HDRs: High Drama Relationships

Posted by Michael Dale Kimmel in Columns 29 Apr 2015

blog-0500280001420235715You’ve probably heard some people describe their relationships as “high drama”.

I Googled “drama” and found some interesting definitions: (1) a crisis, spectacle, thrill, sensation or disturbance; (2) any number of situations that have an easy solution, which would bring a fairly good outcome, but [high drama people] usually choose another, shitty, bad way to deal with it, like backstabbing, blackmailing/gossiping/betraying their friends, and (3) an exciting, emotional or unexpected event.

What do some people love drama? They’re used to it: it’s their “normal”. They were probably raised in it and it feels like “home” to them. Often, in my therapy practice, I work with people who find that peace and stability make them nervous; they’re used to upset, chaos and crises. This is what they know, so they keep recreating it in all their relationships.

Until, something snaps. Some line gets crossed and they see that how their drama sabotages everything that they say they want: a good job, relationship, nice home, financial success.

Drama says, “Let’s stir things up. Let’s make a mess. Let’s pick a fight. Stability is boring. Let’s have some crazy fun.”

If only it were fun. It’s crazy, sure. But not much fun.

If you have a history of high drama relationships, how do you change? How do you replace drama with peace? First of all, realize how you create drama. Take responsibility for the drama in your life. See how you are the catalyst. No matter what stuation you’ve created, it all starts with you.

That’s actually good news, because it means that since you started it, you can stop it. Simple, but not so easy, right?

For drama addicts, peace makes them nervous: they’re just not used to it, so they call it “boring” or “not good enough”. Getting used to calm may take awhile and it may increase your anxiety as it becomes your new “normal”.

Physically, drama triggers your sympathetic nervous system to go into survival mode. Drama actually shuts down the smartest part of your brain – the higher cortical functions like reasoning, problem-solving, intuition and creativity – so you can’t think clearly.

Here are some ideas to reduce the drama in your relationships:

Don’t judge yourself or others for creating drama. It won’t help. We’re all doing the best we can until we become more stable and secure. Try compassion instead of judgment and you’ll change faster and easier.

Get good at recognizing your own version of what I call “The Drama Sequence”: Something happens, your mind starts to feed on it, you build a story in your head and get worked up about it. Result: high drama!

Notice your motivation for creating drama: you won’t do anything repeatedly unless there’s something in it for you, so, what’s the payoff? Are you looking for attention or excitement? If so, can you get it more directly? If you’re bored, what new adventure(s) can you create in your life?

Don’t take things so personally. When we’re mentally over-stimulated from drama, it’s easy to over-react instead of calmly respond.

Get out of your head and into your heart. In an emotional situation, don’t just vent. It often makes things worse. Instead, try some reflective listening: “I hear you’re really upset about this. Let’s talk about it.”

A lot of drama comes from poor communication and confusion. Speak your truth (kindly). It may be harder in the moment, but it can save a lot of heartache in the long run.

When other people are worked up, try to go to neutral so you don’t feed their drama. Breathe calmly and tell yourself, “I am safe”. You can help diffuse their drama by staying centered.

We can all learn from drama: sometimes it seems like just drama happens to us and we’re powerless to stop it.

Fortunately, that’s not true.

We create drama. We can learn to create peace and calm instead. If we’re used to drama and the chaos that comes with it, peace may initially scare us. If so, we can gradually replace drama with calm and notice how much better our lives work as a result. Try it and see: you have nothing to lose but your drama.