Histrionic Personality Disorder
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By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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Most patients with Histrionic Personality Disorder are women. This immediately raises the question: Is this a real mental health disorder or a culture-bound syndrome which reflects the values of a patriarchal and misogynistic society? A man with similar traits is bound to be admired as a "macho" or, at worst, labelled a "womanizer".
Histrionics resemble narcissists: both seek attention compulsively and are markedly dysphoric and uncomfortable when not at the center of attention. They have to be the life of the party. If they fail in achieving this pivotal role, they act out, create hysterical scenes, or confabulate.
Like the somatic narcissist, the histrionic is preoccupied with physical appearance, sexual conquests, her health, and her body. The typical histrionic spends huge dollops of money and expend inordinate amounts of time on grooming. Histrionics fish for compliments and are upset when confronted with criticism or proof that they are not as glamorous or alluring as they thought they are.
Unlike narcissists, though, histrionics are genuinely enthusiastic, open, emotional, warm, and empathic, up to the point of being maudlin and sentimental. They also strive to "fit in", mingle, blend, and "become a part of" groups, collectives, and social institutions.
The Histrionic woman does not like sex at all - she likes the POWER that her sexuality gives her over men. So when the man is hers, when she had won, conquered, mastered, and subjugated her man, she loses all sexual interest in him and begins to pay sexual attention to other men. She reframes her extinguished flame (discarded lover) and the now dead relationship or infatuation: instead of a much desired lover he is now a good friend, a sadistic enemy, or a much-needed interlude.
Histrionics sexualize everyone and every situation. They constantly act flirtatious, provocative, and seductive, even when such behavior is not warranted by circumstances or, worse still, is proscribed and highly inappropriate (for instance in professional and occupational settings).
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Such conduct is often ill-received. People usually find this unabashed directness and undisguised hunger for approval annoying, or outright repulsive. Consequently, histrionics are sometimes subject to social censure and ostracism.
The histrionic leverages this libidinous excess and overt emotionality to gain the attention she craves. But the histrionics' intensity and unpredictability are exhausting. The histrionic's nearest and dearest are often embarrassed by her unbridled display of emotions: hugging casual acquaintances, uncontrollable sobbing in public, or having temper tantrums. The histrionic's behavior is so off-color that she is typically accused of being a fake.
I wrote this about the histrionic in the Open Site Encyclopedia:
"As the histrionic depletes one source of narcissistic supply after another, she glides from one relationship to the next, experiencing a range of shallow feelings and commitments in the process. This shallowness is reflected in the histrionic's speech which is impressionistic, disjointed, and generalized. Concerned only with the latest conquest, the histrionic uses her physical appearance and attire as a kind of conscious bait. It is ironic that histrionics often mistake the depth, durability, and intimacy of their relationships and are devastated by their inevitable premature termination.
Histrionics are the quintessential drama queens. They are theatrical, their emotions exaggerated to the point of a caricature, their gestures sweeping, disproportional, and inappropriate. The histrionic is easily suggestible and responds instantly and fully to the slightest change in circumstances and to the most meaningless communication or behavior by others." Histrionics are early adopters and closely adhere to the latest fads and fashions.”
The Collapsed Histrionic
The collapsed histrionic is
usually a woman with body image (somatoform) issues and a low sense of
self-worth. Yet, she still needs men and uses them to regulate her flagging
self-esteem and deficient self-confidence. This creates a permanent dissonance
and anticipatory anxiety as such a woman expects fully to be rejected and
humiliated by men
Low self-esteem often leads to an impaired reality test: the collapsed histrionic misreads environmental, social, and sexual cues and often ends up being mocked, shunned, abused, or sexually assaulted by men
She compensates for her insecurities with brazen defiance and grandiosity as well as substance abuse, all of which compound her ability to properly gauge reality
Her feelings of inferiority and inadequacy lead the collapsed histrionic to social withdrawal and reclusiveness. She rarely dates men and when she does, she aggresses against, pushes away, and abuses alpha males, even when they are genuinely interested in her (“preemptive abandonment”).
Instead, the collapsed histrionic picks up "safe" males: weak, ugly losers, who are very unlikely to painfully reject her.
Personality Disorder (HPD) combines traits of both Narcissistic and Antisocial
(psychopathic) personality disorders. It, therefore, stands to reason that
these three cluster B ("dramatic") stalwarts share the same etiology
Many histrionics ("attention whores") use the opposite sex - their attention, infatuation, and arousal - to regulate their emotions, moods, affect, and sense of self-worth (self-esteem and self-confidence). Potential mates are their "histrionic supply". Similarly, when roundly and resolutely rejected, collapsed histrionics react with "histrionic rage". They resort to in your face defiance, often by triangulating with a third person in order to provoke jealousy or grievously hurt the frustrating and rejecting object.
The histrionic's aggression is focused on restoring his or her grandiosity via a new and ostentatious sexual conquest. But it can and does wear many other, mostly passive-aggressive or reckless forms or behaviors: compulsive shopping ("shopaholism"), gambling, lying, sabotaging, procrastinating, substance abuse, verbal abuse, brutal honesty, offensive humor and mockery, and so on.
