Loving Someone with Dependent Personality Disorder

When a person has dependent personality disorder, they are terrified of being alone. Their fear of abandonment is crippling and intense, and they may continually look to you for direction and decision making. It can be challenging to live with constant neediness and clinginess, and to figure out how to balance your loved one's needs with your own.

Dependent personality disorder (DPD) is a mental health disorder that can make it very challenging to have healthy relationships. When you love someone with this disorder, you’ll find that the person you love is very needy, clingy, and terrified of being abandoned or alone. This fear of being alone drives just about all their actions and decisions.

When a person has a personality disorder, their ways of thinking, behaving, and functioning are different from cultural expectations and can be very difficult to change. When someone’s personality deviates from what is typically expected, they have difficulty functioning and relating to others in healthy ways.

Signs and Symptoms of Dependent Personality Disorder

When you love someone with DPD, it can be hard or know what they think or feel, since they have an overwhelming desire to avoid being abandoned or rejected. They may look for direction from others regarding basic decisions like what to wear, where to work, and with whom they should associate.

Other signs and symptoms of DPD include the following:

  • They have a strong need to be taken care of
  • They will be submissive if necessary to avoid being abandoned
  • They continually seek guidance and reassurance from others
  • They are afraid to disagree with others and spend a lot of time trying to please people
  • They don’t trust their own ability to make decisions
  • They avoid being alone
  • They are devastated when relationships end
  • They are willing to tolerate abuse from others rather than experience the end of a relationship

Supporting Your Loved One

If your loved one hasn’t yet been diagnosed with DPD, but is exhibiting symptoms of being extremely clingy and unable to do things on their own, learn as much as you can about dependent personality disorder. Pay attention to your own behavior, and try to avoid taking on their responsibilities or encouraging their dependence.

Let your loved one know you are concerned. Suggest that they talk to a doctor or therapist to be evaluated and offer to go along to the first session if they want you to. Try to avoid sounding harsh or judgmental.

Treatment Options for DPD

Residential treatment may be required for a person who is experiencing severe impairment and is in danger of harming themselves or others. This treatment will include education about DPD for the patient and loved ones. This can help loved ones understand DPD and how they can be supportive. Therapy will help the patient learn new coping strategies and new ways of thinking that will help them to be more independent.

Psychotherapy can help a person with dependent personality disorder improve their self-esteem and learn to build healthier relationships. Behavioral therapy is often used to treat this condition, and assertiveness training can be an important aspect of therapy. Goals of therapy are usually clearly defined when treating DPD, because long-term therapy may lead to the person becoming overly dependent on the therapist. Treating dependent personality disorder successfully requires the person to become more self-reliant.

There are no medications that specifically treat personality disorders, but some medications may help to relieve some of the symptoms. If your loved one has co-occurring disorders such as depression or anxiety, his or her doctor may recommend medication to treat these disorders.

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Untreated Dependent Personality Disorder

If your loved one has DPD and refuses to obtain treatment, other problems may develop. Fear of being alone may lead to panic disorders or other types of anxiety disorders. If the person is alone or feels they have been rejected, they may become depressed. They may stay in a dangerously abusive relationship to avoid being alone.

Discomfort with life experiences can cause the person to turn to alcohol or other substances for relief of intense emotions. Substance use disorder can in turn lead to other problems such as arrest for driving under the influence or health complications such as liver disease.

Taking Care of Yourself

Loving someone with dependent personality disorder can be challenging and draining. When your loved one resists any efforts on your part to carve out space for yourself, it can be difficult to live with.

Whether or not your loved one has agreed to get help for dependent personality disorder, it’s important for you to get help for yourself. You may be doing too much for your loved one or unconsciously encouraging them to depend on you for all their needs.

Through therapy, both you and your loved one can learn healthier ways of relating. Recognizing and managing DPD begins with getting an accurate diagnosis, followed by making a commitment to treatment.