Humans need attention. In fact, if babies don’t get enough nurturing they die. It’s as simple as that.
In the messiness of modern life, sometimes babies get the attention they need and often they don’t. When they don’t, they find ways to get it – quickly!
If we’re lucky we learn that giggling, making silly sounds or dumb faces gets the adoring attention of everyone around us.
If we’re less lucky we’re born into an environment where those endearing baby gestures don’t work and we have to resort to extreme measures.
Successful And Unsuccessful Healing Goals
When I had a private practice in Cambridge, MA, most clients stopped seeing me after their first half dozen sessions. There were two diametrically opposite reasons people left so quickly.
The majority would make fast progress, realize their healing goals, thank me for the support and go happily on their way. Occasionally, years later they still send me “Thank You” notes telling me how the work we did together impacted their lives. They share about new relationships, happy families or successful career changes they had previously only dreamed of.
But the minority would leave for a completely different reason. These were people who paradoxically were afraid of achieving their stated healing goals. They said they wanted to heal painful physical or emotional ailments, but in fact were seeking something completely different – attention. These people would leave when they realized they might heal their pain and so lose the attention they were getting from being in pain.
It is the psyche of this second group, the Drama Queens, that this article explains.
Before you dismiss this article thinking, “Oh, he’s not talking about me, I’m no Drama Queen” pay close attention. To a greater or lesser extent, we all have an inner Drama Queen.
The Addiction Of Drama
The Drama Queens learned early in life that being happy and contented did not get them attention. They had to resort to a baby’s ultimate power tool. Cry your lungs out! That usually works.
Unfortunately, if crying turns out to be our only way to get attention, we quickly learn that expressing pain is the best way to get the nurturing we need.
I’m sure you’ve had the experience of seeing a toddler crying and thinking, “She’s just doing that to get attention.” You’re right. She is just doing it to get attention, because that’s the most effective tactic she’s found thus far.
This attention-getting strategy can become engrained as a habit of maximizing pain to get more attention – a habit that continues through adulthood.
In teenagers and adults, this becomes a pattern, an emotional lifestyle, manifested as the attention-seeking Drama Queen.
It’s not pretty, but it does have a positive intent – to get TLC by any means necessary.
In high school, I briefly dated a girl I’ll call Lucy, whose mother was a professional Drama Queen.
As far as I could tell, Lucy’s mother spent her entire life in her kitchen in a shabby dressing gown, chain smoking and drinking tea. Lucy’s mother’s eyes were always puffy and dark, her posture was dejected. She looked malnourished even though they could clearly afford food. Whenever I visited she would complain about how hard her life was since her ex-husband had left. She would complain about her many physical ailments. She seemed to have an unending supply of complaints and no other topics of conversation. She was miserable, 24/7.
Being around Lucy’s mom was an instant downer, and so I spent as little time in her kitchen as I possibly could.
When I dated Lucy I soon discovered that she had adopted the same Drama Queen pattern. As you might guess, this was not a girl I wanted to date. I broke up with her as gently as I could on a walk in Roundhay Park near my house. After ‘the breakup’ we still had a twenty-minute walk home together. She stopped talking to me, but instead talked to herself for the deathly stroll home. She mumbled about how her life was over, how she could never be happy, how no one would ever love her… and how she would end up miserable and alone just like her mother.
While I felt empathy for her, I also felt like I’d dodged a bullet. Cruel as it sounds, I could understand why her father had left her mother.
For most people attention-getting drama manifests as an occasional strategy rather than a full-time vocation. We feel slighted by a loved one or colleague and we blow up. We don’t understand why we blew up, and we know that drama pushes people away, but it’s the unconscious strategy of a young baby being played out in an adult body.
For some people, maximizing drama becomes a way of life. They push their loved ones further and further away as they get more and more desperate in their attention seeking but destructive patterns. Lucy’s mother’s constant need for attention had pushed her husband to leave, as she fell even further into her strategy of sitting in her kitchen complaining about her life to anyone who would listen.
In the worst case this can trigger severe physical ailments that demand sympathy, such as fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and chronic fatigue syndrome.
In my practice in Cambridge, these were the people who would worry when they realized that their sympathy-garnering emotional or physical ailments might finally heal. They unconsciously feared that if they were no longer in pain, they would no longer get attention.
Many would stop seeing me rather than risk loosing their attention-getting ailments, no matter how painful those ailments might be.
Like Lucy’s mother, they were trapped in their personal hell, alone in the kitchen smoking and driving occasional visitors away with their onslaught of negativity and complaints.
The most dedicated and trapped Drama Queens see no way out, but in fact there are ways out of this trap.
The Cost Of Drama
As I discussed in How Emotions Get Trapped In The Body, painful emotions tend to lead to inflammation in body sites where the emotion is trapped. For people who have a tactic of maximizing their pain in order to get more attention, this natural process is magnified, causing even greater inflammation.
The American National Institutes of Health now recognize inflammation as the common link among the leading causes of death. Inflammation is an important contributor to fibromyalgia, muscular sclerosis and chronic fatigue syndrome.
