I have to confess, I haven’t seen a soap opera in at least twenty years, but in observing human behavior lately, it has frequently reminded me of those old General Hospital or One Life to Live shows back in the day. Everything was high drama.
While I don’t know of any evil twin taking over their sibling’s identity or someone diabolically plotting to blow up a port, I am noticing a lot of people creating drama for what seems like no real reason. From outbursts in public to conspiracy theories, it feels like people want drama at a time when I would have thought we would want some peace and normalcy.
I don’t know if there are even daytime soap operas on television anymore. I do know I loved them when I was younger. My mother and grandmother watched them when I was a child and I followed them any time I was off work or on jury duty. Not during a trial by the way, but most of my jury duty was spent in the jury pool room, waiting to be assigned to a case.
Now I am pretty much drama-aversive. Most drama sparks stress for me and makes me uncomfortable. And one of the most predominant complaints I hear about in current coaching sessions is around drama at work and how much my clients hate it, yet their response to it is in fact more drama.
One of the things I find confusing about us generating our own drama is that we are living in a time that is full of drama already. Natural disasters, political upheavals and wars across the globe provide us with a steady stream of dramatic events, so why do we feel the need to create more drama in our lives?
One reason could be that self-created drama is actually a distraction from reality. While it’s one of the worst ways to deal with anything, it distracts us from the issues at hand and puts the focus on us and our drama which, of course, we love, instead of the big dramas “out there” that we can’t control.
Drama is exciting. It makes us feel busy, responsible and involved. It also helps us feel ourselves in a very concrete and emotional way. Our heart hearts pump, we feel passionate, and frequently, a sense of self-righteousness may overtake us. We feel like we’re responding in a powerful way.
Self-generated drama also makes it appear that we’re concerned and ready to take on whatever the issue is. For all of the above reasons, we can easily become addicted to drama. It makes us feel so productive and alive. Drama also causes the brain to release endorphins which are feel-good hormones, suppressing pain and inducing pleasure, not that much differently than the effect of some drug addictions.
So many of us are driven to find drama even when it doesn’t exist. We step into conflicts even when it isn’t our business and we feel discomfort or even guilt when we’re calm. We turn everything into a bigger deal than it is and we often find ourselves in the middle of chaos from it.
I believe this need for drama fuels the negative social media frenzy of insulting, accusing, fighting and our current cancel culture. What we really may be seeking is power. Control. But this is a delusion – what are we really controlling by behaving this way? The real result of this is not just drama for drama’s sake, but a shift in our culture towards a very negative stance that harms others and makes everyone feel less safe.
Consider this shift in our culture over the past 20 years. Two decades ago, if you were watching a show on tv and found it distasteful or insulting, you simply switched channels. And that was very effective because advertising drives television and advertisers insist on viewers. Occasionally, someone may have written a network to complain, but it was a private communication between the viewer and the corporation. If a network received enough negative letters or if viewership dropped below expectations, the show was cancelled. Now, when someone doesn’t like what they see or hear on the multi-media platforms that exist, they don’t simply turn to one of the other million options available. They seem to feel the need to attack. That’s drama-seeking.
While it saddens me that we’re not using all of the technology available for something that benefits us versus harming us, I’m not immune to the allure of drama itself. I just fulfill the need through activities that don’t usually affect others. My favorite books are psychological thrillers. I love murder mysteries and action-adventure shows and movies. I love riding roller coasters. The brain doesn’t care how we get drama in order to release the feel-good hormones, it’s just responding to the stimuli. So I can get my hit of endorphins through these methods versus confrontational episodes with other people.
The problem for most of us trying to minimize drama is that drama addicts want to pull us into the fray and it’s not so easy to avoid. Some people have become truly addicted to drama and I’d say most have no idea they have an issue. If you know someone like this, one word of caution if you decide to start reducing your daily drama dose. They will not be happy if you don’t respond dramatically to their drama. Drama addicts need an interactive audience, so if you’ve been feeding the drama, cutting it off can be confusing and even hurtful to this person.
