Are you surrounded by drama? Do you have friends who could win Tony awards for their theatricality?
I love drama in movies and TV shows, but in real life – I hate it. I really really hate it.
I’m not talking about an unexpected crisis or a traumatic event beyond anyone’s control. I’m talking about deliberate acts of drama in order to solicit a reaction.
I remember going to a class where one person always spoke the loudest, dominating every small group I was in. We’d all talk about the topic at hand but she liked to talk about her latest problem and how hard her life was. Everyone, including me, really felt for her. It seemed incredible that one person could go through so much heartache in such a short period of time.
Wherever there’s lots of drama, there’s usually lots of manipulation.
— Donald Miller (@donaldmiller) March 17, 2014
After many months (because I’m slow to catch on to these things), I began to realise that many of the problems she was facing were of her own making. The fact was, she had initiated a lot of the terrible workplace conflicts she’d gotten into, she had chosen to remain in a destructive relationship despite knowing how unhealthy it was for her. In the classroom, I could see how aggressively she voiced her disagreements with others without any regard to how they might feel.
Some people began to pull back from listening to her, out of sheer exhaustion or fear. Realising she no longer held their sympathy or interest, she accused them of not understanding her, of judging her and looking down on her. There were frequent outbursts of tears and yelling in the class. One time, she silently stormed out of the room, simply because the teacher had the audacity to ask her why she wasn’t participating in the group exercise.
Just as on screen or in movies, this woman’s dramatic displays are an exaggeration of real facts. Truthfully, she felt hurt and alone and didn’t know how to get our support. The best way, in her eyes, was to manipulate our feelings by making us feel guilty for ignoring her, feel sorry for her suffering or feel insignificant about ourselves.
Someone else I know uses drama in a different way – he’s always running late, over-commits to multiple projects, spontaneously takes on new ideas without considering the consequences, asks people for last-minute favours and gets irritated when they can’t help him out… and this guy constantly complains to me about how hard and stressful his life is. Never mind him – I’m stressed out just being around his drama!
Drama can show up in a multitude of ways but for whatever reason, all the dramatic people I know have one thing in common. There’s something in themselves that they want to avoid facing. Beneath all the smoke and mirrors of a person’s drama, there is always a nugget of vulnerability. (Click to tweet)
Of course, we all have something we want to avoid facing, and we’ll find different ways to cope with that depending on our personality. Some of us will numb ourselves to the problem, some of us will ‘forget’ anything bad that’s ever happened to us. Some will wallow and fester and remain stuck in the past and others – the Drama Kings and Queens – will exaggerate and distort everything on the outside so they can mask what’s going on inside.
What I’ve learned is that dramatic people can do awful things to hide that vulnerability from you. They’ll shout, they’ll scream, they may even say breathtakingly nasty and personal things to keep you from their truth. I have been hurt many times by other people’s drama, and that’s why I shy away from it.
So what’s your response to drama? Have you ever been hurt by it? And what’s the best way to come alongside someone who uses drama to mask their vulnerability?