Every family has one – the attention-grabbers who demand an audience when any perceived slight or difficulty occurs, whether real or imagined. They can occupy a substantial amount of your time, and they can suck the life right out of you emotionally. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Learn about what it means to live with a Drama Queen!
Emotional and Physical Triggers
Scientists have found that there are many triggers for this type of emotional reaction. It can be the result of physical trauma from abuse or being involved in a frightening situation, such as a natural disaster. Children who are physically abused or neglected, or those who have been the victims of floods, tornadoes, or other terrifying situations, can sometimes become over-sensitive and react dramatically to emotional stresses. It can even affect brain chemistry by changing the part of the brain that ordinarily assesses social and environmental cues.
A study involving patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD) conducted at Harvard Medical School suggests that there is a connection with BPD and aspects of personality disorder in relatives. This is not to say that it’s hereditary, but that there is a connection, be it genetic, environmental, or some other unknown factor. Another study involving BPD patients with the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at Weill Cornell Medical College showed diminished activity within the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the area in which planning and emotional reactions are controlled. It is possible, therefore, that drama queens have no control over their emotions, that perhaps there is a switch that just doesn’t get flipped.
No matter the cause, it all leads to emotionally instability, increased volatility in personal relationships, and strained or dysfunctional work relationships. Those who face the task of dealing with drama queens often feel they are being held hostage by being emotionally blackmailed; their only alternative is to appease the dramatic partner, relative, or associate just so they can stop the drama and continue on rationally. This leads to resentment and insecurity, and sometimes to confrontation. It’s a tough position for both parties. One party is unable or unwilling to respect boundaries, the other feels as if his or her life has been hijacked, and unless the demands are met, there will be no peace or return to normalcy.
Drama queens often seek out those they know can’t refuse them by telling them, “You’re the only one I can trust.” That may be true, but more often than not, they choose the person not only for their inability to resist the persistent pleas, but because they have burned all other bridges by putting constant pressure on family, friends, and partners who will no longer buy into their act. And make no mistake, when you finally tire of being part of their personal dramas, they will move on to another good natured victim and you will be left in the dust. Of course, if it’s just an acquaintance or distant relative, that could be a blessing in disguise. But it’s not that simple when the drama queen is your child or significant other; there is a sense of duty, obligation, and of course, love.
A Matter of Perception
Being hooked into the world of the drama queen often happens imperceptibly. There are a number of perceived emergencies, misrepresentations that expand on the urgency of the problem, and often a sense of futility in being able to resolve these difficulties by themselves. It all results in a sort of distorted reality and insurmountable problem that only you, the perceptive significant person in their lives, can solve. That’s the general pattern, complaints, demands, flattery, boundary encroachment, and suddenly you are part of their world of drama. But be advised, drama queens are master manipulators. They may seem weak and unable to get it together, but this is just a means of achieving their aims. Once they get what they want, the drama suddenly dissolves and life is back to normal.
The question is, how to deal with drama queens effectively without alienating them. Often, with children, the problem can be solved by providing a creative outlet. The arts or sports can be a lifesaver for any parent with a child drama queen, be it girl or boy (yes, boys can be drama kings, don’t kid yourself; often even worse than girls). Getting a child involved in something that provides a creative outlet for all that energy and emotion can be a boost for the child’s ego as well as therapeutic.
One of the most difficult situations to deal with is the teenage drama queen. They not only have hormonal changes going on, and emotional drama in the relationship/crush department, but their irrational behavior can drive a parent right up the wall. It’s the perfect storm in which all the physical and psychological components come together to present parents with a human being that they can’t communicate with and with whom they must share their home and most of their time. Trying to penetrate through the emotional drama of someone you love whose behavior you can’t understand is truly a daunting task.
Sporting events, organized play, or lessons are all great ways to sublimate a lot of that energy that would ordinarily be used to create drama. The sheer expenditure of energy can often be enough to keep the drama at bay. Gymnastics, ballet, soccer, baseball, track; there are a number of outlets for kids to exercise that excess energy and emotion. Even drama classes (yes, drama for the drama queen) can help the child or adolescent who is itching to act out. Let them emote in a positive way and not in a way that is counterproductive.
The question for most people is, do you buy into the drama, or do you deal with it, then move past it? That’s a question that can only be answered by the individual, but for all concerned dealing with the problem is the best alternative for a healthy relationship. No matter how hard you try to be the shoulder for the drama queen to lean on, you can’t solve their problems. As soon as you solve one problem, there will be another just around the corner.
The only way for the target of a drama queen to achieve any resolution is to stop buying into the drama and encourage the drama queen to participate in therapy. It may just be the opportunity for these charming “actors” to discover why they act out the way they do, as well as the answer to those who are the targets of this behavior in finding their way out of the drama and back to the rational world.