Sunday, December 26, 2010

Dependent personality type

This person is typified by a difficulty in making their own decisions. Difficulty initiating things. They will readily give up responsibility to others for major areas of their lives, they can lack self confidence and avoid having to rely on self.

If no one is there they will experience a strong urge to look around for and to attach to what they see as a strong authority figure and then seek for that person to make decisions for them. Hence we end up with the symbiosis diagram.

Symbiosis diagram

In this theory the dependent personality seeks to give up their Adult and Parent ego states and allow the other person to assume ’control’ of them. At the same time the other person is usually looking for some one of this dependency type so they can either control them. Or they are looking for some one they can rescue or ‘save’. The woman who seeks to save the man from prison, drugs, gambling and so forth.

At this point we need to define two different types of dependent personalities. The one diagrammed above essentially results form a lack of skills. The person lacks assertion skills, they lack practice and experience at using their Adult ego state independently or exercising their Parent ego state in the ways they can. Thus they lack confidence and a belief in self. This may happen because mother never gave the child the chance to practice such things or maybe father undermined the child’s confidence but putting him down or deriding him.


If this is the case then treatment is not too difficult. The individual is afforded the opportunity to learn assertion skills, use their own Adult ego state to change the tyre on a car, manage their money, practice setting their boundaries around others and expressing their opinions from their Parent ego state. When this happens their self confidence will usually slowly rise as well for which they get lots of positive strokes along the way.

The other dependent personality type does not result just from a lack of skills as described above. Instead it results from a disturbance in the structure of the personality. Thus one can say it is a ‘deeper’ kind of problem that is more difficult to remediate.

To explain this type we don’t use the symbiosis diagram but use the attachment diagram.

Dependent attachment

As the diagram shows this person has a poor sense of self as an individual. For some reason in childhood they did not successfully separate and in particular individuate from mother. As we know a child is born and it then develops an attachment to mother in the first two years of life. After that it uses the three separation/individuation stages of 2 yo, 4 yo and adolescence to separate and individuate from her.

The more the child separates the more it can individuate. That is discover who it is as an individual. The more it individuates the more it can then separate. The person who has successfully individuated can answer the question - Who am I? Not in the practicalities of gender, marital status and so forth, but in the feeling sense of who I am. The dependent personality will find it very difficult to answer this question.

The parents may have kept the child cocooned for some reason or children of rich parents can have this problem as well. Parents can use financial ties to make it harder for the child to leave. If a child has always been given lots of money that can at times significantly hamper the individuation process.

The person does not develop a strong sense of who they are.
Exercise: When I first moved away from my parents as a young adult what did I learn? What did I learn about me and about life?

Woman gituar

As there is an under developed individual self this person seeks to form attachments to others. Once done they assume the the identity of the other as their own and thus feel better psychologically. An example of this is the woman who says: “I don’t feel complete without a man”. She recognises that she ‘lacks’ some sense of identity and discovers that if she forms an intimate relationship with a man then that lack of identity gets filled up with his and thus she feels more complete.

This woman is then in very difficult circumstances as she will find it very difficult to leave the relationship. All people find it difficult to leave a intimate relationship with a strong attachment. But she will find it 10 times harder because her basic sense of identity is also connected with staying attached to the man. For her to leave its like psychologically having her arm ripped off.

This woman is domestic violence waiting to happen. If the man is violent he discovers that he can hit her and she wont leave. She may threaten to leave or even leave for short periods but she always comes back for the reasons I mentioned above. When asked why she moved back she may say, “He said he loved me and wont do it again”. Of course the real reason is that she finds it intolerable to loose part of her very identity or sense of self.

Smoke dancer.

The dependent personality of this type is harder to treat as it is not merely the acquisition of new skills that is required. She has to acquire a sense of herself as an individual human being which is not easy to do and will take time and money usually. However these people can end up in counselling because they will be attracted to the strong counsellor for the same reasons. In this case one can get the rapid development of strong transference feelings from the client to the therapist. The client does the same and takes on the therapists identity as her own and thus will get that sense of ‘completion’ again.

This can be a good thing in that then she can separate and individuate using the therapist as the parent figure but it takes time. On the down side this client is primed for financial exploitation by the unscrupulous therapist. Sensing her high level of dependence the therapist can propose multiple sessions per week and expensive workshops and training which she takes up because of her dependency needs as described above.



  1. Hi Tony,

    In your description, you stated, “the more the child separates the more it can individuate...the more it individuates the more it can separate.” Does this imply that a child who never attaches to any adults is not likely to have a dependent personality type?

