Histrionic Personality Disorder: What it is and how to deal with dramatic people
They seek to be the center of attention, they change conversation topics and orient them to themselves, they are dramatic (drama queen or drama kings)… Does it ring a bell? These are people that might have histrionic personality disorder. Find out more about this disorder and how to treat a histrionic person.
Have you ever met someone who’s always trying to get attention? Tend to exaggerate their way of walking, talking, dressing… They are constantly looking for other’s approval? They are seductive and exploit their sexuality in inappropriate situations? They have to be the “life of the party”? They love drama? You may be facing a person with histrionic personality disorder.
What is a Histrionic Personality Disorder?
A personality disorder is a type of mental disorder in which you have a very rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, functioning, and behavior. This causes significant discomfort in various areas of the person’s life (social, work, school, family, etc.), and/or those around them.
Many times, unlike other mental disorders in which the sufferer perceives real suffering, a person with a histrionic personality disorder is unlikely to realize his or her problem. Their thinking and acting will seem normal and they may blame others for the problems they face. Histrionic Personality disorder begins in adolescence, with personality development.
Histrionic Personality Disorder: Characteristics
People with this disorder are characterized by an extreme interest in being the focus of attention and feel very bad when they are not. They are very theatrical and seductive. They are very emotional, charming, manipulative, demanding, energetic and impulsive people. Their emotional expression is exaggerated and often feigned. They are often superficial and very changeable.
Their moods, beliefs, and opinions are often fleeting and transient or influenced by others. All of this is due to their need to please and have the attention of others.
About 1% of the population suffers from this disorder, and it is more often diagnosed in women. This may be because women are more likely to actually have this disorder, or because they are more likely to seek professional help.
People with this disorder can carry out a series of “schemes” to gain the attention of others. These can be:
- Cause some kind of drama.
- Flirt and talk loud.
- Tell stories in a captivating and interesting way.
- Dress seductively.
- Interrupt conversations.
- Become the victim.
These people are often bored with daily activities and often seek new experiences. They find it difficult to embark on projects that involve long-term reward or satisfaction. They continuously seek immediate satisfaction.
These people’s personal relationships are often greatly impaired, as they have many difficulties in reaching emotional intimacy in romantic relationships. They usually jump from one lover to another, without compromising and enjoying variety in their relationships. Their lofty and openly seductive attitudes towards potential lovers can also harm their friendship relationships.
How is Histrionic Personality Disorder diagnosed?
According to Diagnostic Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, the criteria for diagnosing histrionic personality disorder must be given at least five of the following traits:
- A compulsion to be the center of attention that results in discomfort if unmet.
- Inappropriate sexual, seductive or provocative behavior when interacting with others
- Shallow, rapidly shifting emotions.
- The use of physical appearance to draw others’ attention.
- Dramatic, impressionistic speech that lacks detail.
- Exaggerated, theatrical emotional expression.
- Easily influenced by others or situations.
- Assumes relationships are more intimate than they are.
Histrionic personality disorder should not be confused with histrionic personality traits. The disorder negatively affects the person and environment and has an impact on their daily life. On the contrary, any of us, without suffering from any disorder, can have some histrionic personality trait, without affecting their relationships or any aspect of our lives.
Causes of Histrionic Personality Disorder
There is no single cause for this disorder, as for most of them. Most researchers rely on genetic predisposition and childhood experiences as key factors in the development of the disorder. That is, genes make you vulnerable to developing a disorder, but it is the circumstances of your life that may or may not trigger the onset of the disorder.
This disorder has a unique characteristic in its relationship with appearance. Research shows that histrionic disorder occurs in men and women with above-average physical appearance. Some studies show that this connection is greater in women than in men.
Although the precise cause of personality disorders is unknown, there are certain factors that seem to increase the risk:
- A family history of personality disorders or other mental disorders.
- Low educational level and low social and economic status.
- Verbal, physical or sexual abuse during childhood.
- Neglect or instability and chaos in the family during childhood.
- Being diagnosed during childhood with a conduct disorder.
- Variations in chemistry and brain structure.
Dealing with Histrionic Personality Disorder: Tips
Living or working with these people can be annoying and exhausting. These can become toxic people that cause us great discomfort. In some cases, we can just walk away from these people. But in other cases, this is not possible, especially when it is a family member, friend or partner who has the disorder.
1- Practice acceptance and understanding
Histrionic people don’t realize their behavior, they see it as normal and natural. It is important to accept it and understand it. They don’t behave this way because they want to, but because they have learned over time to face the world like this. Even if you say,”don’t make another scene like this again,” it’s not gonna change anything. They don’t feel ashamed and it makes it hard for them to change from one day to the next. The most important thing is to express understanding and be patient.
2- Don’t consent to everything
We can accept and respect them, but we also have to be respected. Do not tolerate disrespect, yelling or insulting. When a histrionic person behaves exaggeratedly, it is best not to enter the spiral of conflict. Take a deep breath and say,”when you calm down, we can talk,””I respect and value you, but I will not allow you to insult me.
3- Do not enter their manipulation game
Histrionic personalities are manipulative. Be careful to recognize their attempts at manipulation and don’t play along. Many times they can be toxic people.
4- Ignore their attempts to attract attention
Try to ignore their attempts to attract attention. If each time they act exaggeratedly, scream, complain or dramatize, ignore him/her because if you pay attention to him/her you are making it more likely that the undesirable behavior will repeat. You can answer briefly and with little interest in their drama. Or you can say,”If you talk that way, I won’t listen to you,””you’re overreacting, when you look at things in a more objective way, we can talk”.
5- Reinforce desirable behaviors
Reinforce behaviors such as speaking without drama, not exaggerating everything, paying more attention. Use words like “I like it very much when you talk/behave like this”.
6- Encourage them to go to therapy
These people do not believe that they need psychological treatment. For mental health professionals, treating these people is difficult because they rarely see the problem. When they do, it is usually due to a crisis or a very negative event in their lives, or when their lives are so deteriorated that they don’t know what to do. Which one do we see, the psychologist or the psychiatrist?
It is therefore important to encourage them to seek psychological help, in order to improve their quality of life and of those around them. Avoid trying to convince them that they have a histrionic personality disorder or problem. It is best to encourage them to go to therapy to improve their relationships with others and to learn how to manage conflict. This way we won’t be attacking them and they will be more likely to seek help.
This article is originally written in Spanish by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar.
Psicóloga General Sanitaria y sexóloga. Deseosa de mejorar la calidad de vida de las personas mediante la práctica clínica y la comunicación a través de la red.