To the world, you may look very sedate. You may reply calmly when addressed, measure your words, run errands without making a fuss, and appear angst-free. Yet in that room that is your mind, you may be playing out so many dramas that it’s fair to say that you’re addicted to drama. Most people are. Most people are terribly addicted to drama—without even knowing it. What does this look like? Here are four typical self-created dramas that I encounter when I coach creative and performing artists.
You’re a writer. Someone you know says that she’ll be happy to read your just-completed manuscript. You send her the manuscript. She replies that it turns out that she is too busy to read your manuscript. From this relative non-event you create the most intense, dramatic, exclamation-point-littered drama about betrayal, humiliation, failure, and the essential cruelty of the universe. Why would a writer do that and derail herself for six months, a year, or forever? Chalk it up to our human penchant for careless overdramatizing.
You’re a painter. You’ve finished some new paintings and you’re not sure what to charge for them. You have good reasons for charging what you usually charge, you have good reasons for increasing your prices, and at the same time you could try charging almost any amount under the sun, from next to nothing to some outlandish amount, given the extraordinary range of prices for paintings. Rather than make some choice—any choice—you turn this everyday difficulty into dramatic paralysis and stop selling and stop painting. You throw up your hands and descend into despair.
You’re a singer/songwriter. You’ve written some new songs and want to record them. But you’re not sure which ones to record. This one sounds nicely commercial—but is it too commercial? This one is very arty—but is it too quiet? This one is excellent but really requires an accompanist—but who’s available? This one is catchy—but doesn’t it vaguely sound like somebody else’s song? You stew about this and keep raising the heat under the pot until the stew is boiling. Should it be this song, that song, or the other song? This song, that song, or the other song! Finally the dramatic explosion that was coming arrives, potatoes and carrots splatter the walls, and you table your project indefinitely.
You’re an actor. Your current headshots have you with short hair. But you think you look better with long hair. So you schedule a pretty expensive photo shoot. The day goes poorly, in part because you’re not thrilled by the way you look, in part because the photographer doesn’t seem sympathetic to your requests. You get the results of the photo shoot. Not a single picture thrills you. Some are serviceable—but is serviceable good enough? You throw an internal fit, about wasting all that money, about now having no headshots you like, and about the absurdity of the life you’re leading. As a result, you avoid auditioning for the rest of the year.
You may not look like a drama queen or a drama king to the world. But something happens when you enter the room that is your mind. There, the moment you arrive, you are handed permission from yourself to throw a fit, upset all the furniture, and act as if your world has crashed into a million pieces. An engraved invitation was waiting and you accepted it. Why? Well, maybe life felt a little boring and you craved some excitement, even of this unfortunate kind. Maybe this was the straw that broke your back. Maybe you’re furious about something else and this was a convenient trigger. Who can say? Whatever the reason for accepting it, you did.
Since this invitation is waiting for you, you’ll need to prepare yourself for it right off the bat. First, pin a sign on the door: “No drama royalty allowed.” Second, enter that room very carefully, watching out for invitations. If an invitation is waiting, thrust at you on a silver tray by a butler in livery, shake your head and murmur, “Ah, no, you’ve mistaken me for a diva.” Third, stay alert as you move about: some drama may be lurking behind the armoire or under the cushion of your easy chair, waiting to pounce.
Some part of us is inclined to exclaim at the drop of a hat, “The world has offended me!” If we were kings or queens of old we’d lop off some heads. Not being royalty, we swallow that outrage and transform it into paralysis and self-sabotage. Wouldn’t it be ever so much better not to play out that drama in the first place? Engrave on your easy chair, “This is not a throne.” Put up little signs everywhere: “No dramas, please.” Maybe that will make your room a little less exciting—but that’s the wrong kind of excitement anyway.
This was lesson #17 of the Your Best Mind Ever series written by Dr. Eric Maisel.