For some people, says Dr. Ducharme, drama is a comfort zone. Children raised in chaotic homes, especially those characterized by drug or alcohol abuse, may go on to re-create that chaos in their adult lives. For them, drama is normal. It may also be a way to avoid feelings that surface when things around them get too calm.
People also use drama for self-validation; drama queens are often full of themselves. “She thinks she’s fabulous and important and just wants other people to notice it,” the thinking goes. In fact, says Ducharme, the opposite may be true. Many drama queens are, in reality, insecure. “They don’t think they [asking for] attention,” explains Ducharme, “but creating chaos proves they exist.” A single episode of The Bachelor will confirm this notion.
When Is Drama a Disorder?
For a small percentage of people, an overdeveloped tendency toward drama is symptomatic of a deeper personality disorder. People with histrionic (or hysterical) personality disorder exhibit excessive, almost childlike emotionality and conspicuous attention seeking. They are prone to hypochondria and sexually provocative behavior. Any attention is better than no attention. Their relationships are passionate but short-lived. People with borderline personality disorder, characterized by wildly fluctuating emotions and unstable relationships and self-image, are also prone to dramatic behavior.
But while there might be drama queens in your life you’d love to tag with the “personality disorder” label, only 2 to 3 percent of the population qualifies as having histrionic personality disorder, and 2 percent can be called borderline. While someone might exhibit histrionic traits, a patient must meet specific criteria—their personality traits must be pervasive and inflexible—to be diagnosed with a disorder. Drama is the only way someone with histrionic personality disorder knows how to respond, and she has no idea she’s doing it.
Dialing Down the Drama
If you’re dealing with a drama queen in your life, the best advice is simply to walk away. Don’t let yourself get sucked into the hurricane. If your Chicken Little keeps involving you in her drama, confront her about it in as undramatic a way as possible. “Ask [her] to stop and breathe and look at what’s happening right now,” says Ducharme. Perhaps the person will see her behavior is not, in fact, getting the desired response. At the very least, you can express your discomfort and extricate yourself from the situation.
If you think someone you’re close to may suffer from a personality disorder, refer her to a licensed therapist, but keep in mind that she probably won’t recognize that her behavior and thought processes are not normal.
Just as in high school, staying out of the drama can be a challenge, but if you’re committed to living a happier, healthier life, it’s necessary. If all else fails, slap on the headphones and pump the George Michael until the storm has passed. It worked then; maybe it’ll work now.
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