Does your character have a personality disorder?
March 6, 2014
Skye Fairwin explains: “I discovered the first of my imagination’s fanciful worlds six years ago and I’ve been charting the lands and chronicling the lives of their inhabitants ever since. My love of digging through characters’ heads led to a love of Psychology, so studying it at university was a natural choice. Now I blog about all things psychological and how we can make use of them in our writing.”
Sometimes characters burst into our heads, demanding our attention. When that attention-seeking borders on embarrassingly-excessive-over-the-top-dramatist, take it as a sign your character may have a histrionic personality disorder.
In the past, we have looked at antisocial personality disorders, the first of the Cluster B personality disorders in the DSM-IV. Cluster B disorders are characterised by the emotional, erratic and dramatic—and histrionic personality disorder definitely features the latter.
A Flair for the Dramatic:
Does Your Character Have a Histrionic Personality Disorder?
Before I go any further, please note that the information given in these posts should not be used to diagnose yourself or others. Leave that to a qualified clinical professional. You can, however, use the information to diagnose your characters. In fact, I positively encourage it.)
WHAT IS HISTRIONIC PERSONALITY DISORDER?
People with histrionic personality disorder 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, 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.
HOW IS HISTRIONIC PERSONALITY DISORDER DIAGNOSED?
According to the DSM-IV, 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.
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.