June 11th, 2012
05:45 PM ET

What is histrionic personality disorder?

The trial of  Jerry Sandusky has begun. Prosecutors accuse the former Penn State assistant football coach of abusing at least 10 boys, allegations that have become widely known.

What may be less familiar is a mental illness his lawyers are connecting with him: Histrionic personality disorder.  The defense attorneys say they intend to offer expert testimony from a psychologist who "will explain that the words, tones, requests and statements made in the letters are consistent with a person who suffers from a Histrionic Personality Disorder," according to documents.

Histrionic personality disorder is part of a class of conditions called dramatic personality disorders, which are marked by unstable emotions and distorted self-images, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

For these people, self-esteem doesn't come from true feelings of self worth, but rather from the approval from other people, and those suffering from this disorder will often engage in dramatic or inappropriate behaviors to call attention to themselves.

“People develop this disorder because they have a need to be appreciated and to feel valued and worthwhile and special,” said Nadine Kaslow, psychologist at Emory University School of Medicine, who has not treated Sandusky.

About 2% to 3% of the general population is thought to have histrionic personality disorder, she said.  "We all have traits that resemble this, but it becomes a problem when all of the symptoms are combined in a way that makes functioning difficult."

Inflicting sexual abuse is not a commonly recognized trait of this condition, but sexually-provocative behavior is, she adds.

People with this personality disorder may also change emotions rapidly, overly dwell on physical appearance, and take criticism or disapproval sensitively. They are easily influenced by others and make rash decisions, according to the Cleveland Clinic.  Rarely showing concern for others, they often find it challenging to maintain relationships.  People with histrionic personality disorder may even threaten or attempt suicide for the sake of getting attention.

No one knows what causes this disorder, but experts say it's probably a combination of nature and nurture.  The personality disorder can run in families, suggesting a genetic connection, but children may also be influenced by their parents in ways that would lead kids to crave attention or be confused about how to get parents' approval.

The standard treatment for this disorder is a type of counseling called psychotherapy, in which a mental health professional helps the person delve into what's causing their thoughts and behaviors, and figure out how to create more positive relationships. Depression and anxiety may be issues for some patients, and may be treated with medications.  But generally this personality disorder has not received a lot of attention in terms of evidence-based treatments, Kaslow said.

It's important to seek help if you believe you have symptoms of histrionic personality disorder, especially if it's causing trouble in your romantic or professional life.

soundoff (856 Responses)
  1. Boob4You

    What a sick perv. his attorneys are sick pervs too.

    June 12, 2012 at 12:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • alan s

      Boob: No, Jerry Sandusky's attorneys are not sick pervs. They are clever, cynical, manipulative people who realize that several jurors might be foolish enough to buy their load of manure. This reminds me of Dan White's successful "Twinkie defense" many years ago in his murder trial in San Francisco. What is sick and perverted is not that Mr. Sandusky's attorneys thought up this strategem: what is sick and perverted is that ordinary people, sitting on juries, occasionally believe this stuff.

      June 12, 2012 at 14:43 | Report abuse |
    • D

      At least one of his attorney's is a perv, too. He, as a middle-aged man, managed to impregnate a teen.

      June 12, 2012 at 17:54 | Report abuse |
    • D

      *attorneys* that is.

      June 12, 2012 at 17:54 | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      .Liberals love to redefine perverted behaviors like h0m0s3xuality and p3dophilia as "healthy and normal human behavior"....and that includes the twisted liberal attorney named Barack WhoseInsane Obama.

      June 12, 2012 at 18:48 | Report abuse |
    • big dog

      what a load of hooey! he has the same disorder that"hunters" who put out corn to feed deer do...premeditated predation!

      June 13, 2012 at 11:40 | Report abuse |
    • milo

      What a crock. My guess is that jerry better meets criteria for pedophilia dontcha think?

      June 13, 2012 at 13:38 | Report abuse |
  2. stacy100

    really....is no one just mean and need to be punished. We have a disorder for everything....God help us!

    June 12, 2012 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dogface

      Jerry Sandusky can have his Hystrionic Personality Disorder treated by prison justice in the crowbar hotel where he belongs for life. I just wish they could seize all his worldly assets to defray at least some of the costs of his future incarceration. I also hope they take one of his kidneys and give the kidney to someone more deserving.

