Hysteria - An excessive reaction to a threat, bad news or disappointment, which diverts attention away from the problem and towards the person who is having the reaction.
Many people enjoy 15 minutes of fame. But for a Drama Major or Drama Queen, obtaining and holding other people's attention is more than a flight of fancy - it is something which they seek out using a systematic approach.
The goal of a hysterical person is to draw attention to themselves and to their plight - primarily from people who do not know them well and who are more likely to present a sympathetic response. Basically, it is a way to manipulate strangers into serving a person's emotional need.
There is nothing inherently dysfunctional about desiring other people's attention. However, attention seeking becomes dysfunctional when it includes:
Hurting yourself or other people.
Neglecting or abusing children.
Breaking promises or not following through on commitments.
Diverting money, resources, support or people's attention away from others who need it more.
Preventing or impeding practical solutions or compromises from being implemented.
Everyone engages in these kinds of behaviors some of the time. However, some people who suffer from personality disorders do these kinds of things habitually or chronically.
Examples of Hysteria & Melodramatic Behavior
A parent who needs more attention at the emergency room than their injured child.
A cousin who starts an argument with relatives while the bride and groom are cutting the cake.
A widower who needs to be carried out of the church behind the coffin at a funeral.
A parent who rushes their child to the hospital with a minor complaint.
A person who habitually speaks above conversational level in the room, forcing other conversations to break off.
A man who habitually calls the police when no-one is at risk.
A woman who begins flirting with or kissing other men in front of her boyfriend.
A person who calls or shows up unannounced when they have been politely asked not to.
A person who gossips.
A person who tries to "outdo" others in their dress code.
A man who threatens a lawsuit when a waiter spills his coffee.
Someone who gravitates towards a state of crisis.
Hysterical people take everyday situation and elevate them to a level that is inappropriate, unhelpful and diversionary. They may sometimes appear more comfortable in a crisis than in a calm situation. They are the kind of people who threaten, bluster, overreact, take it up a notch and go to extremes. They are like black holes for other people's emotional energy. Like emotional addicts, they are constantly seeking another "fix" of sympathy, admiration, envy, respect, significance and attention.
The irony of hysteria is that it often diverts resources away from solving real problems and onto the person who is acting hysterical.
People who know a hysterical person well are often inclined to become suspicious of them over time and withdraw their support. When this happens, hysterical people are commonly driven to recruit new sympathizers. It's not uncommon for people who suffer from HPD to recruit whole new sets of friends every year or so. There may be a tendency to idealize these friends while they are new and sympathetic and to devalue them when they become withdrawn.
What it feels like:
If you are a companion or family member to a drama major, you are probably suffering from crisis fatigue. You probably yearn just to be a "normal" couple or a "normal" family instead of one that constantly has a crisis going on. You may long for mundane days, ordinary affairs and predictable events. You may wish you could just become invisible and let some other household get all the attention. In public, you may be wishing you could carry a sign that says "I'm not really like them" - except that to do so would just draw more attention.
You may find yourself trying to "clean up" the mess behind your loved-one. You may be familiar with the impossible task of trying to appear as though you are a reasonable rational human being and you understand other people's skepticism about your loved-one's behaviors while at the same time trying to show support for you loved-one so it doesn't look like you are just another crazy.
You may feel humiliated by their behavior. You may wonder what people must think of you and you may be thinking that people assume you're probably at least half as bad as them.
The good news - most discerning people can differentiate between the characters that make up a family. Think of a family you know that has "issues". Do you regard them all the same - or are there some you respect more than others from within that family?
The bad news - most people will never tell you what they really think of your family member or partner, for fear that you might take it the wrong way and reject them. Unless you make the first move - such as move out or file for divorce and declare your independence most people will never tell you what they really think about the drama major or drama queen in your house. After you move out, a number of people will be only too happy to tell you what they always thought - once there is no personal risk for them to do so.
Coping with Hysteria
While you may find a Drama Major or Drama Queen's behavior exhausting and frustrating, if you step in and try to control them or try to stand between them and the attention they crave, you will have about as much success as a concerned parent who tries to keep their teenage addict away from their next fix. You will not be successful and you will get hurt in the process.
Unlike cocaine or heroin, attention is not a controlled substance and seeking or grabbing attention is not a crime. Therefore you are not going to be able control how much attention another person chooses to draw to themselves. You will have to let them have it. Your main concern should be to consider if this behavior is hurting you or any children involved.
If they are hurting children by their behaviors, then it is appropriate to try to protect those children - especially if you are their other parent. If you are not their parent then you are limited in what you can realistically do - beyond reporting any child abuse concerns to the authorities and offering those children a supportive environment whenever you are around them.
If they are hurting you, then you need to consider protecting yourself. This begins by working on your own boundaries and being willing to consider removing yourself from any environment that is not healthy for you, if and when appropriate.
What NOT to do:
Don't stand between a drama major and the attention they crave. You might as well stand in front of a freight train.
Don't try to "talk sense" into a drama major. You can't fight addiction with logic.
Don't assume the responsibility of fixing a person who has a dysfunctional addiction. Your job is to protect the innocents and yourself.
Don't try to "cover" for a drama major. People are smart and will draw their own conclusions regardless of your efforts.
Don't blame yourself for a drama major's behavior. They are feeding an addiction and you are peripheral to that.
What TO do:
Protect yourself and any innocents from harm, in so far as it is within your power to do so.
Promptly report any incidents of neglect or child abuse to the authorities.
Talk to trusted friends about what you are experiencing. Level with them so they will be comfortable in telling you what they can see and help you to see things "from the outside looking in".
Detach yourself from feeling responsible for a loved-ones behavior. Let it go. You are not responsible for their actions. You are only responsible for the way you have behaved. Resolve that you are going to detach yourself from anybody else's behavior and just be responsible for your own behavior from now on.
Forgive yourself for your past mistakes. If you live with a drama major, chances are you have "lost it" a few times. That's not the best way but that is in the past. Resolve to learn better ways to react to and protect yourself from your loved-one's addiction.
Forgive yourself for the way other people behave in your life. Resolve to be the best "you" that you can be.
For More Information & Support...
If you suspect you may have a family member or loved-one who suffers from a personality disorder, we encourage you to learn all you can and surround yourself with support as you learn how to cope.
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