What is histrionic personality disorder?


by Catherine Holland


Posted on June 21, 2012 at 11:23 AM

PHOENIX -- Lawyers representing Jerry Sandusky in his child sex abuse trial argued that the former Penn State assistant football coach has histrionic personality disorder.

According to references from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, ""[h]istrionic personality disorder is a condition in which people act in a very emotional and dramatic way that draws attention to themselves."

Symptoms includes acting or looking overly seductive, believing relationships are more intimate than they really are, self-centeredness, rapidly shifting emotions and being overly dramatic and emotional, among others.

Dr. Robert Bright, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, sat down with 3TV's Scott Pasmore to explain more about histrionic personality disorder.

"A personality disorder, in general, is a pervasive problem with interpersonal relationships …," he said. "It gets in the way of anybody really wanting to be around you or have anything to do with you."

Bright explained that personality disorders don't suddenly develop. "It's something that's there sort of since childhood and throughout your life," he said. "Histrionic personality disorder, specifically, is one of the dramatic personality disorders."

In lay terms, somebody with histrionic personality disorder might be described as a "drama queen."

Bright said he was surprised to learn Sandusky's lawyers were using histrionic personality disorder as part of their defense strategy.

"Personality disorder is never going to be a defense along the lines of an insanity defense because for that, you have to be so mentally disturbed that you don't really understand what you're even doing and you don't even understand what's right and what's wrong," he explained. "That's never the case with a personality disorder."

Bright went on to explain that histrionic personality disorder doesn't really have anything to do with sex other than people perhaps dressing provocatively in order to be the center of attention.

"It certainly is never an explanation for pedophilia," he said.

Dr. Glen Gabbard, clinical professor of psychiatry at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, agreed.

"That diagnosis, if he has it, would be completely irrelevant to anything having to do with criminal responsibility for acts of pedophilia," he said.

While histrionic personality disorder is listed in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the "bible" of mental illness, it has been removed from the fifth, Dr. Renato Alarcon of the Mayo Clinic, who is part of the group that reviews changes to the manual. DSM-IV was revised in 2000. DSM-5 is slated for publication in May 2013.

Bright said most people who have a personality disorder generally don't even realize it.

"It's just who they are," he said.

While psychotherapy is the generally accepted treatment for personality disorders, Bright said patients might not respond well because they're not motivated. They do not think anything is wrong with them.

It''s not clear exactly what causes histrionic personality disorder, but many health professionals belives it stems from both learned and inherited factors.