Dramatic behaviour in relationships is quite common. The problem for drama addicts is that once they meet a worthy partner, they can’t seem to enjoy the relationship fully.
Similarly for those who find themselves drawn into such a relationship when your self-esteem and self-respect is low, you can naturally attract (and be attracted TO) emotionally dramatic types. The opposite is true when you feel good about who you are and truly believe that you’re worthy of a loving, healthy relationship.
It’s important to understand the psychological reasons behind this subconscious need for drama in relationships in order to move forward and break such patterns:
Basically all humans require attention. Without this getting and giving of attention, there would be no social species, you could almost look it like getting attention can be the difference between life and death in a crisis.
Therefore, evolutionarily speaking, not getting adequate attention can threaten the quality and sustainability of life. So the need to get functional social attention is understandable. However, extreme attention seekers can go to persistent unhealthy lengths to create dramas out of nothing that are driven by emotional desperation.
Drama in the traditional sense is defined as:
- A situation involving interesting or intense conflict of forces.
- A series of vividly interesting events.
Excessive attention seeking in relationships is not a character flaw. It’s often a brain wired response to early developmental trauma caused by neglect. For example newborns are extremely dependent on getting their mother’s attention for survival. The more their needs are neglected during early development the more the child equates getting attention with survival and safety.
In turn, the more he or she develops the belief system to go to whatever lengths to get attention and this will roll out into their adult life and manifest in their relationships.
“I’ve had relationship issues. I liked pain. I was addicted to drama. Jealousy was the best. I could create absolute mayhem out of nothing. I’m not perfect now but I’m a work in progress. I like myself a lot more, therefore I can like the person that I’m with a lot more.” Michael Buble
Science can go a long way to explaining how excessive attention seeking then evolves in adults. Here goes:
A brain wired in childhood to equate lack of attention as dangerous, naturally respond to that lack as threat in the amygdala, a subcortical structure, where thinking does not occur.
Now the (ACC), which is like a micromanaging mother, “don’t do this, do that, stop that, go here, don’t go there” can intervene in this, if given the opportunity. The ACC is in the cortical thinking part of the brain, which disengages when the amygdala swings into action.In addition, the ACC needs serotonin to do its micromanaging.
People who have these types of core issues are often over stressed. Sustained excess stress limits serotonin availability. In addition, hypothalamic remodeling is one of the consequences of neglect. This often means that your hypothalamus is smaller, and has fewer receptors for serotonin and other neurochemicals.
Thus, even if your ACC has troopers to dispatch, they may not have anywhere to land and do their work, all of this happens at a deeply subconscious and reactive level.
The obvious equation to these individuals is that: drama = attention.
However, it is more than that, you see drama causes the pituitary gland and hypothalamus to secrete endorphins, which are the pain-suppressing and pleasure-inducing compounds, which heroin and other opiates mimic.
Hence, drama eases the anxiety of wanting more attention than you are getting. Naturally, since drama uses the same mechanisms in the brain as opiates, people can easily become addicted to drama.
Like any addiction, you build up a tolerance that continuously requires more to get the same neurochemical affect. In the case of drama, then means you need more and more crises to get the same thrill and using drama as a drug feels good so it is rewarding.
Reward uses dopamine, the brain’s happy dance drug. Dopamine works by releasing more dopamine on anticipating getting the reward (the way evolution gets you to want to do what you need to do). As in all addictions, this begins as a goal-directed behaviour to create an intensely dramatic situation. That is why relationship drama is addictive.
So now comes the big question: Is it fixable?
No, it is not fixable in the sense that you cannot change your brain’s basic hardwiring. Nor can you completely erase the residual effects of early life trauma. However, it is manageable.
1. One can start by accepting who they are, and loving what they have more than what they do not have. This means even if what they have is a challenge and difficult to manage.
2. In addition, find a person who is honest, and cares enough about you to tell you the truth, even when you do not want to hear it. You can ask this person if your emotional interpretation of a situation is over the top.
3. Use creative outlets to lessen your baseline stress level.
5. Do yoga.
6. Listen to or learn to play music.
7. Act as if you are not a drama addict and a compulsive attention seeker. The more you do that the more efficiently those neurons will fire. Hence, the easier that behaviour will become.
The important thing to realise here is that not all neglect is evidence of a lack of love. Sometimes, people only have so much they can give; sometimes that is not enough. There is healing in accepting that your parents did not give you as much attention as you required throughout your childhood. Forgiving them for being who they were is getting to higher ground. Sometimes, you have to give yourself the attention you needed from parents.