Histrionic Personality Disorder Explained
“That’s just me.”
Ever heard someone say that? Or have you ever said that to anyone?
You may have been trying to justify an action which the other person didn’t like. Or maybe you were just explaining an aspect of yourself.
One of the main describing factors of humans is their personalities.
A personality is a reflection of deeply ingrained patterns of behavior and the ways in which people view and relate with both themselves and others.
To identify personalities, there are specific features which you can look for. These features are what are known as personality traits. These are the proof that you belong to a certain personality type.
To know your personality type, you can take this personality test. It’s developed from Carl Jung’s and Isabel Briggs Myers’ typological approach to personalities.
Being deeply ingrained, personalities can be difficult to change. But challenges in life can cause you to want to change yours.
Some of these challenges are due to the difficulty you may face in relating with people. That’s simply because you exhibit certain undesirable traits.
For example, a certain trait may form an obstacle affecting your relationships. This will negatively affect your job and family relations, as well as general friendships.
If things don’t improve, this might result in job loss and maybe even separation from your family. At the end, you might suffer from depression.
Although this sounds like an extreme case, it’s not uncommon. It can easily happen to people with personality disorders.
A personality disorder is an inflexible and maladaptive pattern of thinking and behavior.
It leads to challenges in your daily life functions, resulting in internal distress. Personality disorders usually start in adolescence or early adulthood and may not change over time.
It’s important to note that personality disorders are not sicknesses, though they may – and often do – lead to mental conditions.
The most common mental conditions that results from personality disorders are anxiety and depression.
One such personality disorder is called Histrionic Personality Disorder.
This disorder is characterized by too much attention – seeking behavior and emotions. Someone with HPD will also exhibit inappropriate seductive behavior and have an excessive need for approval.
The signs normally start showing up in early adulthood.
SYMPTOMS OF HISTRIONIC PERSONALITY DISORDER
These characteristics are however quite general. You might not be able to make an informed diagnosis with that information.
To make it easier and also explain things some more, here’s a list of the symptoms of this disorder.
Keep in mind that for someone to have HPD, he must exhibit these symptoms continuously. One instance of these does not mean the person has HPD.
1. Desperate desire to be the center of attention.
One of the hallmarks of HPD is the need for attention. If you have HPD, you’ll tend to do all sorts of things or act in unexpected ways just to get attention.
This behavior might make others angry because you’re distracting them. For you however, it’s a need that has to be expressed.
Anywhere you turn, you must be the center of attention. If you’re not, then you get anxious and uncomfortable.
Watch the below video to see how this plays out. The video is quite an old recording but still clear enough to show the need to stay at the center of attention.
This often comes from the lack of affirmation, especially in your childhood and adolescence.
Early childhood years are crucial for child development and one of the ways a child learns is through affirmations and corrections. Many of the behaviors a child has are picked up or learned during childhood.
It might be that you were only rebuked or disciplined and never affirmed or appreciated and rewarded for the right things you did. Since the desire to be acknowledged and approved of still exists, you seek approval from others.
In the adolescent years, this situation worsens because of increased peer pressure all around you.
The desire to get approval from others is actually a need. If you don’t get approval from those close to you, you’ll look for it elsewhere. Even if it means doing the wrong things just to get it.
It’s not uncommon for Histrionics to even threaten to commit suicide just to get attention.
2. Interactions have inappropriate and sexually seductive or provocative behavior.
Connected to the need for attention, someone with HPD will often resort to behavior that is sexually seductive or provocative.
You might end up talking too much so as to keep the attention to yourself. This could mean talking about many unrelated and unnecessary topics. You could also find yourself saying similar things several times hoping to get noticed for your apparent efforts or skills.
Sexual seduction comes in to get the other person to see you and you alone. You might also use it when you want to get something from someone else.
For instance, you might be in college and have an assignment to complete. You might try using this behavior to get help from another student. This can also be extended to lecturers.
Sexually provocative behavior can also be expressed through rude or inappropriate comments. This may be part of a group conversation where you say something that is obviously embarrassing though you don’t see it that way.
3. Display of rapidly-shifting and shallow expression of emotions.
As a personality disorder mainly affecting your emotions, having HPD will express itself through rapidly-shifting emotions. These emotional expressions shift fast because they are very shallow.
Your emotions will usually not be deep. You can get angry in an instant. And just as instant as you got angry, so can you turn around and be happy. This affects relationships.
