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November 18, 2018 - Welcome Guest!

Advice » Mental Health

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Could my wife have Histrionic Personality Disorder?


I have been married to Mary for 25 years. We have 4 children (1 plus triplets). I am the major breadwinner in our family. Recently we have been going through a tough patch. She has decided not to fully co-operate in managing the family finances - she is always proposing 'first class' alternatives to things we do as a family, and she has been saying that my name 'Jones' is 'common', and that I am common. (I have a PhD in Electrical Engineering, and we have one of the largest and most expensive houses in town, run two cars and a power boat, have one kid about to go to college, and 3 others on the honor role ...but money is tight with triplets). I have often been completely flummoxed by her ability to 'turn on the charm' when I know what she is really feeling. I have thought in the past that she is Bipolar. Her mother died when she was 6 and she had four elder sisters and an adored younger brother. When I first met her, her father was a complete alcoholic, her elder sister was a known and admitted shoplifter who always seemed to view other peoples possessions as 'up for grabs' and yet another sister had had an illegitimate baby at age 16.

My question is this: could my wife have a Histrionic Personality Disorder that causes her to want to be 'rich and successful', with a first-class and seductive life style...against the sometimes hard (common?) reality of trying to raise our lovely triplets? How can I tell if she has this Histrionic personality type, and can it be treated with medications?

Paul (52 year-old man)


Dear Paul,

The DSM4 is the diagnostic guide or bible for the psychiatric community. In this guide Histrionic Personality Disorder is listed as the following "A pervasive pattern of excessive emotionality and attention seeking, beginning by 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, considers relationships to be more intimate than they actually are.

To have any kind of personality disorder the characteristics have to be rather prominent from a very early age. Present stressors might make them more pronounced however. You did say that your wife came from an alcoholic family. That is where the term Dysfunctional Family was originally identified. These families are characterized by early abandonment, a feeling of shame, chaos, and inverted parenting. This causes a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. People who come from these families act older than they should when they are young and in some ways act like spoiled children when they are older.

Before the term dysfunctional family or adult child of the family was coined these people were classified by the term Personality Disorder. These would include Histrionic, Dependent, Borderline, Anti-Social and several others. Some people have characteristics of several of these. In general they fail in some ways to see other people as separate and themselves as adults. They feel entitled to certain things and don't realize that they are somewhat out of touch. It is as if the world owes them something because they either didn't get it as kids or got too much of it for too long. They can have very severe mood changes that are confusing for people who do not suffer from this condition. This behavior could be confused with Bipolar Disorder.

These conditions often stem from abandonment especially when it is early in someone's life. Your wife losing her mother that early would fit this scenario. This could be a big part of the problem. I would suggest that both you and your wife seek therapy so that someone on the scene can evaluate how out of line your wife's behavior is or isn't. Remember that in couples and families everyone usually is part of the problem so try and figure out how you fit in here. Do you act authoritatively or fatherly to her? It is always easier to change ourselves than it is to change someone else so I would hope you could find something that you are doing that is not helpful or something that you could do that would be helpful.

There are several good books on the subject of Dysfunctional and Alcoholic Families by Janet Woritz, Carolyn Black, and John Bradshaw. You might check these out and see how well it fits the behavior of your wife. I hope this helps.

Jef Gazley, M.S. www.asktheinternetherapist.com

This question was answered by Jef Gazley M.S. Jef has practiced psychotherapy for twenty-five years, specializing in Love Addiction, Hypnotherapy, Relationship Management, Dysfunctional Families, Co-Dependency, Professional Coaching, and Trauma Issues. He is a trained counselor in EMDR, NET, TFT, and Applied Kinesiology. He is dedicated to guiding individuals to achieving a life long commitment to mental health and relationship mastery. His private practice locations are Scottsdale and Tempe, Arizona. You can also visit Jef at the internettherapist, the first audiovisual mental health online counseling center on the net.

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