      June 12, 2012 at 14:36 | Report abuse |
    • LL

      I don't know if Sandusky has this disorder or not, but I've seen HPD up close; and it's very, very real. If Sandusky has it, it doesn't mean he's not guilty, if just changes where and how he does the time, imo.

      June 12, 2012 at 14:38 | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      Soooo true! Own up to what you do and stop passing the blame-buck ... smdh

      June 12, 2012 at 15:24 | Report abuse |
    • D

      @dogface- I would rather all the assets go to the victims.

      June 12, 2012 at 17:55 | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Also know as h0m0s3xuality

      June 12, 2012 at 18:44 | Report abuse |
    • pattyo27

      HPD IS NOT AN ACCURATE DIAGNOSIS FOR HIM! The disorder is very real. It's like how we are programmed to be attracted to others our age. There is misfire, physiologically, that causes his arousal by children. It's classified in the DSM and it is:

      Pedophilic Disorder

      A. Over a period of at least 6 months, an equal or greater sexual arousal from prepubescent or early pubescent children than from physically mature persons, as manifested by fantasies, urges, or behaviors.
      B. The individual has acted on these sexual urges, or the sexual urges or fantasies cause marked distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
      C. The individual must be at least 18 years of age and at least 5 years older than the children in Criterion A.

      June 12, 2012 at 19:35 | Report abuse |
  3. Tek

    Oh so they are using the insanity plea??? Yeah he's guilty!
    Time for that predator to sent to where he will see how it feels to be raped.

    June 12, 2012 at 12:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Shecky

    He suffers from Sick Perv Disorder.

    June 12, 2012 at 12:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. tribecagal

    No, I didn't do it has now changed to oh, poor me, I have a personality disorder. What a bunch of BS. This perv has been plying his trade for 30 years. It's time to put him where he belongs – in jail!

    June 12, 2012 at 13:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Hasher Iva

    They have a special place for guys like Sandusky; it's called Cell Block 9. He can live there with the rest of the inmates.

    I'm thinking 7 women on the jury, serial pedophile; Sandusky doesn't stand a chance. But if one member is a rabid Penn State fan it'll be a hung jury.

    June 12, 2012 at 13:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Freakin Genius

    Yeah, well I suffer from "Whup-ass disorder." Every time I see a vulnerable person begin abused, I LOSE MY MIND, black out, and the next thing I know, the abuser is in intensive care and I'm in the back of a police cruiser. Your Honor, I rest my case.

    June 12, 2012 at 14:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Clay

    I am really surprised this dirt bag SOB hasn't offed himself yet...I figured all along they would try to delay this as long as humanly possible figuring old age into the equation, but, to think he is willing to drag his family, the university, the community and the victims through this entire trial just floors me...Give hm a rope, and a razor blade, and let him do the right thing before all of this spills into the public eye....Once its over, it really will not matter much, he is 68 and will be gone soon anyway..Save us all some money, and yourself further degradation, and JUST DO IT already! His lawyers should go right behind him, what a horrible way to make a living feeding off others misery like they do....This whole thing is simply appalling, and the more that comes out, the worse it all gets.

    June 12, 2012 at 14:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. T the Terrible

    This is just insulting. As a psych student, I can flatly tell you that there is nothing about Hystrionic Personality Disorder that supports the defense's case. I read that and thought, "You have GOT to be kidding me!" Hystrionics are dramatic, needy, insecure little show-offs. This guy is just a freakin' PEDOPHILE.

    June 12, 2012 at 14:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • pattyo27

      T, my degree is also psych. He has Pedophilic Disorder. Plain and simple. I completely agree with you that HPD does not fit the profile. I hope the prosecution gets this "possiblity" dismissed quickly.

      June 12, 2012 at 19:33 | Report abuse |
    • RTfromIL

      Thank you!

      Sandusky's attorneys are not trying to get him off with an insanity defense; they are trying to blame the love letters that Sandusky wrote to his victims, on a personality disorder. They are grasping at straws.

      Sandusky would have been better off pleading guilty instead of having 10 of his victims describe, for the whole world, the extent of his depravity.

      June 13, 2012 at 09:48 | Report abuse |
    • Innocent

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      September 14, 2012 at 00:34 | Report abuse |
  10. J-Boogie

    andusky is a perv.....seriously have his lawyers read the indictment report? How could you even defend him?

