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Personality disorder - (National 15/05/06)

May 17 2006 at 7:48 AM


Dear Doctor,
I hope you can help my wife to grow up. She is 26 years old and I am 28. We have been married for two years and she is now expecting our first child, but she herself is so childish that I don't know how she will cope with being a mother.
The problem is that my wife cannot think for herself. She always wants someone else to make decisions for her. The second problem is that she cannot say no to other people's demands, so her friends and relatives always take advantage of her. Let me give you some examples of her behaviour.
In the morning, my wife will ask me, "Which meriblouse should I wear today?" I tell her to choose whichever she wants, but she insists I have to decide. I then say, "Okay, this one." She'll put it on and then ask me which shoes she should wear. When I tell her it doesn't matter, all her shoes look nice, she replies, "I want to make sure you approve." Then I have to decide how she should style her hair that day and so on. This happens almost everyday and I am sick and tired of being the decision maker over such trivial things. I would like to save my energy for making serious decisions, not to waste it on such pointless things.
We have a hausmeri and when the hausmeri asks my wife, "What shall I cook today?" my wife replies, "What do you think? Should you cook kaukau or rice?" The hausmeri says, "You are the bossmeri. Tell me what you want me to cook." My wife then says, "I don't know. You make the decision." This has happened so often that I feel the hausmeri has become the boss of the kitchen and house, instead of my wife.

The other thing that worries me is her being such a "Yes Person." She never says no to other people's demands, no matter how unfair or unreasonable. My wife works as a clerical officer. Last week, her sister who is a housewife called her on Wednesday and said, "The church needs people to bring food for the function tomorrow afternoon. I don't feel like cooking, but I have told them you will bring a dish of chicken and rice. Please be prompt." My wife stayed up till midnight that day cooking for the function. When I asked her why she did not just tell her selfish sister she could not do this after work at short notice, she said she did not want to let down her sister. At the workplace, it is just the same. Any difficult or boring job that her workmates do not want to do end up on my wife's desk, in addition to her own work. The workmates always say, "Oh, just give it to her, she never says no." She will always stop her own work to do her workmates' work. As a result, her own work is never complete on time.

I asked my wife's brother how she became like this, but he said she had always been a people pleaser and at the same time she found it very hard not to have someone to lean on all the time. He told me in confidence that he was surprised I had lasted this long with her. He said that since secondary school, she had never stayed even one week without a steady boyfriend. What used to happen is that she would get a boyfriend, but he would soon get tired of making all her decisions for her and tell her to grow up. When she continued to be so clingy the boyfriend would leave. Almost immediately, she would find a new boyfriend to fill the vacuum and the pattern would repeat itself. She has never allowed herself to stand on her own two feet.

Even though she was an excellent student at Science and passed Grade 12 with flying colours, she never went to Uni because she could not decide what to apply for. One brother thought she ought to do medicine, while a sister thought engineering was good and the parents thought teaching was the best profession. When I asked her why she didn't just choose the career she herself wanted or just go in for any of the three suggestions, she said she just wanted to make everybody happy, and no matter which one she chose, she felt she would be letting down her sister, her brother or her parents, since she could not pursue all three degrees at the same time. Therefore, she simply did not apply to university. What a waste.

Now I have the opportunity to go for a short three-month course to Australia, but my wife doesn't want me to go without her, although the scholarship does not cater for families. She says she cannot cope without me, even though her sisters will come to stay and anyway we live in a secure place.

I love my wife, but seriously, doctor, I can now understand why her boyfriends used to run away. I don't want to do her thinking for her and I am actually looking forward to being away for three months. It will give me a break from silly decisions, although knowing her, I wouldn't be surprised if she phoned me in Australia to ask what she should wear to church.
I also don't want her to let people take advantage of her and overburden her with unpleasant jobs.

How can she learn to say no to people and most of all, how can she learn to think and decide for herself? I feel like I am married to a 26 year old child. Is there anyway you can help her to grow up quickly before our baby is born in five months' time? I am worried her failure to make decisions might put the baby at risk.

"Married to a Child"

Dear "Married to a Child"
Your wife has Dependent Personality Disorder.

What is Dependent Personality Disorder?
Dependent Personality Disorder is a psychological condition in which an adult has excessive emotional dependence on others; has an intense need for social approval and affection; and will suppress their own needs to fit in with the wishes of others. Such people avoid responsibilities and decision making and want other people to make their decisions for them and provide continuous guidance. They think of themselves as helpless people who need others to take care of them and control their lives for them. They have low self-esteem, belittle their capacities and take any criticism as proof that they are incapable of taking control of their own lives.

What do you mean by excessive emotional dependence?
As human beings, we are all dependent upon one another for survival, for companionship, for love and so on. The amount to which we depend on one another changes with time and circumstances. For example, a newborn child is 100% dependent on others, but an older child is less dependent and can make some decisions on his own. A physically disabled person may be very dependent on others to help them move, eat or wash, but a healthy person is more independent.
Excessive dependence occurs when a person depends on others to an extent that is far beyond what is normal for the person's age and physical abilities. We all have emotional needs for love, approval and acceptance, but when a person's emotional needs are so extreme that every little decision depends on the approval of others, then that is excessive emotional dependence, i.e. the person is emotionally over-dependent on others.

