You’ve seen them around. Everybody knows their name because they put on a daily show. Remember those people having the loudest laughter in the open space or making loud striking comments, sometimes with sexual innuendos or just provocative, making it sound like flirting? You couldn’t hear the rest of the story, but you knew the circus was in town.
Characters you can’t miss, persons affected by histrionic personality disorder suffer when they are not the centre of attention. This guides them to resort often to seductive or sexually provocative behaviour that is inadequate to the context. Imagine a female inspector or a prosecutor dressing in a transparent dress while exercising her profession or a CEO showing up in a tight colourful t-shirt at a business meeting, looking all macho, with sunglasses on.
Whether we’re talking about the ‘lady in red’ of the parties or the eccentric flashy guy, histrionic characters tend to make use of their physical appearance to draw attention. On their social media wall you will often find artistic pictures, having all qualities of a professional pictorial, with one gap: they lack authenticity. Basically, unnatural poses. Being attention seekers, it’s hard for them to bond with persons of the same sex because they are perceived as a threat (especially in women’s case).
Their emotions can change rapidly and are expressed superficially, often interpreted as emotional instability. For obvious reasons, these people should never work on NDA projects or dealing with strict security protocols, nor be part of a team of negotiators because they can tear apart contracts or set clauses that will be a disaster to deal with in the delivery phase. However, they can make very good sales people in 1:1 negotiations.
Always looking for challenges, they easily get bored, both at work and in personal relations. They tend to capture attention either by acting like a god or… like a victim. Whichever pose they will choose, it will serve as means to procure whatever they want to obtain. If they chose to play a victim role to get attention, it may border paranoid behaviour.
Their speech uses an impressionistic, bombastic style, lacking actual details (think Trump’s speech). Emotions are expressed with exaggeration, dramatized and hearing their monologue resembles a drama play. Imagine a simple day to day situation where you ask someone: “Hey, how was seeing your niece this weekend?” Most people would answer something like ‘oh great, we had fun, went to the park, played in the pool, etc’. A histrionic character would construct a whole scene: “I can’t even describe… That warmth in her heart and the glow in her eyes, under the serene sky of that sunny day… so hard to tell if it was the sun warming us or her soul spreading joy…” and this could go on for another 10 lines, leaving you clueless as to how things went or what really happened.
You need to understand that in the presence of such people, you are either part of the audience or props for the play. There is just one star on the stage and no room for another. The audience never gets to the stage, only props do.
Surprisingly, they can be easily influenced by others. A histrionic leader can be easily manipulated and if so, you need to identify who is pulling the strings that make the puppet move. They also make rash decisions, often guided by selfishness.
People affected by this disorder perceive relations as more intimate than they really are. You might find these people confessing sexual preferences / fantasies, or very personal life details to people they’ve just met the same day, in a completely social, non-dating, context. Because of this distorted perception, they interpret normal negative reactions or simple distancing as abandonment, rejection or hate. They are vulnerable to criticism and it’s generally hard for them to develop and maintain intimate relations. As every actor needs a script writer or a director, they have good chances of attracting manipulators or in case of women to be perceived as “trophies”, while there can never been a love bond between a hunter and prey.
The root cause of this disorder is not fully known, yet there is some agreement that the early environment in which the child grew (either familly or social environment) has a considerable influence, probably dealing with challenges in getting the parents’ attention. In the end if their personality construct doesn’t change, they end up bad, because people will either try to steal some of their spotlight or use their emotional side as an amplifier for the message they want to send. Their provocative behaviour may put them into situations where they will face physical harm or shady entourages. In extreme cases (requiring medical attention), they may resort to planned suicide (where the setting, clothing and messages left behind are carefully chosen) or self-mutilation / self-harming.
The worst idea you could get, would be try to save these people, because best case you will encourage them to shift to a victim’s stance and play a new role. They usually wake up once their behaviour results in serious consequences. Until then, you’re either an audience, paying a ticket for the show or props for the play, a simple object. The ticket might be paid in time, services or feelings, so make sure you can afford to watch the show from a front row. Besides, the audience is supposed to remain silent during the performance. Go grab some popcorn or tortilla chips!