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5):

  • having a strong, real fear of being abandoned
  • feeling anxious or helpless when you’re alone
  • feeling unable to manage life responsibilities without other people helping you
  • worrying about having an opinion because you’re afraid you’ll lose support or approval
  • having a strong drive to get support from others, and possibly doing unenjoyable things to get it
  • having trouble making everyday decisions without input or reassurance from others
  • having trouble starting or finishing tasks because of a lack of self-confidence or difficulty making decisions
  • having an urge to seek a new relationship to provide support and approval when a different close relationship ends

Complications of living with DPD

Aside from just the symptoms of DPD in and of themselves, untreated DPD can also be associated with complications like:

Early treatment may help prevent some of these complications.

If you have DPD and haven’t received treatment, you may face some challenges in day-to-day life. You may feel like you need reassurance and advice when making ordinary decisions. For example, you might feel a strong need to ask someone close to you to recommend what you should wear or what kind of employment you should look for.

You also may find yourself belittling your own abilities. You may have a tendency to interpret any criticism or disapproval from others as evidence of your incompetence.

In some cases, you may agree to demands that harm you. For example, you may tolerate physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

Ultimately, depending on others to this extent causes emotional distress and might cause you to engage in behavior that you otherwise wouldn’t.

There’s no “cure” for DPD, but don’t lose hope — there is help, and you can get better.

If you have DPD, the right treatment can help you live a rewarding and emotionally healthy life.

Treatment

Talk therapy is considered to be the most effective treatment for DPD.

The aim is to help you make more independent choices in your life.

Psychodynamic psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are two types of talk therapy that may help with DPD. They can help you examine the fear of independence and difficulties with assertiveness that you may feel.

Medication may also help treat other mental health conditions that can occur along with DPD, such as anxiety or depression.

There’s little evidence that medication is an effective means to treat DPD itself, though certain antidepressants may help in some cases, according to experts.

It’s important to know that DPD does sometimes co-occur with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Of the two conditions, BPD is slightly more common because it affects around 1.4% of the population while DPD affects a little less than 1%.

BPD and DPD also cause overlapping symptoms, including:

  • feeling lonely
  • avoiding responsibility
  • having difficulty maintaining relationships

While they may cause some of the same symptoms, there are also key differences between BPD and DPD.

One of which is that people with BPD may not be willing to let another person have significant control over them, while someone with DPD would. People with BPD may fluctuate between feelings of submissiveness and extreme hostility, while people with DPD don’t experience this hostility.

Additionally, people with BPD may tend to fluctuate between overvaluing and devaluing the people in their lives.

If you feel that you’re experiencing DPD or another personality disorder, consider seeking a medical diagnosis. Seeing your primary care doctor first may help because they can help make sure the symptoms you’re experiencing aren’t due to other factors.

The sooner you receive treatment for DPD, the less likely you are to develop other mental health conditions. This is why it’s important to try to respond to your own experience and look for professional help.

The treatment process and coping strategies you may develop won’t be the same for everyone, and that’s OK. Your journey in recognizing, addressing, and managing DPD will be your own.

Support and other resources are available to you. Speaking with a mental health professional and hearing other people’s stories and experiences in a support group can be very helpful. Whatever helps you is what’s right for you. Consider exploring the options below.