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Understanding the Histrionic Personality: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Updated: Feb 20

Divas! Chances are there is someone in your life who you’ve called one, some of us may even be one from time to time. When we call someone a diva, we’re often referring to the kind of person who needs to be the center of attention all the time. The kind of person who is overly emotionally expressive, and one who is apt to make a dramatic scene in public and likely embarrass you. The concept of “diva” very closely resembles someone with Histrionic personality disorder (HPD). It’s even possible that the first few “divas” had this disorder, but those around had not yet had the psychological wherewithal to realize that these traits lay deeper beneath the surface of one’s attributes. That in fact, one or many of these original “divas” might have had Histrionic personality disorder.

many celebrities have a histrionic personality

Where does Histrionic Personality Disorder Come From?

As with all personality disorders, we don’t exactly know where Histrionic personality disorder comes from. With that said, researchers have come up with a few initial hypotheses. The first hypothesis is that this disorder is passed down through genetics as they have noticed that it tends to run in families. The second guess out there is that it may be a result of childhood trauma and that some people may develop these traits to cope with an early loss. Even parenting styles severely lacking boundaries and heavy in over-indulgence have been posited as a theory for its development.

So What Is Histrionic Personality Disorder?

Histrionic personality disorder is one of a grouping of personality disorders commonly known as Cluster B; which are grouped as such for their common dramatic and erratic behaviors. In fact, the word histrionic is defined as deliberately affected, overly dramatic or emotional, and theatrical. As a common rule, one with Histrionic personality disorder often displays superficial but excessive emotionality and sexuality in order to draw attention to themselves and to gain approval from others. Some other pervasive patterns of this personality disorder include the following:

  • Displays rapidly shifting and shallow expression of emotions

  • Consistently uses their physical appearance (body modification, overly dramatic clothing etc.) to draw attention to themselves

  • Has a style of speech that is excessively impressionistic and lacking in detail

  • Is easily influence by others or circumstances

  • Often sees relationships as closer than they are in reality

As with other personality disorders, one with Histrionic personality disorder would likely not notice anything odd or different about their general behavior. In fact, some might even take pride in their personality and see any attempt to change these traits as a threat. Instead, the traits associated with this disorder are likely to interfere with one’s relationships and self-esteem, leading to comorbidities such as depression, anxiety, anorexia nervosa, and addictions. These issues are those for which one might seek therapy and where this personality disorder ultimately and often is discovered.

For example, someone with HPD may often become fast friends or quickly get entangled in a hot and heavy romance before really knowing the person they are involved with. Their need for social approval may have them heavily flirting and often agreeing with the new friend or partner, initially attracting the other and superficially strengthening the relationship. While their early dramatic affect might attract people to them, those relationships become strained after the novelty of their theatrics wears off and becomes difficult to manage both in private and public.

How is Histrionic Personality Disorder treated?

The current consensus is that Histrionic personality disorder is best treated through psychotherapy. The goal of treatment is to help people find the motivations behind their thoughts and behavior and to help them learn to relate to others more effectively. The main types of psychotherapy that are thought to benefit those with Histrionic personality disorder are:

  • Group Psychotherapy: Group work, such as group DBT may help some with HPD see their behaviors reflected back in the stories of others.

  • Psychodynamic Therapy: A therapeutic approach which promotes self-reflection and examination.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A structured and goal-oriented modality which helps one understand how their thoughts impact their actions.

  • Mentalization-Based Therapy (MBT): This modality focuses on and helps differentiate between one’s own emotional state of mind and that of others, and ultimately helps one understand how their mental state influences behavior.

Like all personality disorders, it can be frightening to consider if you or someone you love fits into the category of Histrionic Personality Disorder; but fear not, for again like all other mental disorders, one is not to blame for the personality they have. This is precisely why it is imperative for someone with HPD to seek therapy, a judgment free zone where their safety is paramount. With the right kind of therapist and the right therapeutic approach, HPD can be understood, demystified, and treated. Allowing a person to lead a fuller and more meaningful life.

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