The more you maximize drama, the more trapped pain you create and so the more inflammation you carry, the more diseases you have and the younger you die. It’s sad, but true.
Using drama as a way to get attention also has relationship costs. No one likes to be manipulated. When we use any form of pain as a manipulative way to get attention, it annoys the people around us and drives them away.
Maximizing pain, as Lucy’s mother did, may be a way to get attention, but it degrades health and leads to low quality, unsatisfying relationships.
We All Have An Inner Drama Queen
I’ve talked about some of the extreme strategies of drama, but whether large or small, we all have an inner Drama Queen.
If you’ve ever cried manipulatively, pouted, lashed out or pushed someone away (you have), then you’ve employed drama to get attention.
Drama is not inherently bad. It’s just an ineffective tactic. It’s based on the unconscious belief that you won’t get what you want from others. Unfortunately, as Lucy and her mother experienced, drama pushes people away and perpetuates the reality that you don’t get what you want. Perception becomes reality.
The Fundamental Wound – Abandonment
Behind every addiction, there is a fundamental wound – some unmet need that the addictive behavior is trying to fulfill.
In the case of drama the unmet need is for nurturing – a need that every baby has. When we don’t get the nurturing we need, we feel abandoned and resort to creating drama as a compensating, attention-seeking behavior.
The Gift Of Self-Healing
In some ways I think we did our more drama-prone clients a disservice when we provided in-person hands-on healing sessions.
While in our minds we were providing guidance to our clients to facilitate their own self-healing, the healing process was outside their conscious awareness. It was easy for clients to feel like we were healing them rather than us facilitating their self-healing. Especially for drama-prone clients, who craved nurturing attention, it was easy for them to believe that the most important thing happening during the sessions was that we were giving them caring attention. It was easy for them to forget their stated healing goals as they reveled in the experience of finally getting the nurturing they needed in our sessions.
This only served to feed their drama addiction. The more solace they felt with us, the more they needed to generate more pain in order to justify coming to us for yet more sessions.
So what’s the way out of drama addiction?
There are two factors essential for success.
The first is to take self-responsibility for self-healing, rather than looking to others to heal you.
The second is to heal the core wound that’s driving the addiction, rather than getting attention for the superficial symptoms. Both of these might sound like Catch-22 traps, but there actually is a way out of each.
One of the important benefits of the guided meditations in this blog is that it’s obvious to you during the meditations that you’re doing the work of self-healing. Sure, I’m giving you guidance, but at each step of the way, you choose what to do with that guidance and how to work with the responses that your unconscious mind and body give you. It’s obvious to your conscious and unconscious mind that you’re an active participant in the process.
For example, in the guided meditation Transform Shame Into Self-Expression, you make choices about how you want to update your outward behaviors to express your core beliefs. In How To Release Sadness And Grief, you provide self-acceptance and heart-centered self-love needed for healing to occur.
Moreover, the very fact that you do the guided meditations without anyone else present reinforces the experience that you’re being responsible for your own healing. This reduces the sense of helplessness and dependence that Drama Queens tend to feel, and replaces it with self-reliance.
The more you use the guided meditations, the more responsible you’ll feel, the more you’ll heal and the less drama you’ll create in your life.
A consistent practice of self-healing will put an end to your drama addiction.
The primary drive for drama is to receive more attention. At its earliest core this is the need a newborn baby has for nurturing from its parents.
Our online course, From Abandonment To Abundance – The Body-Psyche Program addresses this issue head on. The first guided meditations in the program help you re-pattern your earliest body-felt memories, replacing a history of abandonment with experiences of nurturing.
You cannot change your actual past, but you can change how your past affects you now.
Later guided meditations in the program build your capacity for self-nurturing. With this new foundation, you can increase self-reliance. Through the remainder of the program you’ll be guided to build new adult behaviors that express your new foundation of self-reliance.
You can replace the need for attention with the experience of being nurtured and having abundance. Image the sense of abundance Lucy’s mother would have if she experienced all the nurturing she needed and naturally attracted people who wanted to spend time with her because her company was so enjoyable.
The positive expectation of receiving what you need creates its own self-fulfilling prophecy. You’ll interact with others in ways that are more likely to create the kind of caring, supportive relationships you desire.
The End Of Drama
For people stuck in a high-drama lifestyle, breaking the addiction and achieving self-healing is particularly challenging. The prospect of letting go of old attention-seeking behaviors feels like it will lead to loss of attention.
If you’re stuck in this pattern, take it one step at a time. Each time you take more responsibility for your self-healing, you take a step in the right direction. Each time you re-write your personal history to feel less childhood abandonment and more ability to self-nurture you make huge progress.
It will take tenacity, but you can do it!
If you have a loved one who is addicted to a high-drama lifestyle, have compassion for them, without necessarily being drawn into their game. They’re stuck in the single most difficult emotional trap. They’re doing the best they can in what seems to them to be an impossible situation.
The Drama Queen pattern of maximizing pain to get attention is one of the most difficult to understand. Why would anyone want to perpetuate their own suffering! Once you understand that the real motivation is to receive nurturing, a whole new world of healing possibilities opens up.