What is a Histrionic?
| About Histrionic Personality Disorder: What is a Histrionic? |
According to the standard diagnostic manuals (DSM V, etc), Histrionic Personality Disorder is one of four disorders in Cluster B. The others are Borderline, Antisocial and Narcissistic Personality disorders. It’s fairly common that these disorders coexist with others in an afflicted person. Narcissistic Personality Disorder may be co-morbid with Borderline or Histrionic Personality Disorder, for example.
Another way to look at it (and this is how I see it) is that the Cluster B is a spectrum and the disorders it encompasses are not necessarily cleanly delineated. The lines are blurry, many symptoms and behaviors are common between the disorders and comorbidity is also pretty often observed. Cluster B disorders overlap and may even shift, so a person diagnosed one day with one of these disorders may later be seen to have traits consistent with the definition of another.
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Histrionic Personality Disorder is considered the more flamboyant of the Cluster B types. They’re known to be overly dramatic and to overestimate the significance of their interpersonal relationships. They tend to think their acquaintances are all deep and profound connections.
Histrionics are often thought of as “drama queens,” but they also might be the first ones to insist that they “hate drama,” even as they scheme to create it.
These are some outward characteristics, but at their core, they’re driven by the same trauma-induced need for narcissistic supply (or validation), control over others and lack of instinctive empathy that defines narcissistic personality disorder.
I submit that histrionics are just narcissists with the outward dressing of extra drama and they tend to be more sexual. Histrionics use sex, flirtation, provocative dress and exhibitionism to get the attention and narcissistic supply they desire. It’s just one of a number of strategies Cluster B disordered people employ to obtain their supply.
You could think of it like fishermen. Some find success with live bait, some by trolling, some like bobbers and some are fly fishers. They use different strategies, but they’re all just trying to catch fish.
My own narcissistic ex, Tina could often have been described as histrionic, in the context of the general term or the personality disorder described by the psychology diagnostic manuals. Her style of narcissism was “covert,” or vulnerable. She was a victim and a flatterer. Her narcissistic supply came (largely) in the forms of sympathy and sexual attention. She was at times exhibitionist, provocative and frequently crossed the lines of propriety in pursuit of attention from other men.
She would mirror the superficial aspects of new targets and idealize them in the beginning – before eventually devaluing and driving them away.
For a while, I thought she was probably borderline, with her long history of unstable moods and relationships. Later, I realized she was driven by a need for narcissistic supply and lack of empathy like narcissists, but lacking their typical grandiosity. She employed histrionic behavior to get the supply she was after. So, was she borderline, covert narcissist or histrionic? None. She was all of them (and perhaps a touch antisocial as well).
I suspect this is often the case. These disorders are all different strategies (conscious or unconscious) to obtain what the disordered person needs or desires, which is primarily validating recognition of a sort, commonly called “narcissistic supply.”
Read next: More About Histrionics