What is histrionic personality disorder?

Histrionic personality disorder (HPD) is a mental condition characterized by a number of traits, including extreme extroversion, obsession with personal appearance, and the often inappropriate use of seduction to manipulate others. A person with HPD is usually the life of a party, with an engaging personality and a natural lack of social inhibition. Ironically, the positive traits displayed by a patient coincide with much of what society generally considers to be ideal behavior. People with HPD often rise in social and business circles due to their outgoing personalities and lofty ambitions.

However, HPD is considered a personality disorder for a reason. While patients may display all the qualities admired by others, many of them are also plagued by inner thoughts of inferiority. While someone with this condition may express empathy or affection, the actual level of emotional connection often ends on the surface. Someone with HPD may mimic, or even exaggerate, an appropriate emotional response, but their selfish nature often prevents true bonding with others. A true patient might feel lost in a crowd if he or she is not constantly the center of attention.

The "histrionic" element of HPD often shows itself as dramatic outbursts that are rarely proportional to the triggering incident. An adult with HPD can literally burst into a childish tantrum after an argument with a romantic partner. Victims tend to revert to childhood emotional manipulations whenever they feel powerless. Many people may have first-hand experience with so-called "drama queens" who tend to fly out of control whenever the slightest hint of conflict arises. Others with HPD may create an atmosphere where others feel compelled to accept their needs rather than elicit emotionally charged responses.

Both men and women are susceptible to developing HPD, which many experts believe has genetic and social origins. Women with this condition tend to seek out unrealistic relationships, often projecting idealized qualities onto less than ideal partners. Sexual promiscuity is also a hallmark symptom of HPD, as is recreational drug use. Women with HPD can also spend hours working on their physical appearance, from excessive workouts to excessive use of cosmetics. Negative emotions are often repressed in favor of exaggerated smiles and a penchant for hedonistic behavior in public.

Treating HPD can be a difficult process, because many people don't see their behavior as problematic. They may only voluntarily seek treatment after a volatile romantic breakup or complete social ostracism by those who can no longer tolerate the person's self-absorbed behavior. Others may be ordered to professional counseling as a result of illegal or immoral acts. Psychologists can prescribe antidepressants to address some of the behavioral problems, and long-term psychotherapy can help HPD patients understand how destructive their self-absorbed lifestyle choices can be for themselves and others.

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