If you were to ask me what the greatest change to my life has been, I would have to say the following: the lack of drama!
In my family there was always drama!
It really was like living in a soap opera sometimes. And although life continues to have its ups and downs, things certainly feel a lot more balanced.
Life in a Soap Opera
Toxic people need drama like oxygen. It serves so many purposes. It keeps victims in place (you are not going to move if you feel your life is falling apart), triggers emotions they can feed off, and gives them excellent opportunities to be the hero (if you create the drama, it is often also in your might to make it stop). In short, drama makes them the puppeteer in their own little reality show. I swear sometimes my life felt like Days of Our Lives, The Bold and the Beautiful, and Neighbors all rolled into one!
I don’t think my life was necessarily that much more dramatic then. In fact, some rather upsetting things have happened since. In part, the drama factor of living with a toxic person is their ability to make a mountain (or a mountain range) out of a molehill. Let’s just say that I would come home from a bad day at work, and needed to just vent about my stupid manager for 5 minutes. Over the next days, weeks, and months that 5-minute rant would be referenced on a regular basis. Every day after coming in from work, I would be asked, “How bad was work today? How is that manager? What did he do to you today?”
We all like to complain about work sometimes. And in the event that we start spewing about it on a daily basis, we think poorly of a boss who may have just had one bad day some months ago. Eventually, we will take that attitude with us into the work place. The subtle trick of the toxic person, though, is that by asking those questions as they they cared, it is hard to trace the ensuing row with that manager back to the toxic person. And even if we make the connection, what did they do? They were only asking about our day? They offered us an ear to talk to, and a shoulder to cry on.
The toxic person creates drama based on emotional cues they get from you. They keep pushing buttons until they get some kind of response; that then becomes their button of choice. They often do not care what the emotion is that they feed off, but annoyance, anger, and sadness seem to be their favorites. It means that, typically, the abuser will go after the things you care about most. Because those are the issues that trigger the most intense emotional reactions. It also gives the, the greatest rush of power when they know they have interfered resulting in you losing your partner, job, or friend.
“Narcissists […] love the excitement and drama they create by interfering in […] lives. Watching people’s lives explode is better than soap operas.”
(from Surviving the Narcissistic Parent: ACoNs (Adult Children of Narcissists)
on The Invisible Scar)
My New Play List
Without the influence of a toxic person, my life is becoming a rather pleasant play list. There are some happy favorite pop songs, some angry and dark rock songs, some hair band anthems and of course some heart wrenching ballads. Like I said, life has not suddenly become only upbeat and happy. I have experienced plenty of drama since cutting contact. In fact I had to get the police involved to deal with a threatening neighbor.
Somehow even that experience did not feel like the drama that I was used to. It was scary of course. But my family of choice gathered behind me and offered me practical help. They also gave me a real shoulder to cry on, one without any strings attached. With their support I managed to deal with the situation. Because of their support the problem felt manageable. It occurred to me then that my family of origins would have piled onto the problem, rather than take some worries off my plate.
How to Stop the Drama
Stopping the drama within the toxic dynamic is near impossible. So in order to simplify your life, removing yourself from the toxicity is key. If you cannot leave a toxic relationship altogether, there are ways to throw up some boundaries that may help.
We discuss boundaries quite often, and here are some that can specifically help with cutting the drama:
Keep your conversation positive. This is good advice for any day of the week as complaining is draining. But especially around toxic people, make a conscious effort to only talk about good and light-hearted things. This can be complicated because they will be on the hunt for drama. This means they will try to get you to talk about problems. To a drama hunter, a simple remark like, ‘Suzy is doing so much better in school’ will easily translate to, ‘Suzy was doing badly in school.’. So remarking that ‘Suzy is doing so well in school’ is a much safer expression to use.
Become super boring. Like I mentioned, the toxic person feeds off your emotional responses. So stop giving any. Become the most boring person you can imagine. “Only give boring, monotonous responses so that the parasite must go elsewhere for his supply of drama. When contact with you is consistently unsatisfying for the psychopath, his mind is re-trained to expect boredom rather than drama.” (From The Gray Rock method of dealing with psychopaths on LoveFraud.com)
When life gives you lemons, stay away from lemon trees. When you have something difficult to deal with, you don’t need people to pile onto your troubles. So stay away from the drama. Find friends that want to help you, sign in on this website for a friendly word (yes, even if it is “off topic”), or ask for help from authorities or charities. Whatever you need to do to keep away from the toxic person.
Convince yourself you can do this! Toxic people will have you believe you are the most incompetent person in the world. They want you to feel you cannot achieve anything without their help. But they are liars! Seriously, do not believe them! You can deal with your problems. Sometimes it is hard not to walk back to the bullies, it is a strong part of the programming. So stay convinced that you can do this. This is a tough one, and it takes time. Write an affirmation or motto on the mirror in lipstick if you have to remind yourself (or on a post-it in the absence of lip-stick, that is what I did ;)). Just keep rationally reminding yourself. Once your head is full of the thought that YOU CAN DO THIS, your heart will follow.
Take a step back, and look at the whole picture. Often toxic people will stir up some extra drama when they sense you might be keeping your distance. Drama works like a vortex, and will pull you right back in to care for them. How can you leave them deal with physical injury, pending divorce, or mental breakdown alone? How can you be so heartless! So when a toxic person plays the drama card, take a moment to consider the angles. Created drama is simply spin. It is something trivial that is presented like something huge. It is the fender bender that is portrayed as the near death experience. More often than not you will be able to identify whether this is a true incident or created drama.
Setting up boundaries is not always about removing yourself physically. It can be a way to create a part of your mind that is only yours. A place where you can think and process without the influence of the bully.
Life will continue to throw things your way, it is just part of the ride.
But you do not have to be the next storyline on Dallas, you can just ride it out and wait for the next song to come on.