Histrionic Personality Disorder Case Study

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In psychiatry, histrionic personality disorder (HPD), or hysterical personality disorder, is a personality disorder which involves a pattern of excessive emotional expression and attention-seeking, including an excessive need for approval and inappropriate seductiveness, that usually begins in early adulthood.

The essential feature of the histrionic personality disorder is a pervasive and excessive pattern of emotionality and attention-seeking behavior. These individuals are lively, dramatic, enthusiastic, and flirtatious. They may be inappropriately sexually provocative, express strong emotions with an impressionistic style, and be easily influenced by others.

The literature differentiates HPD according to gender. Women with HPD are described as self-centered, self-indulgent, and intensely dependent on others. They are emotionally labile and cling to others in the context of immature relationships. Females with HPD over identify with others; they project their own unrealistic, fantasied intentions onto people with whom they are involved. They are emotionally shallow and have difficulty understanding others or themselves in any depth. Selection of marital or sexual partners is often highly inappropriate. Pathology increases with the level of intimacy in relationships. Women with HPD may show inappropriate and intense anger. They may engage in manipulative suicide threats as one aspect of general manipulative interpersonal behavior. [1]

Males with HPD usually present with identity diffusion, disturbed relationships, and lack of impulse control. They have antisocial tendencies and are inclined to exploit physical symptoms. These men are emotionally immature, dramatic, and shallow. [2] Both men and women with HPD engage in disinhibited behavior. [3]

People with this disorder are usually able to function at a high level and can be successful socially and at work. However, histrionic personality disorder may affect a person's social or romantic relationships or their ability to cope with losses or failures. People with this disorder may seek treatment for depression when romantic relationships end. They often fail to see their own situation realistically, instead tending to dramatize and exaggerate. Responsibility for failure or disappointment is usually blamed on others. They may go through frequent job changes, as they become easily bored and have trouble dealing with frustration. Because they tend to crave novelty and excitement, they may place themselves in risky situations. All of these factors may lead to greater risk of developing depression.


The cause of this disorder is unknown, but childhood events and genetics may both be involved.It occurs more frequently in women than in men, although some feel it is simply more often diagnosed in women because attention-seeking and sexual forwardness is less socially acceptable for women. The Histrionic Personality Disorder is only rarely found in men; men with similar symptoms are often diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. [4] However, in cases where the HPD diagnosis is more appropriate, there may be additional difficulties with regard to the person's sexual identification. One theory by Will Titshaw suggest that it results because at a young age the sufferer was always the center of attention and being admired, but then as they grew older and get less attention and admiration the sufferer then goes out of their way to once again get the attention and admiration that they used to get.

Little research has been conducted to determine the biologic sources of this disorder. Psychoanalytic theories incriminate seductive and authoritarian attitudes by fathers of these patients. [5]

Risk FactorsEdit


  • Major character traits may be inherited
  • Other character traits due to a combination of genetics and environment including adverse childhood experiences [6]


The symptoms include:

  • Constant seeking of reassurance or approval.
  • Excessive dramatics with exaggerated displays of emotions.
  • Excessive sensitivity to criticism or disapproval.
  • Inappropriately seductive appearance or behavior.
  • Excessive concern with physical appearance.
  • A need to be the center of attention (self-centeredness).
  • Low tolerance for frustration or delayed gratification.
  • Rapidly shifting emotional states that may appear shallow to others.
  • Opinions are easily influenced by other people, but difficult to back up with details.
  • Tendency to believe that relationships are more intimate than they actually are.
  • Make rash decisions
  • Speak dramatically but with few details and facts to back up opinions [7]
  • May exaggerate physical illness or injury for attention


The person's appearance, behavior, and history, and a psychological evaluation are usually sufficient to establish the diagnosis. There is no test to confirm this diagnosis. Because the criteria are subjective, some people may be wrongly diagnosed as having the disorder while others with the disorder may not be diagnosed. Treatment is often prompted by depression associated with dissolved romantic relationships. Medication does little to affect this personality disorder, but may be helpful with symptoms such as depression. Psychotherapy may also be of benefit.

Diagnostic criteria (DSM-IV-TR)Edit

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a widely used manual for diagnosing mental disorders, defines histrionic personality disorder as a pervasive pattern of excessive emotionality and attention seeking, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  1. is uncomfortable in situations in which he or she is not the center of attention
  2. interaction with others is often characterized by inappropriate sexually seductive or provocative behavior
  3. displays rapidly shifting and shallow expression of emotions
  4. consistently uses physical appearance to draw attention to self
  5. has a style of speech that is excessively impressionistic and lacking in detail
  6. shows self-dramatization, theatricality, and exaggerated expression of emotion
  7. is suggestible, i.e., easily influenced by others or circumstances
  8. considers relationships to be more intimate than they actually are.


