Does Histrionic Personality Cause Him to Be An Abuser?

Reader’s Question

My husband and I have been together for 7 years (4 married), and recently we were in a fight where I called the police. He was arrested for assault and domestic violence, I being the one assaulted. We have gotten into arguments before, but never this bad. This time, he was on an absolute rage. Very different person from the one I knew. We’re separated, and he is seeking counseling through our church. The counselor diagnosed my husband with Histrionic Personality Disorder. While everything I read seems so much like my husband, this rage, this anger, is that part of HPD? Does his HPD cause him to be an abuser, or does abuse lead to HPD?

Psychologist’s Reply

There are three themes in your question. First is the issue of a “personality disorder”. All personality disorders have similar features. I’ve outlined and discussed those features in my introduction to personality disorders (PD) on this website. As you will see when you read the article, the “cluster B” personality disorders can be abusive, controlling, manipulative, and aggressive. This group of PDs become very angry when their selfish demands are not immediately met or when their goals are frustrated. While they can be physically abusive, they are typically abusive and manipulative in many nonviolent ways. The domestic violence is the behavior that brings them to the attention of the community authorities.

Histrionic Personality Disorder, a “Cluster B” personality disorder, has special characteristics. If this is a valid diagnosis, he will be very theatrical, dramatic, and emotional. He will become angry and resentful if he is not the center of attention. He will manipulate others to maintain his high need for attention. Histrionic Personalities feel totally justified to punish those around them when they don’t get their way, often throwing temper tantrums. These temper tantrums are similar to those of small children and typically do not involve physical assaults.

The last theme is that of abuse. There is a difference between a single, unexpected, and out-of-character episode of violence and a pattern of violence. If your husband has a personality disorder, we would expect a pattern of aggressiveness and violence that includes disrespect, emotional abuse, and even verbal abuse. Physical aggression/intimidation and physical violence create a pattern of violence against others. When a pattern of violence and aggression is present, this is an abusive individual — abusive above and beyond what we normally see in a personality disorder.

In summary, you may be dealing with two factors here. First, a lifestyle that has the characteristics found in personality disorders, especially Histrionic Personality. Second, a pattern of abusiveness and violence that includes physical assault. If both are present, you will need to protect yourself. Individuals with both features are often dangerous to those around them as they feel completely justified in intimidating, abusing, and controlling others. In fact, they have a sense of entitlement about it. The presence of Histrionic Personality doesn’t cause spousal abuse, but it makes the treatment of abusive behavior more difficult.

Encourage him to continue his counseling, but at the same time, make it very clear that certain violent behaviors will not be acceptable or tolerated in the home. Assure him that every incident of physical violence will result in a contact with local law enforcement and authorities. Abusers are never intimidated by their victims — but they do think twice about the law and court system.

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