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What personality is prone to anxiety?

Dependent Personality Disorder

Dependent personality disorder (DPD) is one of the most frequently diagnosed personality disorders. It causes feelings of helplessness, submissiveness, a need to be taken care of and for constant reassurance, and an inability to make everyday decisions without an excessive amount of advice and reassurance from others.

This personality disorder occurs equally in men and women and usually becomes apparent in young adulthood or later as important adult relationships form.

What Are the Symptoms of DPD?

People with DPD become emotionally overdependent on other people and spend great effort trying to please others. People with DPD tend to display needy, passive, and clinging behavior, and have a fear of separation. Other common characteristics of this personality disorder include:

  • Inability to make decisions, even everyday decisions like what to wear, without the advice and reassurance of others
  • Avoidance of adult responsibilities by acting passive and helpless; dependence on a spouse or friend to make decisions like where to work and live
  • Intense fear of abandonment and a sense of devastation or helplessness when relationships end; a person with DPD often moves right into another relationship when one ends.
  • Oversensitivity to criticism
  • Pessimism and lack of self-confidence, including a belief that they are unable to care for themselves
  • Avoidance of disagreeing with others for fear of losing support or approval
  • Inability to start projects or tasks because of a lack of self-confidence
  • Difficulty being alone
  • Willingness to tolerate mistreatment and abuse from others
  • Placing the needs of their caregivers above their own
  • Tendency to be naive and to fantasize

What Causes DPD?

Although the exact cause of DPD is not known, it most likely involves a combination of biological, developmental, temperamental, and psychological factors. Some researchers believe an authoritarian or overprotective parenting style can lead to the development of dependent personality traits in people who are susceptible to the disorder.

How Is DPD Diagnosed?

A diagnosis of DPD must be distinguished from borderline personality disorder, as the two share common symptoms. In borderline personality disorder, the person responds to fears of abandonment with feelings of rage and emptiness. With DPD, the person responds to the fear with submissiveness and seeks another relationship to maintain their dependency.

If most or all the (above) symptoms of DPD are present, the doctor will begin an evaluation by taking a thorough medical and psychiatric history and possibly a basic physical exam. Although there are no laboratory tests to specifically diagnose personality disorders, the doctor might use various diagnostic tests to rule out physical illness as the cause of the symptoms.

If the doctor finds no physical reason for the symptoms, they might refer the person to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other health care professional trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Psychiatrists and psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a person for a personality disorder.

How Is DPD Treated?

As is the case with many personality disorders, people with DPD generally do not seek treatment for the disorder itself. Rather, they might seek treatment when a problem in their lives — often resulting from thinking or behavior related to the disorder — becomes overwhelming, and they are no longer able to cope. People with DPD are prone to developing depression or anxiety, symptoms that might prompt the individual to seek help.

Psychotherapy (a type of counseling) is the main method of treatment for DPD. The goal of therapy is to help the person with DPD become more active and independent, and to learn to form healthy relationships. Short-term therapy with specific goals is preferred when the focus is on managing behaviors that interfere with functioning. It is often useful for the therapist and patient together to pay attention to the role of therapist in order to recognize and address ways in which the patient may form the same kind of passive reliance in the treatment relationship that happens outside of treatment. Specific strategies might include assertiveness training to help the person with DPD develop self-confidence and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help someone develop new attitudes and perspectives about themselves relative to other people and experiences. More meaningful change in someone’s personality structure usually is pursued through long-term psychoanalytic or psychodynamic psychotherapy, where early developmental experiences are examined as they may shape the formation of defense mechanisms, coping styles, and patterns of attachment and intimacy in close relationships.

Medication might be used to treat people with DPD who also suffer from related problems such as depression or anxiety. However, medication therapy in itself does not usually treat the core problems caused by personality disorders. In addition, medications should be carefully monitored, because people with DPD become dependent on them or misuse certain prescription drugs.

What Are the Complications of DPD?

People with DPD are at risk for depression, anxiety disorders, and phobias, as well as substance abuse. They are also at risk for being abused because they may find themselves willing to do virtually anything to maintain the relationship with a dominant partner or person of authority.

What Is the Outlook for People With DPD?

With psychotherapy (counseling), many people with DPD can learn how to make more independent choices in their lives.

Can DPD Be Prevented?

Although prevention of the disorder might not be possible, treatment of DPD can sometimes allow a person who is prone to this disorder to learn more productive ways of dealing with situations.

The development of personality structure is a complex process that begins from an early age. Psychotherapy aimed at modifying personality may be more successful when begun early, when the patient is highly motivated for change, and when there is a strong working relationship between the therapist and patient.

Show Sources

»Dependent Personality Disorder,» J. Christopher Perry, MPH, MD. Stern, TA. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed., 2008.

