What is Emotional Detachment?

Introduction

In psychology, emotional detachment, also known as emotional blunting, has two meanings:

  • One is the inability to connect to others on an emotional level; and
  • The other is as a positive means of coping with anxiety.

This coping strategy, also known as emotion focused-coping, is used by avoiding certain situations that might trigger anxiety. It refers to the evasion of emotional connections. Emotional detachment may be a temporary reaction to a stressful situation, or a chronic condition such as depersonalisation-derealisation disorder. It may also be caused by certain antidepressants. Emotional blunting as reduced affect display is one of the negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

Signs and Symptoms

Emotional detachment may not be as outwardly obvious as other psychiatric symptoms. Patients diagnosed with emotional detachment have reduced ability to express emotion, to empathise with others or to form powerful emotional connections. Patients are also at an increased risk for many anxiety and stress disorders. This can lead to difficulties in creating and maintaining personal relationships. The person may move elsewhere in their mind and appear preoccupied or “not entirely present”, or they may seem fully present but exhibit purely intellectual behaviour when emotional behaviour would be appropriate. They may have a hard time being a loving family member, or they may avoid activities, places, and people associated with past traumas. Their dissociation can lead to lack of attention and, hence, to memory problems and in extreme cases, amnesia. In some cases, they present an extreme difficulty in giving or receiving empathy which can be related to the spectrum of narcissistic personality disorder.

In children (ages 4-12 were studied), traits of aggression and antisocial behaviours were found to be correlated with emotional detachment. Researchers determined that these could be early signs of emotional detachment, suggesting parents and clinicians to evaluate children with these traits for a higher behavioural problem in order to avoid bigger problems (such as emotional detachment) in the future.

Causes

Emotional detachment and/or emotional blunting have multiple causes, as the cause can vary from person to person. Emotional detachment or emotional blunting often arises due to adverse childhood experiences, or to psychological trauma in adulthood.

Emotional blunting is often caused by antidepressants in particular selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) used in major depressive disorder, and often as an add-on treatment in other psychiatric disorders.

Behavioural Mechanism

Emotional detachment is a behaviour which allows a person to react calmly to highly emotional circumstances. Emotional detachment in this sense is a decision to avoid engaging emotional connections, rather than an inability or difficulty in doing so, typically for personal, social, or other reasons. In this sense it can allow people to maintain boundaries, psychic integrity and avoid undesired impact by or upon others, related to emotional demands. As such it is a deliberate mental attitude which avoids engaging the emotions of others.

This detachment does not necessarily mean avoiding empathy; rather, it allows the person to rationally choose whether or not to be overwhelmed or manipulated by such feelings. Examples where this is used in a positive sense might include emotional boundary management, where a person avoids emotional levels of engagement related to people who are in some way emotionally overly demanding, such as difficult co-workers or relatives, or is adopted to aid the person in helping others.

Emotional detachment can also be “emotional numbing”, “emotional blunting”, i.e., dissociation, depersonalisation or in its chronic form depersonalisation disorder. This type of emotional numbing or blunting is a disconnection from emotion, it is frequently used as a coping survival skill during traumatic childhood events such as abuse or severe neglect. Over time and with much use, this can become second nature when dealing with day to day stressors.

Emotional detachment may allow acts of extreme cruelty and abuse, supported by the decision to not connect empathically with the person concerned. Social ostracism, such as shunning and parental alienation, are other examples where decisions to shut out a person creates a psychological trauma for the shunned party.

What is Avoidance Coping?

Introduction

In psychology, avoidance coping is a coping mechanism and form of experiential avoidance.

It is characterized by a person’s efforts, conscious or unconscious, to avoid dealing with a stressor in order to protect oneself from the difficulties the stressor presents. Avoidance coping can lead to substance abuse, social withdrawal, and other forms of escapism. High levels of avoidance behaviours may lead to a diagnosis of avoidant personality disorder, though not everyone who displays such behaviours meets the definition of having this disorder. Avoidance coping is also a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and related to symptoms of depression and anxiety. Additionally, avoidance coping is part of the approach-avoidance conflict theory introduced by psychologist Kurt Lewin.

Literature on coping often classifies coping strategies into two broad categories: approach/active coping and avoidance/passive coping. Approach coping includes behaviours that attempt to reduce stress by alleviating the problem directly, and avoidance coping includes behaviours that reduce stress by distancing oneself from the problem. Traditionally, approach coping has been seen as the healthiest and most beneficial way to reduce stress, while avoidance coping has been associated with negative personality traits, potentially harmful activities, and generally poorer outcomes. However, avoidance coping can reduce stress when nothing can be done to address the stressor.

