Living with Dependent Personality Disorder: Understanding Your Loved One’s Dependence

It isn’t easy to understand the complicated, oppressive experience of living with dependent personality disorder. But the more you know about it, the more helpful and supportive you can be. Finding the right treatment options can mean a life of greater awareness, self-worth, and positive relationships for your loved one.

When you have dependent personality disorder (DPD), the desire and the seeming need to keep others in your life is the same thing that pushes them away. The desperation to be validated and valued by others’ attention and constant commitment is more than just a whim; it is a mental health disorder. The fear of rejection, of being alone, of having to rely on one’s own opinions, decisions, and validation becomes unbearable. And other people’s misunderstandings and impatience serve to amplify the symptoms of DPD.

One of the major stumbling blocks is a lack of awareness—both for the person living with dependent personality disorder and for the people in that person’s life and relationships. By definition, DPD is not a disorder that exists in a vacuum. Hence, as a family member, partner, or friend, your support is critical in your loved one’s journey toward recovery. But that’s not to say that you’re on your own. On the contrary, DPD calls for comprehensive treatment to help connect a client with their own sense of identity and their strength through compassionate strategies to manage feelings of unworthiness and anxiety.

What It's Like Living with Dependent Personality Disorder

We can all relate to the feeling of uncertainty regarding the unknown—whether starting a job, grieving the loss of a loved one, or wondering what life will be like after walking away from a relationship. The option is to move forward anyway into the unknown. But what if you didn’t move forward? What if you were trapped in the limbo of stagnancy and fear and desperation for what is familiar—even as everything changes and progresses around you? The more time, people, and events continue, the tighter you would cling to your sources of security in the eye of the storm.

For the person living with it, dependent personality disorder seems to deprive them of the option to move forward into the unknown. It would be a vast expedition of discovering and testing one’s own thoughts, opinions, and opportunities; but, as of yet, that person can see only the intense need to keep leaning on others. If that person were to step far enough away, they would fall. What they don’t yet realize is that if they fall, they’ll be okay. They’ll be able to get up again—not because of the person standing by to pull them up, but because they can summon the motivation and the strength from within.

People with DPD deny their own self-worth because they truly believe they are less than and/or because they don’t want to admit to their competence and lose the person they rely on as a result. They also deny their own emotions by rejecting any feelings or reactions that might aggravate the relationships they need so desperately to maintain. They may even put up with abuse and otherwise unhealthy relationships for fear of losing them. At the same time, any mistreatment or criticism serves to further solidify their feelings of inadequacy. It is an intensely painful and confining corner to exist in. But someone with DPD can see only the corner. Without the right help, they feel unable to turn around to see all the opportunity and self-affirming truths that open up beyond the active limits of the disorder.

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How Can You Help?

It can also be very difficult and painful living with and relating to someone who has DPD. It’s stressful to carry the weight of your own responsibilities and someone else’s. You can feel crowded by their demands on your time, energy, and reassurance. And you can also feel deprived of the mutual support and interdependence that comes from a balanced relationship.

You can take steps forward to reinforce your own needs while also developing productive support strategies for them. It’s important to know that recovery is possible, and knowledgeable therapists are ready to help shine a light on the effects of dependent personality disorder and guide that person toward self-realization in action. The more you know about how DPD works and how you can develop healthy boundaries, the more grounded you’ll feel through the challenges and the breakthroughs. Reaching out to a comprehensive treatment center is the first step to getting connected with a range of supportive experts.

The healing path for both of you will not involve you simply pulling away to encourage the other’s independence. The healing path will be to establish trust in a more productive way, especially with the support of therapists who understand dependent personality disorder and its effective treatment. As you communicate with the person with DPD in your life, keep the focus on what is progressive and on what life can be in recovery. You can reassure them that the path of treatment does not mean abandonment and deprivation; in fact, it means that people will be even more dedicated to their true needs for healing and personal fulfillment.

What Treatment Means for Your Loved One

Treatment is also unfamiliar territory for people with DPD. It’s part of the vast expanse of opportunity behind them when they want only to focus on what’s in the corner. But dedicated treatment strategies are the most nurturing opportunities available to someone with dependent personality disorder. For them, the first steps involve coming to understand how their dependency stems from disordered perception and how relying entirely on the closest people in their life is not serving their higher good.

While psychotherapy can be very challenging for people with DPD, compassionate therapists will help them progress gradually through this healing path. Psychodynamic therapy helps to shine a bright light on what the client is really experiencing and what they’ve been denying for so long. This approach, along with cognitive behavioral therapy, can help a client to redirect their reactive, overprotective, dependent behaviors in ways that integrate independence and interdependence into everyday living. Medication may or may not be helpful to treat symptoms of depression and anxiety that accompany dependent personality disorder, and residential clinicians can support clients through healthy medication management if needed.

Treatment also involves peer support groups and family participation in an empowering community setting. This environment is an ideal place for clients with DPD to practice cooperative interdependence as they give and receive support to and from others who are also committing to their own healing journeys. Treatment is much more than just a wake-up call; it is an opportunity for clients to discover all of the opportunities inside and outside of themselves while assimilating skills and coping strategies for long-lasting recovery and thriving relationships.

BrightQuest is a long-term residential treatment center for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned program and how we can help you or your loved one begin the journey toward recovery.