The Drama Review (March 2, 2018)

Dear confused-by-the-drama readers,

For several years, I’ve conducted a seminar entitled, Inside the Manipulator’s Mind. If you could actually crawl inside that mind, it’d be a scary and confusing place. You’d probably feel like you were in a real-life episode of The Twilight Zone, introduced and closed by the chain-smoking Rod Serling.

Like comedy shows producing spin-offs, we developed an offshoot seminar entitled, The Psychological Disorientation of Manipulation. My preferred titled would’ve been Renting Space in Your Brain. Indeed, manipulators rent up all of your mental space and are hard to evict.

Here are three sections from that seminar that describe the psychologically-disorienting effects of being manipulated.

Persistent Bewilderment

In describing the mind-bending confusion surrounding a particular manipulator, one cultural commentator put it this way: “He’s like a magnet next to a compass making it difficult to get your bearings.”

In his seminar on personality disorders, Greg Lester describes the confusing effects of being around a personality disorder this way. He says it’s like being in an airplane with no instruments at night in the middle of a cloud. You have no reference points. You can’t tell whether it’s going up or down, whether it’s right side up on upside down. You’ve lost your bearings and the plane could crash as a result.

In his book called People of the Lie, Scott Peck said it this way, “Lies confuse.”

For clients of the age to remember, the term “Twilight Zone” is often used to describe the bewildering effects of manipulation. On each episode, 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 nuclear holocaust survivor, Henry Bemis, finally had the time he’d always dreamed about to read books only to drop his glasses and break them, leaving him unable to read anything. 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.

Joseph Goebbels, Germany’s minister of propaganda is famous for saying the following:

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.

A term that’s made its way into our public lexicon is “suspension of disbelief.” It was originally coined in 1817 by Samuel Taylor Coleridge for describing a literary technique. describes its more current usage this way: “a willingness to suspend one’s critical faculties and believe the unbelievable; sacrifice reason and logic for the sake of enjoyment.”

American political analyst, Charlie Sykes recently noted:

One of the interviews that I’ve done on my public radio show that was, for me, the most interesting was Garry Kasparov, who is the former World Chess Champion and a Russian dissident who understands, I think, the role of propaganda and lies in a way that a lot of Americans don’t. His main point is that the point of lies is not to convince you of a certain policy. It wouldn’t necessarily make you believe a lie. What it is is an assault on your critical sensibilities. It is an assault on your ability or your interest in sharing what is true.

Manipulators relate through obligatory drama participation. For the relationship to “work,” you have to sacrifice truth to believe a lie. You have to suspend disbelief. You have to be willing to believe that pig faces are, in fact, beautiful.

And that’s confusing.


Healthy relationships make the world seem brighter (a common theme in love songs). Manipulator relationships, on the other hand, make the world seem darker (a common theme in country music).

It’s hard—if not impossible—to feel encouraged about the state of things inside a drama. The manipulator occupies center stage which leads us to voice complaints like, “He takes up all the space in the room,” or “She sucks all the air out of the room.”

If you’ve attempted all the usual things like trying to reason with the unreasonable person (manipulator) and failed at it, resignation sets in. Escape from the drama is futile, so why try? What’s the point?

We call this “learned helplessness” in our field, a term coined by Martin Seligman in his famous dog experiments. Some dogs simply laid down and passively endured the shocks once they realized there was no way to escape them.

If you can’t reason with the unreasonable person, what do you do? How do you resolve issues with someone who’s not interested in resolution but only interested in winning? Having no answers to those questions, some people simply give up and, once again, “go along to get along.” One client put it this way, “I just don’t have the energy to fight it.”


Not having the energy to fight it. That leads us to the next disorienting effect—exhaustion.

Some activities are, at once, physically exhausting and emotionally invigorating. You may stay up till 3:00 in the morning engaged in some activity with your best friends. You’re physically exhausted the next day yet energized by the whole experience. Conversely, you may have a short conversation with a manipulator and get to bed by 10:00 and feel emotionally worn out the whole next day. Healthy relationships put fuel in the tank while manipulator relationships guzzle our gas.

Here’s another reason they’re so exhausting. That conversation that ended last night at 10:00? You’ll have it again and again inside your head. It’ll replay on a loop in which you’re saying things like, “I can’t believe he said that,” “I wish I’d said this,” “Next time, I’ll do this,” “I wonder what he’d do if I did that,” “Oh, I know what he’d do and then I’d do this,” etc., etc., etc. Or, you’ll have that same internal conversation about an upcoming encounter.

Manipulators rent space in your brain and are hard to evict. That’s exhausting.

5 replies
  1. Liz
    Liz says:

    So what’s the solution? How do you get to not just rolling over and play dead? Especially when the manipulator is family you have to deal with on a regular basis. I dread every single visit!

    • Alan Godwin
      Alan Godwin says:

      Indeed, that feeling of dread is a common emotion that comes with drama person exposure. While there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, everyone has to figure out how drama non-participation works in their particular circumstances.

  2. Kenneth Dunning
    Kenneth Dunning says:

    I attended your seminar a little while back. I found it very informative. Thanks for posting this article, I think it encapsulates a fair amount of the information very well. It is a good review. I wish this information was a mandatory part of every high school curriculum!

    • Alan Godwin
      Alan Godwin says:

      Thanks for your nice feedback. I wonder if high school students would pay attention to those lessons. Unfortunately, most of us have to get burned before we stop touching the stove.


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