Measurement

Avoidance coping is measured via a self-reported questionnaire. Initially, the Multidimensional Experiential Avoidance Questionnaire (MEAQ) was used, which is a 62-item questionnaire that assesses experiential avoidance, and thus avoidance coping, by measuring how many avoidant behaviours a person exhibits and how strongly they agree with each statement on a scale of 1-6. Today, the Brief Experiential Avoidance Questionnaire (BEAQ) is used instead, containing 15 of the original 62 items from the MEAQ.

Treatment

Cognitive behavioural and psychoanalytic therapy are used to help those coping by avoidance to acknowledge, comprehend, and express their emotions. Acceptance and commitment therapy, a behavioural therapy that focuses on breaking down avoidance coping and showing it to be an unhealthy method for dealing with traumatic experiences, is also sometimes used.

Both active-cognitive and active-behavioural coping are used as replacement techniques for avoidance coping. Active-cognitive coping includes changing one’s attitude towards a stressful event and looking for any positive impacts. Active-behavioural coping refers taking positive actions after finding out more about the situation.

What is Halazepam?

Introduction

Halazepam is a benzodiazepine derivative that was marketed under the brand names Paxipam in the United States, Alapryl in Spain, and Pacinone in Portugal.

Medical Uses

Halazepam was used for the treatment of anxiety.

Adverse Effects

Adverse effects include drowsiness, confusion, dizziness, and sedation. Gastrointestinal side effects have also been reported including dry mouth and nausea.

Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics

Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics were listed in Current Psychotherapeutic Drugs published on 15 June 1998 as follows:

  • Onset of action: Intermediate to slow.
  • Plasma half life: 14 hours for parent drug and 30-100 hours for its metabolite.
  • Peak plasma levels: 1-3 hours for parent drug and 3-6 hours for its metabolite.
  • Metabolism: Metabolised into desmethyldiazepam and 3-hydroxyhalazepam (in the liver).
  • Excretion: Excreted through kidneys.
  • Protein binding: 98% bound to plasma protein.

Regulatory Information

Halazepam is classified as a schedule 4 controlled substance with a corresponding code 2762 by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Commercial Production

Halazepam was invented by Schlesinger Walter in the US. It was marketed as an anti-anxiety agent in 1981. However, Halazepam is not commercially available in the United States because it was withdrawn by its manufacturer for poor sales.

Book: CBT Toolbox for Children and Adolescents

Book Title:

CBT Toolbox for Children and Adolescents: Over 220 Worksheets & Exercises for Trauma, ADHD, Autism, Anxiety, Depression & Conduct Disorders.

Author(s): Lisa Phifer.

Year: 2017.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: PESI Publishing & Media.

Type(s): Spiral-bound, Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

The CBT Toolbox for Children and Adolescents gives you the resources to help the children in your life handle their daily obstacles with ease. Inside this workbook you’ll find hundreds of worksheets, exercises, and activities to help treat:

  • Trauma.
  • ADHD.
  • Autism.
  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Conduct Disorders.

Written by clinicians and teachers with decades of experience working with kids, these practical and easy-to-use therapy tools are vital to teaching children how to cope with and overcome their deepest struggles. Step-by-step, you’ll see how the best strategies from cognitive behavioural therapy are adapted for children.

Book: Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women

Book Title:

Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women.

Author(s): Dr Sarah Bargiela.

Year: 2019.

Edition: First (1st), Illustrated Edition.

Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Type(s): Hardcover and Kindle.

Synopsis:

Autism in women and girls is still not widely understood, and is often misrepresented or even overlooked. This graphic novel offers an engaging and accessible insight into the lives and minds of autistic women, using real-life case studies.

The charming illustrations lead readers on a visual journey of how women on the spectrum experience everyday life, from metaphors and masking in social situations, to friendships and relationships and the role of special interests.

Fun, sensitive and informative, this is a fantastic resource for anyone who wishes to understand how gender affects autism, and how to create safer supportive and more accessible environments for women on the spectrum.

What is an Anxiolytic?

Introduction

An anxiolytic (also anti-panic or anti-anxiety agent) is a medication or other intervention that reduces anxiety.

This effect is in contrast to anxiogenic agents which increase anxiety. Anxiolytic medications are used for the treatment of anxiety disorder and its related psychological and physical symptoms.

Medications

Barbiturates

Barbiturates are powerful anxiolytics but the risk of abuse and addiction is high. Many experts consider these drugs obsolete for treating anxiety but valuable for the short-term treatment of severe insomnia, though only after benzodiazepines or non-benzodiazepines have failed.

