Intense displays of emotion and attention-seeking behaviors are signs of HPD. There are ways to cope with these to foster a positive and productive workplace.
Histrionic personality disorder (HPD), a personality disorder characterized by a distorted self-image and a need to be noticed, can be a challenge in the workplace, for the person living with HPD and for their coworkers.
HPD in the workplace can appear initially as high enthusiasm but evolve into a need for repeated praise and affirmation.
People with HPD may experience difficulty at work because of the symptoms of this condition, and coworkers may encounter challenges collaborating with colleagues with HPD.
Understanding the signs of HPD is key to coping with the condition in the workplace, and nurturing a positive and productive environment.
HPD is classified as a cluster B personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition Text Revision (DSM-5-TR). HPD, and the other disorders in this category like narcissistic personality disorder, share traits, such as an excessive need for attention and a distorted self-image.
Many people who live with HPD don’t realize it, says Dr. Jeff Ditzell, a psychiatrist in New York City.
“Some behaviors manifest in the workplace, such as excessive emotionality, poor judgment on emotions, and sensitivity to criticism,” he adds.
Some signs of HPD in the workplace might present include:
- constantly seeking praise or affirmation for contributions
- hyperfocus on personal projects and neglect toward the projects of others
- eagerness to start projects but lack of follow-through
- engaging in surface-level relationships
- disinterest when relationships become deeper or the novelty wears off
- quick adoption of behaviors and ideals of strong authority figures
- fleeting and intense emotional reactions
- nonobservance of workplace policies to gain attention (for example, dressing in a way considered inappropriate for the setting)
- flirtatious and provocative behaviors
- finding ways to be the center of attention
If someone in your workplace discloses to you that they have HPD, there are ways to work alongside them and foster a positive and productive environment.
It’s important for the workplace and its workers to have clear and enforced boundaries, says Elliot Pinsly, a licensed clinical social worker and president and chief executive officer of the Behavioral Health Foundation in Nashville, Tennessee.
“At the same time, managers need to understand that their employee will likely test such boundaries,” Pinsly says. “Modeling professionalism and redirecting inappropriate behavior are important.”
If you’re a peer and not a supervisor, you can help validate boundaries by following them yourself, reporting violations, and not validating someone’s efforts to test the limits.
Pinsly also recommends focusing on staying calm.
“Try not to give the person attention for their appearance when dressed provocatively or when being dramatic in a meeting,” he says. In those scenarios, remain calm and professional.
Additionally, if you feel discomfort with your co-worker’s behavior or appearance, Pinsly recommends avoiding romantic engagements or social interactions outside the workplace.
Practice individual interactions
“It may be beneficial to seek out individual meetings with bosses to propose new ideas rather than group meetings, or even individual brainstorming sessions before offering ideas together as a team,” suggests Dr. Elizabeth Laney, a psychologist from Houston, Texas.
This can help you avoid feeling overshadowed by more dominant personalities, such as someone with HPD.
Build on the strengths of HPD
In some situations, the enthusiasm brought by a coworker living with HPD is beneficial and productive.
Laney recommends finding times to work with this coworker on ideas you both align on. They can help you collaborate and build momentum for the project.
The relationships someone living with HPD forms in the workplace are often superficial.
This doesn’t mean you can’t trust that coworker. But it may be beneficial to keep shared information limited to work-related issues. This way, you can avoid the spread of attention-gaining gossip.
Check in with employees
If you’re a manager of a person working through HPD challenges, Ditzell recommends conducting regular performance meetings. This doesn’t mean the meetings are about that person’s HPD diagnosis. You likely won’t be able to confirm if an employee has HPD, and that’s okay.
It simply means identifying certain employees who might do better with regular check-ins and one-on-one time. In these meetings, you can identify the strengths in your employee, channeling them to generate short- and long-term goals.
This can keep a productive level of praise for true accomplishments, and can help build a sense of self-worth that doesn’t require constant affirmation.
When you’re living with HPD, you may experience challenges in regulating emotions. You may:
- have intense displays of emotions
- exhibit attention-seeking behaviors
- constantly seek notice and recognition
Even when HPD influences your life, there are ways you can maintain a positive, rewarding work environment. Laney recommends:
- cultivating self-validation skills, like mindfulness
- pacing yourself so you don’t lose interest in projects or people
- creating self-rewards, like a coffee break, for reaching project milestones
- asking for feedback at work to renew motivation
- practicing delayed gratification, which is the ability to resist an immediate reward
- consciously making space for the energy of others in group settings
- identifying and staying true to your values, rather than quickly aligning with others’
- taking on roles that speak to your strengths
Seek professional guidance
“Engaging in talk therapy is the best path to manage symptoms of histrionic personality disorder,” Pinsly says.
He points out that many companies offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that include access to a network of psychotherapists, with the cost of care covered by the employer for a limited number of sessions.
Take steps after you’ve received an HPD diagnosis
If you’ve received an HPD diagnosis, Pinsly suggests first communicating with your management team that you do your best work when you receive positive feedback.
This can help you work together to generate genuine, consistent feedback to limit the need for other attention-seeking behaviors.
Pinsly also suggests to “try your best to adhere to professional boundaries and workplace rules.”
“Avoid situations that may trigger your need to be the life of the party, such as company holiday gatherings or happy hours,” he adds.
Histrionic personality disorder (HPD) in the workplace can present challenges for the person living with the condition as well as for their coworkers and managers. It doesn’t mean people with HPD are bad employees; they simply have unique needs.
While therapy is the first-line treatment approach for HPD, there are ways to improve your work environment if you’re working alongside HPD or living with it.
If you or your colleague is living with HPD, upholding boundaries, not validating behaviors, and creating new project approaches can all help foster a positive and rewarding workplace.