- Describe the characteristics and diagnosis of histrionic personality disorder
Cluster B personality disorders include those related to impulsive, dramatic, emotional, or erratic behavior. These include antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), histrionic personality disorder (HPD), and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). We will review histrionic personality disorder on this page.
|Antisocial||continuously violates the rights of others; history of antisocial tendencies prior to age 15; often lies, fights, and has problems with the law; impulsive and fails to think ahead; can be deceitful and manipulative in order to gain profit or pleasure; irresponsible and often fails to hold down a job or pay financial debts; lacks feelings for others and remorse over misdeeds||B|
|Histrionic||excessively overdramatic, emotional, and theatrical; feels uncomfortable when not the center of others’ attention; behavior is often inappropriately seductive or provocative; speech is highly emotional but often vague and diffuse; emotions are shallow and often shift rapidly; may alienate friends with demands for constant attention||B|
|Narcissistic||overinflated and unjustified sense of self-importance and preoccupied with fantasies of success; feels entitled to special treatment from others; shows arrogant attitudes and behaviors; takes advantage of others; lacks empathy||B|
|Borderline||unstable in self-image, mood, and behavior; cannot tolerate being alone and experiences chronic feelings of emptiness; unstable and intense relationships with others; behavior is impulsive, unpredictable, and sometimes self-damaging; shows inappropriate and intense anger; makes suicidal gestures||B|
Histrionic Personality Disorder
Histrionic personality disorder (HPD) is a personality disorder characterized by a pattern of excessive attention-seeking behaviors, usually beginning in early childhood, including inappropriate seduction and an excessive need for approval. People diagnosed with the disorder are said to be lively, dramatic, vivacious, enthusiastic, and flirtatious.
People with a histrionic personality disorder (HPD) may feel underappreciated or disregarded when they are not the center of attention. People with this disorder are typically “the life of the party” and have a “larger than life” presence. People with histrionic personality disorder (HPD) have a high need for attention, make loud and inappropriate appearances, exaggerate their behaviors and emotions, and crave stimulation. They may exhibit sexually provocative behavior, express strong emotions with an impressionistic style, and can be easily influenced by others.
The DSM-5 defines histrionic personality disorder as a pervasive pattern of excessive emotionality and attention-seeking, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following characteristics:
- is uncomfortable in situations in which they are not the center of attention
- interaction with others is often characterized by inappropriate sexually seductive or provocative behavior
- displays rapidly shifting and shallow expression of emotions
- consistently uses physical appearance to draw attention to self
- has a style of speech that is excessively impressionistic and lacking in detail
- shows self-dramatization, theatricality, and exaggerated expression of emotion
- is suggestible, i.e., easily influenced by others or circumstances
- considers relationships to be more intimate than they actually are
The differential diagnosis (unique attributes that differentiate a disorder from others with similar features) for histrionic personality disorder includes narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, somatic symptom disorder, and illness anxiety disorder.
- Like histrionic personality disorder, patients with narcissistic personality disorder prefer to be the center of attention. However, patients with narcissistic personality disorder want attention, which results from admiration or veneration, whereas people with histrionic personality disorder are not particular about what type of attention they garner.
- Patients with histrionic personality disorder are similar to those with borderline personality because both demographics of patients experience intense emotions; however, patients with borderline personality disorder usually dislike themselves.
- Dependent personality disorder should be considered in the differential diagnosis for histrionic personality disorder as with both personality disorders; the patient will prefer to be around others. However, patients with dependent personality disorder tend to be more submissive, and their behavior is more inhibited as they are preoccupied with fears of rejection.
- Somatic symptom disorder and illness anxiety disorder are also included in the differential for histrionic personality disorder as patients with a histrionic personality disorder may use physical symptoms and complaints to gain attention from others.
Most people with histrionic personality disorder also have other mental disorders. Comorbid conditions include antisocial, dependent, borderline, and narcissistic personality disorders as well as depression, anxiety disorders, panic disorder, somatoform disorders, anorexia nervosa, substance use disorder, and attachment disorders.
Watch this clip to see how histrionic personality disorder may be demonstrated.
The prevalence of histrionic personality disorder in the general population runs about 2%-3%. It is possible for people to have more than one personality disorder. Women are four times more likely to be diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder than men. However, research suggests that women may be overly diagnosed with this disorder when compared to men due to sexual-forwardness being less socially acceptable for women. Furthermore, men may be less likely to report their symptoms and thereby be under-diagnosed. Histrionic personality disorder tends to be ego-syntonic, meaning people with this disorder typically consider their behavior to be normal and struggle to identify a problem.
Histrionic personality disorder probably develops as a combination of both learned and inherited factors. One hypothesis is that histrionic personality disorder may develop as a result of trauma experienced during childhood. Children may endure their trauma by coping with their environment in ways that may ultimately lead to a personality disorder. Personality disorders in childhood may originate as an adaptation to cope with a traumatic situation or traumatic environment.
