Understanding Dependent Personality Trait

By: Christine Hammond, LMHC

The word “dependent” is the perfect descriptive word to summarize the personality trait.  Dependents are dependent on others for all areas of emotional support and affirmation and are usually dependent on one person in particular such as a spouse or parent.  Often their dependence is in direct contrast to the person they are dependent on who is very much independent.  Dependents as a general rule of thumb don’t like others to be dependent on them but are comfortable being dependent on others.

So what is Dependent?  Well, according to the new DSM-V, dependent is no longer a personality disorder in and of itself rather it is now classified under Personality Disorder Trait Specified (PDTS).  This means that there was not enough research to properly classify dependents as having a named personality disorder but there is evidence enough that it does exist.  So the traits of dependent are still classifiable and qualify as a PDTS.  Here is the technical definition based on the new classification:

·         Submissiveness

·         Anxiousness

·         Separation insecurity – fear of loss

The practical definition looks more like this:

·         Indecisiveness

·         Acts passive and helpless

·         Oversensitivity to criticism

·         Avoids disagreeing with others

·         Tolerates mistreatment and abuse

·         Places needs of caregivers above own

·         Naive

Dependents are different from co-dependents in that the other person is not dependent on them.  Remember the TV show “Friends”?  Ross from that show did an excellent job as a dependent.  More importantly was the relationship between him and Rachel and how she was not nearly as dependent on him as he was on her which made for many humorous scenes.  This is classic dependent personality trait.

So how do you deal with a person who might be dependent?  Here are a few suggestions:

·         Because they seek approval, expect they will try to seek your approval even for the little things.  It is almost as if they can’t make a decision without running it by you, even small decisions.

·         Be reassuring with a dependent and don’t push them away.  They are very sensitive to criticism and pushing away is the same thing as rejection.

·         “You are doing the right thing” is very comforting to say to a dependent especially if they have to confront someone else or stand up for themselves.

·         Even small decisions require your approval, so give it without anger, resentment, bitterness, sarcasm, or minimizing.

·         If you take the time to validate their feelings then they will be on your side for life.  If you minimize their feelings, they will see that as rejection.

·         Don’t ever belittle them in front of others and always refrain from sarcasm when speaking with them.

Dependents are great at relationships because they are so giving and willing to put up with all kinds of nonsense.  But don’t take them for granted or you could lose them for good.  Understanding the nature of a dependent and not having unrealistic expectations will help your relationship to greatly improve as most dependents make friends for life.

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