Drama: The Soul Eater

“But it was so wrong,” my client said angrily. And it had been. The next step was going to determine how much drama was going to enter her life and change it. There is a natural urge in some people to fix whatever they find in front of them. Not just lend a hand, but insert themselves into situations that are not their making and try to take them over. This is the flashpoint of drama.

letter to dramaDrama may seem like fun, a break in your routine, a chance to get involved in some juicy problems and watch other people struggle. A larger and larger number of women enjoy drama. If they don’t find it, they create it.  That’s a dangerous game.

Drama is a time-waster and a soul-eater, often creating more trouble than the original problem. Drama requires three players:

The victim, who can focus only on what is missing in life, what she does not have, and what she does not want. She wants to remain the victim, so solving a problem may not be what she wants to achieve.

The Fixer is the person who is attracted to every victim like a magnet. The Fixer wants to rescue or save the victim, and the more effort it takes, the better the fixer feels about herself. She wants to appear selfless, strong, and a problem solver. Unfortunately, that means looking at life from a negative point of view, to show sympathy and alliance with the victim. Fixers are people-pleasers or martyrs, giving up a positive view to dwell in the negative. Of course, where you look is where you go, so the “solutions” the Fixer brings are often revenge- or fear-based. That never has long legs.

drama adviceThe Villain is far more like the Victim than we want to think. They have a huge need to be right, to gain control over every situation, and are particularly bad at seeing anyone else’s point of view. Villains were often victims who brought themselves out of victim-hood by controlling everything in sight.

What makes this situation dangerous is the similarity to every fairytale in our cultural span. The Villain must be defeated, the Victim saved, and the Fixer (or hero) admired. The flaw in the fairy tale is that life is not that simple. And worse, in most fairy tales the victim is thought of as helpless or weak until she is rescued by a man. Sleeping Beauty had to be kissed by a prince to be saved, Rapunzel had to have her prince climb up her hair to free her (although then they were both in the tower with all that hair). You get the point.

What makes drama a bad idea for relationships, work, and friendships? Drama is based on the idea that the victim is in crisis and helpless. Instead of stepping in as the Fixer and immediately looking for a Villain in every situation, allow the Victim to be resourceful, creative and whole. Many Victims use their Victimhood as a test to find people who will always prove themselves as friends. For a Victim, friends are always there to be manipulated.

Victims control their negative life by not letting go of their bad luck, hardships, or problems. Any Fixer in close proximity gets sucked in. Victims like being surrounded by Fixers. Fixers, on the other hand, do not like confrontation or other Fixers. Often Fixers will try to be the only person the Victim can trust. If you think that sounds controlling, it is. Remember, many Fixers started as Victims, progressed to being Villains and now want to be Fixers–controllers and the ones who hold the only solution. The price is a lot more than a kiss or climbing up a hair ladder.  It’s a no-win situation, a traffic circle of grief.

Ways to break away from drama:

1. Don’t give advice unless you are specifically asked for it. Don’t fish around by saying, “do you want advice?” because a victim will always want you to supply an answer. That way, when it doesn’t work (and it never will), it will be your fault. You told her what to do, she did (in her own way) and now it’s your fault that her life, once more, is a mess.

2. Allow your friends, family and co-workers to be creative in choosing a solution that works for them. Creativity is the key. Creativity is the ability to see positive solutions and put together a plan to create them. This requires a lot of patience and some professional training.

3. Walk away from drama. It’s much easier to walk away before you get sucked into the traffic circle of escalating drama.

4. Suggest a coach or therapist. They are different answers, but coaches and therapists are trained to deal with drama without getting involved in the problem. Therapists look to the past to find old habits and solve them. Coaches look to the future and help clients build their own solutions while teaching them to use new tools.

–Quinn McDonald is a coach who knows a lot about drama. Trapped in the Victim-Hero-Villain circle herself for years, she is now writing a book on freeing yourself from the trap.


17 thoughts on “Drama: The Soul Eater

  1. Just to open a new can of worms in this conversation, how much of this behaviour is gender-driven? I have read that men have a “need” to fix things. As soon as a problem is described to them they either nay-say or deny it, or they try to come up with a solution and are disappointed or dismissive if their unsolicited advice is not followed. Deborah Tannen talks about differences in communication style and what sounds like a pre-programmed propensity to react to situations in the ways you describe in your post. Your analysis and avoidance advice are excellent if we can remain alert to the Imminent drama warning signs and avoid our own natures.

    PS – can you tell I thought about this overnight?

    • Nicely done–not jumping right in! I do think it’s gender-driven, men are problem solvers and women are emotional supporters on the way to solving a problem. And while we are talking in broad strokes, men give bottom-line answers (“Just stop eating everything that makes you fat and you’ll lose weight) when women didn’t want any advice in the first place. They wanted support. But there is a lot of hidden advice in “support.” For example, on the weight issue, “Oh, honey, don’t get on the scale every day, it takes so much discipline to lose weight,” sounds supportive, but it also can be heard as “you don’t have the discipline it takes.” And some people love stoking drama, a lot of Facebook proves that. I love the phrase, “if we can remain alert to the imminent drama warning signs and avoid our own nature.” So true!

  2. This is wonderful – thank you for breaking it down simply. I’ve spent years as a duel victim/fixer, and am beginning to come out of it, learning to keep myself *in* myself. And you know what? It’s an incredible relief. I had no idea how exhausting it was to try to rescue people from their consequences, all the while blaming others for my own life, until I turned the focus on myself. You mean I’m only responsible for myself in this world? What a revelation. And it’s amazing how things in my life have changed so quickly, now that I’m taking care of my own business – funny that. And the biggest side-effect? Ever-loving peace.

    • We are responsible to others in an interesting way–helping by charitable acts. But volunteering to do specific jobs (cook in a food kitchen, deliver water to the homeless) does not include trying to fix their lives one-handedly. It’s hard being a coach–not getting involved with the responsibility of people’s choices, just helping them look at the choices. All that training I took is really necessary.

      • Yes, it’s difficult to just let go of the outcomes. I’ve really had to look at the fact, in the last year, that I end up attaching to an expectation that they’ll do what I recommend. When it doesn’t happen, I am disappointed, which starts a whole cascade of unpleasant emotions/thoughts for me. It’s the expectation that’s the causing all that. Breaking it down, I realize my desire to help comes from a good place – most of the time, I’ve had an experience very similar, and would like to see that person change direction, to avoid a painful outcome. But when I expect it, that’s the controlling “fixer” thing, that ends up manifesting as “I have no respect that *your* life is *yours*. Do as you will.” It’s a tough practice – I’m hoping as I keep letting go, it will get a bit easier, become more automatic.

  3. As a recovering hero-saver, I’m so glad you mention that it’s a never-ending cycle. I back away from all drama and my only suggestion anymore is professional help.

  4. It’s a complicated dance where toes always get trodden on. I spend years as a collaborative consultant trying to lead people to find their own solutions and too often they wanted a quick fix . . . I wan’t issued with a wand but I was able to help people engage their imaginations.

    • The “quick fix” is never that. It may look like it, but it’s like taking a pill and expecting the disease to go away. I admire collaborative consultants. They have to lead a whole group of divergent desires in one direction. I’m glad you got out alive.

    • You’ll hear more about the book than you ever wanted to as I get deeper into it. It’s very hard right now, because I have to admit I was an idiot. Never flattering. But very helpful in learning how NOT to be an idiot.

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