May 31, 2019

Dear Drama Observers,

Drama People are called many things. Most of these terms aren’t nice and some you’d be careful not to say in the presence of children. Although it’s not a cover-your-child’s-ears term, one such descriptor is “shifty.” Let me explain…

As I often say, Drama People lack what’s needed to make relationships function normally— they lack reason abilities. Since they can’t make relationships function the healthy way—by reasoning things out—they resort to a relational alternative, drama. Their relationships “work” only when others play their designated drama roles.

But, what happens when others don’t play their specific role? When this occurs, Drama People escalate their dramas in hopes that increasing pressure will eliminate resistance. Drama escalation takes on many forms, but the one I want to explain in this letter is drama shifting. The Drama Person shifts from one role to another as a means of snookering the drama participant back into playing their necessary part.

For instance, let’s say a wealthy family patriarch needs to control every aspect of his son’s life. He wants his son to pursue Law (Dad’s profession, by the way), but his son prefers Medicine. Dad offers to fully fund his son’s legal training, but if the son insists on a medical line of study, he’s on his own. Dad offers a gift but uses it as bait on his hook of control. In effect, Dad shifts from controller to an ostensible giver in hopes of regaining the control he demands.

Another example of drama shifting would be the friend who plays the chronic victim with the life stance of “Something has gone wrong or someone has done me wrong.” Now, your obligatory role in this relationship is to empathize with his or her victimhood. But, their need for empathy is insatiable, and no matter how much you give, it’s never enough. It’s as though all of your empathy drops into a bottomless pit. And that’s exhausting.

But, let’s say you pull back and provide less empathy than they require.  Then they accuse you of being cold, heartless, and uncaring. They shift from being the rescued victim to the persecuted victim in hopes that you’ll feel so guilty about your “meanness” that you will, once again, provide the empathy they so desperately crave.

Let me give you another real-life example that I wish wasn’t in existence—the narcissistic pastor. He’s a compelling orator, so much so that people drive from miles around to join his church and regularly attend his sermons. He’s relevant, well-read, ruggedly handsome, funny, innovative, and magnificently gifted. If Olympic judges rated his church, they’d hold up cards reading 9.9’s and 10’s.

As we discussed last week, the Narcissistic Drama works like this: My job is to shine; your job is to reflect my brilliance. With this in mind, this pastor needs praise like the rest of us need air, and most of his parishioners readily supply the oxygen. His need for adoration is matched only by his followers’ sycophantic need to lavish it upon him. That combination is a match made in, well… Somewhere.

That’s the public side, but then there’s the private reality bearing little resemblance to what the public actually sees. According to those who work with him in close quarters, he’s petulant, controlling, prone to rages, morally hypocritical, incredibly thin-skinned, and unable to tolerate any negative feedback whatsoever, great or small.

He’s also vindictive.

If you praise him, he loves you; but if you criticize him, he trashes you. He uses his articulation powers to shred anyone who dares to suggest that the “emperor may not be wearing clothes.” Those who refuse to offer sufficient praise are cast as “enemies of the true faith.” He attributes all criticism, not to himself, but to the sinister motives of his critics. These nay-sayers, he tells his followers, are “in league with the devil” and must be vigorously resisted. He attacks them unmercifully, yet piously, and when the inevitable fire is returned, he plays the role of a victim being attacked.

So, here’s where the shift comes in.

This pastor wears his criticism like a badge of honor which elevates him as an object worthy of greater honor. He shifts from the admired one to the attacked one, and thus becomes admired even more. By casting himself in the drama as an object of scorn, he becomes a larger-than-life hero. But this drama shift would fail without obsequious followers who willingly play their parts. They regularly sing his praises with asinine statements like:

  • “Never before has a man of faith been so viciously attacked.”
  • “Our pastor is a courageous truth-teller.”
  • “The only reason people attack him is because the truth makes them so uncomfortable.”

Of course, none of this has anything to do with truth.

So, the moral of today’s letter? Beware of shifty people.

Till next week.

4 replies
  1. Adele
    Adele says:

    Shifty as in role changing and shifty as in sneaky too. Pastors, doctors, teachers, bosses, co workers, social workers, psychologists, politicians, policemen, and on …. far too many of them around everywhere in the human race if you ask me. Stay aware and call it like it is no matter what their role !

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