When I was first diagnosed with cancer and left my alcoholic husband, he accused me of being a drama queen (among other things). Me, a drama queen? Call me all kinds of things but “drama queen” never fit. I could either let that accusation destroy my spirit (more than it already was—after all, I was grappling with a potential death sentence and had uprooted by entire life to seek treatment), or ignore it. But before I could decide either way, I had to understand what a drama queen really was.
Drama Queen Defined
A drama queen is self-centered. She lets small setbacks become emotional, outlandish events. She involves as many people as possible. She is neurotic and exaggerated in her responses. A drama queen enjoys the stimulation of becoming angry, emotional and exaggerated. Tears, anger, unhappiness and frustration actually cause a drama queen a sick kind of joy. She demonstrate diva-ish behavior and her needs and wants, regardless of how minor or inconsequential, trump most everyone else’s.
So was I a drama queen?
Based on this definition I was most emphatically not a drama queen. During my entire marriage, my needs and wants came dead last. I never worked harder or more selflessly in a marriage where I got just about nothing in return but emotional outbursts of a drunk husband (or a husband desperately in need of a drink and resentful that I was standing in his way). Upon diagnosis, I dropped everything to seek treatment but, according to the hubby, I was selfish because my needs finally came ahead of his. Truth was, my behavior was called self-preservation. And, besides, I truly don’t know how one can overstate the severity of a cancer diagnosis. Dramatic? Hell yes!
So now that I could ignore that accusation, I looked around me and realized that there were a few drama queens in my life (in addition to the hubby was the ultimate drama king). One of them was my nine-year old child who can’t possibly exaggerate her needs at that very moment. The other is a “friend” who I’ll call “Alice.”
The drama queens in my life
The first example is a child and as her parent, it is my responsibility to redirect that behavior so that it stops. Because I don’t know too many people who think drama queen behavior is fun or appropriate.
The second, Alice, is an adult. Truth be told, if I could cut Alice out of my life, I would. But for a variety of purposes, I can’t. And it isn’t my job to redirect another adult’s behavior.
But in both cases, there are ways to manage these people so that it doesn’t negatively impact me or my home.
How to manage drama queens
1. Their emergencies aren’t your emergencies
Just because a drama queen demands immediate attention doesn’t mean you need to give it. In fact, by addressing their endless needs for help and attention, you are feeding that behavior and encouraging it to continue. Because drama queens needs to be constantly tended to and they will keep looking for someone who will give them immediate attention. If you simply don’t go alone with it, you can claim your sanity. If this is your child, ignore the behavior. If they need you to jump and take them to Target to get school supplies for a project they forgot about, don’t do it. Maybe next time they’ll learn to plan ahead.
If it’s an adult, “no” is a powerful word. Practice it often and use it. Case in point: Alice once called me and, in near hysterics, asked me to come to her home. Between tears, she said that her husband had taken the wrong car to work and she needed someone to take her to his work so they could switch cars. Um… so I was on the way to an infusion appointment and, really, what was the urgency? She had a nail appointment she was going to miss. Let’s see… my chemo infusion or her nail appointment… I was stunned at her audacity. And then I remembered the word NO. “I can’t, sorry but good luck!” And that was that. Next thing I knew, she had called a mutual friend and had her deal with the whole car issue. Our mutual friend called me after the drop-off and vented for 30 minutes. “Why did you say yes?” I asked. It took her a long time to respond. “Good question, I won’t be doing it again,” she promised. Sheesh, I hope not!
Just know that drama queens (children and adults) can be incredibly abusive. You cannot allow this behavior to continue. If this is your child, you have a duty to stop it cold.
2. Develop your boundaries and stick with them
Let the drama queen in your life know where your boundaries stand and stick with it. If she starts to cry and scream, you need to put a stop to the conversation immediately. A simple “call me back when you’ve calmed down,” will suffice. Then hang up. It’s really that simple. You can also respond with humor, like this: “You are so funny! I thought your child was in the throws of a heart attack! Gotta run but good luck to you.” End of conversation.
3. Call her out on it
If your drama queen is overreacting, say something! Try this: “You know that our next door neighbor is in the hospital, right? Let’s put this in perspective. I can’t even have this conversation with you. Call me back another time.” You must take control of the relationship and refuse to be a victim of this behavior.
4. End the relationship (if you can)
You can’t do this with your child, but if it’s your “friend,” consider ending the relationship. Your emotional health is critically important. If you are in unhealthy relationships, it may be time to walk away. If you must continue having this person in your life, minimize contact. No, you don’t need to invite her to your birthday party or to lunch. You can be polite if she calls or you run into her at yoga. If she asks why you’ve become distant, be honest. It’s ok to say that the relationship was causing you anxiety and you don’t know how to manage it in a healthy way. If she wants examples, be specific and try not to get emotional yourself. Remain calm and as detached as possible.