Dependent Personality Disorder: Psychological Disorders for Writers

Personality disorders are fascinating–many are comparatively rare and they all lead to some pretty unreasonable and difficult to understand behaviours…which kind of makes them ideal for writers! Personality disorders capture the extremeness that our complex mix of nature and nurture can create—encapsulating that on a page is a challenge, but also exciting. If you’re looking for an extreme character, they can be your antagonist, your protagonist’s parent (and the source of their wound) or if you’re feeling really game—your hero, personality disorders are a goldmine! No matter which character, they will lend a layer of difference and interest to your story.

It’s doing it authentically that’s the key.

Today we’re delving into Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD). DPD is characterised by a  pervasive  and excessive  need  to be  taken  care of  by others. This  leads to  submissive  and clinging behaviour  and  fears of  separation, beginning by  early  adulthood and  present  in a  variety  of contexts (imagine the anxious toddler who fears separation and you’re getting the idea). The following characteristics are what you’ll see in a person with DPD:

  1. Has difficulty  making  everyday decisions

These characters struggle to make everyday decisions without an excessive amount  of advice  and reassurance  from others (e.g.,  what  colour shirt  to  wear to  work  or whether  to  carry an  umbrella). They will tend to be submissive and let others (often a single person—generally a parent or a spouse) assume responsibility for most major areas of their lives. Adults with this disorder typically need others to decide where they  should live, what  kind of job they should have, and which neighbours to befriend. With all these challenges, it’s not surprising that individuals with DPD struggle to function in the workplace, particularly if independent initiative is required. They may avoid positions of responsibility and become anxious when faced with decisions. Adolescents  with this  disorder may allow their  parent/s to decide what they  should wear, with  whom they should associate, how they should spend their free time, and what school or college they should attend.

This need for others to assume responsibility goes beyond age-appropriate and  situation-appropriate requests for assistance from others (e.g., the specific  needs  of children, elderly persons, and persons with a disability). DPD can occur in an individual who  has a  serious  medical condition or disability (in fact, chronic physical illness can predispose a person to DPD),  but in such cases the  difficulty  in taking  responsibility  must go beyond what would normally be associated with that condition or disability.

  1. Has difficulty disagreeing with others

Because a person with DPD has a powerful need for support and care (even overprotection and dominance), they will fear the loss of supporter approval. They will often have difficulty expressing disagreement  with other individuals, particularly those  on  whom they are dependent. These individuals feel so unable to function alone that they  will  agree with  things that they feel are wrong rather than risk  alienating their carer. They don’t get appropriately angry at others whose support and nurturance they need for fear of alienating them.

This means your character will be willing to submit to what others want, even if the  demands are unreasonable. This places them at risk of abuse, as their need to maintain an important bond often results in an imbalanced relationship.  They may make  extraordinary self-sacrifices or tolerate verbal,  physical, or sexual  abuse. It’s important to note that if  the  individual’s concerns regarding expressing disagreement need to be  realistic (e.g., realistic  fears of  retribution  from an abusive  spouse – this behaviour would not be considered evidence of DPD).

  1. Has difficulty doing things on  his  or her  own

A character presenting with DPD is unlikely to do anything independently because of a deep-seated lack of self-confidence in their judgment or abilities (as opposed to  a lack  of  motivation or  energy). Individuals  with this  disorder feel uncomfortable or  helpless when  alone  because of this  exaggerated fear of  being unable to care for themselves. Your character will  wait for  others to start things because they believe  others can  ‘do  it better.’  Only if you give them the assurance that someone else is supervising or approving, are they likely to function adequately.

  1. Goes to  excessive  lengths to  obtain  nurturance and  support  from others

These characters will proactively foster their dependence and elicit caregiving due to their self-perception that they are  unable  to function  adequately  without the  help  of others  (as opposed to being unable due to age or disability). Many of us have done this one some level—pretended we were incompetent so someone else did something for us (that’s how I got my husband to make mashed potato every time we had it). People with DPD dial this up, and perceive that they are genuinely incapable. They may fear  appearing more competent, because they may believe that this will lead to abandonment. To add another layer of complexity, because they rely on others to handle  their problems, they often don’t learn the skills of independent living (thankfully, I already knew how to make mashed potato), thus  perpetuating dependency.

  1. The prospect of being alone is frightening

Individuals  with  this disorder are often preoccupied with fears of  being left to care for themselves. They  see themselves as so totally dependent on the advice and help of  someone else that they worry about being  abandoned by that person when there are no  grounds to justify such fears.

If a close relationship ends (e.g., a  breakup  with a  lover or  the death  of  a caregiver),  your character may urgently seek another relationship to  provide the care and support  they need. Their belief that they are unable to function in the  absence of a close  relationship motivates these  individuals to become quickly and indiscriminately  attached to another  individual (and yes, that is risky and yes, it does leave them vulnerable).

  1. Negative Self-Talk

Individuals with DPD are often characterized by pessimism and self-doubt; they tend  to  belittle their abilities and assets, and  may constantly refer to them­selves as ‘stupid.’ Your character will  take  criticism and  disapproval as  proof  of their worthlessness. If they are involved in an abusive or unequal relationship, then their partner is likely to reinforce these beliefs.

Told you it was interesting! Weaving a character with DPD will be a challenge, particularly if you’re looking for a reader to empathise with them (their neediness makes them highly egocentric), but also a fascinating opportunity to capture how disordered our thinking can become.

By Tamar Sloan
Source: psychwriter.com.au

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