We all know people who constantly seem to be involved in drama. The term “drama queen” is often used to describe this type of person, and is equally applicable to men as well as women. Drama queens experience life as a rollercoaster. Relationships are wonderful, then dreadful. People storm out of jobs, get cheated on, and are part of intense, unstable relationships. Sound familiar? If you’re always at the centre of a drama, what are you doing to create this situation?
Before you respond that you’re doing nothing and these dramatic situations just happen to you, let me share my own story. I used to be involved in one drama after another—my brother once said my life was like a soap opera. Until I had therapy and then trained as a therapist, I didn’t think these dramas were anything to do with me—they were all the fault of other people I came into contact with.
None of us can avoid the odd truly extreme occurrence in life. We’re all going to be faced with the illness or death of a loved one; we might be cheated on or lose our jobs unexpectedly. We cannot control events, and some of those events are going to feel like emergencies that we get caught up in. But if you have a history of constantly being involved in dramas, you’re very likely playing an active role in creating that situation.
Why do some people have a need for drama?
For me, my need for drama stemmed partly from a need for attention. I often felt unnoticed in life and felt bypassed by other people. I had some vulnerable narcissistic tendencies going on and had a need for recognition. Creating drama was one way of gaining attention by sharing my (sometimes very funny, sometimes scary) stories with other people. People with a need for drama often display personality disorders including borderline, psychopathic, and narcissistic disorders.1
When you are raised in a family where drama plays a central role—perhaps as the result of being raised by a narcissistic or borderline parent—you learn that this is just how people act. Without a role model of relationship stability, you might internalise that people show love and affection through unstable and dramatic behaviour.
If you have experienced trauma—for instance, in the form of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse—then recreating dramatic situations can be seen as a form of self-destructive behaviour. It is impossible to feel happy and content whilst you are living within sequential dramas; continuing to engage in this type of behaviour may stem from low self-esteem which is the result of past trauma.
Manipulation and control
Creating a drama is one way of controlling others and is often a form of passive aggression. Instead of being open and honest with people you are involved with, you can draw them into a drama—perhaps by creating a reason to fight with them—in order to make them feel bad about themselves or guilty about the way they have acted towards you.
One client told me that, after a temporary split with her boyfriend, she lied about going to the doctor and being told she would need tests to establish whether or not she had cancer. Her personal drama allowed her to pull her boyfriend back into the relationship.
I used to enjoy the excitement of being involved in a drama. Nothing gets the adrenaline flowing quicker than wondering if you’re going to be caught out. Some people in couples get addicted to the passion of make-up sex and the intensity of emotion which follows an argument. They become so used to being on an emotional rollercoaster that they become addicted to it.
Give up the fights, the lies, the manipulation, the intense intimacy, and… you’re a bit lost. How do you know your relationship is going okay without the breaking and making up? If you stop creating dramas, you’ll feel for a while that there’s nothing in its place—it’s the same as stopping any other self-destructive behaviours. You’ve got so used to this way of being you don’t know how to act differently.
Personality or developmental disorder
If you find yourself constantly experiencing life as a series of highs and lows and you really don’t know why, you may have an undiagnosed personality or developmental disorder such as bipolar disorder or emotionally unstable personality disorder. Your behaviour may feel very out of control at times and you should seek out help and assistance from a qualified professional.
You cannot separate yourself from other people
Perhaps you find yourself being easily dragged into other people’s dramas. You step in to rescue them when they’re in trouble. You’re always at the other end of the phone from your dramatic friend. You’re the go-to person in a crisis. Perhaps this is a role you’ve always played—and when new people enter your life, you’re quickly pulled back into the role of fixer in someone else’s crisis.
If you recognise any of the above in yourself, it is possible to change. Being involved in a cycle of dramas, no matter how exciting it might feel at the time, is always going to leave you feeling unstable and dissatisfied. Creating drama means that, over time, you will push away people who love you but cannot deal with being pulled into your dramas.
You need to ask yourself, where does my need for drama come from? Is it from watching how my parents interacted? Is it because I have low self-esteem? Is it because I want to punish myself? You can also take note of the types of situations which become dramas for you. Ask yourself: Is this really a situation that needs to escalate into a drama? I used to get embroiled in arguments with my older son’s school simply because, at the time, I had nowhere else to direct my need for drama. Take a long, hard look at the types of situations which you get intensely involved in. Would these become dramas for someone else? Or do you have a tendency to make them into dramas?
Along with the thrill of the drama, there's a high degree of stress which can cause extreme anxiety—for you and everyone else involved in your dramas. If this is a way of being which you continue, you'll never be able to satisfy your need for drama. Instead, you'll get caught up in the chase of the next installment of your own soap opera.
If you need help in creating more stable and content relationships, please seek the support of a suitably qualified therapist.
1. Frusco, GM & Freeman, A (2007) The crisis-prone patient: The high-arousal cluster B personality disorders, in FM Dattilio & A Freeman (eds) Cognitive-behavioural strategies in crisis intervention (3rd ed), p. 122-148. New York: Guilford Press