    By the way, the smoke photo is interesting! I didn't see what it was the first time I looked.

  2. Hello KYLady,

    Yes it is a good photograph.

    Regarding attachment, humans are programmed in their very core to attach. The young child will find an attachment figure of some kind in the great majority of cases. It is very strongly driven to do this.

    If they don't then they are in serious trouble and one gets condtions like autism. Some argue that childhood schizophrenia results from the child who does not attach.

    So in answer to your question, no, without attachment the child would be psychologically devastated and thus other diagnoses would take precedence.



  3. hi Tony!

    Was going through some old 2007 posts and clicked away, finding you here. I'm delighted that you're still blogging and your subject matter is of great interest to me.

    I hope you had a lovely Christmas.

    Miss Smack

  4. That last paragraph sounds really scary Tony! Yikes!

    What did I learn after I left home? Well.. I was married and very soon had a child.

    I learned and continue to learn so much!

    We've been married 30 years now so... I guess learning never ends?

  5. Hello Ms Smack,

    Yes that was a long time ago

    Thanks for visiting and happy new year to you


  6. You didn't say what you learnt Roses.

    When you left home and became a grown up person what did you learn about yourself and life and things?


  7. I learned that life in reality is nothing like life dreamed or imagined. I have learned that to accomplish anything, the goals must be realistic and attainable. While reaching those goals, patience is my greatest friend – family must come first. If I don’t take care of myself, no one else can and if I don’t take care of myself, I may reach a point where I may be unable to care for my children.

    Money doesn’t grow on trees.

    Crying sometimes makes everything better. Being angry sometimes makes everything better. Things can be frightening but it’s important to learn between the frightening things that can hurt a person and frightening things that can help a person and frightening things that are just an adrenaline rush and nothing more.

    People can be friendly and helpful but only for their own esteem or self purposes.

    I am me. Everyone else is not me. They are their own person and have their own likes and dislikes and opinion or experiences. I may experience something with a friend. I may like the experience and they may not – two different people having two different opinions of the same thing experienced at the same time. I have learned that this is ok.

    Life is not always easy.

    The concept of love is not the same to everyone. While answering a question about love, most people will say the same words but when they are in the act of loving another person, they’re words and their actions are most often very different. I don’t think love really exists. I think it was created by someone to get people to think and behave a certain way – it doesn’t work.

    A smile is not necessarily a nice thing.

    Oh Tony! I have learned too much to write here. But I have and am learning a lot... I have learned that no matter what life presents me with... somehow, I will be ok.

    Recently I have learned that death is just a part of life. Death – something to not be frightened of. Thank you for that Tony.

  8. That is a very good answer Roses and you have indeed learned a great deal about life. If you feel these at an experiential level then it is a good sign of individuation.

    I had a little bit of a concern when you said that you left home when you were married and had a child soon. One way to individuate is to go out into the world and deal with it by yourself. One way to avoid leaving the nest of mother and father is to go straight into another nest which sometimes can be a marriage. Thus individuation can be inhibited. But it looks like you have not done this.

    Thus parens who always make sure a child is safe - financially, safety wise, etc - make it harder for the child to individuate. Sooner or later the child has to fly out of the nest and take a risk! I suppose me working in a prison was an example of me doing that and I gained more awareness of who I am as an individual.


  9. Thank you Tony. When I said that I left home and soon had a child it was the truth. As you know, I met my hubby at 15 years old and married him at 18 years old and had our first son one month later.

    Even so... I am a person - an individual too. Hubby, sons and I are all different people; though we have some similar bits, we are all people in our own right.

    It is also true that my parents were... I lived a very sheltered childhood - when we married we moved away to another town - a couple of hours up the road - I was left to raise our children while my hubby worked so hard so we could eat and stuff like that.

    When the children were of a more... they could make themselves a sandwich and use the phone and stuff like that - I too started to work. I worked nights in the kitchen of a resturant and he worked days.

    Just life Tony... I wouldn't trade my life for anyone else's.

    I just found out that tomorrow is the last day of 2010! Have a wonderful new year! I'm kinda grinning at 2011 already... Bring it on!!

  10. Oh! I get it Tony!

    I have always been an 'us'. That's different to an individual isn't it.

    You are right... I've never had to live alone. I wouldn't have the first foggiest idea how to. I still wouldn't trade my life with anyone else though. And we... hubby, son and son and I, are all very different people to each other. But there also... we are very close too.

    Is that what you're talking about?

  11. The difference between a 'dependent personality' and a 'dependent personality disorder' is somewhat subjective, which makes diagnosis sensitive to cultural influences such as gender role expectations.

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