Co-parenting a child with a divorced spouse is difficult enough, but what do you do when your divorced spouse is diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder? The characteristics of this disorder are that the person exhibits extreme emotions, self-dramatization, self-centeredness, shallow emotions, and constant approval seeking and attention from others.  In most histrionic diagnoses, the person suffering from the disorder is a woman. 

When a person with histrionic personality disorder does not view themselves as the center of attention, he or she will feel unappreciated and will look for ways to become the center of attention. Usually, their actions are solely for attention, good or bad, and will be embarrassing to those around the person with the disorder.  The attention seeking behavior may include uncontrollably sobbing, screaming, or temper tantrums, usually over the most minor of setbacks or most mundane issues.

In a custody setting, the actions of a parent who exhibits great emotion at custody exchanges by tightly embracing the child, while loudly sobbing, and telling the child he or she will be missed every minute until their return is usually a parent suffering from histrionic personality disorder. On the opposite side of the spectrum, a parent with this diagnosis could conversely scream at the top of their lungs at every single custody exchange that the other parent is “ripping out his or her heart” every time custody is transferred.  If communication is through email or text messaging, issues are rarely limited to one or two exchanges, but go “on and on,” usually with capital letters and irrational, repeated statements.

When you are confronted with this type of behavior during a custody exchange or parenting communication, try to exhibit the following behaviors:

  1. Stay Calm.  The best way to deflect the emotional overload of a histrionic personality is to stay calm.  Remember, a histrionic personality thrives on attention and turmoil.  As such, the worst action you can display to a person with his disorder is anger.  When confronted with irrational behavior, remove yourself from the situation.  If you engage in the irrational behavior, it will only continue and in most cases, increase.
  2. Take Deep Breaths.  This action goes hand in hand with Number 1.  By breathing deeply, you are helping yourself calm down and remove yourself from the histrionic spouse’s behaviors.
  3. Keep your Distance.  Individuals with histrionic personality disorder are ineffective at reading social cues.  As such, they may misinterpret comments or gestures, even when benign or helpful to them.
  4. Choose your words carefully.  As individuals with histrionic personality disorder like a “good fight,” be very careful with your comments toward them, as even well intentioned comments may lead to lengthy screaming sessions and/or crying jags.

If you know the proper way to react to the irrational behaviors of a person suffering from a psychological disorder, you will be better equipped to deal with the ups and downs of co-parenting with them.


Boyanowski, CCara A. Boyanowski concentrates her practice in the field of domestic law and wills and estates.  As a domestic law practitioner, she represents clients in simple and complex divorce, support, custody, alimony, step-parent adoptions, name change and same-sex divorce and custody matters.  She works out of Obermayer’s Harrisburg, PA office and can be reached at 717-234-5315 or at Cara.Boyanowski@obermayer.com.