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are prescribed to quell panic attacks. Benzodiazepines are also prescribed in tandem with an antidepressant for the latent period of efficacy associated with many ADs for anxiety disorder. There is risk of benzodiazepine withdrawal and rebound syndrome if BZDs are rapidly discontinued. Tolerance and dependence may occur. The risk of abuse in this class of medication is smaller than in that of barbiturates. Cognitive and behavioural adverse effects are possible.

Benzodiazepines include: Alprazolam (Xanax), Bromazepam, Chlordiazepoxide (Librium), Clonazepam (Klonopin), Diazepam (Valium), Lorazepam (Ativan), Oxazepam, Temazepam, and Triazolam.

Antidepressants

Antidepressant medications can reduce anxiety. The SSRIs paroxetine and lexapro and SNRIs venlafaxine and duloxetine are US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved to treat generalised anxiety disorder.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of medications used in the treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, OCD and some personality disorders. SSRIs can increase anxiety initially due to negative feedback through the serotonergic autoreceptors, for this reason a concurrent benzodiazepine can be used until the anxiolytic effect of the SSRI occurs.

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors

Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRIs) include venlafaxine and duloxetine drugs. Venlafaxine, in extended release form, and duloxetine, are indicated for the treatment of GAD. SNRIs are as effective as SSRIs in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

Tricyclic Antidepressants

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) have anxiolytic effects; however, side effects are often more troubling or severe and overdose is dangerous. They’re effective, but they’ve generally been replaced by antidepressants that cause fewer adverse effects. Examples include imipramine, doxepin, amitriptyline, nortriptyline and desipramine.

Tetracyclic Antidepressant

Tetracyclic antidepressants, such as Mirtazapine, have demonstrated anxiolytic effect comparable to SSRIs while rarely causing or exacerbating anxiety. Mirtazapine’s anxiety reduction tends to occur significantly faster than SSRIs.

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are first generation antidepressants effective for anxiety treatment but their dietary restrictions, adverse effect profile and availability of newer medications have limited their use. MAOIs include phenelzine, isocarboxazid and tranylcypromine. Pyrazidol is a reversible MAOI that lacks dietary restriction.

Sympatholytics

Sympatholytics are a group of anti-hypertensives which inhibit activity of the sympathetic nervous system. Beta blockers reduce anxiety by decreasing heart rate and preventing shaking. Beta blockers include propranolol, oxprenolol, and metoprolol. The Alpha-1 agonist prazosin could be effective for PTSD. The Alpha-2 agonists clonidine and guanfacine have demonstrated both anxiolytic and anxiogenic effects.

Miscellaneous

Buspirone

Buspirone (Buspar) is a 5-HT1A receptor agonist used to treated generalised anxiety disorder. If an individual has taken a benzodiazepine, buspirone will be less effective.

Pregabalin

Pregabalin (Lyrica) produces anxiolytic effect after one week of use comparable to lorazepam, alprazolam, and venlafaxine with more consistent psychic and somatic anxiety reduction. Unlike BZDs, it does not disrupt sleep architecture nor does it cause cognitive or psychomotor impairment.

Hydroxyzine

Hydroxyzine (Atarax) is an antihistamine originally approved for clinical use by the FDA in 1956. Hydroxyzine has a calming effect which helps ameliorate anxiety. Hydroxyzine efficacy is comparable to benzodiazepines in the treatment of generalised anxiety disorder. Hydroxyzine is typically only used for short term anxiety relief.

Phenibut

Phenibut (Anvifen, Fenibut, Noofen) is an anxiolytic used in Russia. Phenibut is a GABAB receptor agonist, as well as an antagonist at α2δ subunit-containing voltage-dependent calcium channels (VDCCs), similarly to gabapentinoids like gabapentin and pregabalin. The medication is not approved by the FDA for use in the United States, but is sold online as a supplement.

Mebicar

Mebicar is an anxiolytic produced in Latvia and used in Eastern Europe. Mebicar has an effect on the structure of limbic-reticular activity, particularly on the hypothalamus, as well as on all 4 basic neuromediator systems – γ aminobutyric acid (GABA), choline, serotonin and adrenergic activity. Mebicar decreases noradrenaline, increases serotonin, and exerts no effect on dopamine.

Fabomotizole

Fabomotizole (Afobazole) is an anxiolytic drug launched in Russia in the early 2000s. Its mechanism of action is poorly defined, with GABAergic, NGF and BDNF release promoting, MT1 receptor agonism, MT3 receptor antagonism, and sigma agonism thought to have some involvement.