For instance, in a romantic relationship, your partner may not understand this sudden and extreme change. Leaving him or her confused means that the relationship may not blossom as you would like.
Individuals with normal personalities usually take some time to move from one state of emotion to another. Unless they have received shocking news like the death of a loved one, the shift from joy to grief is gradual and it makes logical sense.
With HPD however, the change is very fast and it doesn’t make sense to someone who doesn’t understand the disorder.
4. Consistent use of physical appearance to draw attention to self.
Everyone wants to look good. This is perfectly normal and understandable, especially for ladies. It’s well known that ladies are more concerned about their physical appearance than men.
This has been understood to be one of the differences between men and women. Whereas men may focus on physical strength and related abilities, women will focus on appearance and related matters.
This is largely what fuels the beauty and cosmetic industries. However, HPD can make a lady go to some extremes. The same applies to men who have HPD.
Physical appearance is important for self-respect, first impressions, getting business deals etc. But the difference between these reasons for the need to look good and those in the life of a Histrionic, is the need for attention.
Whereas dressing for that interview has the intention of getting the job, Histrionics will dress up well – if not sexually seductively – simply to draw attention to themselves.
However, the issue of physical appearance is not limited only to dressing. It might also come in the form of being somewhere physically.
For example, there might be an office meeting. Four of the six members of your department may be attending the meeting.
Remaining only you and one colleague may make you feel unsatisfied with the “little” attention available.
Or maybe the colleague isn’t giving you the attention you need. At this point, you could decide to go join the meeting even though you never got invited.
You may give any reason for your decision, apart from the real one. Even then, joining the meeting is not the end.
It’s the need for attention that took you there in the first place. So, you could end up speaking a lot though not asked to speak.
You’ll most likely make many interruptions and make others unhappy with your presence in the room.
5. Speech is excessively impressionistic and lacking in detail.
As a Histrionic, your speech and conclusions are usually not substantiated.
You may say many things but none of them can be backed by any facts. When asked about proof for what you say, you might say something like, “I just know it.”
For example, you might have some dislike for somebody. In expressing how you feel about the person, you might say that you hate him. Despite disliking and hating being very different, you will probably use the word “hate.”
The challenge however comes when someone asks you what the person did. This will be a difficult question to answer rationally.
It would be expected that the person did something wrong and angered you in the process. Maybe he even refused to apologize and it hurt you a lot. But with HPD, rarely will any of these be the case.
You’ll not have any rational explanation for your hatred.
Maybe you saw the person the first time and were not impressed with him. Although it’s not even a warning from your instincts, just not liking the person got you making your decision to hate.
A similar way of expressing yourself shows in the things you like or enjoy. You may use big words but be unable to provide any detail to show how you enjoyed something.
6. Self-dramatization, theatricality and exaggerated expression of emotion.
This sign is one of the clearest in diagnosing or identifying HPD patients. With all the need for attention, drama is part of the life of anyone with HPD.
HPD will cause you to do things which someone with a normal personality will find an exaggeration and out of place. An example is the excessive public display of emotion.
This could come in the form of shouting or sobbing uncontrollably when disappointed or upset over something. A pretty minor setback could unleash an emotional outburst.
Temper tantrums and other theatrical behavior are also part of the drama a life with HPD will consist of.
Such behavior strains your relationships.
The people around you will feel embarrassed and may want to avoid you. This feeds your fear of being left out and subsequently, your desire for people to like and be attracted to you.
Here’s a video of how to respond to dramatic people and dramatic behavior.
7. Very suggestible.
Having HPD makes you highly suggestible. This means that you’re easy to influence. The influence can come from either people or circumstances.
As a result, having HPD will lead you to make decisions which are not right.
You’ll easily follow people and do what they’re doing so as to fit in and be recognized as part of them.
However, even in the group, you might seek attention by trying to outdo others.
Part of the reason you easily follow others is because attention is available where people are.
Remember the example we gave above of the office meeting?
If you’re left alone, there’s no-one to give you attention. If there are only a few of you, the attention might not be enough. Especially if you know there is the possibility for more of it.
One of the things you can easily follow—or fall for—is sales. Although most people look out for sales and promotions so as to save money, you’ll want these for attention.
For example, a clothing brand may be running an online sale. You check out their site and see a beautiful dress. Despite the discounted cost still being beyond your budget, you’ll think in terms of how you will stand out in the office on Monday.