What are the main features of Dependent Personality Disorder?
* The first feature is difficulty making everyday decisions without an excessive amount of advice and reassurance from others. You have noticed this in your wife who cannot even decide what the family should eat that day.

* The second feature is that the person needs others to assume responsibility for most major areas of his or her life. This is what led to your wife missing university.

* The third feature is difficulty expressing disagreement with others because of fear of loss of support or approval. People like your wife find it almost impossible to say no to others or state a different opinion from others.

* Going to excessive lengths to obtain nurturance and support from others, to the point of volunteering to do things that are unpleasant is a common feature

* Feeling uncomfortable or helpless when alone because of exaggerated fears of being unable to care or himself or herself. This is why your wife does not want you to go to Australia without her.

* Another feature is seeking another relationship as a source of care and support when a close relationship ends. This is why your wife used to hop from boyfriend to boyfriend without a break. She did not think she could cope on her own for even a few weeks, unlike most girls who spend some time recovering from a broken relationship before diving into the next one. And yet it is exactly this excessive emotional dependence that drove her previous husbands away.

I see my wife definitely has this Dependent Personality Disorder. What can I do?
You can help your wife to get the help she needs. In this case, because of her difficulty in making decisions, you will need to make the decision for her to come for help. Make an appointment for her to see a counsellor or psychiatrist and then come with her for the appointment.

What will the counsellor do?
Your wife will be offered psychotherapy, which will gradually help her to overcome her excessive dependency. She will gradually begin to make her own decisions without being over-influenced by others; she will develop her self-esteem and self-confidence and no longer go around thinking of herself as "Poor little me" and pitying herself for being helpless. She will come to appreciate her abilities and realize she is not helpless and can make good judgement and decisions.

What else will the counsellor do?
The counsellor will also teach your wife how to say no when necessary. It is hard for her to do this at present because she assumes that people only value her because she never says no to them. The counsellor will help her correct these wrong ideas and let her discover practically that it is quite alright to say no at times and that she will not lose friends or be abandoned or disliked if she stops people taking advantage of her. In fact, your wife will realize that people will respect her more when she makes her own decisions and when she can face people as an equal and not as a doormat, i.e. not as a servant to do all the unpleasant donkey work.

What medicine will she be given?
She does not need medicine. Psychotherapy is what she needs.

Why do I also need to see the counsellor when my wife is the one with the problem?
First, whenever a person suffers from Dependent Personality Disorder, all their close relationships are affected. You already know how her insistent demands are affecting you emotionally. Counselling will give you both a chance to explore these problems.
Secondly, as your wife improves, your relationship may change and the counsellor will be able to prepare you to deal with the changes.

What do you mean?
People in relationships, especially spouses, usually manage to establish a form of stability, so even if the relationship is not going well, they are used to it being like that. When one of them changes, even if it is a change for the better, the other partner is thrown off balance and may not know how to deal with the "new version" of their spouse. In your case, although you are irritated by your wife's demands, you are used to them. As she becomes more independent, you will have to adjust. You may feel a little left out when she starts making decisions without asking you. You may also find that as she learns to say no to her unreasonable sister and colleagues at work, she applies the same to you and suddenly you realize your compliant, Yes-Person of a wife has become a woman with a mind and a will of her own and you may not like this, unless the counsellor has prepared you for it. So please go with her for the sessions.

Can Dependent Personality Disorder also occur in men?
Yes it can and when it does, it causes even more problems. This is because in most societies it is more acceptable for a woman to be clingy and over-dependent, while men are expected to be the strong, decisive ones in control of every situation. So for men with this disorder, it is very difficult to assume the role expected of them in their community. In fact, some of them end up not marrying at all, due to the responsibilities and decision-making involved in marriage.

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Re: Personality disorder - (National 15/05/06)

May 18 2006, 5:04 PM 

Sorry for the poor husband!

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Re: Personality disorder - (National 15/05/06)

May 19 2006, 10:09 AM 

Imagine, if another guy asks the poor lady for a sex, she would say "yes" because she doesn't know how to say "no". Her attitude is not to let others down so she wouldn't want to let the guy down and would go ahead and say "yes" instead. What a pity! The husband must be having a hard time I guess. I hope the counselling helps.

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Re: Personality disorder - (National 15/05/06)

May 19 2006, 11:45 AM 

Whhhooooaaa!!! People really have this kind of problem?? Its making me wonder whether she was not abused as a child. I believe early child abuse can make a person react this way to be appreciated because he/she feels "dirty or bad."
I really hope the therapy works before her baby is born or else she may breakdown with post-natal trauma.
Maybe the husband should play the same "game" with her... ask her what he should wear or eat etc... she may soon get fed up and make decisions for him and VOILA!!!... she's healed.

This message has been edited by 7milebeach on May 19, 2006 12:18 PM

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