Dear can’t-get-enough drama readers,
I have the privilege of traveling the country to talk about a subject I love—drama. It’s probably more accurate to say I love talking about it. As I’ve often said, observing dramas is pleasant; being in them isn’t. I get to go out and talk about what I’ve observed.
When I first started traveling eight years ago, I presented a seminar I had developed entitled, “Helping Adult Clients Grow Up” which was about the role relationships play in personal growth. Old patterns get corrected in new relationships.
I then developed and presented one called, “Happily Incompatible” which was about couple conflict resolution. Compatibility is nice, I told the attendees, but working through differences is essential.
For the last four years, “Inside the Manipulator’s Mind” has been my subject. Manipulators (drama people) lack what’s required to solve relational problems so they resort to their only relational alternative—drama. Drama participation makes you sick, drives you crazy, and wears you out.
I’ve developed—or I should say I’m the process of developing—an offshoot seminar to my current one which zooms in on the “drives you crazy” part. It’ll be called “The Psychological Disorientation of Manipulation.” I was holding out for “Renting Space in the Brain” but, alas, twas not to be. Here’s a blurb from the brochure:
He’s in my head. She sucks all the air out of the room. I’m so tired of the drama. These are common ways of expressing the all-consuming intrusiveness of being emotionally manipulated. The manipulators might be relationship partners, neighbors, co-workers, family members, or “friends”, and they occupy the psychological space so pervasively that many clients present with complaints of confusion, exhaustion, and the struggle to even know what’s real.
I said I’m “in the process of developing” because I’ve yet to finish writing the manual. And it’s due soon. Like October soon. Remember that feeling you had in school when the due date for some major project was rapidly approaching but you hadn’t finished it yet? I feel like that all the time.
So my weekly Drama Reviews may be a little shorter in the coming weeks due to my time constraints. We’ll return to normalcy in early November but, in the meantime, I’ll be posting some things I’ve written previously in other places.
What follows is from my ebook, Marriage Myths: 10 Things That Sound True About Marriage But Aren’t. Here’s one of the ten:
I Can’t Fix You, I Can Only Fix Me
This idea has become so entrenched in our culture that it rivals other truisms we accept unquestioningly, such as:
- You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar
- Into every life a little rain must fall, and
- The only two things that will survive a nuclear holocaust are cockroaches and Cher
It sounds so right but leaves so much out. It suggests that if two broken people go get themselves fixed, things will just work better when they reunite. I get the part about being responsible for your own growth and not being responsible for the growth of another and agree with it. But it diminishes the importance of relationships in personal growth.
A couple came to see me once because they were stuck. I asked if they’d had any experiences getting unstuck and they told me this story.
He grew up as a nice, accommodating individual. He was a natural-born concierge, instinctively noticing the needs of those around him and doing whatever he could to help. If there was a bumper sticker defining his existence, it might be, “Your wish is my command.”
When he grew up, he worked for a company that organized itself into teams. It became his unoﬃcial job to see to it that everyone’s needs were met and, indeed, the team functioned more smoothly because of his presence.
His wife grew up as an i-dotter and a t-crosser. She was a very structured individual. She told me once that she slept better at night if all the items on her to-do list had check marks beside them by day’s end. If there was a bumper sticker defining her existence, it might be, “A place for everything and everything in its place.”
When she grew up, she became, guess what, an administrative assistant. She was wonderful at it—nothing ever fell through the cracks under her watch.
Well, Mr. Accommodation fell in love with Miss Administration. After marrying, she said to him one night, true to form, “We should divide up our household responsibilities. Let’s figure out who does what.” True to form, he said, “Sure, I’d be glad to.” So, they determined that she would cook and he would clean. All was right with the world.
But here’s what happened. On a nightly basis, he’d be loading the dishwasher and she’d come in to watch. “Would you mind turning those bowls in the same direction so that the water will hit everything uniformly,” she’d ask. “Sure,” he would respond outwardly while inwardly thinking her request was a tad excessive . . . and weird. The next night, it would be the plates, the next night the silverware, the next night the pots and pans. This went on for a while.
Finally, one evening, he said exasperatedly, “Look, I told you I would clean up and I’m happy to do so. But if you’re going to come in every night and scrutinize and critique my every move, I may just start sitting in the den.”
Notice what happened here. This situation required something of him that, historically, he had too little of— assertiveness. He was an accommodating person but not an assertive person. But he cared about his marriage and, for it to work better, he had to strengthen his assertiveness muscle. By doing so, he became a more balanced version of himself.
On her side, this situation required something of her that, historically, she had too little of—flexibility. She was a structured person but not a flexible person. But she cared about the relationship and, for it to work better, she had to strengthen her flexibility muscle. By doing so, she became a more balanced version of herself.
The closeness of marriage had revealed their weaknesses but valuing their marriage caused them to strengthen those very weaknesses. They didn’t go get fixed so that the marriage would work better. They made the marriage work better and became more fixed. Their marriage provided the context in which personal growth occurred.
Relationships reveal and heal weaknesses.