Histrionic Personality Disorder (1)
By: Beth McHugh 2013
Sarah-Kate is an elementary school teacher who is larger than life. Her bubbly personality seems ideally suited to teaching her young students and her enthusiasm certainly bowls most people over on first meeting.
Everything is "just wonderful" and your six-year old son is "just the most sweetest boy ever!" Sarah-Kate's speech is seductive and irrepressible, but ultimately tiring and frustrating. While she can be highly amusing, relating humorous incidences with her own style of overblown drama, people soon quickly learn not to believe everything that Sarah-Kate says.
If she is stung by an ant, it is a catastrophe. Her mother's heart attack was "huge." She will tell you that your passion fruit shortcake is "truly beyond professional level" and that her boyfriend, the last in a long, long line, is "definitely the one."
In therapy, I have been told that I am the greatest therapist ever by various sufferers of HPD; that my ability to read their situation is "divinely uncanny." Clearly I have no celestial powers, but this type of talk is characteristic of people with histrionic personality disorder. It is almost like they are on stage, playing to an enthusiastic audience at all times.
It is also very hard to pin these people down on details. Using mostly superlatives, everything you ask them about is "huge", "fabulous", or "truly outstanding." Conversely, bad things in their lives are "crushing," "deeply disturbing," "terrifyingly scary," or "I thought this was the end, that I'd drawn my last breath."
But you can never quite get them to explain any of their thoughts and feelings in detail. Consequently it is hard to ever get close to them, to really know them. They have problems with developing close, meaningful relationships with either gender because of this over dramatized behavior pattern that pervades all aspects of their lives.
There are also problems in employment as co-workers cannot rely on them, much less relate to or understand them. Many HPD sufferers are characterized by making promises that they have no intention of keeping. Sarah-Kate, for example, volunteered at a parent-teacher evening in front of a large audience to put on a play based on multiculturalism. It never materialized. Because she only had one group of students each year before passing them on, she was able to get away with this behavior for some years, but it did not go unnoticed by the principal.
People with HPD often move from job to job and relationship to relationship, before finally succumbing to depression.
We will look at further characteristics of this personality disorder in coming articles.