The following is an extract from Marcus T Anthony’s upcoming book: Power and Presence: Reclaiming Your Authentic Self in a Digitized World.
It is the human predisposition towards drama and projection that underpins much of our suffering – our need for drama. I define drama as the “irresponsible emotional manipulation of others with the aim of establishing a personal agenda.” Despite the fact that conflict and drama with others (inlcuding tribal and group conflcts) are typically experienced as stressful and unpleasant, drama is rewarding to the ego because it grants an opportunity to get what one wants in situations where the ego feels that it either has no real power, or when it does not want to pay the price for embodying genuine strength. That cost may vary, but always involves taking personal responsibility.
And what does the ego typically want? It seeks security and stability, to have its narrative remain unchallenged, and to garner attention and power. That attention-seeking may be to establish itself as a victim, to manipulate a situation via pitty. Or that attention may be to elevate one’s sense of self-worth, for seeking status and power in a situation is often a compensation for a concurrent sense of unworthiness.
So, what can be done about the need for drama? The first step is to recognize when this predisposition is arising within you; and the second is to acknowledge the real agenda of the ego, and the pain that often lies behind it. The final step is to take cognitive responsibility (for your thoughts and feelings), and then to choose another path forward (and that may include choosing not to take any action at all).
The need for drama is mostly unconscious, so shadow work is required. It necessitates our being more honest about who we are, what drives us and how we are behaving.
It requires an ego fall.
But remember, while a self-generated ego fall may be uncomfortable, it is a lot less painful than experiencing an unintended fall when someone close to us (or worse still, a rival) points out the disconcerting truth of what we have become. Ironically, the latter situation leaves you vulnerable to the ego games of others, as they may choose to use your fall from grace to personally discredit you or destroy your reputation.
Fortunately, acknowledging an elevated need for drama is not so difficult, and with a little practice and intentionality, you can form the habit of witnessing such mind games without the need for self-flagellation.
The following Drama Quiz is subjective, but you may like to use it when you suspect your ego is moving towards high drama. After you have taken this quiz a few times, detecting when you have an elevated tendency for drama will become second nature, and you won’t need to use it. In other words, you will begin to integrate the ego.
The Drama Quiz
Tick “0” if your best answer is little or none. Tick “1” if you feel moderately affected. Tick “2” if you feel affected significantly more than usual.
|1. Do I feel a strong sense of not being present to my immediate surroundings, and the people I am with?
|2. Am I feeling particularly stressed, irritable, angry, resentful, anxious or ashamed?
|3. Am I ruminating upon a situation I have recently read about, seen or experienced, one where I have been offended by an opinion, or where I feel that I have been victimized or treated unfairly?
|4. Do I have a strong and lingering sense of injustice or unfairness regarding some current situation?
|5. Is there a recurring dialogue or “movie” in my mind where I am expressing judgment, blame and anger at someone, and letting them know how I really feel?
|6. Do I feel a recurring and personal need to demonstrate that I (or my tribe) am right about a particular topic?
|7. Am I feeling afraid of persecution or bullying, of being blamed for something, whether justified or not?
|8. Am I feeling vulnerable, frightened or anxious, and wishing someone else would be responsible for that part of me? Do I want someone to rescue me?
|9. Am I feeling abandoned, lost, helpless or betrayed, but do not know how to cope with the feelings?
|10. Do I currently find myself wanting to gossip to others about someone or something I am dissatisfied with, including in an online forum?
0-5. Your need for drama is low, and right now you probably don’t need to be particularly vigilant in your interactions with others.
6-10. You have a moderate need for drama. It may pay to keep an eye on yourself as you engage others.
11-15. You currently have a moderately high need for drama. There is a strong possibility of generating conflict with others, so you need to be quite vigilant in your communications. Some introspection on the underlying causes is advised.
16-20. Given that you have a very elevated need for drama, the risk of having serious run-ins with others is high. It would be best to minimize unnecessary time in online and real world situations where you might be easily triggered into anger and projection. Spending some time alone in reflection, or doing some self-nurturing work would be a good idea. Ask for help from trusted friends, loved ones or mental health professional if you feel it is necessary.
All the feelings, attitudes and desires mentioned in the Drama Quiz are perfectly normal human experiences. The key is to notice without judgment or self-recrimination the times when they are becoming significantly elevated. Anger is the key emotion to be attentive of when the need for drama is rising. This is because it is anger that is most likely to cause us to hit out and to try to hurt others – which will likely then trigger the other’s need for drama. And when you get two or more people together who are ready to be triggered, drama is as sure to follow as night follows day.
Addressing the need for drama
Simply noticing without judgment that your need for drama is elevated is empowering. When you observe this kind of physiological state, you can immediately make a mental note to be vigilant in your interactions with others. And if you reflect upon the questions above, you should also be able to get a sense of any obvious agendas you might have in your relationships with others, including any tendency towards setting yourself up as a victim, damaging the reputation of the other, or seeking power and control over them. Another common agenda to be aware of is self-sabotage: setting yourself up for a fall. That is more common than you might think.
Quite often situations that trigger us into fear, anger and blame have touched upon our trauma, which in turn will have originated in our personal past, including our childhood. If you feel this is the case, the Noticing the Trigger Point (Exercise 10) is a practice you might like to keep on hand during such periods in your life. Personally, if I feel my need for drama is up, I tend to reduce my time on social media, and if I do hang out online, I make a point not to engage others in any drama-saturated spaces.
A little seclusion can be useful in other ways during periods of emotional unsettling. For example, in regard to deeper healing of the issues that underpin your need for drama, you may need to do some shadow work. I have outlined several such processes in Layer 7 (of this book), and also in The Power and Presence Workbook.
Keep in mind that the time frames involved in personal dramas could be as short as a few minutes, such as where we experience a brief difference of perspective with someone; yet dramas can also occur over a period of weeks, months or even years in the case of extended conflicts with family, partners, work colleagues and so on.
Cognitive responsibility is perhaps the best antidote to drama. But that does not mean that you only need to do inner work. The aim is to be responsible, but not over-responsible, and certainly not to be so passive as to allow others to push you around. Sometimes it is necessary to be assertive, and to set boundaries with others. Quite often during our lives we need to teach others how to treat us, because those others just don’t have the self-awareness or cognitive responsibility levels to know how to respect and honour us. My situation with the Big Boss Man at the beginning of this chapter is a good example of how you might go about doing that.
 The term “Drama Queen” is admittedly sexist. It can refer to any gender. I would use “Drama King,” except that it might confuse some people, so I will stick to the commonly used wording.
This is an extract from Marcus T Anthony’s upcoming book: Power and Presence: Reclaiming Your Authentic Self in a Digitized World.