An inappropriate over-reaction to bad news or disappointments, which diverts attention away from the real problem and towards the person who is having the reaction.
Being a Drama Major or Drama Queen
Many people enjoy 15 minutes of fame, however a Drama Major or Drama Queen has a constant need to seek out and hold the attention of others through manifesting extremes of emotion. Call it a hissy fit, a tantrum, or a case of hysterics – the effect is the same. The limelight is theirs, even if it was someone else’s catastrophe brought them on stage in the first place.
The goal of a hysterical person is to draw attention to themselves and to their plight - often from people who do not know them well and who are more likely to give a sympathetic response. It’s a behavior which can manipulate total strangers into serving the PD person’s emotional needs.
There is nothing inherently dysfunctional about desiring other people’s attention, except when the scale and context are inappropriate, and prevent someone with a genuine crisis or need from receiving the assistance they need.
How the script plays out
- A parent’s behavior demands more attention at the emergency room than their injured child.
- A cousin starts an emotional argument with relatives while the bride and groom are cutting the cake.
- A widower needs to be carried out of the church behind the coffin at a funeral.
- A parent rushes their child to the hospital with a minor complaint.
- A man habitually calls the police when no-one is at risk.
- A person calls or shows up unannounced when they have been politely asked not to, claiming a crisis makes it necessary they ignore your request.
- A person always repeats the most outrageous, salacious, and dramatic gossip in order to get attention.
- A man threatens a lawsuit when a waiter spills his coffee.
- Someone seems to be more often than not in a state of crisis for no apparent or logical reason.
Hysterical people take everyday situations and elevate them to a level that is inappropriate, unhelpful and diversionary. They may sometimes appear more comfortable in a crisis than in a calm situation. They are the kind of people who threaten, bluster, overreact, take it up a notch and go to extremes, becoming like black holes for the emotional energy if those around them.
Like emotional addicts, they are constantly seeking another “fix” of sympathy, admiration, envy, respect, significance and attention.
One of the worst impacts of hysteria is that it often diverts resources away from real problems and puts the spotlight on the person who is acting hysterical.
People who know a hysterical person well are often inclined to become suspicious of them over time and withdraw their support. When this happens, hysterical people are commonly driven to recruit new sympathizers. It’s not uncommon for people who suffer from HPD to recruit whole new sets of friends every year or so. There may be a tendency to idealize these friends while they are new and sympathetic and to devalue them when they become withdrawn.
What it feels like
If you are a companion or family member to a Drama Major or Drama Queen, you are probably suffering from crisis fatigue. You probably yearn just to be a “normal” couple or a “normal” family, and long for mundane days, ordinary affairs and predictable events. You may wish you could just become invisible and let some other household get all the attention. In public, you may be wishing you could carry a sign that says “I’m not really like them” - except that to do so would just draw more attention.
You may find yourself trying to “clean up” the mess behind your loved-one. You may be familiar with the impossible task of trying to appear as though you are a reasonable rational human being and you understand other people’s skepticism about your loved-one’s behaviors while at the same time trying to behave supportively so it doesn’t look like you are part of the problem.
You may feel humiliated by their behavior. You may wonder what people must think of you and you may be thinking that people assume you’re probably at least half as bad as them.
The good news - most discerning people can differentiate between the characters that make up a family, and can recognize who are the balanced ones.
The bad news - most people will never tell you what they really think of your family member or partner, for fear that you might take it the wrong way and reject them. Unless you make the first move - such as move out or file for divorce and declare your independence most people will never tell you what they really think about the Drama Major or Drama Queen in your house. After you move out, a number of people will be only too happy to tell you what they always thought - once there is no personal risk for them to do so.
How to Cope
While you may find a Drama Major or Drama Queen’s behavior exhausting and frustrating, if you step in and try to control them or try to stand between them and the attention they crave, you will have about as much success as a concerned parent who tries to keep their teenage addict away from their next fix. You will not be successful and you may get hurt in the process.
Unlike cocaine or heroin, attention is not a controlled substance and seeking or grabbing attention is not a crime. Therefore you are not going to be able control how much attention another person chooses to draw to themselves. You will have to let them have it. Your main concern should be to consider if this behavior is hurting you or any children involved.
If they are hurting children by their behavior, do your best to protect those children - especially if you are their other parent. If you are not their parent then you are limited in what you can realistically do - beyond reporting any child abuse concerns to the authorities and offering those children a supportive environment whenever you are around them.
If they are hurting you, then you need to consider protecting yourself. This begins by working on your own boundaries, and considering removing yourself from any environment that is not healthy for you, if and when appropriate.
What NOT to do
- Don’t stand between a hysterical person and the attention they crave. You might as well stand in front of a freight train.
- Don’t try to “talk sense” into them - you can’t fight addiction with logic.
- Don’t assume the responsibility of fixing a hysterical person.
- Don’t try to “cover” for them - people are smart and will draw their own conclusions regardless of your efforts.
- Don’t blame yourself for the behavior. Drama is addictive, and you are peripheral to the Drama Major or Drama Queen’s need for a fix.
What TO do
- Protect yourself and any children from harm as best you can.
- Promptly report any incidents of neglect or child abuse to the authorities.
- Talk to trusted friends about what you are experiencing. Level with them so they will be comfortable in telling you what they can see and help you to see things “from the outside looking in”.
- Detach yourself from feeling responsible for a loved-ones behavior. Let it go. You are not responsible for their actions. You are only responsible for the way you have behaved. Resolve that you are going to detach yourself from anybody else’s behavior and just be responsible for your own behavior from now on.
- Forgive yourself for your past mistakes. If you live with a drama major, chances are you have “lost it” a few times. That’s not the best way but that is in the past. Resolve to learn better ways to react to and protect yourself from your loved-one’s addiction.
- Forgive yourself for the way other people behave in your life. Resolve to be the best “you” that you can be.