    June 12, 2012 at 14:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Shuffler

    His attourneys can show their support by letting sandusky hang out with their grandchildren.

    June 12, 2012 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Freakin Genius

    Let's not forget that all the defense in any case has to do is pull a bogus theory out of their asses, get it "supported" by a testimony-for-pay "expert," and the mouth-breathers that pass for jury members today are thrown for a loop. They seem to be utterly baffled by the concept of "Beyond a REASONABLE doubt." Seriously, 12 Labrador Retrievers could display more discernment and common sense that 90% of juries in the US today. To prove my point: Casey Anthony – FREE; Lindsay Lohan – FREE, John Edwards – FREE. Sandusky will be a free man within a year and he and his pedo-enabling wife can open up a daycare center for kids of Penn State employees.

    June 12, 2012 at 14:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. J-Boogie

    And I'm not buying the fact that non of his "family" knew he was doing this....

    June 12, 2012 at 15:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Ed Man

    He ought to just plead guilty and go to jail. Yeah, he'll be real popular. He'll spend a lot of time on his knees but that's what he seems to crave anyway.

    June 12, 2012 at 16:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Milo Weaver

    Seriously? People so need to feel valued that they have gay sex with children?
    No. The disorder here is that someone thinks they can invent rationalization instead of taking responsibility.

    Shink on the stand: Bonnie and Clyde were not criminals. They suffered from "Not Having Enough Free Money" Disorder.

    June 12, 2012 at 16:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • GrowUp

      As opposed to straight sex with children? You're rich.

      June 13, 2012 at 02:01 | Report abuse |
  16. just saying

    bullcrap! he is a pedophile, plain and simple. stop excusing his actions by giving him a convenient 'disorder'! he has a disorder alright, he is a pervet who needs to be put away for life!!!!

    June 12, 2012 at 16:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • pattyo27

      It is a disorder.
      Pedophilic Disorder

      A. Over a period of at least 6 months, an equal or greater sexual arousal from prepubescent or early pubescent children than from physically mature persons, as manifested by fantasies, urges, or behaviors.
      B. The individual has acted on these sexual urges, or the sexual urges or fantasies cause marked distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
      C. The individual must be at least 18 years of age and at least 5 years older than the children in Criterion A.

      June 12, 2012 at 19:29 | Report abuse |
  17. Stephanie Turner

    Histronic? More like antisocial (sociopathic) and/or narcissitic personality disorders. However, many to most criminals do. It's no defense to say that someone has no conscience or had a grandiose sense of self worth. Lock him up!

    June 12, 2012 at 17:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dave

      AKA h0m0s3xuality

      June 12, 2012 at 18:42 | Report abuse |
    • pattyo27

      Neither of those:
      Pedophilic Disorder

      A. Over a period of at least 6 months, an equal or greater sexual arousal from prepubescent or early pubescent children than from physically mature persons, as manifested by fantasies, urges, or behaviors.
      B. The individual has acted on these sexual urges, or the sexual urges or fantasies cause marked distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
      C. The individual must be at least 18 years of age and at least 5 years older than the children in Criterion A.

      June 12, 2012 at 19:30 | Report abuse |
  18. barbara

    I realize that it's the job of Sandusky's attorney to try to come up with a defense... however, using histrionics is not even plausible here by any stretch. Flirtation and provacative behavior may be symptons... but they are behaviors that are directed at adults... not children. Sandusky's constant denial is an insult to his victims. He's taking a huge risk by going to trial. I'd be trying to plea bargain my "histrionic" butt off if I were him.

    June 12, 2012 at 18:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Wally

    This is Bushing Fullkit is what this is.

    June 12, 2012 at 18:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. TellinTheTruth

    "It's not my fault – I have this condition". Seems like we hear that FAR TOO OFTEN these days: nobody's ever responsible for what they did (again and again). If he molested them, fry him. Not our fault – we just have this "condition".

    June 12, 2012 at 18:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Dave

    Sandusky`s personality disorder is h0m0s3xuality. Face reality, stop the PC and lies.

    June 12, 2012 at 18:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. hypatia

    More crap psycho-babble. His problem is a penchant for diddling little boys.

