I reached over to answer the phone—3:00 a.m., obviously an emergency. But it was only Sandy, calling to complain about her neighbor. “I know it’s late but I just had to call. You’re the only one who understands. . .” Exhausted and resentful, I’d just been ambushed by a Drama Queen. I’ve known them all my life.
Charismatic, colorful, and compelling, these people (and there are drama kings out there too) sweep you up into their personal melodramas. They need you to help solve some urgent problem. So you do. And then there’s another problem and another until you realize that for these people, problems are a way of life. They want an audience. They crave attention, using urgent problems to control you. By responding to their demands, your life becomes hijacked by their daily dramas.
When I was in grad school, I had two drama queens in my life—Sandy the chronic complainer and Susan, who’d be at my door with a nervous breakdown the night before a paper was due. Susan’s life was a parade of perceived emergencies and I was her paramedic. One memorable weekend when she had tickets to a play, she convinced me to break my date with a new man in my life to babysit her pregnant poodle—because I was “the only one she could trust.”
You see the pattern—urgent demands, incessant complaints, boundary violations and flattery—You’re the “only one” these people can count on. They ambush you by appealing to your sympathy, your ego, your desire to be a good person. But if for some reason you cannot satisfy their demands, they say you’re “being selfish.” Sound familiar?
They may seem weak and helpless but these people are master manipulators. They live in an endless soap opera that drives us crazy, and we really can’t help them. To these troubled souls, a caring friend can give only temporary symptomatic relief. What they really need is therapy to help them change their unhealthy cognitive patterns and turn their lives around.
Have you been a target for a Drama Queen? Is your good-natured kindness being abused because you’ve been inadvertently reinforcing their behavior?
Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, personal coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.
Follow Diane on Twitter: Diane Dreher (@dianedreher) on Twitter