It’s been a little over a month since I posted Part 1 to this series, where I covered what drama is and how to respond when you are the primary cause of the drama. Click here to go back to that post. Read on to learn how to respond when drama comes up in other contexts.
Drama Scenario #2: A close friend is stirring up drama in limited contexts
Maybe you know of a friend who largely avoids conflict except for certain topics. Maybe they are considerate of your feelings up until a push-button topic comes up for them, such as politics or religion. Maybe it’s someone you’re working with and they become defensive when they receive push-back on their ideas for the workplace.
Before you jump into this next part, I encourage you to reflect on your own behaviors. Take an inventory of yourself while asking where you might be contributing to the drama as well. Often we mislabel our own dramatic behavior as someone else’s fault. If this is you, take a hard look at Part 1 of this post before coming back to this one.
When drama like this comes up with a trusted friend, it’s a great opportunity to deepen your relationship while encouraging your friend’s development as well. If you’ve noticed a pattern of someone reacting to only a specific type of subject, take a moment to observe where in the conversation you see their reaction. Then, look for an appropriate time to have a private conversation with them. Make sure to pick a context when they aren’t feeling actively triggered. Ask permission to share something difficult with them. For example, “I’ve been noticing there are moments when I feel uncomfortable about parts of our interactions, is it alright if I share with you?” Be open to selecting a different time or space to talk about it based on your friend’s preferences. This is a vulnerable interaction you’re inviting them into and it’s important to be considerate to their needs as well.
When you share with them, use gentle observations of their behaviors. Name the factors surrounding the context of when their dramatic behavior tends to come up; say what you notice about the situation. For example, “Lately I’ve noticed that whenever we talk about politics you start breathing heavily and you raise your voice in response.” It’s helpful to also add how it feels for you when that happens so they know how it affects you. For example, “I feel uncared for and like my experience isn’t important when this happens.” Be sure to use an emotion word like “hurt, disregarded, unimportant,” rather than using it as an opportunity to say something negative about the other person.
For contrast’s sake, here’s an example of what not to do: “Whenever we talk about politics you always get so dramatic. I feel like you’re a selfish brat.” The key factors are naming measurable behaviors and true emotions. Placing “I feel” in front of a harsh label about the other person does not make it an emotion.
See how your friend responds. If they are open, invite an honest conversation about their experience. There is likely a personal or vulnerable reason why they are behaving defensively. If they believe you care about what is underneath their behavior it will help them feel safer to share what’s really going on. They may even be able to lean on you to help them learn to shift this behavior to something healthier and more productive.
Drama Scenario #3: The culture of an entire group centers around drama
I wish this scenario were only restricted to fictional soap operas, but sometimes real life can start to feel like we’re living in a soap opera. It could be your workplace, church, small group, book club, or soccer team. At some point most of us have known what it’s like to be in a group that seems like it’s just looking for someone to gossip about or making destructive choices that harm the group. Most often an entire group culture can form like this as a strategy to avoid getting into deeper, more vulnerable depth as a group. Sometimes the drama is an outlet to feel something without having to deal with the reality of the situation. In my opinion, much of Reality TV is built on this concept: lots of loud noise and emotions without ever really talking about the things that truly matter in a safe, loving way.
If you find yourself walking into a new group of people and picking up on the dramatic culture of the group, I suggest you strongly consider whether this is a group that you absolutely have to be a part of. Sometimes it’s best for us to just walk away.
However, sometimes we find a group we’re already invested in has shifted over time to become more dramatic. Or maybe we don’t have an alternative option but to be part of this group – such as our family or, in some cases, our jobs. If this is the case, there are two options for where to go:
1. Gently bring up the issue. See if there is a trusted leader of the group, or bring it up gently with a safe person in the group. If there is no one you feel safe with in the group, see if there is someone outside the group who might appropriately be able to help, such as a pastor or a friend who can offer wise counsel. Trying to tackle an entire group culture is not something to be attempted alone.
2. Consider whether you may need to set firmer boundaries in your interactions with this group for your own self care. You may need to interact with the group less frequently, or have certain topics that you decide are off-limits. Talking to a trusted friend, mentor, or counselor about it might be helpful in illuminating where you could benefit from setting some healthy boundaries.
Drama Scenario #4: Your partner or spouse is the source of drama in your relationship
This is the hardest of all the scenarios, because unlike the prior scenarios, it may not be a readily available option to simply leave the relationship. Even in the context of a dating relationship, the decision to leave someone is incredibly high-stakes because of the emotional connection that is lost as a result of the breakup.
If this is true about your relationship, you may wish to start by expressing how your partner’s behavior makes you feel. The examples shared in scenario #2 above apply here as well – make sure you are sharing observable behaviors and naming emotions as your feelings. Sometimes entering into healthy expression of your feelings and follow up check-ins about an issue like this can be incredibly helpful.
If you’re nervous about whether your partner is a safe enough person to tolerate this kind of conversation, it may be time to consider couples counseling together. Often one partner is unwilling to come in to couples’ counseling, but may become more open to the possibility with time. You may find support from a friend or mentor as well. Or you may still find value in seeking individual counseling for yourself.
As a final comment to this article, if in any scenario you’re concerned that there may be abuse going on – whether physical, emotional, sexual, or verbal – I strongly urge you to do whatever is appropriate to get yourself safe. If there is any concern that someone might react to your concerns in an abusive manner, please do not put yourself in that situation. Safely remove yourself and seek outside help.