Histrionic Personality Disorder – One of the Claims Arising from the Penn State Pedophilia Trial

The Huffington Post reported here that the lawyers for accused pedophile Jerry Sandusky have claimed Histrionic Personality Disorder may be a factor in his behavior.

This diagnosis would not mean he’s medically incompetent, nor does it mean he is insane, rather his ‘behavior has another label than pedophilia’.

Histrionic Personality Disorder is one of the disorders that is being removed from the newest edition of the Diagnostic Manual. But it currently has a set of diagnostic criteria which can be evaluated to determine diagnosis.


People with this disorder are usually able to function at a high level and can be successful socially and at work. But relationships with them are difficult because they often:

  • Dress seductively and act flirtatiously
  • Behave dramatically to ensure they are the center of attention
  • Behave as though performing for an audience with exaggerated emotions and expressions, but seems to lack sincerity in their personal relationships
  • Are overly concerned with appearance and their looks
  • Lack a reliable gauge of the depth of emotional relationships, often assuming a deeper intimacy than is real
  • Are gullible and easily influenced by others – especially those who pander to their emotional ‘staging’
  • Are overly sensitive to criticism or disapproval
  • Make rash, poorly thought out decisions
  • Blame failure or disappointment on others
  • Constantly seek reassurance or approval
  • Have low tolerance for frustration or delayed gratification; very sensitive to criticism or disapproval
  • Need to be the center of attention and often show a high degree of selfishness
  • Rapidly shift from one emotional state to another, usually appearing shallow and insincere
  • Threaten or attempt suicide for attention (this has contributed to many peoples’ failure to recognize sincere threats of suicide in a loved one)
  • Easily bored by routine, unable to complete projects and quickly loses interest in people, places and things

Persons having half of these symptoms over an extended period of time are usually diagnosed with Histrionic Personality Disorder.

Have you noticed how similar some of these symptoms are to borderline personality disorder or antisocial/psychopathic personality disorder?  Good for you.  They have many similar characteristics, which makes diagnosis and treatment a challenge. It is one of the reasons, I believe for the change in the upcoming Diagnostic Manual

As with the other personality disorders, persons with this one are very hard to live with and they can wreak havoc on their loved ones. Due to their need to be the center of attention and their inability to take any criticism, they appear to lack maturity and the ability to deal with life on life’s terms.


Medications are often prescribed for people with this disorder. Ironically, their failed relationships may cause depression (as in other people) even though they lack the depth of the relationship of others. Anxiety is another possible outcome from their ‘failures’ and this is also treated with medication. But the disorder itself has no pill for treatment.  Rather the emotional outcomes of their experience are treated with meds and therapy is needed for recovery for the disorder. As with every personality disorder, this can be an almost impossible task, since the client does not think there’s anything wrong with them – all their problems are someone else’s fault.

Family Relationships

It doesn’t take much insight to guess at the problems a person with Histrionic Personality Disorder might cause in a family. Screaming matches, coming ‘on’ to siblings’ spouses and/or friends, always needing to be the center of attention, whether because they’re sick or elated are common manifestations of this disorder.  When this is coupled with financial and emotional immaturity, it is easy to see a wide range of problems that arise in the close and extended family.

Often one parent does not see the problem as a mental health issue, but rather buys into the explanation of ‘bad luck’ and lousy karma.  Less often this role might be fulfilled by a sibling, but regardless, this always fuels resentment, strife and stress within the family unit. Enablers abound for those with personality disorders – unfortunately they do more harm than good.

Remember, no diagnosis of yourself or others.  It’s okay to vent your frustrations if you know someone who matches these symptoms though.

Thanks to the following sites for information for this post.


http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/personality_disorders/hic_histrionic_personality_disorder.aspx and


About Louise Behiel

Author, coach, therapist, mother and grandmother. I'm on a spiritual journey and consciously work to grow every day.
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35 Responses to Histrionic Personality Disorder – One of the Claims Arising from the Penn State Pedophilia Trial

  1. iamnotshe says:

    Yep! Sounds a lot like BPD. As far as the child molester goes, erm, is this a valid or likely defense? IMO no way. His actions are his responsibility … And they are deeply disturbing actions!!!!

  2. Having this explained now, I don’t think I know anyone who might fit this. I know people who fulfill some of the symptoms, but not enough to have this. With borderline personality disorder, it was almost frightening how close the resemblance was to a person in my life.

