People with dependent personality disorder have a pervasive, excessive need to be taken care of
- As a result, they are clinging and obedient, fearing separation from their loved ones
- They rely on others so much that they cannot make the smallest decision for themselves
- The central feature of the disorder is a difficulty with separation
Many people with this disorder feel distressed, lonely, and sad
- Often they dislike themselves
- They are at risk for depression, anxiety, and eating disorders and may be especially prone to suicidal thoughts
- Studies suggest that over 2% of the population experience the disorder
- Research suggests that men and women are affected equally
How Do Theorists Explain Dependent Personality Disorder?
Psychodynamic explanations for dependent personality disorder are very similar to those for depression
- Freudian theorists argue that unresolved conflicts during the oral stage of development can give rise to a lifelong need for nurturance
- Object-relations theorists say that early parental loss or rejection may prevent normal experiences of attachment and separation, leaving some children with lingering fears of abandonment
- Other theorists argue that parents were overinvolved and overprotective, increasing their children’s dependency
Behaviorists propose that parents of those with dependent personality disorder unintentionally rewarded their children’s clinging and “loyal” behavior while punishing acts of independence
- Alternatively, some parents’ own dependent behaviors may have served as models for their children
Cognitive theorists identify two maladaptive attitudes as helping to produce and maintain this disorder:
- “I am inadequate and helpless to deal with the world”
- “I must find a person to provide protection so I can cope”
- Such thinking prevents sufferers of the disorder from making efforts to be autonomous
Treatments for Dependent Personality Disorder
In therapy, people with this disorder usually place all responsibility for their treatment and well-being on the clinician
- A key task is to help patients accept responsibility for themselves
- Couple or family therapy can be helpful; both are often recommended
Treatment can be at least modestly helpful
- Psychodynamic therapy focuses on many of the same issues as therapy for people with depression
- Cognitive-behavioral therapists try to help clients challenge and change their assumptions of incompetence and helplessness and provide assertiveness training
- Antidepressant drug therapy has been helpful for those whose disorder is accompanied by depression
- Group therapy can be helpful because it provides clients an opportunity to receive support from a number of peers and because group members may serve as models for one another
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