How to Cope with a Loved One with Histrionic Personality Disorder
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According to the personality disorder support website, “Out of the Fog,” approximately 9% of American adults (1 in 11 people) meet the DSM-IV criteria for a personality disorder.
So, what exactly is histrionic personality disorder – I have never heard of it? Well, it is a severe mental illness that is characterized by attention-seeking behaviors, and extreme emotionality. In other words, a person with a histrionic personality will constantly seek attention and exhibit erratic and unpredictable behaviors. This disorder usually arises during early adulthood (late teens through late 20s); however it can occur at any age. Symptoms of this disorder can be pervasive, and affect every area of the individual’s life (i.e. personal, family, parent-child, marriage, and even work). In addition, this person may dress provocatively and/or dress inappropriately.
Moreover, he or she may experience unpredictable mood swings, seek approval from others, be easily influenced, and respond negatively to criticism. This person may also perceive relationships as more intimate and involved then they really are. Truth-be-told, coping with a loved one with this personality disorder can be quite challenging. Why? Well, because many times people with histrionic personality disorder do not believe that they have the disorder. If you have a loved one with a histrionic personality, and want to learn ways to effectively cope with him or her, you have come to the right place. This article will teach you new ways to cope with a mentally ill loved one.
One of the best ways to cope with a histrionic loved one is to stay calm. It is important to understand that a person with this disorder thrives on attention and turmoil, therefore the worst thing you can do is to get riled up when he or she does or says something to anger or upset you. When you remain calm you thwart his or her intentions. So, react to your loved one’s dramatic behaviors by remaining calm. When you “keep your cool” you not only minimize “bad” behaviors, you also teach your loved one that behaving inappropriately will not get him or the attention he or she is seeking. For instance, if your histrionic sibling suddenly becomes angry because you will not do what he or she wants you to do, do not respond to him or her with anger or hostility, rather disengage from the conversation, and remove yourself from the situation, until he or she calms down. Do not promote “bad” behaviors, you can listen to what your loved one has to say, but do not ask questions, and/or encourage the person to continue with the behaviors. Why? Well, because it will only aggravate the situation.
Take Deep Breaths
Another good way to de-stress and cope with a histrionic loved one is to take several deep breaths. When your mentally ill loved one starts “going off the rails,” step away from him or her, and breathe deeply. Continue this exercise until you feel calmer and more collected. Do not argue with this person or engage him or her in anyway, if he or she is behaving inappropriately. Do not lash out, and try to remember that it is the condition causing him or her to behave “badly.” Also, remember that you love this person, in spite of the disorder. If you try to reason with your histrionic loved one during an “episode,” it will only worsen the situation, and encourage his or her negative behaviors. Histrionic people tend to react erratically (i.e. screaming, swearing, bullying, criticizing, crying, fighting, arguing, and/or yelling) when they feel hurt or betrayed. So, choose your words wisely when in the presence of your loved one.
Keep Your Distance
You may want to keep your distance (standing or sitting), while in the presence of your histrionic loved one. Why? Well, it will help you cope with his or her behaviors. People with this disorder tend to have a hard time recognizing boundaries, and interpreting gestures and social cues. For instance, a person with histrionic personality disorder may sit or stand too close to people, hug people they do not know, and/or respond to friendly gestures with sexual taunts and flirtations. Conversely, some people with histrionic personality disorder may feel that someone is behaving inappropriately towards them, when in actuality that is not the case. These histrionic individuals may view friendly behaviors as threating, dangerous, harmful, and/or malicious. So, try to sit or stand at least 3 or 4 feet from your loved one, and speak only when necessary. Furthermore, limit your interactions, and do not be suggestive, in any way, towards your loved one. The last thing you want is for him or her to misinterpret your intentions.
You can successfully cope with a histrionic loved one by making suggestions. In other words, gently explain to your loved one that his flashy or racy attire is inappropriate for the setting (i.e. church, a formal event, work, and/or school). To reduce your risk of an angry or dramatic response, choose your words wisely. In other words, compliment your loved one on his or her taste in fashion, etc., as a way to minimize any negativity. You can say, for example, “Wow! That is such a cute miniskirt and tank top – I bet that would really look good when we go out tonight. How about you save that for our fun night, and try this outfit for work. It makes you look really professional and classy.” If you compliment your loved one, and then offer helpful suggestions, you will receive a more positive response, which will make it easier for you to cope with him or her.
Be on the Lookout
You can cope with a mentally ill loved one by being on the lookout. In other words, learn the warning signs of histrionic behaviors, especially suicide signs. If your loved one expresses a desire to hurt or kill himself or herself - do not try to save him or her, rather call 911 immediately, and let them take your loved one to a hospital or psychiatric treatment facility. Do not try to handle a serious situation like that on your own. However, if your loved one makes sweeping statements about committing suicide, but does not have a plan or timeline, observe him or her for dangerous and/or harmful behaviors. Do not hesitate to call the police, if you do not feel comfortable observing your loved one’s behaviors after a suicide threat.
If your histrionic loved one is in danger of hurting himself or herself or others, try to persuade him or her to seek counseling, call a crisis hotline, and/or call the police. While it is impossible to force a competent human being into treatment, a qualified mental health professional may be able to de-escalate the situation, and/or stage an intervention with family members and friends. You may also want to contact a counselor, support group, police, and/or crisis hotline for help with your loved one.
- Dr. R. Y. Langham
Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. (2015). Histrionic personality disorder. Retrieved from http://www.minddisorders.com/Flu-Inv/Histrionic-personality-disorder.html
Out of the Fog. (2015). Personality disorder statistics. Retrieved from http://www.outofthefog.net/Statistics.html
Psych Central. (2015). Histrionic personality disorder treatment. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/disorders/sx17t.htm