Histrionic (Hysterical) Personality

“Personality” refers to how a person functions in life, including all the ways he or she perceives things and behaves. For more on personality in general, see the first post in this category entitled “Personality 101”

People with histrionic personalities have high anxiety, high energy, and high reactivity and they are attracted to situations that entail personal drama and risk. They may be so addicted to excitement that they live their lives going from crisis to crisis, and their high anxiety and reactivity may lead others to view their emotionality as exaggerated or superficial.

People who are temperamentally disposed to developing this personality may have powerful appetites, crave love, attention, and closeness. They generally seek stimulation but are also easily overwhelmed by stimulation. People with histrionic personalities are oftentimes described as impressionistic, vague, easily suggestible, and easily overwhelmed.

People with histrionic personalities perceive themselves as small and fearful in a world dominated by powerful others. Though some of their behaviors may at times seem manipulative, such behaviors are aimed at creating some feeling of security in a world that appears frightening and large.

The primary coping/defensive mechanisms of people with histrionic personalities are repression, sexualization, dissociation, and regression. In connection with this latter defense, when feeling insecure, people with histrionic personalities may become helpless and childlike or become clingy and whiny. People with histrionic personalities also tend to act out in counter phobic ways, for example: behave seductively when they fear a sexual encounter; make themselves the center of attention when they feel inferior; or provoke authority figures when they are intimidated by their power.

Much of the content for the above was derived from passages of Nancy McWilliams’ book Psychoanalytic Diagnosis: Understanding Personality Structure in Clinical Process.