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Understanding Histrionic Personality Disorder
Page Two

The Search for Attention and Admiration

The central conflict of persons with Histrionic Personality Disorders is their unresolved childhood need for affection, approval, and admiration. For some reason, histrionic persons have failed to develop a solid sense of themselves and their significance and worth. Unconsciously they feel empty, inadequate, or unlovable. Consequently, they are constantly turning to others for affirmation, attention, and rewards. In the process, they develop a highly tuned sensitivity to the moods and thoughts of those they wish to impress. They learn to quickly determine what actions or antics will succeed in getting others to respond to them in a positive way. But no matter how much attention they receive, it is never enough. It is like pouring water through a sieve.

Histrionic personality disorder
has a long history dating back
some 4,000 years ago when
it was called hysteria.

Problems With Intimacy and Commitment

Underneath their overtly friendly relational style, histrionic individuals are actually quite unable to form healthy, intimate, lasting relationships. Some histrionic individuals try to convince others that they have so much capacity for love that one person alone can't meet it! Some are sexually unfaithful to their mates. Others are simply driven to always be with others and don't enjoy spending much quality time with their spouse.

This was true of Christy. Her husband was repeatedly frustrated when he attempted to plan and enjoy an intimate dinner just for two. Tom's efforts usually ended in explosive arguments when Christy complained that she would rather have had friends come along, and accused Tom of not appreciating her and stifling her social life.

Fluctuating Behavior

The histrionic person's effort to act in ways calculated to gain attention and admiration creates an extremely unstable pattern of behaviors and fickle emotions. Anytime they perceive that they are not commanding the attention they seek, they may do something dramatic, create a scene, or tell an exaggerated story to draw the focus of attention to themselves. Since histrionic individuals are essentially using others to build up their own fragile feelings about themselves, they must be constantly on the lookout for ways of getting the attention they so badly crave. But this leaves them without a solid, consistent sense of who they are and with a persistently unpredictable way of being. They are more concerned about getting attention from others than they are about being true to themselves.

Impressionistic Thoughts and Speech

Those with HPD also have a style of thinking and speaking that differs from most of us. They tend to be highly impressionistic and lacking in details and specifics. They express strong opinions with a dramatic flair, but when asked to explain themselves, their underlying reasons are vague and without supporting facts and details. When describing another person, for example, they may say, "He's incredible," "He's huge," or "I hate her." They are strong on impressions but weak on details, facts, and carefully thought out plans and logic. They also tend to play hunches and adopt convictions quickly since their feelings and opinions are so easily influenced by others and by current fads. They may consider relationships to be more intimate than they actually are, describing almost every acquaintance as "my dear," or "my dear friend."

The following section clarifies the major differences between someone with a Histrionic Personality Style and someone with an actual Histrionic Personality Disorder. Many of us share some of the characteristics of a Histrionic Style, to a slight or moderate degree, but few of us show the excesses of those with a Histrionic Personality Disorder. These traits only reach the level of a personality disorder when they are so frequent and inflexible that they create serious problems or impairments in relationships, or sufficient distress to make the person unhappy in life.

Comparison of the Histrionic Personality Style
and Histrionic Personality Disorder1

Personality Style Personality Disorder
Enjoy compliments and praise
Constantly seeks or demands reassurance, approval, or praise
Attentive to appearance and grooming, enjoys clothes, style, and fashion
Overly concerned with physical attractiveness
Charming, engaging, and appropriately attractive in appearance and behavior
Sexually seductive in appearance and behavior
Lively and fun-loving, often impulsive, but can delay gratification
Expresses emotion with inappropriate exaggeration; self-centered and little tolerance for delayed gratification
Enjoy being the center of attention, and can rise to the occasion when all eyes are on them— enjoying acting or drama
Uncomfortable in situations where they cannot be the center of attention—have an intense need to be acting all the time
Sensation oriented, emotionally demonstrative, and physically affectionate; react emotionally, but appropriately
Display strong but rapidly shifting and shallow emotions
Utilize a style of speech that is appropriately global and specific
Utilize a style of speech that is excessively impressionistic and lacking in detail

Continued on Page Three


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