Bromantane

Bromantane is a stimulant drug with anxiolytic properties developed in Russia during the late 1980s. Bromantane acts mainly by facilitating the biosynthesis of dopamine, through indirect genomic upregulation of relevant enzymes (tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase (AAAD).

Emoxypine

Emoxypine is an antioxidant that is also a purported anxiolytic. Its chemical structure resembles that of pyridoxine, a form of vitamin B6.

Menthyl Isovalerate

Menthyl isovalerate is a flavouring food additive marketed as a sedative and anxiolytic drug in Russia under the name Validol.

Racetams

Some racetam based drugs such as aniracetam can have an antianxiety effect.

Etifoxine

Having similar anxiolytic effects as benzodiazepine drugs, etifoxine does not produce the same levels of sedation and ataxia. Further, etifoxine does not affect memory and vigilance, and does not induce rebound anxiety, drug dependence, or withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol

Ethanol is sometimes used as an anxiolytic by self-medication. fMRI can measure the anxiolytic effects of alcohol in the human brain.

Alternatives to Medication

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, while exposure therapy is the recommended treatment for anxiety related phobias. Healthcare providers can guide those with anxiety disorder by referring them to self-help resources. Sometimes medication is combined with psychotherapy but research has not found a benefit of combined pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy versus monotherapy.

If CBT is found ineffective, both the Canadian and American medical associations then suggest the use of a potent, long lasting benzodiazepine such as clonazepam and an antidepressant, usually Prozac for its effectiveness.

What is the Diathesis-Stress Model?

Introduction

The diathesis-stress model, also known as the vulnerability-stress model, is a psychological theory that attempts to explain a disorder, or its trajectory, as the result of an interaction between a predispositional vulnerability, the diathesis, and a stress caused by life experiences. The term diathesis derives from the Greek term (διάθεσις) for a predisposition, or sensibility. A diathesis can take the form of genetic, psychological, biological, or situational factors. A large range of differences exists among individuals’ vulnerabilities to the development of a disorder.

The diathesis, or predisposition, interacts with the individual’s subsequent stress response. Stress is a life event or series of events that disrupts a person’s psychological equilibrium and may catalyse the development of a disorder. Thus the diathesis-stress model serves to explore how biological or genetic traits (diatheses) interact with environmental influences (stressors) to produce disorders such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia. The diathesis-stress model asserts that if the combination of the predisposition and the stress exceeds a threshold, the person will develop a disorder. The use of the term diathesis in medicine and in the specialty of psychiatry dates back to the 1800s; however, the diathesis-stress model was not introduced and used to describe the development of psychopathology until it was applied to explaining schizophrenia in the 1960s by Paul Meehl.

The diathesis-stress model is used in many fields of psychology, specifically for studying the development of psychopathology. It is useful for the purposes of understanding the interplay of nature and nurture in the susceptibility to psychological disorders throughout the lifespan. Diathesis-stress models can also assist in determining who will develop a disorder and who will not. For example, in the context of depression, the diathesis-stress model can help explain why Person A may become depressed while Person B does not, even when exposed to the same stressors. More recently, the diathesis-stress model has been used to explain why some individuals are more at risk for developing a disorder than others. For example, children who have a family history of depression are generally more vulnerable to developing a depressive disorder themselves. A child who has a family history of depression and who has been exposed to a particular stressor, such as exclusion or rejection by his or her peers, would be more likely to develop depression than a child with a family history of depression that has an otherwise positive social network of peers. The diathesis-stress model has also served as useful in explaining other poor (but non-clinical) developmental outcomes.

Protective factors, such as positive social networks or high self-esteem, can counteract the effects of stressors and prevent or curb the effects of disorder. Many psychological disorders have a window of vulnerability, during which time an individual is more likely to develop disorder than others. Diathesis-stress models are often conceptualised as multi-causal developmental models, which propose that multiple risk factors over the course of development interact with stressors and protective factors contributing to normal development or psychopathology. The differential susceptibility hypothesis is a recent theory that has stemmed from the diathesis-stress model.

Refer to Differential Susceptibility Hypothesis.

Diathesis

The term diathesis is synonymous with vulnerability, and variants such as “vulnerability-stress” are common within psychology. A vulnerability makes it more or less likely that an individual will succumb to the development of psychopathology if a certain stress is encountered. Diatheses are considered inherent within the individual and are typically conceptualised as being stable, but not unchangeable, over the lifespan. They are also often considered latent (i.e. dormant), because they are harder to recognise unless provoked by stressors.

Diatheses are understood to include genetic, biological, physiological, cognitive, and personality-related factors. Some examples of diatheses include genetic factors, such as abnormalities in some genes or variations in multiple genes that interact to increase vulnerability. Other diatheses include early life experiences such as the loss of a parent, or high neuroticism. Diatheses can also be conceptualised as situational factors, such as low socio-economic status or having a parent with depression.

