- Reasons for both narcissistic personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder are complex and deep-seated.
- Signs of an over-emotional histrionic narcissist include both dramatic negative emotions and dramatic positive emotions.
- Violating boundaries and constantly needing attention are among other possible signs.
The Mayo Clinic research group defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as “a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
WebMD identifies Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD) as one of the “‘Cluster B’ or ‘dramatic’ personality disorders. People with these disorders have intense, unstable emotions and distorted self-images. For people with HPD, their self-esteem depends on the approval of others and does not arise from a true feeling of self-worth. They have an overwhelming desire to be noticed, and often behave dramatically or inappropriately to get attention.”
Reasons for both NPD and HPD are complex and deep-seated, and often involve childhood or early adulthood injuries and traumas. In serious cases, professional mental health counseling may be needed (and is recommended) to diagnose and treat the disorders.
There are certain overlaps in symptoms between NPD and HPD, below are seven signs of an over-emotional histrionic narcissist, with references from my books How to Successfully Handle Narcissists and A Practical Guide for Narcissists to Change Towards the Higher Self. While some people may occasionally show the traits below, which might not be a major issue, a histrionic narcissist will routinely display one or more of the following pathologies (dysfunctions), while causing substantial distress and harm to others and oneself.
1. Dramatic Negative Emotions (High Dramas & Melt-Downs)
Histrionic narcissists often have the tendency to exhibit overly dramatic negative emotions when they don’t receive the attention, appreciation, or entitlement they believe they deserve. This may range from not getting quick customer service, to momentary lack of attentiveness from a spouse, to being told “no” when seeking an “exception to the rule”, or other instances when their self-imagined privileges are not being catered.
Histrionic narcissists are frequently unreasonable in their demands, inequitable in the way they treat people, insensitive to the difficulties of others, and disproportional in their emotional response. Whether it’s intense anger (narcissistic rage) or manic outbursts (histrionic drama), they often perceive a lack of attentiveness and deference as a threat to their self-esteem, and respond with hostility and even aggression. They overwhelm their victims with intense negative drama (“going nuclear”), browbeating their victims with the hope of getting what they want.
2. Dramatic “Positive” Emotions (Superficial Charm & Seduction)
The flip side of displaying overly dramatic negative emotions to gain attention is to enact superficial “positive” emotions toward the same end. Here, the histrionic narcissist may instigate charm and seduction in order “win over’ their targets (thereby controlling their attention and compliance). Examples include insincere flattery, appeal to vanity and ego, fake friendliness and acceptance, exaggerated closeness and intimacy, promising positive rewards after dishing out negative treatment, etc.
Some histrionic narcissists are adept at switching between positive and negative emotions. If they don’t get the special attention they believe they deserve by being the superficial charmer, they may suddenly change tone and become the hostile aggressor.
3. Constant Need for Attention
A main reason for the overly dramatic behavior (both negative and “positive”) of the histrionic narcissist is the insatiable desire for attention and approval. However, behind this craving for “specialness” is often a fragile self-esteem with serious attachment, trust, and security issues. In relationships and in life situations, some histrionic narcissists enact “tests” to see whether people are willing to “take the extra-step” to serve, placate, or rescue them, thus affirming their brittle self-worth.
Unfortunately, the problem with constantly seeking validation from the outside is that one will never be truly happy with oneself on the inside. For the histrionic narcissist, the temporary satisfaction from external approval never lasts, and it’s never enough.
4. Self-Absorbed Egocentrism & Lack of Empathy
Since the histrionic narcissist’s primary focus in life is approval and self-gratification, other people’s thoughts, feelings and priorities are frequently disregarded with little or no consideration (unless the histrionic narcissist has something to gain from them). One of the most striking traits of some histrionic narcissists is their ability to witness human hardship (whether in personal life or society at large), shrug it off, and express distain or even contempt if others’ difficulties interfere with their selfish plans. Such is the entitlement and conceit.
5. Boundary Violation & Manipulation
Many histrionic narcissists presume that the world revolves around them, and are quick to violate boundaries and manipulate people for personal gain. They often target individuals whom they can exploit psychologically, emotionally, physically, sexually, materially, and/or financially. Once the histrionic narcissist is done taking advantage of the victim, they may move on without a second thought. Histrionic narcissists do not relate. They use.
6. May be Unrealistic & Unreliable
Some histrionic narcissists are higher functioning, and can attain certain levels of personal and/or professional success in life (at least for a time). However, both higher and especially lower functioning histrionic narcissists may suffer from a lack of realism, which can make their decision-making impractical and impatient, resulting in disappointments and failures.
The desire for constant stimulation, instant gratification, and the tendency to be bored easily means some histrionic narcissists are unstable in their relationships, and unreliable in their commitments. Certain histrionic narcissists are prone to taking unreasonable risks, affecting their own and others’ well-being.
7. Difficulty Coping with Stress & Change
Everyone has ups and downs in life. Stress and change are part of the human experience. Many histrionic narcissists have great difficulty handling stressors which threaten their self-centeredness and perceived entitlements. Whether it’s personal relationships, workplace environment, or societal issues, histrionic narcissists adjust poorly when reminded that the world does not revolve around them, and most people will not put them on a pedestal. This is a bitter truth for histrionic narcissists, many of whom are “unable to let-up” and “unwilling to let go”.
Histrionic narcissists may experience anxiety, depression, psychosis, or other mental health issues due to their inability to adjust and adapt in an ever-changing world. Until they become more self-aware and “join the human race”, they will continue to cause significant damage to others and themselves.
For tips on how to deal with histrionic narcissists, as well as how histrionic narcissists can change for the better, see references below.
© 2020 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.
Ni, Preston. How to Successfully Handle Narcissists. PNCC. (2014)
Ni, Preston. A Practical Guide for Narcissists to Change Towards the Higher Self. PNCC. (2015)
Ni, Preston. Understanding Narcissism’s Destructive Impact on Relationships — An Indispensable Reader. PNCC. (2018)
Bursten, Ben. Some Narcissistic Personality Types. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis. (1973)
Johnson, Stephen. Character Styles. W. W. Norton & Company. (1994)
Johnson, S. Humanizing the Narcissistic Style. W. W. Norton & Company. (1987)
Mayo Clinic Staff. Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Mayo Clinic. (2020)
National Alliance on Mental Illness staff. Psychosis. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2020)
Ornstein, Paul (ed). The Search for the Self. Selected Writings of Heinz Kohut: 1950-1978. Volume 2. International University Press. (1978)
Trifu, S., Zamfir, R. The Concept Of Narcissism In Psychosis And In Severe Personality Disorders. Research Gate. (2019)
WebMD Staff. Histrionic Personality Disorder. WebMD. (2020)