My friend’s question is simple: Do you think there is a correlation between people who are smart/creative/entreprenurial and personality types that feed off of drama? Possibly even invent drama?
He asks me the question and I laugh. Without even thinking I say, “Absolutely. Without a doubt.” I know the answer because I deal with it all of the time.
It creeps in a couple of ways. The first: I find myself constantly refreshing twitter, searching out people who I know post stuff that makes me angry, and then I tweet 700 times in a row about said thing that I searched out.
Or a friend texts me with a problem they are dealing with. They ask for advice. I offer my suggestions. But then I just can’t let it go. So I offer more advice or I check in to see how it’s going. Or I stew about the problem all day long. I can’t stop thinking about how I would handle it, how they should be handling it better, how it’s ridiculous that this is even a situation I mean what makes people do something like that. And on and on and on my brain spins.
Now I don’t do this all of the time. This isn’t how I always operate. But when I am in this mode it almost feels like I can’t help it. And when I take a step back to figure out what I am doing this I always find the same thing to be true: I should be creating something and I’m not.
Maybe it’s that I am actively procrastinating a project or task right at that very moment. Maybe it’s that I have been in between projects. Maybe I am stuck. Or maybe I am in a rut and haven’t been writing. But the truth is simple: I should be creating and I am not.
And since I am not my brain tries to find other things to do. Like get involved with other people’s drama. Or create my own drama.
Now, I’m well past the stage where I stir up interpersonal drama for fun (I’m not sure I was ever in the stage to be honest). I generally run fast and far from people who I feel need drama in their lives to feel engaged. I don’t get into or pick fights. I don’t seek out gossip or try to insert myself into other people’s relationship woes. That’s not my deal.
But when I am not creating that creative energy gets stifled and has to find another outlet. And it generally finds that outlet in ways that are not entirely helpful for me. Maybe it’s fights on twitter or being overly concerned with how another friend is dealing with their own stuff. Maybe it’s going to see art by other people and ripping it to shreds in my mind. Maybe it’s being jealous of someone’s success. Whatever it is, it’s negative energy. It’s unhealthy; for me and for other people.
For some people it looks like being bored at work and needing a new challenge. Or they are feeling uninspired in their relationship. Maybe they have just been flat out unengaged in anything for themselves lately, throwing everything into caring for other people. And so they act out. They pick a fight. They spread gossip at work. They get on Facebook and trash talk. Whatever it is that will get them that hit of attention or interest or whatever that they have been missing.
My friend and I aren’t alone in noticing this phenomena. Julia Cameron in her book “The Artist’s Way” talks about the misguided creative impulse and how it can lead to self-sabatouge. She talks about the ways that we tell ourselves that we’re not creative, that we don’t have time to create, that
Steven Pressfield talks about it in his book “The War Of Art”. How when we are resisting the work we know we should be doing we throw ourselves into all manner of silliness in order to avoid it.
And both of them also talk about the flipside: How when we are in relationships (whether they are friendships or romantic or even business) that are built on the status quo of us avoiding our work that when we get serious and actually start to do the work, those relationships get thrown out of balance. And what happens then? The other person tries to get the status quo back. They accuse you of changing, of being different, of being selfish. They try to stir up the drama so that you get distracted from your work again and everything goes back to normal.
So what can we do about it?
The first thing is to notice that it’s happening. When I find myself in that twitter spiral or thinking way too much about a friend’s problem I need to notice that it’s happening. Take a moment. Take a breath.
Then I ask myself a question: What’s happening here? Which is usually followed by another question: What am I currently avoiding doing? For me the answer is almost always writing. I am not writing. But for you maybe the question is: Why am I bored?
Then we move to action: What do I need to work on right now? Maybe the first step is to simply put down the phone and go into another room. Break the spiral. Then maybe it’s to just sit down and write a couple of paragraphs. Or to make a plan for the next project. But I need to get back to creating and fast. Maybe for you it’s that you need to look for a new job (or a new relationship) or you need to figure out a way to change your current job to use more of your skills. Or you need to find a new hobby or passion project. Whatever it is, start moving on it.
What happens if the people in your life get mad and want you to be like you were? I highly recommend reading “Failure Of Nerve” by Edwin Friedman. It’s all about how the best way to cure an anxious system is to stand firm. This book is genius for church leaders, for people who are trying to shift family systems, and really every one else. But the key takeaway is learning to be a non-anxious presence and setting clear and firm boundaries.
Drama is an easy way to get a hit of excitement, to fulfill a need. But it’s a lousy way to live and it will wreck your life and your relationships. Figure out how to invest in the things that really matter to you so you don’t get derailed by drama.