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Histrionic Personality Disorder

by Dr. Sidney Langston

We frequently wonder why some relationships are strained and difficult, and we usually don’t know what to do about it. Sometimes we internalize that it’s our fault—that we are not making an effort in the relationship—causing us to miss the kind of intimacy that we desire or could have. In truth it’s simply because certain people have some characteristics or traits of a personality disorder, and we just don’t understand them. They may even meet the criteria for the disorder to be diagnosed. Therefore, it is important to become knowledgeable about such disorders

 

One of the common personality disorders that we encounter is the histrionic personality disorder. Histrionic, defined, is “to have the nature of an actor; to overreact; excessive theatrics, false in nature for the sake of the dramatic.” The essential feature of this disorder is a pervasive and excessive emotionality and attention-seeking behavior. These people always have a need to be the center of attention when they are with others. This usually begins in early adulthood, although it has sometimes been seen in teenagers. We often expect teens to be dramatic, but histrionic behavior in teenagers is more pronounced.

 

People with histrionic personality disorder are uncomfortable—or feel unappreciated —when they’re not the center of attention. They are very lively and dramatic and do whatever they have to do in order to draw attention to themselves.  They can be extremely charming when you first meet them. Initially people enjoy these individuals. They have lots of energy and are often the “life of the party.” They seem very emotionally open. But these qualities very quickly tend to wear thin; the longer you know them you discover that they are not actually opening up beyond the first, superficial layer. If they feel they are no longer the center of attention, they will possibly make up elaborate stories about themselves. They may create a scene (even an unpleasant one) or do whatever they need to do to regain center stage. Their unconscious modus operandi (M.O.) is, “I need attention so badly that I’ll do whatever it takes to get any attention at all.” With that in mind, sometimes their behavior leaves a lot to be desired. It can be very inappropriate, even aberrant at times.

 

Some other signs and symptoms of people with histrionic personality disorder are that they:

• Will engage in lots of flattery, compliments, etc. that they don’t really mean;

• Like to give gifts (often “big ticket items”) in order to gain attention;

• Will provide dramatic psychological or physical symptoms, often so bizarre that it makes it difficult for physicians to treat them. They often fabricate new    

 symptoms and complaints;

• Are very talkative and upbeat;

• Feel uncomfortable if they perceive they are not appreciated;

• Have lots of “tricks up their sleeves” to draw attention;

• Are very attracted to the opposite sex and are often inappropriately flirtatious and/or sexually provocative;

• Their sexual behavior is usually seductive toward two or more people at the same time. Thus, someone usually gets hurt;

• Relationships are usually not long-lasting, are very shallow, rapidly shifting, with no substance. The person is usually in the relationship for the attention,

 and soon gets bored with this attention from just one person;

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