Stress

Stress can be conceptualised as a life event that disrupts the equilibrium of a person’s life. For instance, a person may be vulnerable to become depressed, but will not develop depression unless they are exposed to a specific stress, which may trigger a depressive disorder. Stressors can take the form of a discrete event, such the divorce of parents or a death in the family, or can be more chronic factors such as having a long-term illness, or ongoing marital problems. Stresses can also be related to more daily hassles such as school assignment deadlines. This also parallels the popular (and engineering) usage of stress, but note that some literature defines stress as the response to stressors, especially where usage in biology influences neuroscience.

It has been long recognised that psychological stress plays a significant role in understanding how psychopathology develops in individuals. However, psychologists have also identified that not all individuals who are stressed, or go through stressful life events, develop a psychological disorder. To understand this, theorists and researchers explored other factors that affect the development of a disorder and proposed that some individuals under stress develop a disorder and others do not. As such, some individuals are more vulnerable than others to develop a disorder once stress has been introduced. This led to the formulation of the diathesis-stress model.

Genetics

Sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) is a temperamental or personality trait involving “an increased sensitivity of the central nervous system and a deeper cognitive processing of physical, social and emotional stimuli”. The trait is characterised by “a tendency to ‘pause to check’ in novel situations, greater sensitivity to subtle stimuli, and the engagement of deeper cognitive processing strategies for employing coping actions, all of which is driven by heightened emotional reactivity, both positive and negative”.

Sensory processing sensitivity captures sensitivity to environment in a heritable, evolutionary-conserved trait, associated with increased information processing in the brain. Moderating sensitivity to environments in a for-better-and-for-worse fashion. Interaction with negative experiences increases risk for psychopathology. Whereas interaction with positive experiences (including interventions), increases positive outcomes. Mast cells are long-lived tissue-resident cells with an important role in many inflammatory settings including host defence to parasitic infection and in allergic reactions. Stress is known to be a mast cell activator.

There is evidence that children exposed to prenatal stress may experience resilience driven by epigenome-wide interactions.” Early life stress interactions with the epigenome show potential mechanisms driving vulnerability towards psychiatric illness. ancestral stress alters lifetime mental health trajectories via epigenetic regulation.

Carriers of congenital adrenal hyperplasia have a predeposition to stress, due to the unique nature of this gene. True rates of prevalence are not known but common genetic variants of the human Steroid 21-Hydroxylase Gene (CYP21A2) are related to differences in circulating hormone levels in the population.

Psychological distress is a known feature of generalised joint hypermobility (gJHM), as well as of its most common syndromic presentation, namely Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, hypermobility type (a.k.a. joint hypermobility syndrome – JHS/EDS-HT), and significantly contributes to the quality of life of affected individuals. Interestingly, in addition to the confirmation of a tight link between anxiety and gJHM, preliminary connections with depression, attention deficit (and hyperactivity) disorder, autism spectrum disorders, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder were also found.

Protective Factors

Protective factors, while not an inherent component of the diathesis-stress model, are of importance when considering the interaction of diatheses and stress. Protective factors can mitigate or provide a buffer against the effects of major stressors by providing an individual with developmentally adaptive outlets to deal with stress. Examples of protective factors include a positive parent-child attachment relationship, a supportive peer network, and individual social and emotional competence.

Throughout the Lifespan

Many models of psychopathology generally suggest that all people have some level of vulnerability towards certain mental disorders, but posit a large range of individual differences in the point at which a person will develop a certain disorder. For example, an individual with personality traits that tend to promote relationships such as extroversion and agreeableness may engender strong social support, which may later serve as a protective factor when experiencing stressors or losses that may delay or prevent the development of depression. Conversely, an individual who finds it difficult to develop and maintain supportive relationships may be more vulnerable to developing depression following a job loss because they do not have protective social support. An individual’s threshold is determined by the interaction of diatheses and stress.

Windows of vulnerability for developing specific psychopathologies are believed to exist at different points of the lifespan. Moreover, different diatheses and stressors are implicated in different disorders. For example, breakups and other severe or traumatic life stressors are implicated in the development of depression. Stressful events can also trigger the manic phase of bipolar disorder and stressful events can then prevent recovery and trigger relapse. Having a genetic disposition for becoming addicted and later engaging in binge drinking in college are implicated in the development of alcoholism. A family history of schizophrenia combined with the stressor of being raised in a dysfunctional family raises the risk of developing schizophrenia.

