“When you are not honoring the present moment by allowing it to be, you are creating drama.” — Eckhart Tolle Chaos and drama: Some people thrive on them, seemingly on a mission to find ways to stir them up lest life become boring. Drama shows up in many situations. It can appear as a couple argues over who takes out the trash more often. It may show up as family members threaten not to attend gatherings to which certain others are invited, emotionally holding other family members hostage in the process. It can sound like vicious gossip. It might present as temper tantrums thrown by people who are technically adults but emotionally still children. Relationships in which addiction is present provide fertile soil for the seeds of drama. At the core of many addictive patterns is what’s referred to as “a hole in the soul,” one eager to be filled with substances and behaviors. Drama fits perfectly in that empty space. It’s borne of unhappiness with life.
Why Would Anyone Want to Be Unhappy?
There are many reasons some people stir up trouble. Calm and ease make some uncomfortable, and many people in the grip of addiction have difficulty allowing situations to simply be. Imagine sitting in the middle of a peaceful grove of trees when your brain desires stimulation. Some people might find it almost unbearable to remain in that state. A substance or behavioral substitute can provide an easy escape. Drama can bring with it the same kind of rush as a substance or behavioral addiction. A tendency towards creating drama may indicate certain problems beneath the surface, such as:
- Some people feel a need to be in control of people and experiences. Surrendering to life on life’s terms can be challenging. Those who grew up under domineering authority figures might feel they can regain a sense of power by steering relationships as an adult.
- Not everyone has the skill sets to express feelings calmly and respectfully. Think back to that emotional child in an adult’s body. A person who feels as if his or her needs aren’t being met can emotionally regress quickly. He or she can’t process events as well and might engage in impulsive behavior such as throwing words — and sometimes fists.
- Some people don’t have the skills to cope with emotional turmoil. People in these situations might act out in a number of ways, including turning to substances. For example, “He made me mad, so I drank at him.”
How Others Manage Drama
Other people have shared the following wisdom with me about why drama occurs in their lives and how they address it: “I have to constantly remind myself that expectation is the root of all heartache. When I drop my expectations of people and look into their hearts, it’s easier to live in peace and for gratitude to flow.” “Depends on what’s going on in the relationship. If your partner’s cheating, it’s going to be pretty hard to be Zen about it.” “As I’m learning through my relationship, it’s important to know your rules. We each live by a set of standards that are unique to each of us. Those rules aren’t always spoken or even something we’re conscious of. When we impose those set of rules on others — those who don’t live by them and never agreed to — a power struggle ensues. ‘Know thyself’ for me is a huge factor. It’s a daily exploration of finding out why we just got so angry that the person didn’t follow a rule he may not even know exists. Obviously constant communication with a partner is key. But I think there’s also no avoiding drama in a relationship. Sometimes the drama is necessary to bring about the understanding. It’s more about not getting stuck in the drama, but finding ways to move through it and learn from it so it’s not repeated.” “Detachment, Buddha-style, helps prevent unnecessary drama. It’s amazing how people fight, then can’t even remember what the issues were. Most people feel they’re not respected or appreciated enough. People create drama often because it’s attention. I wish attentive listening were required to be taught in kindergarten. We can all learn to listen better with more heart.” “My mom passed away February 15th. I have three siblings, and one has created undue drama. Drama hurts others deeply. I haven’t found the answer. Some people like chaos and drama, and I resent that.” “It doesn’t work when two people aren’t both trying to build a relationship, regardless of the methods they each choose.” “My workplace is full of drama. I usually avoid it like the plague, and most of my fellow employees assume I’m stuck up. That’s fine with me. It’s those people who are in my life in important ways that create drama that I usually have issue with.”
Minimizing the Drama in Your Life
Human nature keeps us from completely removing drama from our lives, but we can use the following steps to diminish the harm it might cause:
- Consider the people in your circles. Do they seem to relish in drama? Can you set boundaries with them to lessen the impact of their behaviors? If not, can you usher them off stage?
- Do an inventory of the interactions you have that could fall into the category of drama. On a 1-10 scale, what’s the effect on your life?
- Be responsive, rather than reactive. Take a moment — or 10 — to breathe and ask yourself what you want the outcome of any interaction to be. Do you want to be happy, or right? Do you want peace or conflict? How important is it to have the last word?
- Resist any urge to join others who might be engaged in drama. Be the peaceful presence that holds space for reconciliation.
- Recognize any “savior behavior” patterns that might make you want to fix, save, heal, and cure other people. Do you attract actors whose “methods” merit Academy Awards?
- Remember that you’re the director of the play of your life. You get to decide who joins you onstage.
By Edie Weinstein, LSW Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1