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Dependent Personality


Explanations > Personality > Personality Disorders > Dependent Personality

Description | Discussion | See also



The Dependent Personality occurs where a person has an ongoing need for others for both emotional and physical support from others

Noticeable symptoms may include:

  • Fear of being alone or being abandoned.
  • Avoiding taking responsibility.
  • Passive but needy in relationships.
  • Generally obedient. Difficulty in disagreeing.
  • Upset by disapproval or criticism.
  • Difficulty in decision making and independent action.
  • Seeking approval. Taking on unpleasant tasks to get this.

This is found more often in women, particularly in cultures which put them into a dependent state within the family.


We all start in a state of dependency as children. A part of growing up is becoming independent, which can be scary and difficult. In response, some people cling to the child state in some way. Even if they become financially independent, they still have a powerful need for others to look after them.

The dependent person feels that they are unable to look after themselves. In consequence they fear criticism that they feel could lead to rejection. To avoid this, they anxiously seek to please those on whom they are dependent, even to the point of doing things that are uncomfortable for them. The fear of failure and rejection also leads them to consult on all decisions.

Paradoxically, living with a dependent personality can be very tiring and lead to a breakdown. When the relationship ends, the dependent personality becomes very upset and will seek support from others whilst seeking a replacement 'carer'.

A number of stage theories emphasize the importance of successful transitioning between distinct states. A dependent person may be stuck in an earlier stage. This can happen when parents do not help them enough in transitioning or where an uncertain and possibly abusive environment has made them 'freeze' in an earlier stage.

The Dependent Personality Disorder is one of the ten DSM-IV personality disorders. Many young adults are dependent on their parents and have been increasingly so as housing and living costs have escalated. This does not automatically mean they have this disorder.

Talking therapies can be very helpful in getting people out of this state and so moving on to a more mature position.

See also

Learning Theory, Dependence principle


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