We can respond mindfully to drama, but as you respond differently, the drama-addicted try even harder to pull you into the fray, and you will probably get negative feedback if you resist. If you want more peace and less drama in your life, you have to commit to minimizing being pulled in. The more effort you put into this, however, the more you serve yourself, and it also helps the drama king or queen minimize their drama.
Drama is like a game of tennis. Someone has to hit the ball back for the game to continue. When you refuse to play, their drama gets diffused. As they recognize that you are no longer playing the game, their drama will begin to decrease.
How do we respond mindfully to useless drama? Self-awareness is the first step. In a loving and non-judgmental fashion, take a look at your own behaviors. Remember, there are physiological benefits to drama and because it may have made you feel good, it takes a neutral observation of our own behaviors to recognize that we may have been creating a lot of drama without realizing the downsides.
Try to find compassion or empathy for any drama kings or queens you may know. They again may have found a way to feel good without recognizing that it’s not a healthy way to achieve those feelings. While giving up drama long-term may be what’s in their best interest, in the short-term, it can be a painful jolt.
An important reminder is that we cannot change other people. Changing ourselves is the best way to influence change in others, but the choice is ultimately each individual’s. The more you can model standing outside of the drama, the more others will feel your position and begin to respond to you differently.
On social media, when you feel the urge to react negatively to a post, just take a pause. What are you hoping to accomplish? What good has a Twitter war ever accomplished? I think of this behavior as being similar to road rage and other negative behaviors we demonstrate when behind the wheel. Many people behave in ways they would never conduct if in person. Screaming at people, flipping the finger, tailgating, cutting drivers off on purpose, chasing drivers down and driving recklessly to be threatening. Most of us would never act that way in a grocery store or in church or at a ballgame. But we feel invisible and therefore unaccountable for our behavior when in the car, even though this sometimes leads to terrible tragedies. I think a similar phenomenon exists online. Since it’s difficult to hold anyone accountable for bad behavior on social media, we just let loose without considering the consequences. And those consequences are now shaping our society.
When the urge to lash out rises up, take a few deep breaths. Ask yourself why you’re feeling so triggered. Consider what good it does to blast someone online. That’s all the draw of drama. That adrenaline rush feels good. That feeling that you’re not going to take it anymore feels empowering. But it’s not powerful, it’s just destructive. Instead, we can step back, ask ourselves why we’re feeling out of control and consider whether or not we want to feed the drama or walk away and feed our own peace.
The same holds true in person. Instead of gossiping, back-stabbing or sabotaging someone else, we can take that important pause, ask ourselves what the long-term effects are of our behavior, and choose a different response. As we learn to reduce the needless drama in our lives, we grow stronger in our ability to model that behavior for others.
If you create or encounter drama, an excellent exercise to work yourself out of it is to write it all down. Write down everything you can remember about the event, all of your emotions that arose during it and how you felt about yourself and the other or others while it was happening. Then, go back through what you wrote and cross out everything that isn’t a fact. When we do this exercise in workshops, what’s usually left is one sentence or even nothing at all. It’s all just a product of our minds, the stories we make up. And fortunately, we can make up a better story.
Mindfulness provides us with the tools to be aware, to be present and to respond to situations versus reacting to them. When I ask people what would make them happier, most say something like more peace, more calmness, more time with their loved ones, and of course, more money. We all know money doesn’t buy happiness, but even so, no one ever says more drama. Not once in my career. So I encourage you to take a look at your own behaviors to see if you’re creating unnecessary drama and consider the people you engage with. If they’re creating drama, you can stop feeding into it, and if you’re creating your own drama, you can start disengaging from that behavior right away. Maybe soap operas provided us with the drama we needed to get that rush of endorphins, but now that movie theaters are open again, maybe it’s time to see a good thriller instead.
Until next time. Stay well, be kind to yourself and others, and remember to be mindful.
Have a wonderful week.