Are you hooked on drama?
How to cope with stress, anxiety and panic
Many of you reading this article will have an immediate gut reaction to it, which can lead to an uncomfortable realisation. The idea that you find yourself compulsively hooked into patterns of behaviour which seem risky, impetuous, dramatic and addictive can be confusing. Some of you may ask yourself, "Why do I find myself lurching from one crisis to another, especially in relationships?" This kind of drama may be expressed out in the open where everyone is aware of it; while for others it is buried deep beneath the surface where others may not notice.
People experience this kind of stress and anxiety in different ways. In some people, being hooked on drama may mean they find themselves in a constant state of panic, imagining the worst case scenario or believing that others will discover what a fraud they are. They may have intense feelings of vulnerability, fear being abandoned by loved ones or push people away with neediness. This makes it difficult to trust anyone. In other people anxiety can be hidden. At one level, on the surface you may appear to be in control of your life – highly motivated, ambitious and excited by new opportunities or learning new things. This has certain advantages; such as managing others in a crisis, being good at predicting outcomes, problem solving, or managing risk in business. At another level, beneath the surface you may experience high levels of stress, anxiety or the feeling that you can’t appreciate what you’ve accomplished. You might find it almost impossible to be "in the moment" out of fear your facade may be about to collapse in an instant.
There are two personality types which find ways of coping or dealing with this constant sense of drama in their lives:
The reckless personality: if you have this personality type you may seek to find ways of feeling safe by believing there is a constant crisis which needs to be fixed or finding reassurance from others when you’re in a state of panic. This means that feelings are often close to the surface and must be expressed dramatically so that other people can see how difficult your life is and empathise with you, or even rescue you.
Stress levels can lead to risky and impulsive behaviours with drugs, alcohol, gambling or sex as a way of getting relief; as well as extreme mood swings, aggression, jealousy and anxiety. At first these patterns of behaviour may act as a kind of release valve, but they can quickly become overwhelming.
You may experience a constant sense of anxiety about imminent catastrophes you believe are about to happen. Typically you may be very expressive of your emotions or caring for others, but you can also be smothering, needy and require constant reassurance. You may often work in caring careers, teaching, nursing, social work, mental health, retail, fashion, the arts and of course drama.
If you have this type of personality, you may not feel able to control your emotions and create ways of heightening your feelings to fever pitch, before you can get relief or catharsis by letting it all out. Here the drama is all on the outside and expressed theatrically.
The controlled personality: if you have this personality type, you may seek ways of feeling and believing you are always in control. You may be high-functioning, successful and intelligent individuals who are highly driven in life and focussed on dealing with stress as a form of motivation. Stress of course is important because it allows you to remain alert and focused, while solving problems or managing risky situations. But too much of it can lead to ‘burn out’, fatigue and personal crisis. Living life as a series of spikes and troughs is exhausting.
Typically you may be very competitive and successful as executives of corporations, working in finance and banking, advertising, sales and marketing, doctors, emergency services and other high risk sectors. You may feel in control of your stress levels by remaining aloof and detached from your emotions, persuading or convincing others of your way of thinking, or controlling-compulsive behaviours which you believe offer a sense of order and control in your life. You may appear to be very calm, responsible and capable of dealing with a crisis on the surface. You may even be highly attracted to managing crisis in others. Underneath however, you are like a bottle of fizzy drink waiting to explode.
You may have little tolerance for mistakes or failure in yourself and others. You may seek ways to control any sign of weakness and avoid acknowledging your own feelings or physical sensations until it’s too late. Here the drama is kept underneath the surface.
What both personality types find difficult is the ability to self-regulate emotions and physical sensations without resorting to fixed/rigid patterns responding all out drama, or control. Coping mechanisms allow you to deal with the world by responding to stress and crisis with repetitive patterns of behaviour. They will feel automatic, unnatural and futile, but enable you to cope in some ways.
- highly expressive and heightened emotions
- fears abandonment and rejection
- lurching from one crisis to another
- needy or clingy in relationships
- smothering personality
- risk-taking behaviour
- mood swings.
- inexpressive or detached from emotions
- hate signs of weakness/vulnerability
- obsessive compulsive behaviour
- judgemental of selves and others
- persuasive/controlling personality
- belief about staying in control
- being uptight/not letting go of inhibitions.
These are defence mechanisms for people who experience stress and anxiety when they find it difficult to self-regulate. As these patterns of behaviour are so rigidly adhered to the defence mechanisms (which were effective ways of coping become obsolete and even a detriment to health) they no longer work as stress relievers. They often increase it. For this reason, if you are the kind of person who is hooked onto risk or drama, you need to find a way of regulating your emotions in a more organic and adaptive way.
This means learning how to deal with your emotions by regulating them like a pressure valve on a boiler, rather than using an on-off switch (which does not work, we are not robots). You need to become good observers of your emotions, acknowledge they are there, accept they are necessary and learn how to tolerate them or find alternative ways to adapt.
This is why counselling can help you observe and monitor the signs of stress as early indicators before they get out of control. Take a step back before they overwhelm you and use alternative techniques for adapting to the moment. Mindfulness is a technique that aims to increase your self-awareness and ability to cope with your emotions, but there are other techniques.
Being with a counsellor who can listen and empathise with you can also teach you better self-care. Modelling behaviours which allow you to learn by example and so on. Counselling can be a very effective way of discovering how to relate and communicate better, as well as finding the solutions and techniques most suitable for you and your personality type, when dealing with stress and anxiety.
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About Gregori Savva
I am an experienced counsellor at Counselling Twickenham, Enduring Mind. I've been profoundly affected by my work with other people as a psychotherapist, anthropologist and writer. I'm captivated by the interior lives of others and the cultures they live in. Please visit my website for more resources,articles and downloads.