My friend’s little boy often has an accident and cries when his mother is on the phone. It seems that subconsciously he creates an “emergency” that is strong enough to get her immediate response. Ant it’s not just children who do this. Have you ever noticed how often all of us use drama (in the form of emotions, behaviour or even thoughts) as a strategy to try to elicit a particular response from ourselves or others?
Sometimes it is blatant:
– the boss who uses anger, shouting, criticism or unpredictability to elicit fear and compliance in his subordinates
– the perennial “victim” who regularly vents to us about their crises, injustices or complaints
– the ex who threatens self-harm if their other doesn’t return to them
– the advertisement that tells us we’ll be so attractive or so envied if we buy their product
Other such interactions are more subtle:
– the parent who uses disapproval, withdrawal of affection or disappointment to elicit obedience in their children
– the spouse who uses hurt feelings to keep their partner in line
– the person who shames and criticises their body in order to generate motivation to exercise
– the child who drops to the ground in the middle of the road, because they are tired and want to be carried
To my shame, I’ve used “it’ll make mummy happy” to try to motivate my child to do what I wanted them to do; I’ve spoken at length about how tired and sick I feel, so that my husband will cook dinner and do the washing up; I’ve had people try to sweet talk me into giving to charity by telling me what a wonderful supporter I’ve been in the past and how much they appreciate it.
I have just listened to a very illuminating webinar by Jessica Ortner, from The Tapping Solution’s The Life Reboot program, about drama in relationships. She talks about 3 ways in which this represents in our behaviours: drama seeking, drama shrinking and drama fixing.
Drama seeking – using drama, high emotion, crises to get a attention without any interest in solutions (not to be confused with seeking support from others in order to move forward)
Drama shrinking – trying to avoid drama and conflict by placating and pleasing others
Drama fixing – being very aware of what is going on, feeling you know best about how to fix the other person, and being ready, willing and able to step in with advice, even when not invited.
Drama comes in many forms. Sometimes we use words. The friend who talks endlessly about their problems, but doesn’t want to do anything to improve her situation, is an obvious example. Sometimes we use non-verbals: sighing loudly to show we are tired or fed up; silently broadcasting anger by clattering the dishes, clenching our jaw and glaring.
Some times I’ve noticed that I “create” drama, even ones that look imposed on me. For example, my responses to seeing a venomous snake in the gardens were: shutting myself in the house for days and feeling disempowered and hopeless, because I felt I had to give up what I love – countryside, gardening, the outdoors – in order to stay safe; emailing my friends and feeling disappointed when they didn’t instantly respond to my drama; and making a fuss about not feeling safe until my husband cleaned up around the yard (I’ve been wanting him to tidy the the yard for ages, and the snake provided a legitimate and powerful motivation). Other times we use our thoughts strategically to elicit a certain response from ourselves, with beating ourselves up to motivate or shame ourselves, being a big one for many of us.
I can certainly relate to all those aspects of drama, both in my interactions with others and my interactions with myself. In the past I’ve labelled them manipulative or passive-aggressive. Now I’m trying to be less judgemental and more compassionate. Using them doesn’t make me a bad person. They are all very human attempts to connect with others and with self. To get our needs met.
Thanks to Jessica Ortner’s webinar, I have had the realisation, that using these tactics in an unconscious way, seriously limits my ability to have the quality of connection with myself and others that I know is possible. I’d like to have uplifting interactions, where both parties come away feeling good. So I have set myself the soul work of observing my own inner and outer thoughts, words and actions, as well as those of others, to see where drama is being used as a strategy to get our needs met. I’ve also committed to gently moving towards just allowing myself to clearly know and acknowledge what I want or need from myself or others, and then simply and straight-forwardly asking for it. And being okay regardless, whether the answer is yes or no.