The word “dependent” is the perfect descriptive word to summarize Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD). DPDs need other people for all areas of emotional support and affirmation. Frequently, they are reliant on one particular person such as a spouse, parent, or adult child. Often, their dependence is in direct contrast to the other person who is usually very independent.
So what is DPD? Here is the technical definition according to the DSM-V:
- A pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of that leads to submissive and clinging behavior and fears of separation, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contests.
- Has difficulty making everyday decisions without an excessive amount of advice and reassurance from others.
- Needs others to assume responsibilities for most areas of his or her life.
- Has difficulty expressing disagreement with others because of fear of loss of support or approval.
- Has difficulty initiating projects or doing things on his or her own.
- Goes to excessive lengths to obtain nurturance and support from others, to the point of volunteering to do things that are unpleasant.
- Feels uncomfortable or helpless when alone because of exaggerated fears of being unable to care for himself or herself.
- Urgently seeks another relationship as a source of care and support when a close relationship ends.
- Is unrealistic preoccupied with fears of being left to take care of himself or herself.
The practical definition looks more like this:
- Indecisiveness in small and large matters
- Constantly checking to see what others would do before making any decision
- Acts passive and helpless even though they might be fully capable of handling a situation
- Oversensitivity to criticism especially from the person they are most dependent on
- Avoids disagreeing with others out of fear of losing support or approval
- Fears of abandonment are intense and pervasive
- Tolerates mistreatment and abuse especially from the person they are dependent on
- Places needs of caretakers above their own
- Naïve, often lacks common sense in relationships
DPDs are not Co-dependent and visa versa. Co-dependents are addicted to the other person needed them. They can get a “high” of sorts from knowing that the other person is dependent on them. DPDs by contrast don’t get excited by others needing them. Many DPDs are resent to any form of dependency on them even though they are dependent on others.
So how do you deal with a person who might be DPD? Here are a few suggestions:
- Because they are approval seeking, expect it even for the little things. It is almost as if they can’t make a decision without running it by another person(s). Frequent quick phone calls or text messages can reduce the frustration.
- Be reassuring with DPDs and don’t push them away. They are very sensitive to criticism and pushing away is the same thing as rejection or abandonment. Because they tend to be passive, they might not express their frustration easily, so become a good student of their body language instead.
- “You are doing the right thing” is very comforting to say to a dependent especially if they have to confront someone else or stand up for themselves.
- Since small decisions require approval, give it without anger, resentment, bitterness, sarcasm, or minimizing. This might take some practice at first, but it is worth the effort. DPDs are extremely loyal and faithful so once you have their attention, treasure it.
- If you take the time to validate their feelings, they will be on your side for life. If you minimize their feelings, they will see that as rejection.
- Give them time to make a decision. Be patient with their process.
- Don’t ever belittle them in front of others and always refrain from sarcasm when speaking with them. They are very sensitive.
Dependents are great at relationships because they are so giving and willing to put up with all kinds of nonsense. But don’t take them for granted or they will be lost for good. Instead, understand the nature of a dependent and set more realistic expectations consistent with their personality.