How To Avoid Being Drama-tized For The Holidays
We are smack-dab in the middle of the end-of-the-year holiday season, and you know what that means: the potential for holiday stress and drama. Stress is all around, including feeling that you don’t have enough time or money, that you are being pressured to give or get gifts, being alone, traveling, and spending time with friends and family…and any drama that might occur as result of any of these things.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
We all know the feeling of drama, and in fact, we may be wired to connect with drama. The problem with drama is that it is highly negative energy that by it’s very nature is designed to disempower all who engage with it. Even if we think the role we are in gives us some type of power, in reality, drama pulls power away from everyone involved.
At its core, drama is all about personas.
Personas are ways that we present ourselves to the world. We usually take on our personas during childhood, and often they are what we are “known for” in our family or with our friends and coworkers. As children, our personas help us navigate a confusing world and know where our place is in it. And, if we grew up in an environment that was traumatic, our personas may have even helped us to survive.
We all have personas, and we usually carry them with us as we go from childhood to adulthood. Some examples of personas include the caretaker, the class clown, the “smart one” and the peacemaker.
Our personas have both positive and negative aspects associated with them. On the positive side, our personas may help us hone a skill or capability. So, for example, someone who grew up in a home with a very sick parent may have taken on the “caretaker” persona, and as a result, may have learned empathy, how to anticipate the needs of others, and might have even discovered a passion for caring for others.
However, our personas often hide who we really are and constrain us in some way. The flip side of the gifts of the caretaker persona may be that we don’t learn how to identify and care for our own needs because we are so busy taking care of everyone else.
I’m not the only one who talks about personas though. Psychologist Stephen Karpman published the Karpman Drama Triangle in 1968, which highlights the three roles or personas that a person takes on during unhealthy interactions (aka drama or conflict).
- The first persona that Karpman defined is The Victim. The Victim feels oppressed and helpless, powerless and unable to make a decision. The vibe of the Victim is “Poor me!” and the Victim truly gives away his power to all external forces and people he believes are victimizing him.
- The second is The Rescuer. The Rescuer’s motto is “Let me help you.” The rescuer will jump in to help the Victim. But the thing to remember about the Rescuer is that their help is more about enabling the Victim and, as a result, the Victim remains dependent and powerless. And often the Rescuer shifts their focus to the Victim to avoid their own problems…and in doing so, is shifting their personal power and giving it to the Victim.
- The third is the Persecutor, whose main line is “It’s all your fault.” The Persecutor is controlling, blaming, critical and angry. You might think that the Persecutor is the one in a position of power in this scenario — after all, they are controlling and angry — but the opposite is true. Underneath all of this are negative disempowering emotions and feelings such as shame that the Persecutor is trying to cover up with a false bravado.
Karpmen showed how each of these personas feed off of each other during a conflict or time of drama.
- The Victim needs the Rescuer to validate their victim-ness without really doing anything to help the Victim out of their victim-state…and the Victim needs the Persecutor to blame and verbally attack them so that they can remain in that victim scenario.
- The Rescuer needs to feel important…and, in fact, a negative aspect of the Rescuer persona is that it is ego-driven…and having a Victim around helps with that need. Because of this, the Rescuer really isn’t motivated to have the Victim disappear, because then his or her own individual value and worth would also disappear (how can you Rescue people if no one needs rescuing?).
- The Persecutor has to control others…and the Victim is the easiest to control because they typically feel helpless. But the Persecutor can just as easily blame the Rescuer — after all, if the situation isn’t directly a result of the Victim, the person who is trying to “fix” the situation is the next best target for the Persecutor’s blame and anger.
The interesting thing about the three personas that he outlines is that we all have used each of them, and we all can shift from one to another as the situation demands it.
Here’s an example of how this may happen.
Let’s say that in your family you have a cousin who is the consummate Victim. He feels that everything is out of his control and that all sorts of external things happen to make his life miserable. And let’s say that this cousin has just lost his fourth job this year and at the holiday table is going on and on with his “woe is me” tale of how others have taken away his ability to work.
