People with Dependent Personality Disorder have 2 basic characteristics. First, they passively allow other people to make all the important decisions in their lives, because they lack confidence & feel that they are unable to function independently. Second, to ensure that they will not lose this dependent position, such people subordinate their own needs to to the needs & demands of others. Dependent personalities fear separation & have an excessive need to be taken care of. That's why they are submissive & clinging.
Dependent individuals feel that they must act meek and obedient in order to hold on to other people. They also behave affectionately & admiringly towards their protectors. In many cases, this behavior functions as coping technique. The dominant partner will then feel useful, strong, and competent & will want to encourage the relationship. Sometimes, however, things go wrong. The dominant individual may tire of the constant need to demonstrate affection & support, and may behave abusively or seek to get rid of leech like attachment of the dependent partner.
The causes of dependent personality disorders are unclear. Kne suggestion is that the dependent individuals had overprotective parents who made life so easy for them as children that they never learnt coping skills. Other theories have suggested that dependent children were insecurely attached to their mothers or other caregivers, or did not have a close & trustworthy relationships with others during childhood. So far, both of these ideas are interesting but untested hypothesis. Although there have been a number of discussions of this disorder as a clinical problem, much needed empirical information has been lacking.
One study examined a large sample of hospitalized individuals with this diagnosis in order to obtain basic data about their background & comorbidity. The majority were women over 40 years of age, much older than patients with other personality disorders. In addition, the dependent patients were more likely to have Axis I diagnoses in the area of depression than those with other personality disordrs. Further research will be needed to determine if this picture also applies to outpatients. Working with clients who have dependent personality disorders can be rewarding to the therapists when they develop ability to function independently, but reaching that point can be difficult & frustrating.