    June 12, 2012 at 18:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • pattyo27

      Pedophilic Disorder

      A. Over a period of at least 6 months, an equal or greater sexual arousal from prepubescent or early pubescent children than from physically mature persons, as manifested by fantasies, urges, or behaviors.
      B. The individual has acted on these sexual urges, or the sexual urges or fantasies cause marked distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
      C. The individual must be at least 18 years of age and at least 5 years older than the children in Criterion A.

      June 12, 2012 at 19:27 | Report abuse |
  23. samsart

    Whether he has the disorder ( which I seriously doubt) or not, decades of aberrant behavior have passed. And , ALL those around him who just passed it off, or pushed it away, have some ownership in this situation. We all know that the defense has to come up with something. This is truly appalling.

    June 12, 2012 at 18:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. mac101

    If his defense team is using this as a defense, they are going to lose, and lose big-time – histrionic personality disorder will be eliminated from the DSM-V when it is released in 2013, because there wasn't sufficient evidence to back it up as a real diagnosis.

    The real personality disorder that Sandusky has is called anti-social personality disorder with depraved indifference – also referred to by laypeople as being a sociopath. And while most full-blown personality disorders of any type are known to be resistant to treatment, as a psychiatric nurse for over 30+ years, I have yet to see or hear of anyone with APD who gets better.

    Sandusky is no exception – the man is a pedophile, and will die a pedophile. The sooner, the better.

    June 12, 2012 at 20:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pelegrim

      Depraved indifference? Great description.

      June 13, 2012 at 00:37 | Report abuse |
  25. dddd

    Sandusky's attorneys came up with this disorder b.s. because they have no exculpatory evidence. Even though juries do some criminally stupid things (OJ, anyone?) I cannot believe for a second he will get off. Too many victims over too long a period of time. Then they should convict his wife. She HAD to know. Lock them both up.

    June 12, 2012 at 20:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. olepi

    He didn't act in an emotional and dramatic way(Histronics), he acted as most child predators do: he gets into a position that brings him into contact with children, selects the most vulnerable children, adopts the father/parent figure to gain their trust, and hides his acts as best he can.

    June 12, 2012 at 20:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Le

    His constant smirking face makes me so ill. If he was craving approval then of course who better to crave it from then a man like Joe Paterno, and live a way he approved of. To claim he abused these poor kids because he was seeking attention from them, is another stab in the heart of these poor men.

    June 13, 2012 at 00:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. mike

    That's the same disorder the GOP has.

    June 13, 2012 at 00:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Pelegrim

    What a joke. Let him dangle.

    June 13, 2012 at 00:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. AmmoPapa

    I've read about this disorder... says nothing about buggering boys being a symptom.

    June 13, 2012 at 01:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. RFBJR

    "He can't help if he was born that way."

    You see, that argument doesn't work. His behavior was his choice.

    June 13, 2012 at 07:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. talula*

    how did the people around him not know he had this disorder?
    when a person has a position such as a coach do they undergo mental heath screening? MM PI ?
    was this men so bright, and gifted that what he had to bring to the table as a coach was worth the heartache?

    June 13, 2012 at 08:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Mr. Ed

    He may have disorder, but even then I think his attorneys are stretching it, but it doesn't take the place of what he did. It may, and I emphasize the word may, explain what's going on in his head but doesn't get rid of the fact that he molested boys over a period of many years and should still go to jail. He can see a psych. to treat him there while the other inmates show him what it's like to have treated young boys they way he treated them.

    June 13, 2012 at 09:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Lindsey

    So someone pulls some half-a$$ed mental disorder out of thin air and suddenly "poor Jerry" is suffering from it? Did voices in his head demand that he plook these kids up the butt?

    Send this creepo to prison. Maybe he can get snugly with Bubba. NOT!

    June 13, 2012 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Terry Moore

    Yes..It is a personality disorder.. but not a structure disorder... and well within the limits of self-control as imposed by the "superego"... J.S knew what he was doing, knew that it was wrong, and acted in a way as to eventually "get caught", thus showing the inner dilemma created by the opposition between a pulsion and society's codes. Bottom line : Therapy, lots of it, even analysis if he can stand it...even though it is a little late, especially at his age.

    June 13, 2012 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. WachetAuf

    Wow! Wouldn't it be interesting to have a trained clinical psychologist examine these comments to determine how many of them evidence some form of psychological illness or dysfunction. Not being a trained psychologist myself, all I can do is to describe my discomfort with many of these comments and hope that none of my friends, acquaintances and associates share the feelings or views expressed. I am only guessing. Is there a trained clinical psychologist on board who can shed some light here?