Diathesis-stress models are often conceptualised as multi-causal developmental models, which propose that multiple risk factors over the course of development interact with stressors and protective factors contributing to normal development or psychopathology. For example, a child with a family history of depression likely has a genetic vulnerability to depressive disorder. This child has also been exposed to environmental factors associated with parental depression that increase their vulnerability to developing depression as well. Protective factors, such as strong peer network, involvement in extracurricular activities, and a positive relationship with the non-depressed parent, interact with the child’s vulnerabilities in determining the progression to psychopathology versus normative development.

Some theories have branched from the diathesis-stress model, such as the differential susceptibility hypothesis, which extends the model to include a vulnerability to positive environments as well as negative environments or stress. A person could have a biological vulnerability that when combined with a stressor could lead to psychopathology (diathesis-stress model); but that same person with a biological vulnerability, if exposed to a particularly positive environment, could have better outcomes than a person without the vulnerability.

What is Dependent Personality Disorder?

Introduction

Dependent personality disorder (DPD) is a personality disorder that is characterised by a pervasive psychological dependence on other people.

This personality disorder is a long-term condition in which people depend on others to meet their emotional and physical needs, with only a minority achieving normal levels of independence. Dependent personality disorder is a Cluster C personality disorder, characterised by excessive fear and anxiety. It begins by early adulthood, and it is present in a variety of contexts and is associated with inadequate functioning. Symptoms can include anything from extreme passivity, devastation or helplessness when relationships end, avoidance of responsibilities and severe submission.

Brief History

The conceptualisation of dependency, within classical psychoanalytic theory, is directly related to Freud’s oral psychosexual stage of development. Frustration or over-gratification was said to result in an oral fixation and in an oral type of character, characterised by feeling dependent on others for nurturance and by behaviours representative of the oral stage. Later psychoanalytic theories shifted the focus from a drive-based approach of dependency to the recognition of the importance of early relationships and establishing separation from these early caregivers, in which the exchanges between the caregiver and the child become internalised, and the nature of these interactions becomes part of the concepts of the self and of others.

Signs and Symptoms

People who have dependent personality disorder are overdependent on other people when it comes to making decisions. They cannot make a decision on their own as they need constant approval from other people. Consequently, individuals diagnosed with DPD tend to place needs and opinions of others above their own as they do not have the confidence to trust their decisions. This kind of behaviour can explain why people with DPD tend to show passive and clingy behaviour. These individuals display a fear of separation and cannot stand being alone. When alone, they experience feelings of isolation and loneliness due to their overwhelming dependence on other people. Generally people with DPD are also pessimistic: they expect the worst out of situations or believe that the worst will happen. They tend to be more introverted and are more sensitive to criticism and fear rejection.

Risk Factors

People with a history of neglect and an abusive upbringing are more susceptible to develop DPD, specifically those involved in long-term abusive relationships. Those with overprotective or authoritarian parents are also more at risk to develop DPD. Having a family history of anxiety disorder can play a role in the development of DPD as a 2004 twin study found a 0.81 heritability for personality disorders collectively.

Causes

The exact cause of dependent personality disorder is unknown. A study in 2012 estimated that between 55% and 72% of the risk of the condition is inherited from one’s parents. 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.

Dependent traits in children tended to increase with parenting behaviours and attitudes characterized by overprotectiveness and authoritarianism. Thus the likelihood of developing dependent personality disorder increased, since these parenting traits can limit them from developing a sense of autonomy, rather teaching them that others are powerful and competent.

Traumatic or adverse experiences early in an individual’s life, such as neglect and abuse or serious illness, can increase the likelihood of developing personality disorders, including dependent personality disorder, later on in life. This is especially prevalent for those individuals who also experience high interpersonal stress and poor social support.

There is a higher frequency of the disorder seen in women than men, hence expectations relating to gender role may contribute to some extent.

Diagnosis

Clinicians and clinical researchers conceptualise dependent personality disorder in terms of four related components:

  • Cognitive: a perception of oneself as powerless and ineffectual, coupled with the belief that other people are comparatively powerful and potent.
  • Motivational: a desire to obtain and maintain relationships with protectors and caregivers.
  • Behavioural: a pattern of relationship-facilitating behaviour designed to strengthen interpersonal ties and minimise the possibility of abandonment and rejection.
  • Emotional: fear of abandonment, fear of rejection, and anxiety regarding evaluation by figures of authority.

American Psychiatric Association and DSM

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) contains a dependent personality disorder diagnosis. It refers to a pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of which leads to submissive and clinging behaviour and fears of separation. This begins by early adulthood and can be present in a variety of contexts.

