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Why Drama Drains You—and How to Deal with the Drama-Makers in Your Life (and Maybe Even Come Out Empowered)

I hate drama. 

Hate it. 

I realize that’s a pretty strong statement, but it’s true. I don’t play games and never have. I don’t understand the sick pleasure someone gets from pulling some sort of power play on another human being. And I really don’t understand the need to make someone else feel worse in order for you to feel better. 

None of it’s fun to me in any way. In fact, I find it pointless and exhausting. 

However, in this day and age of Desperate-Housewives-of-God-Knows-What, drama is seen as the norm. Even more frustratingly, the drama is rarely about life-or-death situations or issues (they’re never brokering world peace, for instance); it’s usually about stupid, irrelevant things. I guess I'd like drama more if I felt it was a means to a positive ends, but it just isn't.

While some of us hate pointless drama, for some people creating (or engaging in) it is energizing; it seemingly charges their life force for another day. 

For others that are Empaths or a Highly Sensitive People (HSP) like me, drama is completely draining. Because we pick up on other’s emotional state as well as the effects that certain actions can have on others (such as causing pain or sadness), drama is incredibly painful. Worse, the more you are around a drama-maker, the more that your energy is tuned into their fear, sadness, and anger.

Is it any wonder that drama is depleting to you?

So, what’s a non-game-playing, drama-hater to do? Here are my tips for surviving in a drama-laden world: 

1. Avoid the drama-makers. 

Some people LOVE drama. Some people feel life is boring and they need to spice it up, so they stir things up to amuse themselves. Other people feel no power in life and therefore need to exert power in silly, over-dramatized ways. 

Whatever their reasons, drama people NEED to create drama as much as we all need to breathe. 

Obviously, the best course of action is to avoid these people. 

However, that’s easier said than done, especially when you are dealing with a friend, co-worker, boss, or family member. Your approach needs to be specific to the relationship.

If you are dealing with a friend who keeps causing drama, re-evaluate that friendship. If they are talking about others and causing bad feelings between people to you, then they are doing it behind your back, too. Is that a person you really want in your life? 

If you are dealing with a co-worker or boss, it’s definitely more complex. Find ways to decrease your interactions, if at all possible. If it gets too much—if you come home from work exhausted and sick day after day—you do need to look for other work. Your health and wellbeing depend on it.

If it’s a family member, again, your best course of action is to decrease your time and interactions with this person. I know it’s hard, but it is essential to your wellbeing to do so. We've been repeatedly taught that family is everything, which leads many people to put up with horrible behavior which they would never allow in any other relationship or aspect of their lives. Just because someone is related to you doesn't give them the right to be a negative or abusive force in your life. You do have the right to set healthy boundaries and decrease time with someone who constantly wears you out, regardless of their relationship to you.

And let drive this point home: Whatever your relationship, if you know someone in your life who is constantly playing games with others, talking negatively about others behind their backs, and demeaning others, best believe it’s being directed at you, too. Don’t just hope that they aren’t going to start this with you, or—especially in the case of a boss that if you "just keep your head down" he or she won’t turn on you. Learn from what you are seeing; if they do it to others they ARE doing it to you, whether you are aware of it or not. It’s just a matter of time until you are the primary focus of their negative attention. Get away now.

2. Drama is inherently childish, but that’s the point. Treat a drama person as you would a child having a temper tantrum.

If you’ve ever dealt with someone in the midst of causing drama, then you’ve seen his or her 3-year-old self acting out.

In my experience, those that cause drama for amusement or attention have had some sort of stunting to their growth at a young age; they have a broken sense of self. Perhaps their parents didn’t pay attention to them, so they’d scream to get someone to notice. Maybe they were in a situation where they weren’t taught to use their words to express their emotions properly; they now only know how to use them to hurt. Maybe they are simply modeling what they saw the adults in their life do.

Whatever it is, causing drama and playing power games is inherently childish and attention-seeking. It's a kid's way of exerting power over their surroundings, rather than an adult's way of changing the outcome of experiences through positive actions.

That being the case, if you treat the drama-maker like you would a child having a temper tantrum, it’s often far more effective than getting pulled into their little game.

One tactic that works (both for kids and drama-loving adults) is to tell them that you are not going to engage with them until they regain control and can deal with you calmly. This both sets a firm boundary for how you are willing to be treated, but also shows the drama-maker that they have the control to change the outcome of the interaction, which can be empowering.

3. Try doing nothing. 

Drama people feed off your reaction to their actions. If you give them nothing, they get nothing. If they get nothing, there is no reward for them to be acting dramatic and they will have to find other tactics (maybe even mature ones!) to get what they want. 

I’ve learned a great deal about this through the adoption process, as I’ve had to learn about how to deal with older adopted kids who’ve had a rough start in life. One thing that is emphasized is not to get angry with an adopted child who is acting out in bad ways, because it’s very likely that the only attention they’ve known is negative attention. Sadly, your screaming at or punishing them actually can feel like love. When you reacteven negatively—it teaches them that they can get “love” from you in that way, and the behavior accelerates.

It’s no different here. Many times people who cause drama are actually seeking ANY kind of attention, even negative attention.

Doing nothing can be especially challenging if you are an Empath or HSP, as your default reaction is to try to take away pain, to find solutions, to make things better—even if it hurts you in the process. And, like me, you may try to reason with a drama person to find a common solution that’s win-win.

Trust me on this: Reasoning with a drama person does not work. Unfortunately, drama people want the opposite things to happen and will fight to make sure they cause uproar until they get the reaction they want. And, like a 3 year old, they definitely do not want win-win—they want what they want when and how they want it. 

Just give no reaction at all. Go completely quiet and let them do whatever they are doing. Give nothing back.

4. Whatever you do, do NOT give in to their drama. 

Just as with kids, giving the drama-maker what they want after they cause drama only teaches them that they can get what they want by doing what they did. 

And, just as with kids, you can expect more of the same. 

If you are feeling especially pressured to give the drama-maker what they are seeking, you must get away from them. Hang up the phone, walk away, excuse yourself to the bathroom, do whatever you need to do to remove yourself from the situation

If you are empathic, your kind nature is going to WANT to give the person what they want because you can actually feel their sadness or need. You have to stand even tougher against it, because you can end up feeding the beast of their need more than any other person. If you do that, you can find yourself in a difficult, co-dependent relationship, and that’s even more challenging to remove yourself from. 

Don’t know quite what to say to stop the drama in its tracks? I’ve had great success with using something along these lines: 

“You know, I can see that you are looking to get something from this, but I am unwilling to deal with you until you calm down. Let me know when you are able to talk about this rationally. Until then, I’m not discussing it.” 

Then, stop discussing it. If the person tries to continue to drag you into the drama, get away. Don’t engage with them until they seem calm and rational.

If they never seem calm and rational, I think you’ve learned a good lesson: This isn’t someone you want in your life, nor is it someone you can count on. Go back to #1 and avoid them as much as possible.

Are you very sensitive to the feelings and emotions of others? Do you seem to draw needy people to you like a moth to a flame? It's very possible you are an Empath. Take my Empath Test now to find out! 

Then, check out my upcoming Empath Institute - I'm so excited to help wonderful people like you to become truly empowered to use your sensitivity in positive ways for the world AND for yourself!