Parenting styles may also influence the likelihood of developing a histrionic personality disorder. Parenting that lacks boundaries is over-indulgent, or inconsistent may predispose children to develop a histrionic personality disorder. Because histrionic personality disorder tends to run in families, there is some consideration that there is genetic susceptibility for this disorder that may be inherited. As with all psychiatric disorders, having a family history of personality disorders, psychiatric illness, or substance use disorders is a risk factor for histrionic personality disorder.
Supportive psychotherapy is a recommended modality of treatment for patients with histrionic personality disorder, as this approach is found to be encouraging, reassuring, and non-threatening. Supportive psychotherapy aims to reduce emotional distress, improve self-esteem, and to enhance the patient’s coping skills, all through attentive and sympathetic listening.
Psychodynamic psychotherapy (also called insight-oriented therapy) has also proven to be a successful approach in treating patients with histrionic personality disorder. The goal of this therapy is to alter an aspect of a patient’s dysfunctional personality by integrating crucial developmental milestones a patient may have missed during previous stages of emotional maturation. Psychodynamic psychotherapy aims to resolve underlying, unconscious conflicts in an effort for patients to understand themselves and their behaviors better. The patients are encouraged to substitute excessively dramatic speech for a more adaptive action or behavior, to promote better communication with others. Through psychodynamic psychotherapy, patients learn to recognize that hyper-sexual, attention-seeking behaviors are maladaptive, and discover new, healthier ways to develop self-esteem.
While the gold standard for treating personality disorders is psychotherapy, patients with histrionic personality disorder may be profoundly symptomatic. Patients may experience affective dysregulation, where they frequently endure mood swings, anger, tearfulness, anxiety, and depression. While there are no FDA-approved medications for the treatment of histrionic personality disorder, affective dysregulation may be treated with antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics. Antidepressants that have proven to be effective include desipramine, fluoxetine, amitriptyline, and fluvoxamine. The mood stabilizers with proven therapeutic benefits include lamotrigine, carbamazepine, topiramate, valproate, and lithium. Research has demonstrated that antipsychotics such as risperidone, aripiprazole, olanzapine, and haloperidol have been useful in treating affective dysregulation. Patients with histrionic personality disorder may struggle with impulse control and regulation of their behaviors. Clinical trials have demonstrated that mood stabilizers specifically can target these symptoms.
Key Takeaways: Histrionic Personality Disorder
Think it Over: Michael Scott’s Diagnosis
Many of you are familiar with the fictional character Michael Scott from the hit TV show The Office. Scott is a 46-year-old, Caucasian male from Scranton, Pennsylvania, and the regional manager at Dunder Mifflin Inc., a local paper and printer distribution company. Michael Scott’s outward appearance is well put together, as he presents as a business professional, and there are no obvious health concerns. Despite his seemingly composed demeanor, Scott displays exaggerated emotions and reactions. In addition to these exaggerations, romantic relationships have proven turbulent for Scott throughout his life, as he goes from one relationship to the next with the other person usually being the one to end the relationship. He has few close friends or relatives and tends to perceive new friendships as closer than they actually are. Scott believes his subordinates to be his family, and oftentimes gets involved in their personal lives without their consent. His parents divorced when he was young (age unknown), and he displays clear resentment towards his stepfather and sister, whom he once didn’t talk to for fifteen years. Scott has a very close relationship with his mother now, though this was not the case when he was a child. Though Scott seems to be lacking in managerial style, responsibility, and delegation, he demonstrates above-average sales abilities due to his personable qualities. Scott does not have a history of drug or alcohol abuse, though he will drink in social situations and when pressured to do so by coworkers.
Some of Michael Scott’s behaviors fit with the description of histrionic personality disorder, namely that he likes to be the center of attention, uses impressionistic speech, considers relationships to be more intimate than they actually are, and even shows self-dramatization at times. These things still do not meet all five criteria for the diagnosis, however. This video by Dr. Grande goes through each of the criteria for histrionic personality disorder (start at the 14:54 mark), then goes on to explain why Michael Scott may better fit the description for narcissistic personality disorder, which we’ll examine on the next page.
Because of the overlap in some of the criteria and frequent comorbidity of histrionic personality disorder with other personality disorders, some scholars have recommended removing the histrionic diagnosis altogether.
Bakkevig and Karterud (2010), in a study carried out with a sample of patients attending psychiatric day hospital, concluded that the prevalence of HPD was very low (0.4%) and comorbidity was high, especially with borderline, narcissistic, and dependent personality disorders. They suggested that the HPD category should be deleted from the DSM system, excepting that clinical phenomena of exhibitionism and attention-seeking, which are the dominant personality features of HPD, should be preserved in an exhibitionistic subtype of narcissism.
histrionic personality disorder: characterized by a pattern of excessive attention-seeking behaviors, usually beginning in early childhood, including inappropriate seduction and an excessive need for approval
personality disorder: group of DSM-5 disorders characterized by an inflexible and pervasive personality style that differs markedly from the expectations of one’s culture and causes distress and impairment
- Novais F, Araújo A and Godinho P (2015) Historical roots of histrionic personality disorder. Front. Psychol. 6:1463. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01463 ↵