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Thursday, October 29, 2009

T3 - Histrionic Personality Disorder

For the third installment in the Personality Disorder Parade, we'll take a look at people colloquially described as divas, egotists, drama queens, spoiled brats, and prima donnas. Why? Because the biggest feature of this disorder is excessive emotionality and attention-seeking behavior.

When a person with Histrionic PD isn't the center of attention, they are uncomfortable and feel unappreciated. They can be initially charming and easily win people over, but these very qualities can wear thin because these individuals don't know when to back off. They may do something overly dramatic just to draw attention back to themselves, like make up a story or create a scene.

Individuals with this disorder often inappropriately dress and behave sexually provocative or seductive. Of course, they are this way with people they are romantically interested in, but they also act this way in a variety of social contexts--at work, church, the grocery store--you name it, it's fair game. They consistently use their physical appearance to draw attention to themselves. They'll spend tons of time getting ready for the day, tons of money on clothes and hair appointments and grooming. They'll fish for compliments and might be overly critical about a less-than-favorable comment of photograph.

Emotional expression may be shallow and rapidly shifting. These people don't exactly express themselves deeply. Rarely do they stick to one emotion, but bounce between several emotions; thus making the expression of the emotions limited (or shallow). What emotion they do express might be exaggerated or overly theatrical. They might effusively embrace a casual acquaintance, sob uncontrollably at something minor, or guffaw at something vaguely funny--and of course the intent is to draw attention to themselves while doing this. But since their emotions turn on and off so quickly, they give the impression to others of being insincere or fake.

People with Histrionic PD have a style of speech that is colorful, flowery and grand (clinical term: impressionistic), but they lack detail when pressed for particulars. They will express their opinion about someone being the world's worst/best doctor, but be unable to give any reasons to support their statement.

Opinions and feelings can easily be influenced by fads or other people because they have a high degree of suggestibility. They may be highly trusting, especially of strong authority top figures they see as magically solving their problems. This is not the type person you'd want to casually recommend something to, because depending on how they view you, they'd take the recommendation to heart. They play hunches and adopt convictions quickly, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Lastly, they often consider relationships more intimate than they are. Acquaintances are suddenly "best friends" and when talking about a doctor or politician they might have only met once or twice in professional contexts, they might call them by their first name. For you authors out there--flights into romantic fantasy are common.

These individuals in relationships are trouble. Emotional intimacy is often not achieved because they will act out a role (like "victim" or "princess") in their relationships to others. They can be emotionally manipulative with their seductiveness but show marked dependency on them on another level. Keeping same-sex friends is often difficult, as you might can imagine. Would you want a woman as described above making eyes at your spouse or partner? They are seen as a constant threat.

They don't do well with delayed gratification. They want what they want now. They are all about the excitement and novelty. Long-term relationships may be neglected because of this, as these individuals have a tendency to become bored with routine. Their demands for constant attention are tiresome to others, as is their response when not the center of attention.

It is thought that more females have this disorder than males, but males can definitely have it as well. Sex role stereotypes play a role in how this disorder would be manifested in a male. They may dress and behave in a macho manner and seek attention by bragging on athletic skills or professional prowess. A woman would (likely) choose skimpy, revealing feminine clothes and confidently state how much she impressed a guy at the mall.

Next up is Dependent Personality Disorder. Please feel free to ask questions in the comment section!

Q4U: Known any histrionics from your present or past? Let's see who has the most interesting story to names, please!

Wordle: signature


Tamika: said...

Jeannie, thanks again for a well of great information.

I have seen specks of these traits in people throughout my life. Most where high school related. The older I've become, the more I can spot on if a person is healthy for or not, so I don't find this too much today in my life.

Looking forward to learning more.

Jennifer Shirk said...

The first person I thought of when reading this is the main character in the movie Sunset Boulevard.

Rosslyn Elliott said...

I have known a number of people like this, both male (gay and straight) and female.

I would like to know how this disorder develops. Does it come from being spoiled by an opposite sex parent? Or from receiving insufficient attention in childhood?

Also, what kind of treatment or life event would "cure" this disorder? Perhaps increased spirituality, with its focus on humility and serving others?

Thanks for the valuable post!

Alexandra said...

Gaston in Beauty and the Beast was the first person who came to mind. ;-)

Myra Johnson said...

I am finding these posts especially fascinating as I've been trying to pin down a character in my current work-in-progress. HPD definitely fits some of her behaviors, but I think she's also narcissistic. Do you often find people who have a mix of both?

And along with Rosslyn, I'm interested to know how HPD would develop--from childhood experiences, genetics, etc.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

myra - the two personality disorders of narcissism and histrionic definitely are "co-morbid" (commonly found together when one is diagnosed).

for myra and rosslyn - mental health professionals believe people get this disorder as a combination of inherited and learned factors. it seems to run in families (if a mother or grandmother had it, then it's more likely a descendant would) but there are environmental influences that could bring it about (and it's usually evident by early adulthood). factors such as: a lack of criticism or punishment as a child, positive reinforcement that is given only when a child completes certain approved behaviors, and unpredictable attention given to a child by his or her parents can all leading to confusion about what types of behavior earn parental approval. this is then translated over to adulthood and seeking approval from peers and strangers, even. hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

How would you tell apart an HPD from BPD??? IT seems HPDs don´t fear being alone. BPD is an HPD on crack mode?

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

anonymous - i think the main difference would be that histrionics are WAY more stable than borderlines. they know who they are a bit more, if that makes sense? either one is very difficult to treat, and they do share similarities, being in the same cluster.

Anonymous said...

I see what you are saying Rosslyn, and that works for a healthy individual...people with these disorders cannot serve others or focus on humility...that is their whole put them in that situation...and they will act...(histrionic)they will take the lead but not really reach is always about them and how they 'look'...anyone who does reach out and and serve others will be a target for them...because the target is genuine and they consider them a threat.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. You've described my 44 year old step-daughter to a tee. My poor husband (her dad) is heartbroken as the drama increases exponentially. Are money issues tied into HPD as well? She has bounced checks, borrowed and not paid back thousands, and always blames the bank for their errors, or the fact that her account was hacked, or her phone was hacked, or the money's tied up until the end of the year, and on and on the stories go. Thank you again. This is making things very clear yet I don't see an end to it for her, and those around her (us).

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.