Histrionic Personality Disorder
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By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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Most patients with the Histrionic Personality Disorder are women. This immediately raises the question: Is this a real mental health disorder or a culture-bound syndrome which reflects the values of a patriarchal and misogynistic society? A man with similar traits is bound to be admired as a "macho" or, at worst, labelled a "womanizer".
Histrionics resemble narcissists: both seek attention compulsively and are markedly dysphoric and uncomfortable when not at the center of attention. They have to be the life of the party. If they fail in achieving this pivotal role, they act out, create hysterical scenes, or confabulate.
Like the somatic narcissist, the histrionic is preoccupied with physical appearance, sexual conquests, her health, and her body. The typical histrionic spends huge dollops of money and expend inordinate amounts of time on grooming. Histrionics fish for compliments and are upset when confronted with criticism or proof that they are not as glamorous or alluring as they thought they are.
Unlike narcissists, though, histrionics are genuinely enthusiastic, open, emotional, warm, and empathic, up to the point of being maudlin and sentimental. They also strive to "fit in", mingle, blend, and "become a part of" groups, collectives, and social institutions.
Histrionics sexualize everyone and every situation. They constantly act flirtatious, provocative, and seductive, even when such behavior is not warranted by circumstances or, worse still, is proscribed and highly inappropriate (for instance in professional and occupational settings).
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Such conduct is often ill-received. People usually find this unabashed directness and undisguised hunger for approval annoying, or outright repulsive. Consequently, histrionics are sometimes subject to social censure and ostracism.
The histrionic leverages this libidinous excess and overt emotionality to gain the attention she craves. But the histrionics' intensity and unpredictability are exhausting. The histrionic's nearest and dearest are often embarrassed by her unbridled display of emotions: hugging casual acquaintances, uncontrollable sobbing in public, or having temper tantrums. The histrionic's behavior is so off-color that she is typically accused of being a fake.
I wrote this about the histrionic in the Open Site Encyclopedia:
"As the histrionic depletes one source of narcissistic supply after another, she glides from one relationship to the next, experiencing a range of shallow feelings and commitments in the process. This shallowness is reflected in the histrionic's speech which is impressionistic, disjointed, and generalized. Concerned only with the latest conquest, the histrionic uses her physical appearance and attire as a kind of conscious bait. It is ironic that histrionics often mistake the depth, durability, and intimacy of their relationships and are devastated by their inevitable premature termination.
Histrionics are the quintessential drama queens. They are theatrical, their emotions exaggerated to the point of a caricature, their gestures sweeping, disproportional, and inappropriate. The histrionic is easily suggestible and responds instantly and fully to the slightest change in circumstances and to the most meaningless communication or behavior by others." Histrionics are early adopters and closely adhere to the latest fads and fashions.”
Note: Child Abuse and Histrionic Behavior
The adult who has been abused (sexually, physically) or neglected and abandoned as a child spends her entire life seeking the attachment, bonding, love, and affection that she had been denied early on. She is likely to adopt one of three strategies in this quest: sexual promiscuity; emotional promiscuity (becoming unreservedly intimate with relative strangers); and hoarding (of love-substitutes, such as money.)
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