8. Relationships are considered more intimate than they really are.
A unique sign of HPD is the faulty thinking about romantic relationships.
Even before a friendship develops, you might already be thinking that the other person really likes you and is ready to take the relationship to the next level.
This, despite the two of you having just met. You can see this in the video shared in the section about attention.
Although the enthusiasm you show and the flirting you do may capture someone’s attention, some of your traits might put them off quickly. An example is how you’re all over the person.
HPD can make you quite insensitive and push you to always be the one speaking. You may not give the other person much time to respond as you jump in and give your story.
This can easily be interpreted as an inability to listen. If you’re not a good listener, then communication becomes a problem. You’ll have to learn communication skills in order to relate well with others.
Unfortunately, as you think that things are going on well, the other person is thinking differently.
You’ll believe that the attention you’re getting from the person means you’re loved and needed. You thus conclude that you’re in a serious relationship even when you don’t really know the person.
Needless to say, you’ll be disappointed and probably angered by the “break up” when it’s communicated to you.
CAUSES OF HPD
Although cases of HPD have been well documented, the exact cause of the disorder is unknown. Medical scientists explain the disorder as a result of both genetic and environmental factors.
It’s pretty easy to see the genetic connection because many with HPD have family members who also have it. With such a family history, genetics cannot be ruled out as a possible cause.
In other cases, the cause of HPD can be traced back to one’s childhood.
For example, the child might have acted in dramatic ways as he sought attention.
If this was positively reinforced, then it could lead to HPD. A lack of discipline can also be a contributing factor.
DIAGNOSIS OF HPD
The Histrionic Personality Disorder is often seen in women than in men. It has not been scientifically proven that women are more vulnerable than men.
However, some differences between men and women can help explain this.
It has been argued that the reason more women than men are diagnosed with HPD is because men don’t report the symptoms. It’s a well-known fact that men are not very open about the challenges they face.
Where their egos are threatened, they would rather seek other options than speak and get embarrassed.
In making a diagnosis of HPD, the first thing to be done by the mental health specialist is to take your medical history.
With the disorder affecting your thought patterns and emotions, a physical test may be done to find out if a physical injury of the brain could be the cause.
A psychiatrist will then examine you through questions intended to give insight into your thinking patterns.
TREATMENT OF HPD
Once HPD is diagnosed, treatment can start. The treatment itself may not be the cure of all problems and may not remove all the symptoms experienced. However, it does a good job in helping you live a better life.
Treatment usually takes the form of therapy and in some cases, medication.
Therapy, also known as psychotherapy, is the most common and advisable form of treatment. While the therapist had earlier asked you questions to determine your diagnosis, your talk with him will now focus on dealing with the situation.
Since therapy entails talking with your therapist about your feelings and experiences, both of you will be able to learn the reasoning behind your actions and behavior.
You’ll be able to understand what triggers your actions and see how to control your reactions.
This will take several sessions and may last a while depending on the extent of help you need. The good news is that after therapy, if you follow the advice given, you’ll be able to relate with others better.
Your relationships will be more positive and you’ll have less need to get attention from others.
In the event that HPD has taken a huge toll on your life, you might suffer depression or anxiety. If the effect is too much, your therapist might prescribe some medication.
The type of medication you’ll be given are mostly antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs. These will deal with the mental conditions arising from HPD so you can focus on the therapy.
Challenges in Treating HPD
The possibility of treating HPD is good news, yet there are always challenges involved.
These challenges will often be brought about by the attitudes of the patient towards treatment. For example, the first challenge may be that you don’t think you need treatment.
This might be caused by your belief that your problems come from without and not within.
Whenever there is a problem and you’re involved, you’ll quickly blame others for it. With this mindset, it can be difficult to believe that you need help.
Also ,during diagnosis, you may exaggerate your symptoms or you ability/inability to function properly. This can affect the accuracy of the diagnosis.
Still, a well-trained or experienced specialist will be able to make the right diagnosis.
Another challenge is that you may find the therapy quite boring. The routine nature of the treatment is definitely not what you’re used to. Therapists are however able to develop a treatment plan which will work.
If you, or someone you know, has Histrionic Personality Disorder, don’t worry. Cheer up; there is treatment for the condition.
What you need to do is get the diagnosis from a certified mental health professional. Once that is done, treatment will be recommended and you can work towards having a better life.
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