Dear Drama Observers,
I had a client once who recounted what it was like growing up in her crazy family. The lead characters in this dysfunctional drama were Mom and Dad, but what drove her even more nuts was the way in which all the other family members played their supporting roles.
I told her story in the book I wrote a few years ago in which I discuss unreasonable people. Here’s how she described her experience:
It became clear to me how wacked they all were after I moved away and built healthy relationships with normal people. When I would attend one of the obligatory family gatherings, however, it was so easy for me to lose my perspective. They all truly believed that they were normal, my dad was wonderful, and that I was the strange and peculiar one. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone.
It was as though I was standing in front of a red couch commenting to a cousin about the beautiful red color. The cousin would then laugh, exclaiming that the couch was not red but green. Other family members would chime in, laughing hilariously at my colorblindness. I’d leave the gathering thinking, “Maybe it’s not red but green like they say. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m colorblind. Maybe I’m the peculiar one.” It would take me a while to regain my grasp on reality.
What I loved about The Twilight Zone was the bait-and-switch aspect of their story lines. They’d reel you in getting you to think something was one way only to have it turn out some eerily different way.
Like when you were led to believe that a farmer lady was being attacked by tiny space aliens only to discover that the little creatures were actually American space explorers and she was, in fact, a giant space alien.
Or when the lady was undergoing surgery to correct her grotesque appearance. They removed the bandages and all the doctors and nurses exclaimed that the surgery had failed. When we finally get to see the woman’s face, she’s ravishingly beautiful. And when we see the faces of the doctors and nurses, they all look like grotesque pigs.
Notice what happened in my client’s family gathering situation. Dad wasn’t the abusive, womanizing alcoholic who had raised her (red couch). He was actually a caring, loving father whose daughter had unfairly misunderstood him (green couch). “Getting along” with her family meant buying into their green couch alteration of reality. That’s why she said it was like The Twilight Zone.
The purpose of dramas is to mimic reality. Drama People lack what’s required to engage in relational problem solving—something normally-wired people can do. But Drama People can’t do that. So, they resort to a reality-mimicking method of relating—drama. We’ll get along if I play my role and you play yours, the thinking goes.
But the dramas have toxic effects on those who willingly participate. They must suspend disbelief and buy into the Drama Person’s alteration of reality. You’re required to disregard your sensibilities, to lay aside your previously-held notions, and to accept as truth what you know to be lies.
Propagandists well understand this principle and make use of it. They coerce you to stop thinking for yourself and buy into their truth revisions. Like a drone being piloted by an on-ground operator, you must turn off your frontal lobe and allow the Drama Person to do your thinking for you. This leads to an unwitting groupthink arrangement where individual critical analysis gives way to collective opinion shaping.
On personal and collective levels, “getting along” in drama world obligates you to accept as truth what you know to be lies. And that’s just the way it works… in the Twilight Zone.
Till next week.