In the DSM Fifth Edition (DSM-5), there is one criterion by which there are eight features of dependent personality disorder. The disorder is indicated by at least five of the following factors:

  1. Has difficulty making everyday decisions without an excessive amount of advice and reassurance from others.
  2. Needs others to assume responsibility for most major areas of their life.
  3. Has difficulty expressing disagreement with others because of fear of loss of support or approval.
  4. Has difficulty initiating projects or doing things on their own (because of a lack of self confidence in judgement or abilities rather than a lack of motivation or energy).
  5. Goes to excessive lengths to obtain nurturance and support from others, to the point of volunteering to do things that are unpleasant.
  6. Feels uncomfortable or helpless when alone because of exaggerated fears of being unable to care for themselves.
  7. Urgently seeks another relationship as a source of care and support when a close relationship ends.
  8. Is unrealistically preoccupied with fears of being left to take care of themselves.

The diagnosis of personality disorders in the fourth edition the DSM, including dependent personality disorder, was found to be problematic due to reasons such as excessive diagnostic comorbidity, inadequate coverage, arbitrary boundaries with normal psychological functioning, and heterogeneity among individuals within the same categorial diagnosis.

World Health Organisation

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) ICD-10 lists dependent personality disorder as F60.7 Dependent personality disorder:

  • It is characterised by at least 4 of the following:
    1. Encouraging or allowing others to make most of one’s important life decisions;
    2. Subordination of one’s own needs to those of others on whom one is dependent, and undue compliance with their wishes;
    3. Unwillingness to make even reasonable demands on the people one depends on;
    4. Feeling uncomfortable or helpless when alone, because of exaggerated fears of inability to care for oneself;
    5. Preoccupation with fears of being abandoned by a person with whom one has a close relationship, and of being left to care for oneself;
    6. Limited capacity to make everyday decisions without an excessive amount of advice and reassurance from others.
  • Associated features may include perceiving oneself as helpless, incompetent, and lacking stamina.
  • Includes:
    • Asthenic, inadequate, passive, and self-defeating personality (disorder).

It is a requirement of ICD-10 that a diagnosis of any specific personality disorder also satisfies a set of general personality disorder criteria.

SWAP-200

The SWAP-200 is a diagnostic tool that was proposed with the goal of overcoming limitations, such as limited external validity for the diagnostic criteria for dependent personality disorder, to the DSM. It serves as a possible alternative nosological system that emerged from the efforts to create an empirically based approach to personality disorders – while also preserving the complexity of clinical reality. Dependent personality disorder is considered a clinical prototype in the context of the SWAP-200. Rather than discrete symptoms, it provides composite description characteristic criteria – such as personality tendencies.

Based on the Q-Sort method and prototype matching, the SWAP-200 is a personality assessment procedure relying on an external observer’s judgment. It provides:

  • A personality diagnosis expressed as the matching with ten prototypical descriptions of DSM-IV personality disorders.
  • A personality diagnosis based on the matching of the patient with 11 Q-factors of personality derived empirically.
  • A dimensional profile of healthy and adaptive functioning.

The traits that define dependent personality disorder according to SWAP-200 are:

  1. They tend to become attached quickly and/or intensely, developing feelings and expectations that are not warranted by the history or context of the relationship.
  2. Since they tend to be ingratiating and submissive, people with DPD tend to be in relationships in which they are emotionally or physically abused.
  3. They tend to feel ashamed, inadequate, and depressed.
  4. They also feel powerless and tend to be suggestible.
  5. They are often anxious and tend to feel guilty.
  6. These people have difficulty acknowledging and expressing anger and struggle to get their own needs and goals met.
  7. Unable to soothe or comfort themselves when distressed, they require involvement of another person to help regulate their emotions.

Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual

The Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual (PDM) approaches dependent personality disorder in a descriptive, rather than prescriptive sense and has received empirical support. The Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual includes two different types of dependent personality disorder:

  • Passive-aggressive.
  • Counter-dependent.

The PDM-2 adopts and applies a prototypic approach, using empirical measures like the SWAP-200. It was influenced by a developmental and empirically grounded perspective, as proposed by Sidney Blatt. This model is of particular interest when focusing on dependent personality disorder, claiming that psychopathology comes from distortions of two main coordinates of psychological development:

  • The anaclitic/introjective dimension.
  • The relatedness/self-definition dimension.

The anaclitic personality organization in individuals exhibits difficulties in interpersonal relatedness, exhibiting the following behaviours:

  • Preoccupation with relationships.
  • Fear of abandonment and of rejection.
  • Seeking closeness and intimacy.
  • Difficulty managing interpersonal boundaries.
  • Tend to have an anxious-preoccupied attachment style.

