The Drama Review (September 22, 2017)
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.
Ok sounds like they shared how they resolved earlier issue
Why were they there?
Thanks for your question, Jane. They were there to work on an entirely different issue–one that had more complexity than the earlier one. They were now stuck but if they had been unable to get unstuck before, they would likely be able to use those same skills to get unstuck this time as well. Same skills, new issue.
Yes, and if the relationship is not as important to one party, they may not want to change. If one person or both are unwilling to look into themselves, are nor deeply comitted, or if one person feels criticized and like a Narcissist, feels that they are losing a primary source of supply, that could cause one party to abandon the relationship.
I once heard one professional claim that the reason most marriages fail is because of NPD. That seems like a too big generalization to me.
I also was taught that a person can only grow within a relationship, much like the mother/ child dyad that launches all of us, both the mother and child grow. And also in more intensive interpersonal therapy, this seems true. What do you think?
I hold to the notion that personal problems have relational solutions. Someone might be unaware of an issue needing to be addressed until it shows up in a close connection. But if you value the connection, you’ll work to address the issue. So, yes, I agree with you and appreciate your perspective.
I found your recent post, Intelligent Disagreements, to be very interesting and definitely on-point. I agree that intolerance has sadly become the rule rather than the exception. It is the common thread in conflict that trips people up every time. I would like to go a step further, to propose that the intolerance seems to be born out of tolerance itself. My theory is that with the emergence of the internet, along with other technological advances, parents continued to raise their “tolerance” level to integrate the wrong behaviors. The Internet normalized a lot of behaviors that heretofore were held out as rarely occurring or conceived of in the Bible Belt or to a larger extent Middle America. Those parents then raised the next generation to become accustomed to getting their way, extending the boundaries with each new social media app, etc. Perhaps those parents felt they had to be tolerant of new modern world views seen on television and the Internet? But, what appears to have happened is we actually gave them an over abundance of tolerance, which produced a narcissistic-type generation (being intolerant to any other view point). I still stand by tolerance in my daily walk, but I give it sparingly (with forgiveness and 2nd chances) for behaviors that are deemed unhealthy. It appears that this is the part of the lesson that did not translate to the next generation. So, it is important to re-teach those concepts when an opportunity arises, particularly in younger generations.
Thank you so much for sharing this article on LinkedIn. I enjoyed reading it!
Very good points, Erin. Thank you for sharing.