Histrionic Personality Disorder – HPD (also referred to as theatrical personality)
This personality disorder is characterized by the constant search for attention through provocative or inappropriate behavior and excessive emotionality. These people would do practically anything to be the center of attention and to get and keep all of the attention. If this does not happen, they often become depressed. Otherwise they are lively, enthusiastic, dramatic and extremely charming. They become conspicuous through their often inappropriately provocative and seductive ways, even in completely unsuitable situations and their appearance is the focus and top priority for them. Emotions are often portrayed in inadequate ways; they can appear in an either exaggerated or understated manner. These people speak dramatically, express their opinion with vehemence and forego facts or informative details. They appear to be like a flag in the wind, following every current trend in order to meet their extreme need for acceptance and attention.
These people crave novelty and get bored easily, which is why they change friends and jobs frequently. They always want to see immediate satisfaction for their actions, and when that doesn’t happen, they seem to become frustrated quickly.
In relationships, these people tend to be too gullible and manipulable, and often believe that the relationship is closer and more intimate than it actually is. Emotional and sexual intimacy are difficult for them and they sometimes fall into the role of the victim. They like to manipulate and control and at the same time quickly become dependent on their partner.
HPD is divided into five subtypes:
- The theatrical type easily slips into different roles
- The hypomanic type often reacts erratically and impulsively
- The infantile type is driven by the fear of being abandoned
- The flattering type seeks admiration
- The devious type tries to manipulate and control others
The proportion of histrionic personality disorder is estimated to be less than 2% of the general population. It occurs roughly as often in men as in women. The first signs of HPD are usually observed in early adulthood.
In the diagnosis of HPD, at least 5 or more of the following points must be met:
- A pervasive pattern of authentic theatrics (apparent emotionality) and attention-seeking.
- Feeling unhappy and uncomfortable when they are not the focus of attention
- Interactions that are inappropriately sexually seductive or provocative
- Rapidly changing expression of emotions
- Consistent use of physical appearance to attract attention
- Language that is extremely impressionistic and vague
- Self-dramatization, theatrics and extravagant expression of emotions
- Suggestibility (easily influenced by other people or situations)
- Believing that their relationships are more intimate than they really are
The difference to narcissism
While narcissists also seek attention, there is a significant difference in the reasoning behind it. Narcissists want to stand out from the crowd, to be admired and to be “superior”. For people with HPD, on the other hand, the type of attention they’re receiving is not of importance, whether they are viewed as cute or dumb, they do not particularly care, the most important thing is that they are the center of attention. The self-esteem of people with HPD is usually very low, in contrast to people with narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissists generally want to think of themselves as superior to others, while people with HPD tend to focus more on their demeanor and their looks. They are less picky about the kind of attention they are attracting, the main thing is that it does attract attention. People with either personality disorder have mostly grown up with parents or caregivers who didn’t pay them enough or too much attention, creating an unhealthy image of love. People with HPD constantly need external confirmation. People with HPD will use any means to receive attention, whereas the narcissist is targeting the attention of specific people. People with HPD believe that everyone wants to be with them. Any negative comments are dismissed in their favor, i.e. „she’s just jealous“. People with HPD appear self-confident in front of strangers, but with people close to them they are needy and demanding. If their continuous need for attention is not met by people around, they can result to destructive, toxic, and aggressive behavior.
A study over 30 years with university students clearly shows how fast and widespread narcissistic traits are becoming within the population. In the 1980s, 30% of those surveyed had narcissistic traits, while 70% had empathic traits. 30 years later, the percentages were reversed, with 70% of students of heightened narcissistic traits and only 30% with empathic skills. Based on this, it can be assumed that you will meet many more narcissists in your life. The next time you meet someone superficial, devoid of empathy, with a fake charm and intellect, it is very likely a narcissist – so you’d better be on the lookout.