Variations of the Dependent Personality

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In addition to the more prototypal cases described in this chapter, there are several variations of the dependent that express its combination with other personalities. Figure 8.1 provides a summary of these subtypes. Actual cases may or may not fall into one of these combinations.

The Disquieted Dependent

A mixture of both the dependent and avoidant patterns, the disquieted dependent is often found in an extreme form in institutional settings that minister to chronic ambulatory patients. Most live a parasitic existence sustained by institutional rewards and requirements. Whereas all dependents are submissive and self-effacing, relying on others for guidance and security, disquieted dependents possess an underlying apprehensive-ness that overlies a lack of initiative and an anxious avoidance of autonomy. They seem easily disconcerted and experience a general sense of dread and foreboding. They are particularly vulnerable to separation anxiety and greatly fear loss of support and nurtur-ance. Unlike most dependents, disquieted dependents sometimes express these fears

Dependent Personality Disorder
FIGURE 8.1 Variants of the Dependent Personality.

through outbursts of anger directed at those who fail to appreciate their needs for security and safety.

Because the disquieted dependent is usually sustained by some institutional or environmental structure, they have acquired a pattern of withdrawing from social encounters. Loneliness and isolation are commonly experienced. Although such individuals attempt to be pleasant and agreeable like other dependents, they experience underlying tension, sadness, and guilt. On the surface, they appear quiet and affable in the face of difficulties, but underneath they may be overwhelmed by fears of abandonment and isolation. Complaints of weakness and tiredness may reflect an underlying depression. Having experienced continuing rebuff from others, these dependents readily succumb to physical exhaustion and illness. Under these circumstances, simple responsibilities demand more energy than can be mustered. Life is seen as empty but heavy.

The Accommodating Dependent

Accommodating dependents are more submissive, agreeable, and hungry for affection, nurturance, and security than other subtypes. Fears of abandonment lead them to be overly compliant and obliging. Some become socially gregarious and charming and seek to become the center of attention through self-dramatizing behaviors. As such, they are similar to the appeasing histrionic, described in the next chapter. Both are gracious, neighborly, benevolent, and compliant in their relationships with others, preferring to avoid conflict and seek harmony even at the expense of their internal values and beliefs. Further, both are preoccupied with external approval, so both may be left without any real inner identity, valuing themselves not for their intrinsic traits but only in terms of their relationships with others. By submerging or allying themselves with the abilities and virtues of others, they bolster themselves through an illusion of shared competence and are comforted by the belief that the bond achieved thereby is firm and unbreakable. Both evidence a naive attitude toward life's problems. Maintaining an air of pleasantry and good spirits, they deny disturbing emotions and cover inner conflicts with self-distraction. Critical thinking is not their strong point. Having had others do for them most of their lives, most areas of knowledge are underdeveloped or immature.

Unlike appeasing histrionics, however, accommodating dependents tend to be self-sacrificing and readily adopt the role of inferior or subordinate. They are sympathetic toward the needs of their partners, who almost always feel stronger and more competent as a result. They avoid self-assertion and leave responsibilities in the hands of others. In contrast, the histrionic takes a more active posture, maneuvering and manipulating life circumstances rather than passively sitting by. The self-sacrificing and inferior posture of the accommodating dependent somewhat resembles the masochistic personality, described briefly in Chapter 15. All that matters is that others like them, are pleased by them, and are willing to accept their smiles and goodwill as sufficient.

Unfortunately, most accommodating dependents are accommodating for a reason: Agreeableness is designed to encourage others to take control, thereby compensating for their incompetence. They always have a smile and a friendly word, but rarely follow through on adult responsibilities. In fact, they usually feel helpless whenever autonomy or initiative is required. The loss of a significant source of support or identification may prompt severe depression. Open displays of guilt, illness, anxiety, and depression are common but serve the purpose of deflecting criticism and transforming threats of disapproval or abandonment into support and sympathy. Sharon has several features of the accommodating dependent.

The Immature Dependent

Different individuals mature at different rates. Moreover, even within a single person, mathematical or musical abilities may mature relatively early and language abilities later or vice versa. Some individuals, however, never achieve even a modest level of accomplishment at any point in life. Instead, they remain childlike throughout their existence, prefer childhood activities, find satisfaction relating mainly to children, and thoroughly dislike all adult activity and responsibility. Such persons are not only dependent through their childlike outlook and level of achievement but also seem satisfied in being so.

