-“Doctor…My husband is always the center of attention—so exhausting.”

Marietta X. is an attractive, intelligent middle-aged lady that has a major problem in her life, besides taking care of a household with four children.  Her husband Tom, who is a loyal and affectionate bread-winner, has the unique knack of seeking and getting people’s attention at all times, even when it is inappropriate or annoys other people. The ultimate “show-off.”

The “histrionic personality disorder” (HDP) is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as a Cluster B (dramatic, emotional or erratic) personality disorder. The APA’s manual describes it as “a pervasive patter of excessive emotionality and attention seeking, beginning in early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  1. Is uncomfortable in situations in which he or she is not the center of attention
  2. Interaction with others is often characterized by inappropriate sexually seductive or provocative behavior
  3. Displays rapidly shifting and shallow expression of emotions
  4. Consistently uses physical appearance to draw attention to self
  5. Has a style of speech that is excessively impressionistic and lacking in detail
  6. Shows self-dramatization, theatricality, and exaggerated expression of emotion
  7. Is suggestible, i.e. easily influenced by others or circumstances
  8. Considers relationships to be more intimate then they actually are

Even though most of us have displayed one or more of these narcissistic traits sometimes in our lives, the unrelenting “self-marketing” of these patients can make living with them a particularly exhausting, humiliating and frustrating experience. They seem to never learn from their experiences. It is four times more common in females than males but we believe that the feminine plight seems to be particularly dramatic for the following reasons.

Romantic cheating. As the individual is always seeking the attention of ladies and misjudges the signals they emit back, he is statistically bound to eventually land in a romantic affair in spite of all his failed attempts. Worse, as he wants to show off with his friends, he will not keep it quiet, provoking emotional frustration to his wife and children. When confronted with the feat, he will make all kind of excuses but rest assured that he will not repent.

Social engulfment. The spouse or romantic partner of these individuals usually shows an unhealthy level of dependency on them, that goes beyond the financial dimension. They can only imagine their existence in the company of their histrionic partner as they wrongly believe that people are only attached to them; many of their acquaintances feel pity for them and are willing to help her start over in a new life. Sadly they never ask for help. Ultimately their friends will tire of his narcissism and avoid both of them. ]

Hoovering back. When the abused individual—we are using this gender-neutral term on purpose as we have lately seen this problem in the LGBT as well—tries to assert his/her/ihr own rights by limiting the abusive behaviour or threatening to quit the insane relationship. That’s when the sick partner usually engages in a charm offensive promising “to change once and for all.” The forgiving partner gets sucked back into the bad relationship as if it were a malicious vacuum cleaner with an irresistible power to control emotions.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

15 thoughts on “The histrionic partner

  1. Narcissistic and egocentric is right, but there’s also a possibility that they are deeply insecure about themselves (like many extroverts) so they talk endlessly and show off to conceal precisely what they are afraid of, which BTW I covered in two posts in case you’re interested (THE ENIGMA OF THE CHATTY INTROVERT).

    Rather then repressing the pain or anxiety of not being something they want to be, they brag, blowing everything out of proportions. I’ve seen such extreme cases. Interestingly, everybody saw through them except them, precisely because they are generally delusional. Like extroverts, they are prone to thinking they’ll gain more respect and recognition if they do what they do.

    I see such relationships as very abusive. Sub /dom in its most negative form. Abused and abusers. Such people rarely change and, like with the physical abuse, their partner finds it hard to leave them, believing they’ll change. They did promise, right?

    Buongiorno, dottore.

    1. Bon giorno cara mia. Ahhhh! (yawning and stretching out in front of my laptop) Oh dear! I just woke up after spending long, long hours yesterday evening poring over old textbooks of Herbal Medicine in the darkened, damp and deserted library of my convent…Please allow me to prepare some good “mate amargo” to shake my torpor and read your always interesting, complete and challenging commentaries. Ta-Ta!

      1. Oh, desr. I was laughing because BIEN SUR I had been pulling yours when I wrote that tall tale of studying late at night.. Becoming serious let me telm you that I do believe in Herbal Medicine and try to include it as much as I can in my practice. However I believe that Homeopathy in general is a dangerous proposition that might harm patients. Avete capito o no?

    2. Well, I read your commentary carefully and found it perfect, my dear Bojana. I prepared another post, that will go up in May I believe, where I discuss the sickening symbiotic relationship of the abused and the abusers as if “they needed each other.” I am amazed at your ability to see through the fine print, dear. You seem to be endowed with some fine empathy and clairvoyance .
      Un baccione. Arrivederci

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.