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Emotional, Erratic and Dramatic: Writing About Cluster B Personality Disorders

Antisocial. Histrionic. Borderline. Narcissistic. What are these personality disorders and how do you know if your character has one?

Antisocial. Histrionic. Borderline. Narcissistic.

What do they have in common? Full marks and a cup of tea to you if you said ‘personality disorders’. You know your stuff (or you read the title of this post).

These four personality disorders make up a grouping known as Cluster B, the emotional, erratic and dramatic cluster. But what does that mean, Faye? What are these personality disorders, how do you know if your character already has one, and how can you work them into your story if they don’t?

Time to crack open a copy of the DSM and find out.

To Keep in Mind:

The information in this post comes from the DSM-5 (see ‘Further Reading’). Please do not use it to diagnose yourself or others. It isn’t intended to be a substitute for professional advice so do consult a qualified clinical professional if you have any questions about the diagnosis criteria. Feel free to use this information to diagnose your characters, however!


What is a personality disorder is and what does that mean for your characters? Find out the facts in How to Write (Realistically) About Personality Disorders. Once you’re familiar with what to keep in mind when writing about the various Cluster B personality disorders, have a browse through each post in the Personality Disorder series. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find that your character already has a personality disorder. Maybe you’ll decide to give them one.

But which? Let’s take a brief look at each…


Antisocial Personality Disorder

This one has nothing to do with being unsociable and everything to do with holding society’s rules in contempt.

Characters with antisocial personality disorders (APD) don’t care for others’ rights. On the surface, they might appear charming, but when you get down to it, they’re remorseless, reckless and impulsive. Often, they’ll lie, steal, get into fights and generally commit unlawful acts, which is one reason why antisocial personality disorder is associated with criminality (though this isn’t always the case).

To be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, your character must display three or more of the seven criteria listed in the DSM-5. You can find out how your character needs to think and act if they’re to have this personality disorder in the post: How to Tell If Your Character Has Antisocial Personality Disorder.

If you’ve decided your character has APD, then you need to know how to write about it accurately. Learn what the diagnostic criteria really mean and how you can incorporate them into your stories in the post: Reckless and Remorseless: Writing About Antisocial Personality Disorder.


Histrionic Personality Disorder

Characters with histrionic personality disorder (HPD) are all about attention. They want the spotlight to be on them, centre stage with everyone watching—and if this isn’t the case, they’ll get that attention however they can.

Dramatic, emotional, flirtatious and vivacious, characters with histrionic personality disorder swing from mood to mood over small things, their emotions turned up to the max. Because of their emotional nature, they’ll often become deeply involved in relationships after a very short amount of time, and can end up wearing their partners out, embarrassing them with their exaggerated behaviour, or causing resentment later down the line.

To be diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder, your character must display five or more of the eight criteria listed in the DSM-5. You can find out how your character needs to think and act if they’re to have this personality disorder in the post: How to Tell If Your Character Has Histrionic Personality Disorder.

Have you settled upon your character having HPD? Then learn what the diagnostic criteria really mean and how you can incorporate them into your stories in the post: A Flair for the Dramatic: Writing About Histrionic Personality Disorder.


Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterised by intense and explosive emotions. Characters with this personality disorder tend to experience severe, unpredictable mood swings, fluctuating between powerful positive and negative feelings within a short time frame.

Emotions are felt much more deeply in those with borderline personality disorder—despair rather than sadness, rage rather than annoyance, panic rather than anxiety. Regulating emotional levels is that much harder, and self-harm and suicide attempts are fairly common in people with this disorder.

To be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, your character must display five or more of the nine criteria listed in the DSM-5. You can find out how your character needs to think and act if they’re to have this personality disorder in the post: How to Tell If Your Character Has Borderline Personality Disorder.

If your answer to the question above is yes, then learn what the diagnostic criteria really mean and how you can incorporate them into your stories in the post: Intense and Emotional: Writing About Borderline Personality Disorder.


Narcissistic Personality Disorder

This personality disorder is characterised by feelings of superiority, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. Characters with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) often see themselves as exempt from the rules of society and expect favourable treatment from others, without having done anything to deserve it.

While individuals with NPD might first seem to have an inflated sense of worth, in actuality they tend to be very sensitive to criticism, with vulnerable levels of self-esteem. They may be disdainful and disparaging to others to hide inner feelings of humiliation and emptiness, and avoid situations in which defeat or criticism could be possible.

To be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, your character must display five or more of the nine criteria listed in the DSM-5. You can find out how your character needs to think and act if they’re to have this personality disorder in the post: How to Tell If Your Character Has Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

If you know your character is a narcissist, then you’ll want to make sure you’ve got their behaviours and thought-patterns right. Learn what the diagnostic criteria really mean and how you can incorporate them into your stories in the post: It’s All About Me, Me, Me: Writing About Narcissistic Personality Disorder.