Introjective personality style is associated with problems in self-definition.

Differential Diagnosis

There are similarities between individuals with dependent personality disorder and individuals with borderline personality disorder, in that they both have a fear of abandonment. Those with dependent personality disorder do not exhibit impulsive behaviour, unstable affect, and poor self-image experienced by those with borderline personality disorder, differentiating the two disorders.

The following conditions commonly coexist (comorbid) with dependent personality disorder:

Treatment

People who have DPD are generally treated with psychotherapy. The main goal of this therapy is to make the individual more independent and help them form healthy relationships with the people around them. This is done by improving their self-esteem and confidence.

Medication can be used to treat patients who suffer from depression or anxiety because of their DPD, but this does not treat the core problems caused by DPD. Individuals who take these prescription drugs are susceptible to addiction and substance abuse and therefore may require monitoring.

Epidemiology

Based on a recent survey of 43,093 Americans, 0.49% of adults meet diagnostic criteria for DPD (National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC; Grant et al., 2004). Traits related to DPD, like most personality disorders emerge in childhood or early adulthood. Findings from the NESArC study found that 18 to 29 year olds have a greater chance of developing DPD. DPD is more common among women compared to men as 0.6% of women have DPD compared to 0.4% of men.

A 2004 twin study suggests a heritability of 0.81 for developing dependent personality disorder. Because of this, there is significant evidence that this disorder runs in families.

Children and adolescents with a history of anxiety disorders and physical illnesses are more susceptible to acquiring this disorder.

Book: Avoiding Anxiety in Autistic Children: A Guide for Autistic Wellbeing

Book Title:

Avoiding Anxiety in Autistic Children: A Guide for Autistic Wellbeing.

Author(s): Luke Beardon.

Year: 2020.

Edition: First (1st)

Publisher: Sheldon Press.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

One of the biggest challenges for the parent of any autistic child is how best to support and guide them through the situations in life which might cause them greater stress, anxiety and worry than if they were neurotypical.

Dr Luke Beardon has put together an optimistic, upbeat and readable guide that will be essential reading for any parent to an autistic child, whether they are of preschool age or teenagers. Emphasising that autism is not behaviour, but at the same time acknowledging that there are risks of increased anxiety specific to autism, this practical book gives insight into the nature of the anxiety experienced by autistic people, as well as covering every likely situation in which your child might feel anxious or worried. It will help you to prepare your child for school, to monitor their anxiety around school, and also to be informed about the educational choices available to your child. It will give you support to help make breaktimes less stressful for them and how to help them navigate things like eating at school and out of the house.

Educationally, this book will take you and your child right up to the point of taking exams and leaving school; socially and emotionally it will cover all the challenges from bullying, friendships, relationships, puberty and sex education. It will give suggestions for alternatives in the scenarios that might cause anxiety or confusion in your child; it will also give a full understanding of your child’s sensory responses and such behaviours as masking, or echopraxia.

As the parent of an autistic child, you may find their path to adulthood different to the one you had expected to take, but as this book makes clear, autism should be celebrated and affirmed. Avoiding Anxiety in Autistic Children helps you to do just that, with practical strategies that will help happiness, not anxiety, remain the over-riding emotion that colours your child’s memories of their early years.

Book: Physical Health and Schizophrenia

Book Title:

Physical Health and Schizophrenia (Oxford Psychiatry Library Series).

Author(s): David J. Castle, Peter F. Buckley, and Fiona P. Gaughran.

Year: 2017.

Edition: First (1st), Illustrated Edition.

Publisher: Oxford University Press.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

In comparison to the general population, people with schizophrenia and related disorders have poorer physical health and increased mortality. Whilst it is recognized that serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia carry a reduced life expectancy, it is often assumed that suicide is the main cause of this disparity. In actuality, suicide accounts for no more than a third of the early mortality associated with schizophrenia: the vast majority is due to cardiovascular factors

Physical Health and Schizophreniaoffers a user-friendly guide to the physical health problems associated with schizophrenia and a clear overview of strategies and interventions to tackle these issues. Spanning eight chapters this resource covers the essential topics in a practical and easy-to-read format to suit the needs of busy clinicians. It also includes an appendix designed specifically for patients and carers, with practical tips on how to be actively involved in monitoring and managing physical health problems.

Part of the Oxford Psychiatry Library series, Physical Health and Schizophrenia offers readers a fully up-to-date and valuable insight into this complex issue. With helpful key points at the start of each chapter and a clear layout, this is an essential resource for busy clinicians and researchers in any mental health field as well as those working in primary care.