American Psychological Association.


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Written by
Sangil Kwon

Contributor to SAGE Publications’s Encyclopedia of Social Psychology (2007) whose work for that encyclopedia formed the basis of his contributions to Britannica.

Sangil Kwon ,
Nathan C. Weed

Professor, Department of Psychology, Central Michigan University. His contributions to SAGE Publications’s Encyclopedia of Social Psychology (2007) formed the basis of his contributions.

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Table of Contents
Related Topics: neurosis personality trait . (Show more)

neuroticism, in psychology and development, a broad personality trait dimension representing the degree to which a person experiences the world as distressing, threatening, and unsafe. Each individual can be positioned somewhere on this personality dimension between extreme poles: perfect emotional stability versus complete emotional chaos. Highly neurotic individuals tend to be labile (that is, subject to frequently changing emotions), anxious, tense, and withdrawn. Individuals who are low in neuroticism tend to be content, confident, and stable. The latter report fewer physical and psychological problems and less stress than do highly neurotic individuals.

Neuroticism is associated with distress and dissatisfaction. Neurotic individuals (that is, those who are high on the neuroticism dimension) tend to feel dissatisfied with themselves and their lives. They are more likely to report minor health problems and to feel general discomfort in a wide range of situations. Neurotic individuals are more prone to negative emotions (such as anxiety, depression, anger, and guilt). Empirical studies suggest that extremely high levels of neuroticism are associated with prolonged and pervasive misery in both the neurotic individuals and those close to them.


The concept of neuroticism can be traced back to ancient Greece and the Hippocratic model of four basic temperaments (choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, and melancholic, the latter most closely approximating neuroticism). In modern psychometric studies of personality and psychopathology, neuroticism tends to be identified as a first general factor (that is, the variable with the broadest power in explaining individual differences). For example, a large percentage of variability in the types of mental illness characterized as “internalizing”—such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive neurosis, phobia, and hysteria—can be explained by a general dimension of neuroticism. For this reason, neuroticism almost always appears in modern trait models of personality, though sometimes with slightly different theoretical formulations or names (such as trait anxiety, repression-sensitization, ego-resiliency, and negative emotionality). German psychologist Hans Eysenck popularized the term neuroticism in the 1950s by including it as a key scale in his popular personality inventory. Neuroticism figures prominently in the widely accepted Big Five model of personality disposition (a model that considers five factors—openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, as well as neuroticism—to produce its assessment). Neuroticism also plays roles in tests designed to measure the Big Five, such as the NEO Personality Inventory. Neuroticism is even reflected in inventories designed for clinical psychological use, such as the recently developed “Demoralization” scale on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory–2.

Growing but still limited evidence suggests that most major personality traits (including neuroticism) identified by Western psychology manifest universally. Evidence of the importance of neuroticism in individuals from diverse cultures (and who use different languages) can be found in large-scale cross-cultural studies of personality.

Biological basis

Accruing research data show persuasively that individual differences in neuroticism are substantially heritable (which means they are passed from parent to child). Heritability estimates based on twin studies generally fall in the 40–60 percent range. The remaining individual differences in neuroticism are attributed primarily to unique (nonfamilial) environmental differences; the shared familial environment appears to exert virtually no reliable influence on individual differences in neuroticism. Researchers speculate that an overreactive limbic system in the brain is associated with high levels of neuroticism, but specific neurochemical mechanisms or locations within the brain and nervous system have not yet been identified.

Costs and benefits of extreme levels of neuroticism

Highly neurotic individuals are defensive pessimists. They experience the world as unsafe and use fundamentally different strategies in dealing with distress than non-neurotic people do. They are vigilant against potential harm in their environment and constantly scan the environment for evidence of potential harm. They may withdraw from reality and engage in protective behaviors when they detect danger.

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Psychologists note that highly neurotic individuals tend to be poor problem solvers. Because of their tendency to withdraw, highly neurotic individuals tend to possess an impoverished repertoire of behavioral alternatives for addressing the demands of reality. Consequently, they tend to engage in mental role-play (rumination and fantasy) instead of constructive problem-solving behaviors. In contrast to their impoverished behavioral repertoires, however, they may possess a rich inner world. Introspective and apt to analyze their thoughts and feelings, they are highly invested in seeking the true nature of their intrapsychic experiences. Some neurotic individuals who have developed creative channels through which to tap their rich, overpopulated intrapsychic worlds, such as American filmmaker Woody Allen, have become successful artists.

