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Your First 5 Steps to Overcome the Chaos of Histrionic Parenting

In terms of dysfunctional parenting and lifestyles, the histrionic family style is typically the most chaotic. If this was your family background it is likely you experienced a great deal of anxiety or nervousness and may still do so to this day.  Emotional baggage in the form of disorganization and poor time management are also common residual factors amongst others that I will list below. It is not one of the dysfunctional family styles that you hear a lot about but one that therapists do see frequently in family therapy.

Typically there is one histrionic parent and one that “goes along to get along”. The histrionic parent is the dominant one and the tone of the family is dictated by this person. It is not common that both parents or caregivers are histrionic.

Histrionic homes are characterized by chaos that runs rampant with constant distractions to any productive sort of activities. There are usually no boundaries taught or in place defining appropriate behavior or how to treat each other. A behavior that is fine one minute may result in a screeching fit the next. You may have been told that your behavior caused your parent headaches or illness. There was most likely a non-ending supply of crises that were at their finest around holidays and family events.

Histrionic  caregivers or parents are over-reactive, expressively dramatic, highly emotional and even theatrical in their responsiveness to any situation, making any normal problem or challenge a monumental event.  There is the need to be the center of attention, and they may constantly seek reassurance from within the family as well as from outsiders.

On an individual level your parents or caregivers may have been vain and demanding. It is likely that they manipulated circumstances to keep attention on themselves. Their judgment was probably poor, thinking scattered, and the family unit may have felt overall quite distressful. Their moods may have been fickle and rapidly shifting with them becoming easily bored or angry.  This family system feels very out of control to other family members.

From a public standpoint the family may appear to be “a lot of fun” or “very involved in the community”, giving it a positive twist not usually experienced by others in the family. Your parents may have been an embarrassment at school or with peers, to the point that you might not even have wanted to bring friends into the household. Their choice of dress, mannerisms, or  peer groups may also have been embarrassing to you.

You yourself may have been used for attention-getting, in matters of dress, artistic or musical accomplishment etc., and paraded around like a pet. But when the company left or you were offstage, you no longer had your parent’s attention.  There may have been sexual acting out in the home, wild parties or huge domestic dilemmas involving the police.

As an adult these family systems are typically hard to break away from, as the histrionic parent will act out as you try to disengage. They will create dilemmas to keep you engaged and your initial reaction may be to try to solve the crisis.  Other reactions include trying to fight the system and become controlling yourself, or to dive right in and let it suck the life out of you.

As I mentioned earlier, the histrionic family style is one of the most distressful and chaotic and can lead to much unnecessary emotional baggage that you can end up carrying around forever without intervention.  Below is a list of possible dysfunctional behaviors or reactions you may experience.

  1. Anxiety
  2. Attachment issues
  3. Attention problems
  4. Become easily bored
  5. Chaotic and disorganized with your own life
  6. Codependency and Caretaking
  7. Depression
  8. Family estrangement
  9. Guilty feelings of not doing enough
  10. Intrusiveness of the family system into your own marriage and family
  11. Learned Helplessness
  12. Low self-esteem
  13. Poor boundaries
  14. Poor coping strategies
  15. Relationship problems
  16. Self-medicating
  17. Trust issues
  18. No learned emotional regulation and self-soothing.

Whew! Sounds overwhelming doesn’t it?   Even if you found that more than 5 of the above pertain to you, they can be dealt with effectively.

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 chaotic thoughts with meditation and mindfulness techniques.
  3. Review your boundaries or lack thereof, they will need to be strongly in place for you to manage histrionic family members as well as effectively manage your own relationships.
  4. If you are adding chaos to your own life with drugs or alcohol-Stop! This will slow down your progress.
  5. Get a blueprint in place of your whole life and what areas from the above list need addressing. Take them one at a time so as to not get overwhelmed.

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. It is likely you have some dysfunctional thinking patterns or cognitive distortions in place that will need to be relearned.

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 think it helps to see how some of your difficulties may have come about and how having a plan in place empowers you to take control, no matter where you are starting from. It allows you to see that things are not hopeless. It also allows you to see you are not alone in what you are experiencing, many people have started from where you are right now and have achieved emotional success despite dysfunctional backgrounds. What you are experiencing is not a brain disorder or something that can never be corrected.

If you think that dysfunctional patterns are interfering with your life and relationships please go to my website through the link below in my bio, take the Dysfunctional Patterns Quiz and download the Dysfunctional Thinking Patterns (Cognitve Distortions) free resource and checklist.

Feel Good For Life!

Your First 5 Steps to Overcome the Chaos of Histrionic Parenting

Audrey Sherman, Ph.D.

Dr. Audrey Sherman is a licensed psychologist, coach and the author of the book Dysfunction Interrupted-How to Quickly Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Anger Starting Now. Her expertise is in defining, describing and transforming dysfunctional behavior and thought patterns learned in childhood or beyond that keep you anxious, depressed, angry, stuck in unhappy and unproductive relationships, jobs and more. Dr. Sherman developed the Dysfunctional Patterns Quiz and other free resources to help you determine the effects of these on your life. She works with individuals, conducts live and online workshops and trains others in her programs. To learn more about Dr. Sherman, you can visit her website.

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APA Reference
Sherman, A. (2020). Your First 5 Steps to Overcome the Chaos of Histrionic Parenting. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 Jul 2020
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