You’ve probably encountered people with Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD). They’re prone to dramatically waving their arms, crying, shouting, screaming, or whispering dramatically while accusing their unwilling victims of thoughts and motives that they don’t actually have. Melodramatic to the core, histrionic people crave attention and know how to get it. If you’ve witnessed a female wearing a plunging neckline, or who used other sexually provocative behaviors inappropriately and repeatedly, she might have had HPD. Perhaps it was the man who demanded to know if you want him to kill himself because you, you uncooperative creep, refused to cater to his out-of-bounds interests. Maybe it was the child who screamed and carried on in other ways when someone didn’t give them what they’d requested for the “millionth” time. Highly exaggerated emotions are typical of histrionic people. They’ll take their victims to embarrassing extremes or on long, miserable guilt trips if they can get away with that. Let’s learn how to understand the source of the problem, and how to stop it,
Histrionic people have dramatically shifting, unpredictable emotions and unsubstantiated self-images. They’re not as badly off or as deserving as they claim to be, but they’ll do everything in their power, and maybe someone else’s, to convince you otherwise. Their moods change rapidly, without obvious cause, challenging the boundaries of any and all relationships.
Members of the mental health world tend to believe that histrionic people learned how to behave that way from like-minded relatives or acquaintances, or that they have a genetic predisposition to be emotional show-offs. Poor parenting might be a problem, too. No matter the cause, though, the rest of us need skills for getting out of a histrionic person’s path of destruction.
Psychotherapist Lena Shore MSc., comments that mental health experts “no longer label people as having histrionic personality disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [ED: the bible of the mental health industry] stopped listing the stand-alone diagnosis with the DSM IV version. The updated DSM V refers to the HPD problem under the umbrella term Borderline Personality Disorder. People with BPD and HPD suffer intense, dysregulated, excessive emotions.” In other words, they lack self-control. Slow, deliberate, mature thought is not their chosen mindset. They might act out their sad, mad, fearful emotional storms with trembling/rocking motions, self-isolation, throwing objects, weeping, rigid thinking, screaming, and/or a refusal to make eye contact or to verbalize their thoughts. Their goal is to instill a sense of unbearable agony in the person(s) whom they’re victimizing, in order to get what they want.
Shore adds that “BPD affects between 3-5% of the population. When a person with BPD enters an emotional storm, there is literally ‘no one home.’ Their pre-frontal cortex, responsible for rational thought, shuts down. They enter ‘emotional mind’ or a deeper survival mode. People around them will find them very difficult to live with. BPD sufferers can lash out in hostility and verbal insults.”
BPD sufferers can find greater peace of mind and have happier relationships with therapy. Effective modalities of treatment include Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) that teaches skills for reducing conflict, Mentalization for making sense of how other people think, and Schema Therapy which is used on people who failed to benefit from other sorts of therapy. It helps them to behave maturely rather than destructively.
To prevent histrionic people from undermining your life or anyone’s, remain outwardly calm even if you must fake it. The histrionic person’s goal is to make people panic instead of thinking rationally, to force the responsibility for the histrionic person’s irrational behavior on the innocent observer. Only their allegations of you wanting to cause harm, of being a cold and uncaring, or of having some other negative trait will matter to histrionic accusers. Accusations are among their tools for imposing a sense of guilt in order to gain unwarranted cooperation.
Breathe deeply, look the accuser in the eye with a serene expression and silently remind yourself that you are fair, not unfair, to protect yourself from being tricked into submission. Don’t debate the merits or demerits of a histrionic person’s inexcusable, unreasonable arguments and claims. Logic won’t convince them of anything. Remain quiet, and they will lose the target for their machinations. Sidestep the emotional blackmail by meeting your needs, not the exaggerated demands of the histrionic person. Eventually, the drama queen or king will stop trying to abuse you.
In brief, meet your needs, not theirs. If a histrionic person calms down enough to behave sensibly, though, honor the reality by interacting in a sensible manner with them. If they revert to theatrics, end the interaction. You’ve been signaled that they refuse to along with you. Go on with your life unimpeded by a manipulator.
Yocheved Golani is a popular writer whose byline has appeared worldwide in print and online. A certified Health Information Management professional, she is a member of Get Help Israel. Certified in Spiritual Chaplaincy (End of Life issues) and in counseling skills, her life coaching for ill people puts healthy perspective into a clients’ success plan for achieving desired goals.