Histrionic Personality Disorder

By Kenda-Ruth Stumpf

The axis of Histrionic Personality is the motivation to conceal a lack of emotional perception and to avoid anxiety through the illusion of excessive emotionality. Based on the core belief that she must impress others in order to survive, a Histrionic is characterized by an addictive need to be the center of attention usually achieved through over dramatizations and provocative seduction with physical displays of affection as are indicated by five or more of the following from DSM IV:

  1. is uncomfortable in situations in which he or she is not the center of attention
  2. interaction with others is often characterized by inappropriate sexually seductive or provocative behavior
  3. displays rapidly shifting and shallow expression of emotions
  4. consistently uses physical appearance to draw attention to self
  5. has a style of speech that is excessively impressionistic and lacking in detail
  6. shows self-dramatization, theatricality, and exaggerated expression of emotion
  7. Is suggestible, i.e., easily influenced by others or circumstances
  8. Considers relationships to be more intimate than they actually are.

The word histrionic originates from the Latin word for actor, histrio, and means dramatic or theatrical. Histrionics are addicted to attention and admiration use overly dramatic behaviour to earn attention as well as to distract people from their own lack of emotion. If they act theatrical and move with overt gestures, people will fail to notice that their supposed emotions fail to reach their eyes; displays of affection seem for dramatic effect rather than genuine. Of the Cluster B disorders histrionics are the most sexually overt and provocative. Sex is their tool, weapon and livelihood and they are highly skilled in its use as a distraction from their deficiencies, but they are an emotionally barren robot. This is not to say they are not capable of having emotions. A characteristic of HPD is excessive emotionality. At times this is a distractive fa├žade, but histrionics lack the ability to understand feelings and respond with situationally appropriate emotions, their tendency toward shallow emotions and romantic fantasy may be symptomatic of this deficiency.

Though thrill may be in the chase the histrionic cannot handle rejection and will accept the breakdown of a relationship only when she is the initiator. Acceptance and validation of a relationship may cause her to panic and devalue the person of interest, activating abandonment triggers. Histrionics feed their esteem through relationship games, living for the chase, losing interest once they catch their prey, but they are unable to tolerate rejection interpreting moving on as rejection and triggering when a target moves on it triggers a histrionic's feelings of rejection and worthlessness and she must fueling excessive emotionality and a need to re-conquer the person to regain her feelings of worth. This results in a relationship cycle of multiple break-ups and fits well with the high-drama of MLC.

Histrionics obtain narcissistic supply through sexuality and will unlikely be able to sustain monogamy and may become chronic infidels. They may interpret a jealous romantic partner as evidence that he cares and thus may be motivated to make a partner jealous as a test of devotion; rationalizing that if he likes her he will stay with her, regardless of her betrayals. In a similar rationale a married man who is interested in a histrionic boosts her sense of superiority by risking or leaving his marriage to be with her. The end goal for a histrionic is not to get the guy and have a relationship; the purpose in all her actions is to bring attention to herself and maintain it. She evaluates herself competitively against others and requires superior judgment for her to consider herself of value. For this reason she may select friends who she considers beneath her.

The histrionic personality seems like the narcissist or antisocial in that she is bold, initiating communication or contact, but she is like the borderline in her excessive emotionality and need for approval through relationships; she seeks attachment and acceptance, whereas the narcissist or antisocial initiate communication and contact but avoid intimacy in relationships. But a histrionic's excessive emotionality is a cover-up for her lack of understanding of emotions; some histrionics may have diminished empathy or lack it altogether as is the case with NPD.

When ignored or not receiving enough attention, histrionics may obsessively attempt to draw attention to themselves. This is because they feel they are nothing without attention, not merely that they are unimportant without notice; receiving attention provides them with proof of their existence. In this attribute and motivation they are like the narcissist, but histrionic seek attention by using their physical attributes whereas narcissists may be either somatic like the histrionic or cerebral. Because they rely on their physical attributes for narcissistic supply, they are also obsessive-compulsive regarding their physical fitness and appearance. Their self-esteem depends on the approval of others and does not arise from a true feeling of self-worth and the only way they know to gain approval is through their physical attributes. The difference with narcissist is that though they require notice to prove their existence, they do not require approval; they seek attention in positive or negative form.

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