A mnemonic that can be used to remember the criteria for histrionic personality disorder is PRAISE ME[8][9]:

  • P - provocative (or seductive) behavior
  • R - relationships, considered more intimate than they are
  • A - attention, must be at center of
  • I - influenced easily
  • S - speech (style) - wants to impress, lacks detail
  • E - emotional lability, shallowness
  • M - make-up - physical appearance used to draw attention to self
  • E - exaggerated emotions - theatrical

History of the DSM-IV diagnosis Edit

Histrionic Personality Disorder shares a divergent history with Conversion disorder and Somatization Disorder. Historically, they are linked to the ancient notion of hysteria, or “wandering womb.” (Note, however, that according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word "histrionic" dervies not from the Greek hystera, but from the Latin histrionicus, "pertaining to an actor.") Ancient Greeks thought that excessive emotionality in women was caused by a displaced uterus and sexual discontent. Christian ascetics during the Middle Ages blamed women's mental problems on witchery, sexual hunger, moral weakness, and demonic possession. By the 19th century, medical explanations proposed a weakness of women's nervous system related to biological sex. Thus, "hysteria" reflected the stereotype for women as vulnerable, inferior, and emotionally unbalanced. The extent to which the definition of Histrionic Personality Disorder currently reflects gender bias remains the subject of a controversy (see writings by Paul Chodoff on this topic).

"Hysteria" differentiated into conversion hysteria (later to become Conversion disorder) and hysterical personality (later to become Histrionic personality disorder) in the psychoanalytic literature as well as with the writings of Kraepelin, Schneider, and others. Sigmund Freud wrote primarily about conversion hysteria. Wilhelm Reich wrote about hysteria as a set of personality characteristics and differentiated conversion hysteria as a transient disorder from hysterical character. These early conceptualizations of both kinds of hysteria carried notions of women's deficiency due to penis envy and feelings of castration. Paul Chodoff has written about the ways in which these diagnoses paralleled the misogynous sentiment of the times.

The concept of hysterical personality was well developed by the mid-20th century and strongly resembled the current definition of Histrionic personality disorder. The first DSM featured a symptom-based category, “hysteria” (conversion) and a personality-based category, “emotionally unstable personality.” DSM-II distinguished between hysterical neurosis (conversion reaction and dissociative reaction) and hysterical (histrionic) personality. In DSM-III, the term Hysterical Personality changed to Histrionic Personality Disorder to emphasize the histrionic (derived from the Latin word histrio, or actor) behavior pattern and to reduce the confusion caused by the historical links of hysteria to conversion symptoms. The landmark case of Ruth E, helped to fully define and emphasize the characteristics of the current DSM-IV diagnostic.DSM-III-R attempted to reduce the overlap between Histrionic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder by dropping three overlapping criteria and adding two criteria that emphasized histrionicity. DSM-IV dropped two more criteria that did not appear to contribute to the consistency of the diagnosis, according to research done by Bruce Pfohl.

Diagnostic criteria (ICD-10)Edit

The International Statistical Classification of Diseases defines histrionic personality disorder as characterized by:

  • self-dramatization, theatricality, exaggerated expression of emotions;
  • suggestibility, easily influenced by others or by circumstances;
  • shallow and labile affectivity;
  • continual seeking for excitement and activities in which the patient is the centre of attention;
  • inappropriate seductiveness in appearance or behaviour;
  • over-concern with physical attractiveness.

Associated features may include egocentricity, self-indulgence, continuous longing for appreciation, feelings that are easily hurt, and persistent manipulative behaviour to achieve own needs.


Because of the lack of research support for work on personality disorders and long-term treatment with psychotherapy, the empirical findings on the treatment of these disorders remain based on the case report method and not on clinical trials. On the basis of case presentations, the treatment of choice is psychotherapy aimed at self-development through resolution of conflict and advancement of inhibited developmental lines. [10]

  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Medications
  • Alternative therapies [11]


The HPD is highly reactive. If there is another major disorder present, such as delusional disorder, then emotional intensity will create anger, rage, abuse and distance in relationships.

It is important for the therapist and family members to monitor and record all situations that trigger the HP so that the deep underlying overload of pain can be accessed and released for therapeutic change. [12]

Associated ConditionsEdit

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Panic disorder
  • Somatization disorders
  • Anorexia

A previous version of this text is from the US National Library of Medicine.

Histrionic PD: History of the disorder

  • historical sources
  • famous clinicans

Histrionic PD: Epidemiology

Histrionic PD: Risk factors

Histrionic PD: Etiology

Histrionic PD: Diagnosis & evaluation

The person's appearance, behavior, and history, and a psychological evaluation are usually sufficient to establish the diagnosis. There is no test to confirm this diagnosis. Because the criteria are subjective, some people may be wrongly diagnosed as having the disorder while others with the disorder may not be diagnosed.

Histrionic PD: Treatment Treatment is often prompted by depression associated with dissolved romantic relationships. Medication does little to affect this personality disorder, but may be helpful with symptoms such as depression. Psychotherapy may also be of benefit.

