Look, I’m not talking to you in this post, okay?
This is for me.
It’s a note to self, one I write over and over again. You can listen in, if you want. But this is for me. Not for you. Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you. It’s about me.
The thing I’m telling myself today is about drama. About learning not to be a drama llama.
(my definition, feel free to borrow)
a person who is continually drawn to other people’s drama.
Drama makers – a.k.a. drama kings and queens and in-betweens – are the ones creating the drama.
Drama llamas are the ones who show up and give their energy to the drama. There’s a whole herd of us. We’re complete idiots. The Drama Maker issues the call. We shuffle in, obligingly.
“Drama? Okay. We’re here. Proceed.”
As if we have nothing better to do.
taking the standard events of life and creating a loud, obnoxious, all-encompassing theatre production out of them. Every one of them, if possible.
To the drama maker, every interaction is a storyline. Every conversation is dramatic, layered, fraught with meaning and whispers and unsaid threats and foreshadowing. Every moment of silence is the opportunity for a monologue. Every conflict is an epic battle.
Every production has one star: the drama maker, playing the role of misunderstood-but-pure Victim or thwarted-but-noble Seeker or triumphant-against-all-odds Hero.
We are the drama makers, and we are the screamers of screams.
Every production has one audience.
You guessed it.
The herd of drama llamas.
Sometimes we also get cast in supporting roles. Lucky us!
A drama maker is a powerful and talented person.
The stories they tell have truth in them.
We long for significance. We long for understanding. We want to know what things mean. Our reality is confusing and complex. Our own psyches are confusing and complex.
We want to understand the reality we inhabit. Understanding what has happened gives us the ability to predict what will happen next; the ability to predict makes us feel safe.
(Whether or not it actually makes us safe is a different issue.)
The stories we tell ourselves and each other are tools to help us understand our reality. The most lasting stories become the mythologies of our past/present/future, narratives that we pass on, explanations of our inner and outer realities. They’re important. They’re powerful. They are, in the most essential way, true. The truest things we have, perhaps.
What is bigger? A big universal truth or my subjective experience of truth in daily life?
There are two basic ways to use story as a means of understanding your reality.
The first is to immerse yourself in story. You have to let your personal, subjective reality fade and allow your consciousness to enter a story that is not primarily your own.
The story you enter may be specific, subjective, and intensely personal. (In fact, the most powerful stories are exactly that.)
As you enter a story, your subconscious looks for patterns. It seeks and finds matches between the story you’re immersed in and the subjective reality of your daily life experience. These matches can give you insight into what’s really happening and what things mean and what might happen next.
To break it down:
- You immerse yourself in a story that’s not your own
- Your subconscious finds patterns and connections
- You gain insights from these subconscious findings
- You use these insights to gain understanding, make decisions, and deal with your own life
There are many ways to become immersed in a story. Books are my favorite way. Theatre in all its forms is a powerful way to enter a story. Religious and societal rituals serve the same purpose: they allow us to enter a story, to immerse ourselves in it. Then, the story ends (or is laid aside for a time); we re-enter our own lives with the insights gained from the story.
We do all this unconsciously and imperfectly, but we do it continually, with adeptness and agility, and with great skill. We are experts in story.
Drama makers use story, too. They are experts in story. But they use story in a different way.
The first way to use story as a means of understanding reality is to immerse self in story. The second way is to bind story to the self.
To immerse yourself in story requires a type of self-surrender. You have to forget your Self, for a time, to enter another story fully. (Or, in other words, the ability to learn starts with the willingness to say I don’t know.)
Rather than immersing (and temporarily losing) self in story, drama makers attempt to subjugate story to self. They don’t want to enter someone else’s story, surrender self – even for a moment – or let their own subjective experience fade in order to experience bigger, universal truths.
For a drama maker, self must remain central at all times. That’s because they have a tenuous connection with themselves. They fear, more than anything, being lost, being attacked, being forgotten. That’s because they feel lost, attacked, and forgotten all the time. The idea of losing self in a story is too much. Self has to be present. Self has to star.
Now, truthfully, that’s not so different than what the rest of us do. When we immerse ourselves in story, we identify with the main character(s) of the story. We put ourselves in a starring role, but we do so by assuming – for a time – some other identity. Experiencing some other self.
