March 12, 2021
Dear Drama Observers,
Here’s something I posted almost three years ago:
Along the way, I’ve heard various iterations of the following statement: “If you want to spot a counterfeit, get to know the real thing.”
Counterfeiting ain’t so easy these days. What with high tech scanning capabilities, the job of a counterfeiter is much harder than before. In times past, your counterfeit twenty might get spotted because your Andrew Jackson looked a bit too much like Bob Dylan. Nowadays, it gets detected because, when placed under a black light, it’s missing that imbedded security strip. Or something.
Perhaps this is apocryphal, but I’ve been told that the training for counterfeit-spotters—this was probably back during the era of Elliot Ness and the Untouchables—included handling lots of real money, the thought being that the better acquainted you were with real bills, the better you’d be at spotting fake bills. Hence the statement, “If you want to spot a counterfeit, get to know the real thing.”
I bring all this up because drama people are counterfeiters. They appear to be one way but are actually a different way. Image, you come to discover, is incongruent with reality. You’re less likely to get snookered by drama people if you’re well acquainted with authenticity—the very quality drama people lack.
I’d like to tell you a story about a real bill. I can’t use his actual name for confidentiality reasons. But, I’ve got an idea. Let’s just call him . . . Bill.
Bill came to see me a few weeks back. Bill and I have almost no similarities. Our appearances are different, our backgrounds are dissimilar, we’re in different generations, and we share almost no common life experiences. The way he looks, the way he talks, the way he’s lived—all polar opposites from me. And yet, I took an instant liking to the guy. I’ll tell you my theory of why I liked him but first, some background.
In short, Bill sought help because he was dissatisfied with life. He’s been financially successful but that’s not the problem. He was troubled because, as the saying goes, he’d spent his life climbing the ladder of success only to discover that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall. He’d “arrived” but didn’t like what he found when he got there.
He told me that, for whatever reason, his blinders had fallen off and he could see his industry for what it was—people driven by greed, appearances, duplicity, and self-serving motivations. What bothered him the most, however, was that he’d spent years swept up in the hollowness of it all. He’d caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror of life and was disgusted by what he saw.
Not only that, he had a track record of failed relationships and wondered aloud what it was about him that made that so. We didn’t get into it that first session, but he told me enough that I suspected upbringing deficiencies had played a significant role in his current dysfunction. He was really hurting and wanted help.
I explained to him what I often tell people who come in with similar complaints. I told him to think of a well-functioning personality as a collection of muscles. If life requires the use of muscle A, it’s there to be used. If life later requires the use of muscle B, it’s also there to be used, and so forth and so on. So, a healthy personality is one in which you can flexibly use your “muscles” as life requires.
But for varying reasons, people sometimes arrive up here in adulthood with some muscles that are strong and others that are atrophied. If life requires the use of muscle A and muscle A is atrophied, you’ll compensate by over-relying on the surrounding muscles that do have strength. That works for a while but over the long haul, it takes a toll. To shift metaphors, it’s like having a flat and replacing the tire with one of those small spares. The small spare is designed to get you to the tire store, but you’re not supposed to drive to Florida with it. Because if you do, your vehicle will eventually become damaged. Living life with atrophied personality muscles eventually takes a toll and the resulting turmoil is often the backdrop for people coming into offices like mine.
I told him to think of me as a “personality physical therapist.” Our job will be to find which muscles are atrophied and then do some strengthening exercises. I warned him, though, that this will likely be uncomfortable, just like a person feeling sore after visiting a physical therapist. But that’s “good pain” because the hurt indicates growth.
I’ve given you the Cliff’s Notes version of what I told him but what I’d to highlight here was his reaction. He was genuinely enthusiastic and has remained so as the weeks have passed. With very few prompts from me, he arrives early, takes notes, asks questions, reads books, seeks advice, and implements what we discuss, though imperfectly.
Remember how I said I took an instant liking to this guy with whom I have so little in common? Here’s what I like about him. He’s growing. He’s a seeker of truth. There’s a yearning for authenticity. Those are very attractive attributes. Whenever we meet, I always feel like I’m trying to board a train that’s already moving. And I like that.
So, back to counterfeit-spotting. Drama people aren’t growing but are stuck in old patterns of unreasonableness. They’ve emerged into adulthood with atrophied reason muscles and have no interest in strengthening them. They’ve come to rely instead on the small spare tire of . . . drama. Living that way damages them but it also brings damage to those caught up in their dramas.
“Happiness,” said William Butler Yeats, “is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”
Despite his sore muscles, Bill is happy about growing. And it brings me pleasure to be around him. But when I’m around a drama person who has no interest whatsoever in growth, my happiness meter drops.
So, that’s one way to spot a counterfeiter. Keep an eye on your happiness meter.
I am glad you brought back this post. It is cleverly written and so true. We have a need for love, air, water, food, and self growth. You reminded me that there is always room for more growth even though we can sometimes overlook the ways. Thank you.
Very good point, Adele. Thanks.
I missed your weekly email last week. I enjoy them so much. I am glad you’re back. Have a great weekend.
You’re so kind, Janice. Thanks. I’ll keep sending these out but they’ll be bit less frequent.
The man I know, who was very abusive, is going to therapy, seeking “growth.” His therapist is telling him to draw “boundaries” and advised him to read “No More Mr. Nice Guy”
So yes, he is implementing the advice of this therapist and therefore, seems to be growing. But it has only served to make him more abusive.
You make a necessary point. People can sometimes take on the semblance of growth without really growing.
As a Marriage & Family Therapist… my comment on your 3/13/21 post about spotting the countetfeit is simply, “AMEN!” And I can honestly say that could be my comment on every one of your posts. You are spot on!
You’re nice to write with that feedback. So glad to hear that these are helpful to you!
Excellent column with some good insights that resonate.
Thanks so much, Chris.