    • Oh, Borderline is so difficult to have in your life. They’re a particularly difficult group of people to deal with, generally speaking. Glad I was able to help you sort it out.

  3. Tori Minard says:

    Louise, I had an experience a few years ago with a woman and I don’t know where she’d fit in these disorders, but she could fit in with several of them, I think. She definitely needed to be the center of attention and wasn’t truthful about her intentions. She seemed irresponsible to me. She organized a “retreat”–not an openly spiritual event, but she called it a retreat–that I foolishly attended and then left when I discovered her real objective was to host an all-girl orgy. Sorry, not into that.

    She’d told us there was inadequate parking at the house, so I’d carpooled with several other women (the place was over two hours away from our town & it was an overnighter). So I had to call my dh in the morning and have him drive out and pick me up. I was furious about the nature of the gathering, because while I’m pretty liberal, I do like to know ahead of time if I’ve been invited to an orgy. That way I can politely decline and no-one’s feelings get hurt. 😉

    This event was wrong on so many levels that I don’t even know where to begin. One, I was not aware of the orgy thing until it happened. Two, I was pressured by the others to drink alcohol & join in the “fun,” even after I’d said no (I have a sensitive stomach & can only drink tiny amounts). Three, the organizer treated me like I was the one with the problem. Four, why in the he!! would you call it a “retreat” when you really mean orgy??

    This chick’s attitude was “well, I didn’t mean any harm. I just want people to have fun.” Her way. Everything had to be her way. I don’t know what to call her, but I do know we never spoke again after I left the event.

    • weird woman, isn’t she? I can’t imagine why she’d do something like that. but then there’s lots of weird behavior out there that I don’t understand. thanks fr sharing.

  4. melisera says:

    I hope I’m not posting this twice. If I am, I apologize. I tried once and when I logged in, it looked like my comment got lost.
    Anyway, a few years ago I knew a woman who could fit in several of these personality disorder categories. She always had to have things her way, although she couched it in terms like “I just want to help people have fun.” She seemed insincere and frequently had to be the center of attention. But the real kicker was when I made the mistake of attending an overnight, out of town “retreat” she organized. I guess I was so desperate for friends at the time (we’d moved to a new town), that I ignored the bad vibes I got from her. Never do that.

    This event was held at a place over 2 hours away from our town & she claimed there was inadequate parking, so we carpooled. I had misgivings because I saw how much alcohol another gal was packing for it, but what I didn’t know until that evening was the organizer had planned an all-girl orgy in the hot tub. Sorry, not into that.

    I’d already had to resist the pressure to get drunk like the others–I can’t drink much because of stomach problems. But now they wanted me to have sex with them??! I’m not bi or gay, and I don’t do orgies or one night stands, and furthermore, I’m married and monogamous. I’m pretty liberal, but I do like to know ahead of time that I’ve been invited to an orgy. That way I can politely decline and no-one’s feelings get hurt. 😉

    So there I was, stuck on the beach with a bunch of orgiastic acquaintances, without a way home. I called my dh and he came to pick me up, which was something of a hardship because we have a special needs son. But I had to get out of there. I was furious with that woman. Couldn’t even look at her, I was so angry.

    This event was wrong on so many levels. First, why wasn’t I explicitly informed there would be an orgy? Believe me, she’d planned it. She even brought a sex game to get us “warmed up.” Second, she had no alternatives for activities that night. “My way or the highway.” And third, she tried to make me feel like it was my problem, my fault, that I didn’t want to participate. You know, like “honey, I’m so sorry you’re uptight. Is there anything we can do to help?” GRRRR.

    Needless to say, we never spoke again after I left the event.

    • Sounds like someone with this disorder, doesn’t it? and of course, in their vernacular, this is your fault. glad you were able to get out of there and get home. And next time, listen to your instincts. FUnny how those internal alarms go off and we can choose to listen or not.

      by the way, the first time you comment here it goes to the moderator for approval. From now on, your comments will show moments after you post.

      thanks for stopping by.

  5. Roxy Boroughs says:

    Thanks for explaining this, Louise. I’d heard of the disorder but, apart from behaving dramatically, I wasn’t sure what was involved.

  6. Jill James says:

    Happily, I don’t think I know anyone like this. Is there a type that is the polar opposite? Say, over covers up, almost afraid to show their sexuality? Afraid to be seen as sexy and pretty? Doesn’t want to be the center of attention and actually works to fade into the background?

