We’ve all had the experience of “drama” especially if we’re part of a social circle.
We see drama crop up in our family interactions, in our friendships, at work, and of course in our romantic relationships. Often, we may think it’s not our problem. We’re not the ones who need to cut out the drama, it’s everyone else, right?
If you see yourself constantly getting sucked into tumultuous situations, it’s time to take a look at your behavior. You may not be as “low drama” as you consider yourself to be! Are you bringing the chaos? How do you cut out the drama?
What Does Drama Mean?
When we think of drama, many of us probably think of theatrics. What’s at the heart of good acting and theater? Emotion!
But theater is also about pretend. It’s about adopting another persona on stage. So when we bring the drama, we may pull out emotions that appear productive, but these theatrics are masking our true underlying feelings.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with emotion itself. In fact, our emotions are a vital part of who we are as human beings. We’re made to feel and interact. Experiencing emotions is a core aspect of our humanity—joy, hurt, anger, sadness, and fear. All the emotions are healthy and should be expressed.
When we think of relationship drama, what we’re often referring to is misplaced and mis-expressed emotions. it’s what Karpman and transactional analysts refer to as the “Drama Triangle.”
The drama triangle is a pattern where each player is attempting to meet their needs indirectly. When they do this, they often fall into three distinct roles: victim, rescuer, or persecutor. At the heart of each role is the fact that there’s a shifting sense of responsibility. No one is willing to take accountability for their part in the interaction.
As we discuss in our book The Heart of the Fight, one of the most important rules of engagement is that everyone assumes 100% of the responsibility for their own happiness and satisfaction.
You each get 100 percent responsibility for your happiness and satisfaction.
It’s not your partner’s responsibility to make you happy. It is yours alone though of course we should support our partners. If you want something different, it is up to you to make it happen. What do you yearn for? What is it that you truly want? How do you want your relationship to be? What outcome do you desire? You want him to be more attentive or to take more responsibility for household chores—what can you do about that? You want her to stop spending so much money—what are you going to do about that? By the way, wanting to be left alone is rarely on the transformative side of the continuum.
Here’s a hint: nagging, blaming and complaining are not what it takes to change things and to make you happy. All of these are irresponsible actions. Remember, it took you years to become you and for the relationship to develop. Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect change to happen immediately. Battle strategies involve campaigns, not single conversations. Progress is made by persistence and priorities, not single actions. Continually share your yearnings and engage fully and responsibly to develop more clarity, understanding, and movement.
–The Heart of the Fight
Don’t Play the Blame Game
Complimenting the responsibility rule of engagement is the rule about blame: no one gets more than 50 percent of the blame. As we like to say, it takes two to tango. Even if you feel someone else is sowing the seeds of drama, they can only grow in the right environment. Blame, shame, justification, whining, and complaining are easy patterns to fall into, but they’re not truly part of productive engagement.
In fact, when we fall into the blame, shame, and justification trap, it may feel very productive. We may think we’re communicating and expressing ourselves. Unfortunately, these interactions cause us to spin our wheels and go nowhere. We fall into self-pity or look for someone to rescue us (fulfilling the victim role in the triangle).
So, even though it’s tempting to place blame when frustrations arise, remember the rule: no one gets more than 50% of the blame. Step back and examine your actions.
Like it or not, we all play a part in any dynamic of our relationship; it takes two to tango! You may start an argument, but your partner may be the one who responded counterproductively, exacerbating the discord. You are always a participant in the drama or upset, even if the other person is working something through.
Perhaps you fail to communicate what you want, or actively bait your partner, or don’t set limits, or nag rather constructively act. Perhaps your partner engages in these ways. No matter who instigates the argument or makes a situation difficult, you and your partner are a part of a system, and whatever happens in the relationship, you both have a part in it. So, when you find yourself assigning blame, remind yourself that the highest percentage of blame you can assign is 50 percent.
It’s important to remember drama can crop up in any relationship—not only romantic ones. Maybe you discover drama whenever you go back home for a family reunion. Perhaps you find yourself falling into drama with members of your condo board, neighbors, coworkers, or fellow volunteers. Anytime we interact with others, we may see patterns emerge we need to quell.
How to Cut the Drama
Cutting out the drama doesn’t mean cutting out the communication—in fact, it’s the opposite. It simply means we must adjust the communication to shift toward being productive rather than destructive. Believe it or not, conflict is part of productive engagement.
Setting boundaries, expressing your wants, needs, likes and dislikes, and speaking up are all positive parts of engagement. If we communicate with honesty and positive intention, we can bring about mutual respect, enact positive change, and satisfy unmet yearnings.
We all want others to see us for who we are—to know us, recognize the good in us and respect us. These are fundamental yearnings of all humans. When we positively engage with others we’re reciprocating and reflecting their yearnings as well. It doesn’t mean you’ll always agree, but it means hearing them out in a respectful way.
In recent years, particularly with social media, we’ve seen a lot of cases where people aren’t engaging in a positive or respectful manner. How many of us have commented with a kneejerk reaction? How many of us have read someone else’s comments online and felt upset or taken them as a personal attack?
Engagement doesn’t mean agreeing, but it does mean working together for a mutual understanding. Unfortunately, on the internet, we may find ourselves simply yelling into a void, rather than finding agreement.
In real life, however, engagements become more tangible and well, real. Oftentimes, though, we may still feel hurt. We may still pull back.
Expressing Emotions Honestly
Staying out of the drama means adhering to the 100% responsibility rule and the 50/50 blame rule. When we accept responsibility for our own happiness, we will find it’s easier to let go of resentments and frustrations. Not because we’re choosing to ignore them or becoming a doormat. Instead, it’s because we’re expressing ourselves honestly. When we don’t like a situation, we’re letting people know. We’re going for what we want.
When we’re “wronged” in a relationship, it’s tempting to turn to another friend to tell us we’re okay. We may want to vent about the interaction and complain. Our goal isn’t to resolve the conflict and repair the relationship. Our goal is to find someone to tell us we’re “okay.” We’re looking for someone to rescue us.
Instead, directly engaging with the person who wronged us is far more effective. Expressing emotions and letting them know you feel hurt is often enough to get the issue out in the open.
Instead of blaming, accusing, and insulting, acknowledge your role in the interaction. Accept that ultimately, it’s your job to make yourself happy.
Similarly, when we realize blame is a two-way street, we can find ways to agree to disagree. When someone says words that get under our skin or hurts us, we can acknowledge the hurt. Rather than storming off to sulk, engaging in passive-aggressive behavior, or rushing to others to rescue us, we can acknowledge our role. We can acknowledge the role of the other party. We can share the blame and start working toward satisfaction and happiness.
For more on discovering a life of joy and satisfaction, please visit us at the Wright Foundation. We have many of our courses available for download on our website. Don’t miss out on our special introductory price on these great courses!
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.