Histrionic Personality: Seductive, Dramatic, Theatrical

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe

While my book Bad Boyfriends: Using Attachment Theory to Avoid Mr. (or Ms.) Wrong and Make You a Better Partner is primarily about attachment types, I also try to help readers recognize the more troublesome personality disorders (abusive narcissists, sadists, psychopaths, and histrionic personality.) Here’s an excerpt about the histrionic personality type:

From the Latin for actor, histrionicus, the histrionic personality is characterized by excessive drama, display, and acting out of emotions. At about 2% of the population and usually associated with women (80% of those diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder are female), these characters can be engaging and attractive but exhausting in their need to be the center of attention. Often flirtation and seduction are used as tools to gain attention, and histrionic women can run into trouble being seen as pass-around party girls or “teases.” Examples of the type in fiction include Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, and Marilyn Monroe’s seductive film persona. Manipulative and vulnerable by turns, a histrionic type is easy to feel sympathy for and tempts one to try to “rescue” them, but as an extreme form of the anxious-preoccupied attachment type, the histrionic woman (or man) is, like the narcissist, typically unable to achieve a secure, equal intimacy with others—the pressure of her need for attention is too great.

PRAISE ME is a useful mnemonic for the signs of histrionic personality disorder (HPD):

• Provocative (or seductive) behavior
• Relationships are considered more intimate than they actually are
• Attention-seeking
• Influenced easily
• Speech (style) wants to impress; lacks detail
• Emotional lability; shallowness
• Make-up; physical appearance is used to draw attention to self
• Exaggerated emotions; theatrical[1]

In less extreme forms, where the woman is seen as overly dramatic or hysterical but not so extreme as to be unable to function in a relationship, this can be charming to those who don’t know her well:

The live wire. Seductive and engaging, she can often make people feel there’s no one on earth they’d rather be with. Often diagnosed as a hysterical character, she is scattered, charmingly incompetent, and easily thrown into a tizzy by schedules, details, and responsibilities. Her dramatic flair makes her popular. Male neighbors delight in meeting her in the hall, and they wonder: “Why is she married to him?” But she flees from intimacy, and like the ambivalent child, she tends to be demanding or clingy, immature, and easily overwhelmed by her own emotions.[2]

It’s emotionally draining to maintain a relationship with such a needy person, and it’s often a caretaking arrangement, with the stable partner smoothing out the difficulties of the real world for the histrionic partner and accepting all her drama and unreliability for the sake of the relationship. Unless that’s something that sounds appealing to you, steer clear.

[1] Pinkofsky, H B. “Mnemonics for DSM-IV Personality Disorders.” Psychiatric Services (Washington, D.C.) 48, no. 9 (September 1997): 1197–1198.
[2] Karen, p. 392

More on Attachment and Personality Types:

What Attachment Type Are You?
Type: Secure
Type: Anxious-Preoccupied
Type: Dismissive-Avoidant
Type: Fearful-Avoidant (aka Anxious-Avoidant)
Avoidant: Emotions Repressed Beneath Conscious Level
Serial Monogamy: the Fearful-Avoidant Do It Faster
Anxious-Preoccupied: Stuck on the Dismissive?
Anxious-Preoccupied / Dismissive-Avoidant Couples: the Silent Treatment
nxious-Preoccupied: Clingy and Insecure Relationship Example
Domestic Violence: Ray and Janay Rice
Malignant Narcissists
Teaching Narcissists to Activate Empathy
Life Is Unfair! The Great Chain of Dysfunction Ends With You.
Love Songs of the Secure Attachment Type
On Addiction and the Urge to Rescue
Sale! Sale! Sale! – “Bad Boyfriends” for Kindle, $2.99
Controlling Your Inner Critic: Subpersonalities
“Big Bang Theory” — Aspergers and Emotional/Social Intelligence
Porn Addiction and NoFAP
Introverts in Management


  1. OMG to a certain extent that is me. I guess i’m a bigger part of the problem than I realized. (yes I am acknowledging that I am part of the problem- ouch! But I will not take full responsibility for this mess of a marriage- He is also to fault. The difference is I accept it and will try to (stop changing him) and address my issues, he will not look in the mirror). I understand that you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. My spouse and I are both pretty screwed up. Looks like we do belong in this relationship together. Sounds like staying and doing (trying) the hard work is the place that I/we belong. Thanks for holding up the mirror for me – I needed that.

    1. You can only change you, and even that takes effort. It helps some if you have recognized some of your own bad relationship habits and can self-talk to note and control them — “It only did harm to fly off the handle like that. Using emotional display to try to reach him doesn’t work well with him. Maybe I should just tell him this is important to me and explain why.” If your signalling doesn’t get reassurance back from him, try a different tack until you do reach him, and build on that method. It’s hard to break old habits that worked for you when you were young. And similarly for him, you can tell him you know you have some problems and recruit his rational side to try to respond differently when you are making an effort to do so yourself.

      1. What you say is so true. But in all truth, I’ve tried that many, many times and it’s like getting a brick wall to understand. I mean I don’t expect him to change his point of view, just wish he could see it from my side once in a while or acknowledge I HAVE a side. But I will keep trying thanks.

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