    June 13, 2012 at 11:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. lindaluttrell

    A PEDOPHILE is just that a PEDOPHILE! This is no more than a last-ditch ploy to get this dirty, degenerate off with as light a sentence as possible! I hope both the jury & judge "throw the book" at him!

    June 13, 2012 at 11:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Jones

    Of course he has some sort of mental disease! Its when someones mental disease spills over into illegal behavior is when we lock them up! Serial killers are first rate sickos. We still lock them up.

    June 13, 2012 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Boo

    Call it whatever you want. This guy is a head case and a pedophile.

    June 13, 2012 at 11:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. mklsgl

    Amendola may have HPD but Sandusky is a certified pedophile.

    June 13, 2012 at 12:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. John

    First off, he probably does NOT have histrionic personality disorder; I'm a psychiatrist, so I'm pretty sure. Second, even if he does, it has absolutely NO bearing on whether he is guilty. Personality disorders are constellations of inappropriate coping mechanisms; they have nothing to do with an individual's ability to tell right from wrong. The insanity defense is based on the absence of such ability, and clearly this guy knew or should have known that raping boys is wrong.

    June 13, 2012 at 12:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kena

      An impressive share, I just given this onto a cuagelloe who was doing a little analysis on this. And he in fact bought me breakfast because I found it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the treat! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love reading more on this topic. If possible, as you become expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more details? It is highly helpful for me. Big thumb up for this blog post!.

      September 14, 2012 at 03:26 | Report abuse |
  42. d mavraganis

    personality disorder my !!!//////####. sandusky is nothing but an excuse for a human being. he is even lower than a pedophile. he makes my stomach turn

    June 13, 2012 at 12:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. DC

    I wonder if any defense attorney's have ever told their clients in private, "you, sir, are seriously going to jail!"

    I think this would be one of those cases.

    June 13, 2012 at 12:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. mike

    i totally agree with sandusky's lawyers! sandusky cannot be held responsible because of this "disorder"!! in fact, i think HE is the victim here!! pedophiles have rights!! in fact, i think the 10 accusers should be charged for bringing forward these outrageous accusations and tormenting an old man who just wanted to have a little fun with them. what's next?!?!? prosecuting drug dealers? they're just trying to make a living! rapists? we all need sex! THIS MUST STOP!!

    June 13, 2012 at 13:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. mikeosity

    Wrong.. he has Pedophilia. Which is also in the DSM. There is no connection to Histrionics and Sexual abuse which is what this is. This will be a waste of time for the defense. And even if the court accepted this diagnosis, he will go into a state hospital for the rest of his life. If not prison.

    June 13, 2012 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D.,NSCA-CPT

    Histrionic Personality Disorder is a "trash can" diagnosis developed by the panel of psychiatrists who formulated the Diagnositc and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to categorize women who are well dressed, sexually provocative and self centered...as seen by men! Histrionic Personality Disorder differs slightly from Narcissistic Personality Disorder which was dropped from DSM V...because too many beautiful, powerful, wealthy and successful men and women fit the profile! Clearly it could not be pathological.

    June 13, 2012 at 14:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. felix el gato

    What? He's sick? Well, we'll just have to let him go.

    June 13, 2012 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. hecep

    Wow. Histrionic Personality Disorder defense? Even Michael Jackosn never used that one. Law and Science. The two don't seem to belong together.

    June 13, 2012 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. cec

    Please desist from diagnosing. A phych degree does not qualify you to do this unless you are at a masters level or above and with a state license that grants you this privilege. Having said this, JS is a person who was allowed to perpetrate by powerful people who had could have stopped it at anytime.

    June 13, 2012 at 14:54 | Report abuse | Reply

    OK I NEED TO GET THIS STRAIGHT...So because he's a dirty pervert he gets to labeled with a personality disorder? The problem in this country and world is the fact that peole refuse to call things what they really are...I'm going to start it off. I'm going to call it molestation and sexual abuse of children. Then I'm going to say this sinful man should be locked up if the allegations are true. Then I'm going to say shame on the people who protected him because they didn't want to get graphic or discuss it?! SHAME and DISGUST. If it were your kid what would you do? (In my Chris Quinnoes voice)

    June 13, 2012 at 15:03 | Report abuse | Reply
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