Dependent personalities will look to their partner (and, to the therapist) for affirmation that they are “right” or OK. They quickly and habitually submit to the will of others to hopefully gain a guarantee of care and security. They see themselves and act like they cannot handle daily living alone. They think showing confidence or competence might lead to rejection and abandonment. They are unable to self-validate themselves. “They demand advice and reassurance when making even minor decisions. They take no initiative and let others assume responsibility for their lives—even, sometimes, where to live and what jobs to take. Because they intensely fear disapproval, they may be excessively ingratiating. They find it difficult to disagree or refuse requests, especially from anyone they depend on. They allow themselves to be intimidated and avoid even justified anger for fear of alienating others. To gain the support they think they need, they may volunteer for unpleasant tasks, submit to unreasonable demands, and tolerate verbal, physical, or sexual abuse” (Harvard Mental Health Letter, 2007, page 1). Dependent personality disorder can have pervasive effects not anticipated by the partner or others. Since the person has a profound fear of rejection and need for acceptance, he or she is susceptible to extraordinary submissive behaviors. “Gudjonnson has shown that psychological characteristics such as elevated suggestibility (or being easily persuaded), hypercompliance, unassertiveness, low self-esteem, and anxiety proneness- all of which are features or associated features of dependent personality disorder- can render individuals so vulnerable to psychological pressure and coercion that they will falsely confess to having committed a crime when pressured to do so by police interrogators” (Litman, 2003, page 772).
Johann felt stuck if he made any complaint or criticism to Minnie. Her sense of submissiveness was so extreme that she would admit to doing things that she had not done. Or, admit to negative intentions or motivations despite readily available and reasonable explanations. Johann could get a bit over-sensitive and sometimes, project that Minnie had some negative intentions or the other. Minnie would confess just to go along and to gain Johann’s acceptance- that is, assuage her anxiety and stop or forestall rejection or anger that she anticipated. When Johann would find out later that he had unfairly impugned her, he would feel terrible. When he asked her why she had not just told him whatever it really was about or really had happened, Minnie would meekly say, “I didn’t want to upset you. It seemed easier to just let it go.” Johann was shamed that he had unfairly accused Minnie, but also angered that Minnie knowingly deceived him with her deference or submission. To Johann, Minnie giving in to him implied that she thought him such an asshole that she could not be honest with him. He did not think he deserved to be feared as an asshole. Now he felt stuck in an untenable cycle. If he asked her if she was really OK or if that was what she really thought, he felt like he was interrogating her. And he knew that she would comply or do what she thought he was suggesting or what he wanted. She would submit to him just to avoid any tension. Johann would get tense just anticipating the same run around. “I can’t win. If I don’t ask, I won’t find out what she really thinks. If I ask, she gets upset and makes up or admits to shit just to avoid conflict. There’s no honesty anymore between us. I can’t trust her to tell the truth… what she really feels or thinks.”