What Causes Dependent Personality Disorder?

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What is Dependent Personality Disorder?

Personality disorders are mental and character disorders that involve an unhealthy type of thinking which affects how one relates to self and other people. These are chronic problems that interfere with social relationships, and the sufferer may not be aware of their occurrence, so they tend to blame others for the bad things that happen in their life.

Dependent personality disorder (DPD) is one example, which is characterized by chronic anxiety, fear, dependence and submissiveness; a DPD person often wants to be taken care of and is unable to make their own decisions. They are afraid of being alone and may turn to dependence on drugs and alcohol if they don’t find support, and they can easily become depressed.

What Causes Dependent Personality Disorder?

What causes dependent personality disorder is largely unknown. However, it has been observed that it may begin in childhood and become more prominent in adulthood. Biological and developmental factors may be involved.

Biologically, personality traits may be inherited from parents who have the trait or a tendency toward such disorders. Family history thus has a role in developing personality disorders. Such genetic vulnerability may in turn be influenced by environmental factors.

Having authoritarian or overprotective parents is usually associated with dependency and inability to make independent decisions in later life. As primary caregivers, parents, grandparents and other people in charge of rearing children have a great influence in their character development. Thus, children who grow up with DPD may have experienced:

  • Intrusive and over-involved parenting styles, leading children to depend on their caregivers for decision-making, even in how they dress and what college courses to take.
  • Being rewarded for extreme loyalty and being rejected for attempting to be independent - this can lead to the development of clinging behavior and helplessness.
  • Parents who are controlling and do not express emotions or do not allow definition of roles within the family.
  • Being humiliated publicly during their developing years which can cause children to become overly sensitive to criticism and therefore they need constant reassurance.
  • Having their abilities to perform tasks doubted and questioned rather than supported and encouraged.
  • History of physical, emotional or sexual abuse which can lead to a lack of self confidence and fear of abandonment.

The usual reaction to these environmental factors is helplessness which elicits nurturing from others than can become lifelong. This childlike behavior thus permits others like spouses and co-workers to dominate them and even make decisions for them.

DPD is usually diagnosed from history and exclusion of other physical and mental disorders. Evaluation takes into account one’s age, culture and developmental limitations.


Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, “Dependent Personality Disorder” accessed 1/2/11


Cleveland Clinic, “Dependent Personality Disorder” accessed 1/2/11