When a woman with mental
health issues is sexually or otherwise rejected by her intimate partner she
acts out in one of two typical ways. This is especially true if the husband
also justifies his sadistic cruelty by adding abuse & overt humiliation to
injury: "You are ugly, you do not turn me on, you do not know how to be a
woman, you are stupid & repulsive, you are whorish, you do not understand
my sexual & psychological needs." The union then devolves into a power
match. The personality disordered (narcissistic, histrionic, borderline) woman
seeks to obtain two goals to redress her grievances & her sense of offended
The first goal is to disprove her partner's evaluation of her & restore her self-esteem & self-confidence by proving mainly to herself how other men desire her. This she accomplished by becoming a flirtatious, promiscuous & seductive cockteaser.
The second goal is to punish her (non) intimate partner by rendering "his woman" (herself) a slut - or by transmogrifying into a non-woman.
By sexually egregiously misbehaving with multiple men, the rejected woman transforms herself into a "whore". This is her way to penalize her abuser by devaluing & debasing herself (his "property"). But some women choose the exact opposite solution: they passive-aggressively stop being women altogether. In a way, they unconsciously adopt the abuser's view of them as repellent & validate it. They neglect their appearance, abandon their personal hygiene, dress in tattered & shabby garb, put on no make up, are physically inert, and neglect their duties - including in business, childbearing & childrearing.
This is their way of defying their mean and nasty partner: "You say that I am not a woman? Well, here you are, I stop being one". These women eradicate their femininity & womanhood as a way of getting back at their mistreating spouse.
Note: Child Abuse and Histrionic Behavior
The adult who has been abused (sexually, physically) or neglected and abandoned as a child spends her entire life seeking the attachment, bonding, love, and affection that she had been denied early on. She is likely to adopt one of three strategies in this quest: sexual promiscuity; emotional promiscuity (becoming unreservedly intimate with relative strangers); and hoarding (of love-substitutes, such as money.)
Two Types of Men
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Histrionics respond differently to two types of men.
MEN TYPE 1
These are men who openly desire the histrionic, are infatuated with her, or even love her. The histrionic sees herself through their eyes and she likes what she sees. She
falls in love with herself through them.
But after a brief affair or a few encounters with this type of men, they begin to bore the histrionic and irritate her and she begins to devalue them because there is no thrill, chase, conquest, hunt, or competition involved in the totally predictable relationship.
The histrionic should limit her contact with such men to a passive role: accept their admiration, attention, and infatuation but not take it any further. This way she will not create enemies and will be able to dedicate her scarce resources to Man Type 2 which is absolutely her only kind of Man.
MAN TYPE 2
These are men who are visibly attracted to the histrionic and even desire her sexually, but are avoidant emotionally.
This is the only type of man with whom the histrionic can have a long-term relationship, however dysfunctional and painful the interaction may be.
With these men there is always some game going on: constant hunting, the adrenaline-filled ups and downs, competing with other women, conquest and loss, etc.
When the histrionic is in a relationship with such an emotionally unavailable man, she should mirror him: she should approach and avoid, be his and not his, provoke his jealousy, vanish and reappear, promise and withhold, give and torture. This kind of conduct will render these men dependent on the histrionic.
The Attention Whore
Some women - single &
married - use male attention to regulate their sense of self-worth (self
confidence & self esteem). When low, these "attention whores"
become flirtatious, seductive, cocktease, & trade sex for even the most
inconsequential signs of attention: a chat, a compliment, small gifts, flowers,
or a meal. Even if the attention they get is vulgar & demeaning - being
groped & fondled in public or the targets of lewd, loud, explicit
"compliments" - they still prefer it to being ignored. "Bad or
the wrong kind of attention is better than no attention." Male attention
serves a few functions:
1. It reassures the woman of her irresistibility & attractiveness. A Woman who is rejected, neglected, abandoned, & ignored by her intimate partner feels compelled to restore her badly eroded self-image. So, she conducts a "poll" among other men, offering her body in exchange for an erectile affirmation, a vote of fluids that she is still desirable.
2. Reasserting control & power over men via her sex, such a woman assuages her anxiety over their misogynistic hostility & aggression. She tames them with her body to feel safe.
3. Some women are adrenaline junkies. Illicit affairs, cheating, deception, risky & reckless behaviors or situations are all perceived as thrilling & breathless adventures which alleviate the tedium of daily life.
4. Many of these women sexualize frustration, act out. Their impulse control is impaired. They use addictive sex & compulsive, habitual cheating to avenge themselves.
5. Unsated hunger for intimacy & a semblance of emotion is overpowering. A woman who lacks both will sometimes provide access to her body in return for even the feigned versions of what she craves.
6. Finally: some women break all boundaries in a feast of unbridled promiscuity. This is a form of masochistic self punishment, self-annihilation, & an affirmation of the woman's deeply ingrained introjects (inner critic, voices, superego) which inform her mercilessly that she is a whore, a bad object, & unworthy of anything better than being pumped and dumped by multiple men.
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