Drama makers are not cool with this approach. Their requirement is that self has to star, but not by identifying with some other character in some other story. Self has to star as self.
They attempt to squash the big, universal truths into each small, subjective experience. Of course it doesn’t fit.
But they keep trying. Their daily life becomes a drama. Each conflict or interaction has to be expanded, increased, puffed up and put on stage.
A full-scale dramatic production of this sort needs a backstage crew and a supporting cast. Every protagonist needs an antagonist.
And, of course, there’s got to be an audience.
At this point, I have to take a reflective moment, one in which I stare hard into the mirror and see myself for the Drama Llama that I am. Or can be.
Not always. I’m learning.
See, there’s a weird part of me that
- feels like I can help somehow
- feels obligated to share the pain
- has a morbid curiosity about other humans
- feels better about myself when I watch other people’s drama.
Any of that ringing true for you?
But here’s what I’ve discovered in my dwindling career as a drama llama.
My lurking presence, or even my active participation, in someone else’s drama does not accomplish anything except wasting time.
The hard truth is this: other people’s drama is not aired as a problem to be solved. It is displayed to attract an audience. The larger the audience, the more drama will be produced in order to maintain an audience. The drama depends on the audience. By lurking or participating, I am adding to the audience and, thus, extending the drama.
Watching or participating in someone else’s drama is not the same as sharing someone’s pain. It doesn’t work like that.
First of all, pain is not like a sack of oranges. I can’t walk up and say, “Hey, that looks heavy. Why don’t you dump half of those oranges in my bag and let me carry them?”
Pain is created internally. Pain is woven into the self. Pain is part of the subjective experience of daily life. Drama makers, by inflating their subjective experience, are inflating their pain. By watching or joining in their drama, I’m actually helping them increase their pain.
Okay, morbid curiosity is just morbid curiosity.
But it’s not a good reason to dedicate my life to watching or participating in unnecessary drama.
How much pointless curiosity do I need to satisfy? And do I have to satisfy it with other people’s drama? Maybe, instead, I could watch an episode of a reality show, get on my knees and pray for humanity, and then go plant something in the garden.
Feeling better about myself by watching other people’s drama is the heart of a bigger problem, isn’t it?
Sure, I can achieve a little ding of dopamine by feeling that I’m slightly ahead somehow. But when I’m doing that, it’s a clear sign that I am not seeing the world as it really is.
When comparison makes me feel good about myself, it means I’m seeing the world as a competition. (It isn’t.) It means I’m seeing happiness and success as limited and scarce. (It isn’t.)
And that mindset is damaging, because it’s me taking part in a much bigger set of drama-llama theatre productions: global, conflict-riddled, us vs. them dramas that pervade our societies and politics and keep all of us busy going nowhere.
By accepting that mindset, I am adding to the drama, however covert or passive my role. Whether or not I admit have a role doesn’t matter; I auditioned, I got the part, and I jumped onto stage and did my lines.
Maybe someone even threw me flowers.
So, what to do when I see that I am, indeed, a drama llama?
There’s one beautiful action that you and I and everybody else can take, when we see the drama begin to unfold. It’s simple.
(…wait for it. It’s so brilliant.)
Walk away, in whatever form is appropriate. End the conversation. Close the browser window. Take the app off your phone. Don’t respond to the text. Don’t return the call. Don’t answer the absurd accusation. Say no when you are asked to participate. Say no to yourself when you are tempted to lurk. (Here are some ways to say No, in case you need a refresher.)
Drama often masquerades as a Real Need; here’s how to differentiate.
Drama uses emotion to get a reaction, and wants emotion as a reaction.
A real need will ask for action as a response.
Drama acts urgent, but the actual repercussions of not participating or responding are vague threats rather than specific certainties.
A real need will have real, defined consequences attached to it.
Drama is manipulative. It shifts in appearance and focus depending on who is involved at any given time. It likes to play favorites, tell secrets, give opinions as facts, withhold information, and whisper accusations (which are often wrapped up as gifts).
A real need is the same, and the help needed to meet the need is the same, regardless of who is involved in meeting the need.
Drama makers like to have a whole herd of drama llamas.
Don’t be part of the herd. You’re better than that. We’re all better than that.