Histrionic Personality Disorder

Dramatic characters capture our attention just by merit of their personality. The opposite of introverts, they feed off the attention of others and are willing to go to extremes to be noticed. Flamboyance, theatrics, overt sexuality, bold statements — there is little that is sacred if it means eliciting a reaction out of others. Take those tendencies to an extreme level, one that adversely affects their life, and you’re looking at a character with histrionic personality disorder (HPD). People with HPD demonstrate a pervasive pattern of excessive emotionality and attention seeking across multiple contexts. A character like this can add contrast, drama and conflict to any world.

This is what a character with HPD will present with:

A need to be the centre of attention

Characters with histrionic personality disorder are often lively and dramatic, wanting to draw attention to themselves. Your character is probably known as the ‘life of the party’ and likely to be generous with their flattery and gifts. Fellow inhabitants of your story world may be initially charmed by the enthusiasm, apparent openness, or flirtatiousness. This will wear thin, though, as the need for attention doesn’t wane. What’s more, an individual with HPD will feel uncomfortable or feel unappreciated when they are not the center of attention. If attention is drawn elsewhere, they may do something dramatic (e.g., make up stories or create a scene) to draw the focus of attention back where they need it to be — themselves.

Consider incorporating the following:

  • Have your character draw attention to themselves through dialogue (e.g. bold statements, flamboyant language, a love of purple prose), their actions (e.g. dramatic flourishes, long strides, personal primping), and/or their clothes (heavy make-up, lots of bling, provocative clothing).
  • When they aren’t the centre of attention, have your character work on getting it back. They may cry too loud, be overly dramatic, or try too hard to be funny.
  • Have your character be hyper-aware of how others are responding to them – they may want to analyse that someone just glanced at them, they may ensure just the right amount of cleavage is showing, or they may fish for compliments.

A tendency to seductive or provocative behaviour

To satisfy this need for attention, your character will consistently use their physical appearance to draw attention to themselves. The appearance and behaviour of individuals with this disorder are often inappropriately sexually provocative or seductive, and they aren’t too fussy about who it is directed toward. Your character will be the sexy temptress with a love interest, but also within a wide variety of social and professional relationships (generally in a way that is beyond what is appropriate).

In a similar vein, a character with HPD will be overly concerned with impressing others by their appearance and expend an excessive amount of time, energy, and money on clothes and grooming. They are likely to fish for compliments and seek positive feedback. Similarly, they may be easily (and disproportionately) upset by a critical comment about how they look or by a photograph that they regard as unflattering.

Consider incorporating the following:

  • Have your character wear provocative clothing: female characters may have a love for short skirts and low tops, while males may take their shirt off at any opportunity. Inappropriate and excessive are key here, so consider having them do this at work, when visiting their grandma in a nursing home, or a church.
  • Have them flirt with people that it would be socially inappropriate with. Think of Blanche Dubois from A Streetcar Named Desire, she chose the brother-in-law she stated was beneath her to play coy with.
  • Have other characters respond with shock, bewilderment or disgust to amplify the inappropriateness.

Dramatic but shallow emotions

Individuals with this disorder are characterized by self-dramatization, theatricality, and an exaggerated expression of emotion. Despite this over the top presentation, the melodramatic emotions are rarely sustained. Long term relationships may be neglected to make way for the excitement of new relationships. Strong opinions are expressed with dramatic flair, but underlying reason lacks facts and details.

Considering incorporating the following:

  • Open a scene with your character feeling one emotion, but have them feeling something different by the time it ends (maybe experiencing a few thousand others in between).
  • Amp up emotions to the extreme — frustration becomes a temper tantrum, happiness is an ecstatic euphoric state. Sadness becomes the deepest despair resulting in threats of suicide.
  • Have your character make a bold statement, but when asked to elaborate, they become vague and unclear. For example, they may comment that a certain individual is a wonderful human being, yet be unable to provide any specific examples of good qualities to support this opinion.
  • Have your character begin a job or project with great enthusiasm, but have that commitment decline quickly.

Is easily influenced

This character will have a high degree of suggestibility. Their opinions and feelings are easily influenced by others and by current fads. They may be overly trusting, especially of strong authority figures whom they see as magically solving their problems. They have a tendency to follow hunches and to adopt convictions quickly.

Consider incorporating the following:

  • If another character mentions a film they liked, have your HPD character agree despite the fact they stated otherwise at a previous time. They may even change it again when someone else expresses an alternative perspective.
  • Have your character wearing the latest trends.
  • Have your character read or watch a celebrity advertisement and then support or follow it religiously, until the next one comes along…

Compromised relationships

It’s not surprising that people find it difficult to be around characters with HPD for any lengths of time. These individuals may embarrass friends and acquaintances with their excessive public display of emotions. They may alienate friends with demands for constant attention or their sexually provocative interpersonal style. Romantic relationships are also fraught with difficulty. Without being aware of it, individuals with HPD often act out a role (e.g., ‘victim’ or ‘princess’) in their relationships to others. They may seek to control their partner through emotional manipulation or seductiveness on one level, while displaying a marked dependency on them at another level. To compound it all, their emotions often seem to be turned on and off too quickly to be deeply felt, which may lead others to accuse the individual of faking these feelings.

Consider incorporating the following:

  • Have your character embracing casual acquaintances with excessive ardour, sobbing uncontrollably on minor sentimental occasions, or having temper tantrums. Note how the other characters respond to this.
  • Have another character ‘call out’ an individual with HPD in relation to their apparently shallow emotions or grandiose statements that lack substance.
  • Have your HPD character throw themselves into a relationship in its early stages, maybe even declaring those three words — I love you. Will your supporting character be flattered and besotted, or will they run for the hills?

What are your thoughts? Can you see these tendencies in a character you know? Can you dial these traits down or up to make a character unique? Comments and feedback always make me smile. Connecting with others is why I write. You can comment below, or connect with me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Have a wonderful week,

Tamar

 

 

4 comments

  1. Thank you for this article. Turns out I have a character with histrionic personality disorder. I didn’t know of the condition until I read this. I appreciate the greater insight into my character, Eve. Now I can play on it, more than I already have!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I do have a very flamboyant character, though not quite flamboyant enough to qualify as HPD, I think, which is just as well as he’s the leader of my good guys. He’s a billionaire who attains high public office, which could never happen in reality, of course! Thanks, Tamar!

    Like

  3. A billionaire in public office? Never!
    What I love about the framework for these personality disorders is that we can dial down or up any part, take what we want, and leave other bits. Either way, the whole time you’ve been formulating your character and getting to know them!

    Liked by 1 person

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