    • I’m glad you don’t kow anyone like this. I’m sure there’s a disorder as you characterize it but I can’t think of the name at the moment. I’ll do some research and post in a future blog. be well Jill.

  7. patodearosen says:

    Louise, your description of HPD made me think of Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire–and shows how helpful these posts are for creating fictional characters with credible problems that will trigger conflict.

  8. What happened to just calling things what they are – pedophiles! We don’t need a new name because someone is supposedly an “upstanding citizen” and we don’t want to have to stick an ugly label on them. Let’s call a spade a spade. He’s not an upstanding citizen – he’s a sick-o.

    That said, it keeps you therapists employed. And employment is a good thing.

    I’m not making fun or belittling mental disorders. I just hate it when something “new” comes along about the same time someone of import is on trial for something bad but we don’t want to make them out as bad people. Coincidence? I don’t feel sorry for the dude. Off with his head!!

    Sorry, Louise. I’m a little opinionated at times. You know I love you though, right?

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    • you haven’t said anything I disagree with, Pat – I am totally with you, although I tried to be circumspect on the blog post. I can’t see what this does for him except make him look guilty. the prosecution will love it. a pedophile is a pedophile…he needs to be punished and not in a nice little upscale prison that is so common in the US. love you point of view. thx for sharing. Personality disorders do not make people Not criminally responsible, so the whole thing is a ruse.

  9. Hmmm… I haven’t heard of this before. Sounds like the husband of a boss I used to have. Wow – that was awkward… lol

  10. Karen McFarland says:

    Louise, I can see how important having a manual is. How can you keep up with every disorder, let alone diagnosis them. My head is swimming with all these personality disorders. But Pat O’Dea had an interesting take on this. Blanche, I had forgotten about her. Good call Pat. This is why I like to read all the comments. I love reading how others relate to this. Thank you Louise! I know you work hard to write these posts. 🙂

    • Karen, I think that’s why they reduced the number of personality disorders in the next version of the DSM. they are all so similar it makes everyone’s head swim. and therapist end up becoming an expert in one or the other so that’s all they ‘see’. I am glad you’re learning and enjoying the series.

  11. Thanks for this explanation, Louise. I was wondering what the Huff Post was talking about. I saw a therapist interviewed on CNN and she said, “I’ve never ever met a pedophile who admitted to wrong-doing.” I agree with you — I don’t see how introducing something like HPD makes the accusations any less disturbing.

    • For those who understand the disorder, this admission makes a conviction more likely. the whole thing is disgusting and trying to use a disorder like this is just wrong. thx for stopping by Debra

  12. Reetta Raitanen says:

    Thank you for the description. Histrionic people sound really difficult with their constant need of attention and inability to accept criticism and responsibility. Big babies, except that even my 3 year olds can do these things.

  13. Kourtney Heintz says:

    Thanks for taking something out of the headlines and making it understandable. I knew someone like this and their behavior made me run for the hills.

  14. Heidi says:

    Very interesting. So many of these disorders remind me of playground behavior in the extreme. Is it just me? I’ve learned that if a person flashes me back to negative experiences at school, I need to be careful of them. Slowly back away…

    • wise woman – slowly back away from the nonsense and toxicity and stay well. lots of the problem with personality disorders does appear to be a lack of maturity – the notice me first, play with me, i’m the best are all trademarks of children and yet they keep manifesting in adults.

  15. Catie Rhodes says:

    Another great post, Louise. I am really loving this series. I know I’ve said that before, but it bears repeating. Stuff like this is multi-user for me. I can use it for character creation or I can use it to protect myself when dealing with someone who seems off.

    One question. If this disorder is being removed from the Diagnostic Manual, what exactly does that mean? Is it going to get a new name? Or is it no longer considered a personality disorder?

    I don’t think I’ve known anybody like this. But now that I am familiar with the traits, I may come to recognize it more often.

    Thanks for all the effort you put into making this so clear.

    • thx for your kind words, Catie. They have decided that there are 6 clearly defined personality disorders and the others (like this one) bear more study and more research because a wrong diagnosis between this and something else was so easy. It’s not going away, but it is not ‘formally’ recognized by the American Psychiatric Disorder. So that means more study and definition and then it will eventually return, either under this name or something else.

      Glad you’re enjoying the series and finding it useful. It’s great fun for me to put it together in this format and using everyday language so that everyone can understand it.

      be well

  16. emmaburcart says:

    Ok, I’ve definitely known some people like this in my life! They are certainly not fun to be around. I like my drama on the screen, not in real life. 🙂

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