Our society is obsessed with drama. We’re drama junkies. Even (especially) those of us who proclaim that we hate drama and want nothing to do with it. We see it all the time- friends who always date the wrong kind of person, gossipy co-workers, people who party too much and regret choices they’ve made. We see it in the news, in tabloids, in the entertainment industry. We see it everywhere but within ourselves.
Why do we create drama, why can’t we see it, and why is it so hard for us to tear ourselves away from it? Drama isn’t always recognizable. It can be insidious. In my first blog post, I talked about how we create narratives to explain the world around us, according to our agenda, to allow ourselves to feel better about the experiences we have created. Each new event feeds our narrative and justifies our anger, fear, suspicion and insecurities. In other words, as we live it, we are creating our own drama.
Because we usually do this unconsciously, it is exceedingly difficult to recognize how intimately connected we are to our drama, and it’s even more difficult to remove ourselves from it. It’s what we know. Whether we (think we) like it or not.
Take, for example, dating. I used to think that I was cursed because I kept dating the wrong guys. I’d tell my sad narrative to friends, family, colleagues, to whoever would listen. I could ‘objectively’ present all of the evidence about how awesome I am, and how broken the guy was, and we all felt better. To be honest, people seemed to enjoy hearing my stories (although maybe that was just another part of my narrative). My married friends told me I should write a book of all of my crazy dating experiences, and I think on some level they expected me to always have stories to tell them.
The same thing happened with some of my non-romantic relationships. It felt good to get it all off my chest, to get advice from friends who may have had similar experiences, and, if I’m being totally honest, to get validation for how I was feeling. It was a cycle: go through an experience, create a narrative, share the narrative with everyone, get positive reinforcement, feel justified, and then the next time I have a similar experience, I’m even more vindicated in my victim role.
The thing is, I never really felt better after sharing those long, detailed stories. I felt a little emptier inside, and a little more unsure of my own role in the decline of those relationships. So I sought validation from even more people. I was looking outside myself for approval, but really what I needed to be doing was to look inside myself for the answers. It was time to take a break from story time and really listen to my own instincts. If I knew I acted to the best of my ability at the time, what need was there to spread all that negative energy around? All I was doing was feeding it with my attention, and guess what happened? It continued to grow. Drama.
The tricky thing about drama is that it doesn’t always look like a country-western song. It can manifest in all sorts of behavior. Constantly running 5-10 minutes late, so that we can get all crazy in traffic and freak out that the world is making us late to our meeting, or to dinner with friends, or to picking up our kids from school. Or waiting until the last minute to complete an assignment, or to pack for a trip. When we’re always running late, we have a full-blown stress reaction every time we leave the house- heart racing, palms sweaty, irrational responses to anything that gets in our way. That’s drama. We created that. What if we got up 5 minutes earlier? Or didn’t check social media after our alarm went off? Or made our lunch the night before? Then we’d avoid the drama of being late… and, for those of us who are drama junkies… what fun would that be?
Another type of drama we create is getting involved in other people’s drama. Kinda like my married friends who loved to hear about all my dating misadventures. ‘Helping’, when done for the wrong reasons, can look an awful lot like a way to get our drama fix. There is a difference between empathy and jumping into the drama rabbit hole with someone. We can’t actually help when we’re down in there with them; we need to keep our own sense of self in order to be strong for someone else.
The sooner we realize that we are the link between all of drama, the better. It’s not easy. First we have to recognize the drama- relationships, deadlines, running late, regret, etc. Only then can we accept our role in its creation. It’s not because we are bad people, or broken. It’s just what we know, so we continue with the ever-repeating known because on some level, it’s scary to experience anything else.
It also takes brutal honesty with ourselves, and maybe some tough love from the people who care about us the most. We must LISTEN when a loved one tells us something about ourselves we don’t particularly want to hear. If we find ourselves sharing our narrative for the fiftieth time, we can STOP and drag ourselves out of it. Or we can ask a friend to help recognize when we’re falling down the drama rabbit hole.
Instead of looking externally to validate our experiences, we should look inside. We can ask ourselves why we are still telling that story, and if maybe there’s something we can do to stop the cycle. What are we getting out of it? What patterns do we see? Talk to someone, such as a therapist or a trusted member of the clergy, who is trained to help recognize the drama cycle. Read a book about breaking self-destructive patterns, learn Vedic meditation or another reflective practice.
What kind of life do we really want for ourselves? It’s never too late to create new, healthy patterns that allow us to experience life from a place of strength and happiness. What drama are you creating? How will you break the cycle?