- Cluster B personality disorders consist of narcissism, borderline, histrionic, and anti-social personality disorders.
- Negative personality traits can also overlap between specific diagnostic criteria.
- An individual does not need to have a clinical diagnosis to showcase negative personality traits.
Cluster B disorders are a collection of negative traits organized into four classifications: narcissism, histrionic, borderline, and antisocial personality disorders. Personality disorders as a whole are described as enduring, maladaptive patterns of thoughts and/or behaviors that deviate from one’s culture (APA, 2013). These thoughts, beliefs, and actions are inflexible and overwhelmingly negative and pervasive.
Despite our best efforts, we all have negative traits and unhealthy habits. What makes a trait pathological is the inability and unwillingness to change and improve. Even the kindest person on the road to sainthood can lash out in a fit of anger and ego. The act of being human comes with free will of thoughts and actions. We all have the innate ability to be a narcissist; however, what separates non-narcissists from the crowd is the element of self-control and choice. We can choose to use people for our own intentions and then discard them; we choose to lie and hide; we choose to cheat and sneak around. This is one reason why the diagnosis traits for Cluster B disorders are so low: the individuals with these problems do not seek help because they don’t believe they need help in the first place. Of course, to be clinically diagnosed with a specific disorder one must have a specific number of signs and symptoms. An individual can have traits of narcissism but not be officially classified as a narcissist.
Links Between HPD & NPD
Narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is most easily identified by the individual’s lack of empathy and overwhelming ego. However, many victims of narcissism report their abuser’s sexuality and emotions as being sharpened into weapons. These overtly sexual and dramatic individuals have what the American Psychiatric Association calls histrionic personality disorder (2013). Whereas narcissistic personality disorder is predominantly diagnosed in men, histrionic disorder (HPD) is diagnosed primarily in women. As with most personality disorders, histrionic individuals cannot be cured by prescription medications. Only the co-morbidities, such as depression and anxiety, can be treated. So whereas the depression can be lifted with the right treatment plan, it won’t do anything for the person’s egotistical actions or cold behaviors. The same goes for histrionic personality disorder.
Histrionic personality disorder has several similarities to narcissism but also distinct differences. The use of theatrics, emotions, and sexuality stands in stark contrast from the cold and egotistical narcissist. However, many of the hallmarks overlap. Like positive personality traits such as openness or conscientiousness, negative personality traits can also overlap across disorders. Just because an individual displays several traits of narcissism doesn’t mean they also can’t act with traits of histrionic disorder.
Histrionic individuals have wildly exaggerated emotions and an overwhelming need to be noticed. In fact, the term histrionic means “dramatic” and “theatrical.” These people are well-known drama queens and busybodies who can’t handle being left outside of the circle of attention. The self-esteem of histrionics relied heavily on the opinions of others and can wax and wane according to their reputation. When they fall from grace, histrionics are more at risk for depression, crying fits, and desperation to turn the story around in which they are the victim. Narcissists, on the other hand, may become angry and challenging and generally be stupefied by the negative public opinion. They were—up until this moment—untouchable. If narcissists keep their negative self-image hidden and covered up by an overblown ego, then histrionics wear their self-centered hearts on their sleeves.
Both narcissists and histrionics may use threats of suicide as an attention grab or a way to obtain sympathy and forgiveness. Neither type of individual can have a normal relationship for very long. Histrionics wear their partners out with their rapid mood swings; narcissists break down their partners with abuse and confrontation; both classifications generally exhaust the ability of friends and lovers to fulfill their grandiose demands for attention.
Sexuality as a Weapon
A major distinction between histrionic and narcissism is the use of sexuality. Narcissists are known to be more prone to cheating in their personal relationships, but histrionics are far more overtly sexually exploitative and provocative. Histrionics use sex and seduction to solve virtually any problem that arises and bring the attention back to them; narcissists use their sex as a method of control. A narcissist cheats because they feel they can, they deserve it, or they need something done for them in return. In contrast, a histrionic will engage in cheating to fulfill a desperate need for attention that they believe they aren’t getting from their partner. Regardless of whether the person is a narcissist or a histrionic, the cheating is not their fault. Jack recalls when he caught his ex-wife cheating. “She had been cheating for years with different men. She said it was because I didn’t pay enough attention to her and these men did, and they made her feel beautiful and worthy. The cheating was my fault because I didn’t make her feel beautiful.”
Anthony’s ex-wife, in comparison, attempted to deny the charges when presented with the evidence of her cheating but also took on the role of the wronged party. Narcissists are expert liars and actors and can maintain their false persona much better and for longer periods of time than a histrionic. Anthony recalls that eventually she began flaunting her cheating instead of being embarrassed by it. “Cheating wasn’t her character flaw; it was mine somehow. She used it to belittle me and make herself the poor victim,” Anthony says.
Again, keep in mind that to be diagnosed a histrionic, one must check a specific number of boxes of the diagnostic criteria. Being confident and in control of your sexuality does not make you a histrionic; likewise, being overly dramatic is also not a way to diagnose someone as a histrionic. Someone can be sexual and seductive without being histrionic, and not all cheaters are suffering from histrionic personality disorder.
Female narcissists are particularly dangerous and use their sexuality as a weapon to straddle the fine line between NPD and HPD. Histrionic narcissists use their seductiveness and even reproductive abilities to gain control of a relationship, maintain the upper hand, or just simply to hurt someone. Histrionic women cross into narcissistic territory through abuse of power and gender roles and the exploitation of relationships. Using children, pregnancy, and other family members to obtain what they want is never out of the realm of possibilities for a histrionic narcissist.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). DSM-5. APA Publishing.