As he tells his story, he describes the person at his old work who made it impossible for him to work there (the Persecutor). Your aunt immediately jumps in with a list of suggestions on how your out-of-work cousin can get a new job, trying to rescue him.
Meanwhile, your brother begins to point out all the ways that your out-of-work cousin brought the job loss on himself, causing more tension and drama. You can feel the emotions running as I describe this highly possible situation.
Your out-of-work cousin might actually then get fed up with the suggestions your Rescuer cousin is making, and in an interesting turn of events, turns on your cousin and becomes a Persecutor, blaming the Rescuer cousin for getting him in the situation in the first place. And so the drama cycle goes…
We get pulled into drama because we have been wired to engage based on these personas.
We want to be told “there there” when we are the victim. We want people to praise us for rescuing that person. We want to feel strong and powerful when we persecute others.
In spite of all the negativity, drama makes us feel better about ourselves…even though that feeling is due to something negative and unhealthy for us.
These personas are so engrained in our being that we often fall into the one that we think is appropriate for the situation without even thinking about it. And so we end up repeating the same cycle of drama and conflict without being aware of it.
One of the first things you need to do to avoid being drama-tized during the holidays is to be aware of these three personas and which one(s) you tend to take on during drama. Awareness is the first step because then you can begin to change how you respond to a situation and the personas that you and the other people are using. That will allow you to chance your response to one that much more positive and healthy for you.
Are you using the Victim persona? Recognize when you start to become the Victim and then come up with ways to empower yourself. Look for solutions and opportunities rather than problems. Identify ways that you can move beyond your current state — and ask others around you to pile on ideas rather than try to do the rescuing for you. In short, look for ways to rescue yourself and then start to take action. You might still need some help — we all do at times! — but there is a big difference between asking for help while feeling empowered about yourself and your life situation and asking for someone to pity your or validate your feelings of victimhood.
Are you the Rescuer? When you find yourself starting to run in to save the day, ask yourself: Am I really needed in this situation? Can the person I’m trying to rescue do this on his or her own…and I’m just meddling? What value — if any — am I providing? And what is my motivation for doing this? Really get to the core of this. If you are about to jump in because it will make you feel better about yourself, get you praise from others, or will help you avoid doing your own personal work, don’t jump in. If you truly want to help someone because you care for them and want to help them on their life journey, move away from being the “do-er” to being the cheerleader. We all need that person who is going to encourage us as we go through life.
If you fall into the Persecutor category, take time to pause and explore why you’re feeling angry. Is it really associated with the situation or is it because of something completely different in your life? Are you carrying around an old hurt from a previous interaction with this person that colors every other interaction you have with him or her? And, what value does getting angry or yelling add? Take some deep breaths and try to get to the root of what is causing you to feel that you need to control and minimize others in this situation. Rather than yelling, can you state your truth, observation or needs in a way that will be helpful to the other person?
As you disengage from the persona and change your behavior, the dynamics of the drama will change as well. Perhaps you will be excluded from the drama, or maybe the drama itself will dissipate.
When you consciously choose to not participate in the drama, you begin to empower yourself and you can look at the situation more impartially and with more clarity. This will allow you to see how your own beliefs, expectations, and past experiences and hurts are being triggered by the situation…and give you the chance to question the validity of them.
In fact, a really good exercise you might want to consider doing is looking at how your drama personas have impacted your life. When you are in a quiet place come up with a list of some of the major dramas or events in your life. Replay them in your mind, as if you were watching a movie, and look for the Victim, the Rescuer and the Persecutor in the situation. Which one were you? How did you contribute to the drama based on your persona? Looking at the situation through this lens, ask yourself what you might have done differently to disengage from the drama and the persona.
Go through several dramas this way. Do you typically take on one persona, or do you bounce around between two or three of them based on the situation and who you are with?