Although high neuroticism is related to a deflated sense of well-being, high levels of neuroticism are not always associated with unfavorable characteristics. Neurotic behaviors may be essential for survival by facilitating safety through the inhibition of risky behaviors. Neurotic individuals tend to possess high anticipatory apprehension that may orient them to pay closer attention to contingencies previously associated with punishments. Also, the subjective discomfort (that is, anxiety) regarding violations of social convention may be greater in a neurotic individual than in others; thus, it may be less likely that a neurotic individual will become involved in some types of antisocial activity. There is some disagreement on this point, however, and some studies suggest that neuroticism may be linked to antisocial behavior. Some studies note that adolescents with extremely low neuroticism have been shown to possess a higher risk of adult criminality and to experience low levels of uncomfortable physiological arousal over violations of social conventions, whereas others suggest a positive correlation between neuroticism and some antisocial behaviors, such as substance abuse.

Keenly attuned to their inner experiences, those high in neuroticism are also attentive to their physical discomforts. Their health maintenance behaviors (that is, consultations with a physician) are more frequent than those of individuals with less neuroticism. Although their complaints regarding health are more frequent, their objectively assessed health is not poorer than those low in neuroticism. To the contrary, the results of some studies have found that their general health is often better, noting that neurotic individuals are diagnosed with cancer less frequently. Researchers hypothesize that this finding is attributable to the early detection of potentially harmful symptoms resulting from frequent health maintenance behaviors. Universal agreement on this point remains elusive, however, with other studies reporting that the linkages between personality and cancer diagnosis are inconsistent.

If You Have These 8 Personality Traits, You’re More Likely To Suffer From Anxiety

There are quite a few personality traits common among people who suffer from anxiety, as well as a few traits that can make anxiety worse. It can easily become a question of «which came first?» But when treating the underlying cause of anxiety, all that really matters is that you notice which traits are working for you — and which ones may be getting in the way of your day-to-day life.

«Many people that suffer from anxiety struggle with one or more or a combination of the traits listed [below] making it difficult to relax and acquire a feeling of balance,» Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford, CEO and Founder of Family Matters Counseling Group, tells Bustle.

Perhaps you’d describe yourself as a «perfectionist.» Or maybe you have an intense need for control. If these personality traits start interfering with your life, it can help to adjust your outlook, and seek balance through a healthier lifestyle. «However, if this does not work those that struggle with anxiety are encouraged to seek professional services to manage symptoms related or contributing to anxiety,» Dr. Bates-Duford says. Here are a few traits that often go hand-in-hand with anxiety to keep an eye on, according to the experts.



Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

«The reason [perfectionism] is associated with anxiety, is that wanting things to be perfect is usually implausible in our messy, imperfect world,» Dr. Helen Odessky, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of Stop Anxiety From Stopping You, tells Bustle. «If our expectations are perfectionism, we will often fall short and feel anxious about it.»

If you’re already prone to anxiety, wanting things to be perfect is a recipe for disaster. So if you feel like this is spiraling out of control, don’t be afraid to speak with a therapist.



Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

When we overthink, we may feel stuck, EMDR therapist Colette Lopane-Capella, M.A., LMHC, LPC, tells Bustle. And when we get stuck in a pattern of overthinking, it’s all-too-easy for it to lead to «excessive worry and stress, which can evolve to anxiety.»

That’s why, when someone is suffering from an anxiety disorder, one of the first things therapists recommend is a mindfulness practice. «Practicing mindfulness is one way to slow down all these racing thoughts and overthinking, which in [turn] can actually lower levels of heightened stress and anxiety,» Lopane-Capella says. «I often challenge my clients to stop the racing and overwhelming thoughts by keeping a journal to help ground, center, and balance all their thought and ideas.»



Hannah Burton/Bustle

Folks with anxiety may be more likely to avoid things that cause them stress, and can make their anxiety worse. But, in a rather annoying catch 22, avoiding these things can also cause anxiety.

«Avoidance is . a personality trait that can be associated with anxiety,» Dr. Odessky says. «Oddly enough, the more we avoid the more anxious we tend to feel; it becomes a vicious cycle. We try to reduce our feelings of anxiety by avoiding, but we inadvertently become more anxious the more we avoid.»

When that happens, speaking with a therapist can be helpful, as they can offer ways to face your fears, and get back out there.


Resistance To Change

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

«Being resistant to change is a personality trait commonly seen in those who have anxiety disorders,» Dr. Nicole Washington, a board-certified psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer of Elocin Psychiatric Services, PLLC, tells Bustle. Those with anxiety «may find themselves with excessive worry about what the change can mean.» Or they might feel like they’re too anxious to try anything new.

So if you spot this trait in yourself, take note. Anxiety can make it easy to «focus on the potential negative outcomes,» Dr. Washington says. But with therapy, it can be possible to see the positive side of things — and potentially feel less anxious as a result.

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