Let’s get something out of the way before we start: I’m in a band. A chic band.
Don’t look so surprised, therapists have fun hobbies sometimes.
Most weeks I carpool to practice with our band’s drummer, a woman much wiser than I who is the brains of the group. We have a long drive to practice every week, and I’m always struck by our fruitful conversations that wander through deep emotions as well as deep laughter while we sit in traffic. I appreciate our friendship.
This week on our drive home from practice my friend reflected in gratitude on how “drama-free” our little band is. We swapped stories of contexts we’ve been in before that were more drama-filled. And then she mused aloud: “What is drama anyway?”
What is drama? What exactly are we referring to when we use that word to describe a group of people? We’ve all heard it before or said it ourselves:
“My family is all about drama.”
“Their marriage is so dramatic.”
“There’s so much drama at work right now.”
I was struck by my friends’ question because I realized I didn’t really know the answer. Maybe “drama” is just a phenomenon that mysteriously appears sometimes, outside of our control. Maybe it’s something in the air within certain groups.
We toyed with this possibility for a moment, but it didn’t seem quite right. Something about our humanness must be contributing to the drama.
We went back and forth for a bit. Eventually we landed on something: maybe “drama” is the phenomenon that emerges when one or more people in a group, relationship, or organization are unwilling to listen to and care for the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of others in the group.
Let’s try that on for a moment. As you reflect on times that you would label “drama-filled,” I invite you to ask if anyone in that context seemed to disregard the feelings or experiences of others. Consider whether you may have contributed to the drama yourself. Maybe you felt defensive and protective of yourself.
As I reflect on my own experiences, I think my friend and I might have been on to something with this idea.
So how do we dial back the drama?
When we name the drama for what it is, it’s easier to identify the sources of it. There may be one “sour apple” in the group that’s spoiling it for everyone else. It may be that the culture of the group is such that everyone is contributing to the drama in some way. We can pinpoint it by looking at the dramatic moments and asking whether anyone involved is disregarding the experiences of others.
But it’s harder to know exactly how to dial it back. Some scenarios are easier to start with than others, but all are challenging. Let’s start with the easiest to deal with. In part 2 of this post we’ll move into the more difficult.
Drama Scenario #1: You are the primary contributor to the drama
If you’ve identified yourself as the main source of drama, congratulations! You already made it through the hardest step of alleviating the drama.
Ok, now you have some work to do. I suggest putting on your researcher thinking cap and observing your behavior first. Keep track of moments you notice yourself disregarding others in some way. Are there any trends or patterns to those moments? Maybe there’s a scenario that’s particularly bothersome to you.
If you trust others in your circle, you may be helped by inviting them to gently point it out when they experience you as defensive or more self-centered.
Over time, you will likely start to notice the drama sooner and sooner after it happens, until eventually you may catch yourself in the act of it. When you get to this point, push the pause button. Stop and ask yourself who you might be disregarding. Make a concerted effort to set aside your thoughts and needs for a moment to ask others about their experience. Check in with those you trust to invite feedback regarding how to convey your openness and care for others in these moments.
If you keep at this, you may find over time that you’re able to catch yourself in advance of causing the drama and you can change your behavior before it ever occurs. This will take time, even years, to slowly work towards. But I think you’ll find once you start working on this you will build up a momentum and it will be easier to do over time.
If the drama has already happened and you become aware of it, apologizing is a powerful tool. Saying sorry doesn’t erase the hurt that we already caused, but it conveys intent to care for the people we’ve hurt. The change in future behavior is just as important as saying sorry, or else our loved ones will start to experience our apologies as empty – just an attempt to erase the past without taking a hard look inwards to address our hurtful patterns.
There is so much I’d like to cover in this post that I decided to divide it into two parts. Stay tuned for part 2 when we will go over how to respond to other types of drama that can happen.