Histrionic PD: For people with this difficulty

Histrionic PD: For their carers

Instructions_for_archiving_academic_and_professional_materials Histrionic PD: Academic support materials

Histrionic PD: For the practitioner

Histrionic PD: Anonymous fictional case studies for training

See alsoEdit

References & BibliographyEdit

  1. Kernberg, Otto (1993). Severe Personality Disorders: Psychotherapeutic, 58-59, Yale University Press.
  2. Kernberg, Otto (1993). Severe Personality Disorders: Psychotherapeutic, 58-59, Yale University Press.
  3. [The Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD) The Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD)]. Dual Diagnosis and the Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD). URL accessed on 2007-01-10.
  4. Seligman, Martin E.P. (1984). Abnormal Psychology, W. W. Norton & Company.
  5. (2006). Histrionic Personality Disorder. Personality Disorders. WebMD. URL accessed on 2007-01-10.
  6. (2006). Histrionic Personality Disorder. Histrionic Personality Disorder: Description, Incidence, Prevalence, Risk Factors, Causes, Associated Conditions, Diagnosis, Signs and symptoms and treatment. Armenian Medical Network. URL accessed on 2007-01-10.
  7. Histrionic Personality Disorder. Histrionic Personality Disorder. The Cleveland Clinic. URL accessed on 2007-01-10.
  8. ↑Pinkofsky HB. Mnemonics for DSM-IV personality disorders. Psychiatr Serv. 1997 Sep;48(9):1197-8. PMID 9285984.
  9. ↑Personality Disorders. www.personalityresearch.org. URL: http://www.personalityresearch.org/pd.html. Accessed May 2, 2006.
  10. (2006). Histrionic Personality Disorder. Histrionic Personality Disorder - Choice of Treatment. Armenian Medical Network. URL accessed on 2007-01-10.
  11. Histrionic Personality Disorder. Histrionic Personality Disorder - Choice of Treatment. Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders - Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. URL accessed on 2007-01-10.
  12. (2006). Histrionic Personality Disorder. Histrionic Personality Disorder. Recurrent Depression Inc.. URL accessed on 2007-01-10.

Key textsEdit



Additional materialEdit



External linksEdit

Vivid description of what it's like living with Histrionic Personality Disorder. Read therapy notes from woman diagnosed with Histrionic Personality Disorder.

Notes of first therapy session with Marsha, female, 56, diagnosed with Histrionic Personality Disorder

Marsha visibly resents the fact that I have had to pay attention to another patient (an emergency) "at her expense" as she puts it. She pouts and bats suspiciously long eyelashes at me: "Has any of your female patients fallen in love with you?" - she suddenly changes tack. I explain to her what is transference and countertransference in therapy. She laughs throatily and shakes loose an acid blond mane: "You may call it what you want, doctor, but the simple truth is that you are irresistibly cute."

I steer away from these treacherous waters by asking her about her marriage. She sighs and her face contort, on the verge of tears: "I hate what's been happening to Doug and me. He has had such a stretch of bad luck - my heart goes out to him. I really love him you know. I miss what we used to be. But his rage attacks and jealousy are driving me away. I feel that I am suffocating."

Is he a possessive paranoid? She shifts uneasily in her seat: "I like to flirt. A little flirting never hurt nobody is what I say." Does Doug share her insouciance? He accuses her of being too provocative and seductive. Well, is she? "A woman can never be too much of either" - she protests mockingly.

Has she ever cheated on her husband? Never. So, why his jealous tantrums? Because she has been pretty direct with men she fancied, told them what she would do with them and to them if circumstances were different. Was this a wise thing to do in public? Maybe not the wisest, but it sure was fun, she laughs.

How did men react to her advances? "Usually, with an enormous erection." - she chuckles - "How did you react, doctor?" I was embarrassed, I admit, even annoyed. She doesn't believe me, she says. No red-blooded male has ever been put off by the lure of an attractive female and "from where I sit, you sure look as red-blooded as they come."

Doug has been her fourth serious relationship this year. How can such a short-lived liaison be meaningful? "Depth and intimacy can be created overnight" - she assures me, they are not a function of the length of acquaintance. But surely they depend on the amount of time spent together? "Is this your wife?' - she points at a silver-framed picture on my desk - "I bet you are hitting it off in the sack!" Actually, I tell her, that's my daughter. She shrugs off her faux-pas and sprawls across my duvet, long legs exposed to the hip and crossed at the ankles.

She sighs theatrically and shields her eyes with her hand: "I wish it was all over." Does she mean her relationship with Doug? "No, silly", she was referring to her tumultuous life and its vagaries. Does she really mean it? Of course not. She rolls to one side, leaning on her elbow, face supported by an open palm: "I just wish people were more lighthearted, you know? I wish they knew how to enjoy life to the maximum, give and take with joy. Isn't this what psychotherapy is all about? Aren't these the skills you, as a psychiatrist, are trying to instil in your patients?"

This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited"


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Last Updated: 06 July 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD


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