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The Exhausted Woman
with Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC

Understanding Histrionic Personality Disorder

Histrionic Personality DisorderThe word “histrionic” is defined as overly dramatic or emotional but the personality disorder includes overly sexual or provocative behavior.  Interestingly enough a histrionic will see themselves as very sexual even when they are not sexually appealing or physically attractive.  It is almost as if they have rose colored glasses on when they look in the mirror and then take them off when they look at others.

So what is Histrionic?  Well, according to the DSM-V, histrionic is a personality disorder which is diagnosed at eighteen years old or older but has a history prior to the diagnosis of the following characteristics.  The technical definition requires only five of these traits:

  • Is uncomfortable in situations in which he or she is 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 exaggeratedexpression of emotion,
  • Is suggestible, i.e., easily influenced by others or circumstances,
  • Considers relationships to be more intimate than they actually are.

The practical definition looks more like this:

  • Dresses provocatively and may even have exhibitionistic behavior,
  • Acts very dramatically, theatrically, and over-the-top almost as if they were in a constant performance,
  • Needs constant approval, attention, affirmation and affection to valid a sense of worth,
  • Gullible, yet can be very manipulative,
  • Might fake a physical or mental illness to gain attention,
  • Low tolerance for frustration,
  • Believes they are closer to others than they actually are,
  • Makes rash decisions without logically evaluating situation,
  • Might threaten or attempt suicide.

One of the best examples of a histrionic is Scarlett O’Hara from “Gone with the Wind”.  Her flair for the overly dramatic, the constant demand for attention, the quick foolish decisions, and emphasis on provocative clothing even during her impoverished years is typical histrionic.  It was all about Scarlett and she was furious at anyone who did not give her attention when she wanted it.

So how do you deal with a person who might be histrionic?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • “You look nice today” is a safe way to give needed attention without getting into the specifics of their clothing. Remember they are dressing provocatively on purpose so don’t go overboard on the compliments.
  • Allow them to be the center of attention for a specific time period to get it out of their system and then they will be more likely to share the stage with others.
  • Minimize conflict when they are around or they will shut down. They are not great fighters despite their forwardness.
  • Don’t play into their dramatic moments. Instead set firm boundaries with them.
  • Don’t get emotional, they have a sixth sense about emotion and will play on it. Sometimes they even turn the emotion sexual when there was no intention of any intimacy.
  • Be very careful because they make rash decisions which means they might agree now but won’t later.

What is the difference is between Borderline Personality Disorder? Placed side to side, the two disorders do share some of the same characterizations.  The big disparity is that borderlines don’t tend to be as sexual as histrionics.  While borderlines do engage in inappropriate sexual acts or make overly provocative comments, histrionics take it to the next level and make everything sexual including things that aren’t normally sexual. When dealing with this personality disorder, please get some professional help. There are many effective strategies available.


Understanding Histrionic Personality Disorder


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APA Reference
Hammond, C. (2017). Understanding Histrionic Personality Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 19, 2019, from