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Histrionic Drama-Based Parenting-Was This Your Family?

The last couple of posts have had to do with different dysfunctional family or parenting styles, Abandoning and Invalidating. I decided to continue along this line and this week would like to introduce the Histrionic Drama Based dysfunctional family. When it comes to emotional baggage, these families create the need for a trailer to haul it all around!  In my book I call this style the “Theater People”.

When you grow up in a dysfunctional family of any type it is likely you will experience some aftermath. These early experiences worm their way into your psyche and often become part of your personality and your world view. It does not mean you made a conscious decision to allow it, it just happens over time. We all take in and assimilate the cues and triggers of our environment as well as the coping mechanisms (or lack thereof).

Sometimes it means you become similar in your ways of dealing with things or sometimes your brain fights back, something in there knowing that things just aren’t quite right. You become anxious or depressed, or chronically angry. You may rebel in ways that cause you to underachieve. You may run off in the first relationship that you can in order to escape it. These are all the things commonly seen in adults who have experienced a dysfunctional childhood.

In terms of dysfunctional parenting and lifestyles, the Histrionics are typically the most chaotic. The parents themselves may or may not suffer from actual Histrionic Personality Disorder but it’s often a close call. Anxiety and disorganization are common in their children and other family members. From a public standpoint the family may appear to be “a lot of fun” or “very involved in community”, giving it a positive twist not usually experienced by family members.

These parents tend to be over-reactive, expressively dramatic, highly emotional and perhaps theatrical in their responsiveness to situations. There is the need to be the center of attention, and the parent may constantly seek reassurance from within the family as well as from outsiders. You may have felt like you had to be your parent’s friend and advisor. These parents are childlike themselves.

Your parents may have been vain and demanding. They may have actively manipulated circumstances to keep attention on themselves. Their judgment may have been poor, thinking scattered, and the family unit most likely felt chaotic and anxiety-provoking. They are the ones that drive too fast to show off, saying “Isn’t this fun?”, while you are in the back seat holding on for dear life. Or the ones who shoplift “a little something” and giggle about it for days. Or flirt outrageously with the security officer when caught.

They love nothing better than a family crisis that can happen at any hour of the night. The crises of friends or neighbors are almost just as good. Everything is a production, there are no coping or problem solving strategies that feel logical or safe. More often than not there never are any solutions to problems that make sense.

Moods of your parent or parents may have been fickle and rapidly shifting, and they probably became easily angered or bored. You may have felt your home life to be very out of control.

These parents can be embarrassing at school or at home with peers, to the point that you may not have wanted to bring friends into your household. Your parents’ dress, mannerisms, or choice of peer groups may also have been embarrassing.

You yourself may have been used as an attention-getting mechanism for your parents in matters of dress, artistic or musical accomplishment, etc., and then paraded around like a pet. But when the company went home, you were no longer that interesting.  You may have witnessed sexual acting out in the home, wild parties or huge domestic dilemmas involving the police.

It is likely that you felt confusion over whether to try to solve these crises, try to fight the system, or dive right in and let it suck the life out of you. These may still be the things you are wondering today.

If any of this sounds familiar, you may have found yourself as an adult experiencing one or more of the following:

  1. Abusive relationships
  2. Anxiety
  3. Attachment issues
  4. Attention problems
  5. Become easily bored
  6. Chaotic and disorganized with your own life
  7. Codependency and Caretaking
  8. Depression
  9. Family estrangement
  10. Guilty feelings of not doing enough
  11. Intrusiveness of the family system into your own marriage and family
  12. Learned Helplessness
  13. Low self-esteem
  14. Poor boundaries
  15. Poor coping strategies
  16. Relationship problems
  17. Self-medicating
  18. Trust issues

Whew! Sounds overwhelming doesn’t it?  The good news is that it is not.  Even if you found that more than 5 of the above pertain to you, they can be dealt with effectively. There are really only so many things that can go askew, and the trick to overcoming most of them is to learn what happened and how to undo it. You will notice that this list is similar to that given for the lasting effects of the other dysfunctional parenting styles.

Here is your game plan:

  1. The key to getting started is to first learn effective self soothing techniques. (See blog-Most Critical Tool…) These allow you to do your emotional work while managing any distress it may cause.
  2. Learn to calm your mind and thoughts with meditation and mindfulness techniques. Chaotic childhoods can create chaotic minds.
  3. Review your boundaries or lack thereof, they will need to be strongly in place for you to manage histrionic family members, and more likely than not, you were never made aware of the importance of boundaries.
  4. If you are adding chaos to your own life with drugs, alcohol, promiscuity or simply too much activity-Stop! It is very hard to gain control of your life while self medicating or distracting yourself mindlessly and it will slow your progress.
  5. If your own physical environment is chaotic or disorganized at this point, take a month and get it together. There are great organizing resources out there for every environment as well as your time management. This frees you up to do your emotional work.

Doing these first five steps may not seem very psychologically sophisticated but they are what will pave the way for you to be able to do your necessary cognitive work. Once you have these in place, you can then determine what is going to be the best way for you to work on the deeper emotional difficulties such as depression, anxiety, attachment problems or chronic anger.

If your histrionic family is still part of your everyday life you can expect some acting out as you start to draw boundaries. That is OK, it means it is working and you are on the right path. Just move forward with your goals.

You may decide to go it on your own with a self help tool or you may decide you need more help and seek out a psychologist to work with. Either way it is doable and worth doing.

I hope that this allows you to see that you are not alone in what you are experiencing, thousands of people have started from where you are right now and have achieved emotional success despite dysfunctional backgrounds. I work with clients every day who have had to overcome many of the problems from the list above and have done so very successfully. Whatever you are experiencing right now in terms of emotional difficulties does not necessarily mean that you have a brain disorder or a chemical imbalance. You may just need to relearn some information and strategies that you weren’t given as a child. 

Histrionic Drama-Based Parenting-Was This Your Family?

Audrey Sherman, Ph.D.

Audrey Sherman is a psychologist, coach, speaker and author of the book Dysfunction Interrupted-How to Quickly Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Anger Starting Now. She is an expert in helping others to transform their lives by learning the elements of emotional success and overcoming the emotional baggage and dysfunctional patterns that keep them stuck in unhappy and unproductive lives, relationships and careers. She currently works with clients in person or via Skype or telephone. To learn more about Dr. Sherman, her coaching and workshops you can visit her website,

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APA Reference
Sherman, A. (2017). Histrionic Drama-Based Parenting-Was This Your Family?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 8, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 Aug 2017
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