How to Tell If Your Character Has Histrionic Personality Disorder

Some characters burst into your head, demanding your attention. If they border on excessively-over-the-top, they may have histrionic personality disorder.

Histrionic what-now?

HPD is one of four personality disorders grouped into Cluster B within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It may not be as commonly known as some of its Cluster B companions, like narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. If anything, its excessive theatrics can make it even more attention-grabbing. You see, Cluster B disorders are characterised by the emotional, erratic and dramatic—and histrionic personality disorder definitely features the latter.

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!

Histrionic personality disorder is all about attention and emotion. People with HPD 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, those with histrionic personality disorder swing from mood to mood over small things, their emotions turned up to the max. They’re novelty seekers, always searching for new experiences and shunning normal routines. Someone with histrionic personality disorder might switch jobs frequently or choose a vocation that allows them to be the centre of attention, such as performing or politics.

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.

Related post: How to Write (Realistically) About Personality Disorders

How Is Histrionic Personality Disorder Diagnosed?

According to the DSM-5, someone must display five or more of the following criteria to be diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder:

  • Attention-seeking and feeling uncomfortable when not the centre of attention.
  • Shallow and quickly shifting displays of emotion.
  • Inappropriately provocative or sexually seductive behaviour when interacting with others.
  • Drawing attention through physical appearance.
  • Exaggerating emotions and being excessively dramatic and theatrical.
  • Basing conversations on impressions rather than reason or fact (i.e. speaking in an overly impressionistic way, which lacks in detail).
  • Easily influenced by others and circumstances (i.e. high levels of suggestibility).
  • Regarding relationships as more intimate than they really are.

As with any personality disorder, these criteria need to be stable, inflexible, and constant throughout different situations. Furthermore, they can’t be caused by other disorders or substances. For example, if someone’s only over-dramatic, provocative, attention-seeking, easily influenced and draws attention through their appearance when drunk, then they wouldn’t be diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder.

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

Personal History

Histrionic personality disorders could stem from a person’s history, particularly their younger years. If their superficial qualities, such as their physical attractiveness, were rewarded over their other qualities, then they may have dedicated their efforts to enhancing this, rather than their other, more internal features. Consequently, their sense of value and worth may now be determined by their superficial qualities—something that can give fiction writers lots to work with.