Can Dependent Personality Disorder Be Prevented?

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Can Dependent Personality Disorder Be Prevented?

Dependent personality disorder (DPD) is a disorder that causes a person to be dependent on others. A person with DPD often has an intense fear of abandonment. DPD causes a person to be ‘clingy’ or ‘needy’, and struggle with feeling secure in a relationship. Considering the insecurities that come with DPD relationships are often strained.

It is unclear why people develop DPD. Researchers and mental health professionals have struggled to find predisposing factors for DPD. Patients with DPD do not seem to have a pattern of behavior or circumstances that contribute to the development of DPD. The only correlations that have been found with DPD are:

Separation anxiety

Many people who have DPD struggled with separation anxiety as children. Separation anxiety is when a child experiences distress when left without a parent nearby. In such a case a child will become afraid and act out until the parent returns. Many adults with DPD have suffered from separation anxiety as children.

Chronic illness

Many people with DPD also suffer from chronic illness. This is not surprising to hear, considering many people with chronic illness rely heavily on the support of others. A person with DPD and chronic illness may suffer from feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, as he or she cannot take care of himself or herself. This will affect a person’s sense of self-esteem and self-worth as he or she is not able to perform many tasks as a result of his or her illness. This often results in dependent personality and a fear of abandonment. A person with chronic illness and DPD may believe he or she cannot survive without the support of another person.

Because it is unclear how people develop DPD there is no definitive way to prevent onset. What we do know about DPD are the major symptoms:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear of abandonment

In knowing this it is possible to develop a plan to reduce the symptoms and onset of DPD. A person is diagnosed with DPD in adulthood, but the symptoms listed above can begin to show in childhood and adolescence. The best way to prevent or reduce the symptoms of DPD is to target these symptoms and learn adaptive coping strategies.

To combat low self-esteem, begin with reinforcement and self-esteem building exercises. These exercises can be effective for both children and adults. To build self-esteem, encourage and reinforce independent behaviors and growth. The goal is to have the patient be able to identify his or her positive qualities and abilities on their own. This will build confidence and autonomy.

Helping a person build confidence and a better sense of self-esteem will reduce the fear of abandonment. If a person believes he or she will be able to take care of himself or herself, he or she is less likely to be dependent on others. The goal will be to build trust in ‘the self’, so the patient feels secure in his or her ability to stay well despite the actions of others.

DPD is a difficult disorder to understand and cope with. While the causes of DPD are unknown, the problematic behaviors associated with the disorder are clear. Focusing energy in building confidence and self-esteem will reduce ‘neediness’. If a person feels he or she can depend on himself or herself, there is no need to feel dependent on others.


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