Going beyond the simple naïveté of the average dependent, the immature variant is underdeveloped, inexperienced, and unsophisticated. Some simply lack ambition and energy, which makes the expectancies of adulthood overwhelming and frightening. Others are overly passive and easygoing and simply never developed competencies or confidence in their own abilities. Many appear to lack a strong gender identity and to find the assumption of adult roles to be somewhat distasteful or frightening. For the most part, these individuals are pleasant and sociable as long as they are permitted to remain pre-adult in their preferences and activities. They become difficult, however, when others begin to expect more or demand that they mature and get down to the business of life. To their troubled parents or spouses, they often seem irresponsible and neglectful. Eventually, their failure to develop the abilities necessary to survive on their own leaves them completely incapable of ever maturing to an adult level. Sharon has some characteristics of this subtype as well. Her position as a teacher's aide is non-demanding and allows her to relate to children all day long, perhaps a throwback to her own childhood, when she was the precious porcelain doll. She cannot drive or perform many other tasks that are age appropriate.

The Ineffectual Dependent

The ineffectual dependent represents a combination of the dependent and schizoid patterns. Both exhibit a general lack of vitality, low energy level, fatigability, and weakness in expressiveness and spontaneity. Schizoids usually possess an anhedonic temperament, meaning that they are unable to experience pleasurable emotions in great depth. Moreover, they shun social relationships, including being part of a family, and almost always choose solitary activities. The ineffectual dependent, however, is more able to empathize and understand the basic emotions of others. Additionally, the thought processes of schizoids often seem unfocused, tangential, or even absent, especially concerning human relationships. While interpersonal subtleties escape the understanding of most schizoids, they are understood by most ineffectual dependents, who do not shun close personal relationships. Like the immature dependent, the ineffectual variety seeks an untroubled life completely free of responsibility, though mainly because of a lack of drive rather than a childish nature. Through their schizoid characteristics, they often simply tune out life's demands. Not wanting to deal with reality, they often appear to sleepwalk through life, half disengaged and half dependent. They typically do not want to engage in anything or think too deeply, so they often exhibit a certain fatalism that allows them to ignore difficulties. They have a belief that nothing ever changes on the basis of human efforts, and they have neither the drive nor the desire to act on their own behalf. Sharon does not fall into this subtype.

The Selfless Dependent

For the selfless dependent, idealization and total identification are the major themes. Like all dependents, they subordinate themselves to others but in a much more extreme fashion. Attachment concerns take on a new meaning for these individuals, who totally merge themselves with others, forfeiting their own identity in the process. Their own unique personal potentials are denied and left to atrophy as the residuals of an unwanted independence. Through fusion, they secure a sense of significance, emotional stability, and purpose in life. Eventually, everything they do is performed in the service of extending the status and significance of another, be it a person or an institutional entity. In extreme cases, they are completely defined through their relationships, existing as an extension of their significant other, with no sense of themselves as independent beings at all. Because of this fusion, they may adopt values and attitudes that are different from their ordinary preferences. Sometimes, they seem confident and self-assured but only by assuming for themselves the qualities of the persons or institutions with whom they have identified.

Despite the loss of their own identity, many selfless dependents do seem fulfilled by their self-sacrificing lifestyle. Whereas all dependents are submissive, adopting the values and beliefs of more powerful others to whom they attach themselves, the very essence of the selfless dependent rests on those to whom they sacrifice themselves. The more they fuse with their idealized others, the more they become emotionally attached and the more they feel themselves to have significance in the world. Stereotyped examples include the overbearing stage mother who lives through her successful child and the wife who submerges herself totally in the life and career of her husband.

Although most selfless dependents feel vitalized and valuable through their relationships, some eventually wonder whether they have lost too much of themselves. By deriving their identity through external sources, they make themselves extremely vulnerable to loss. When relationships run into difficulties, selfless dependents, more than other people, experience episodes of anxiety and depression, which fluctuate in intensity depending on the quality of the attachment. All dependents are devastated when relationships end, but selfless dependents are almost completely destroyed, having essentially been voided of themselves. Sometimes, the anticipation of loss is sufficient to leave them with a chronic hopelessness, a characteristic of the depressive personality.

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