Make a list of the personas you typically use, and then go back even further in your mental review of your life. When did you first start using this persona? Did something happen in your childhood, for example, that validated the use of this persona? Maybe you were a middle child and felt that you were ignored or not seen…until one day you fell out of a tree and broke your arm. All of the sudden you were the center of attention. Mom was catering to your every need and showering you with lots of love. Your brothers and sisters were doing things for you and even sharing their favorite toys with you in a bid to help you feel better. You discovered that when you were hurt, people paid attention to you…and later on, when you had fully healed and things went back to normal, you began to come up with ways that you were the victim to get attention.
What if you find yourself getting sucked into the drama in spite of your best efforts to recognize and disengage from the persona you are wearing?
Doing this takes practice, and sometimes we all slip into old habits. Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself in the middle of a holiday drama and aren’t quite sure how you got there since you had told yourself you wouldn’t “go there” this year. Here are some ideas of things you can do to disengage yourself:
- Physically remove yourself from the drama. Politely excuse yourself and say that you need to go do something…wash the dishes or take the dog out for a walk or run to the grocery store for the cranberry relish that Aunt Sue forgot to bring. Whatever it is, find a way to leave the drama and give yourself the chance to relax, collect yourself, release your emotions and distance yourself from the energy of the drama. By the time you get back from whatever it is that you said you had to do, the situation may have run its course. If the drama is really bad, remember that you could always make up an excuse to leave the gathering altogether.
- Call a friend. If you know that it is going to be difficult for you to escape the drama, reach out to a calming and supportive friend. In fact, you might even ask this friend to be your lifeline well before your holiday get together so they have a bit of a heads up that you might need your help. Or, you could ask them to check in with you on the day of the get together. I have a friend that knows that within 20 minutes of his wife’s sister showing up at their house there will be a fight between the two sisters. He can almost set his watch by it. If this is true for your holiday get together, you might ask your friend to call you at the 20-minute mark so you can have that calming energy coming your way as the sisters are fighting.
- Remind yourself that in spite of all their flaws, the people you are with are people that you love. Send love to everyone involved in the drama and just be love. Say that you don’t want to talk about whatever it is that is leading to the drama and just want to enjoy being together with people that you love. And then change the subject.
- While you’re reminding yourself that you love these people, also remind yourself that each person in the room is on their own life path, and is making the best decisions that they can on that journey given the information they have at the time. We have all made decisions at one point that we thought were correct, only to realize at a later date that they were not the best ones for us. If you are in a situation where people are making suggestions about your life, thank them for their perspective and then change the topic. And if you’re the one feeling that you need to tell someone else why what they are doing or who they are dating is so wrong for him or her, remind yourself that their journey is their journey to discover on their own.
- Distract yourself with something you enjoy so that you release any emotions or hold from the drama. Maybe you play with the kids, or play a few rounds of Words with Friends, or watch a cat video, or check out what your friends are doing on Facebook or Instagram. Whatever it is, just taking a couple minutes to do something you enjoy can help immensely.
- Do your best to set yourself up for success by going in with a positive attitude. Maybe you spend some time meditating or pampering yourself before the event. Fall back on those peaceful relaxing feelings if you find yourself caught in the drama.
- Take a deep breath, count to 10 or, if you need to, 100, before responding so that you have time to cool down, detach and get to a more neutral place. Think about how you might react if the shoe was on the other foot — would you still say what it is that you want to say now? If you think it would help, share how the actions and words of the other person are making you feel.
- Release your expectations of others. I was talking with a fellow shaman and coach the other day, and he was talking about how frustrating it was that he would tell people what to do as a result of the session and then they wouldn’t do it. It was a classic Rescuer case. I reminded him that each person has the power of choice, and that it is not our job, as shamans, to make anyone do anything. Our job is to share what happens during the shamanic journey; what the client does with that information is completely up to him or her. The same is true of every person in your life. Let go of your expectations of how another should act or speak and just accept them as they are.
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