How to Support Others When They’re Having a Drama Attack
In last week’s essay, we suggested a specific tip to interrupt your reactive, drama-filled behavior by “Naming 5 Red Things.”
That tip was focused on how you can limit your drama. What about being with others when they are having a “drama attack?” What do you do? What do you say? We have several suggestions, but first let’s look at what a drama attack is.
Each of the 3 roles in the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) can produce similar, yet unique, drama attacks. For example, when others are in the Victim role and feeling powerless or disengaged, it is common to hear complaints about how everything is wrong and it’s not their fault.
This feeling of powerlessness has an odd flip-side to it. Engrained Victim thinking can produce an attitude of entitlement and demands (i.e. “someone should ‘fix it’ and rescue me.”)
The Persecutor drama attack can appear with similar aggressive outbursts, assigning blame and being controlling. On the surface a person may appear powerful and confident, but underneath – whether conscious of it or not – they too, are probably feeling overwhelmed and have decided to attack rather than be attacked.
A Rescuer drama attack is characterized by compulsively focusing on another person or situation and believing the world will not go on without their heroic efforts. They may intervene to take care of or fix the Victim or to protect them by attacking the Persecutor. Personally, they are usually feeling anxiety and fear about the situation too.
A DDT drama attack can be a jumbled bunch of messy behavior and all 3 of the roles may appear simultaneously. When this happens, don’t try to diagnosis which role you are observing. Simply know the extreme convergence of the roles means the other person – regardless of the role they are in – is feeling anxiety and badly needs your understanding and compassion.
Here are a few things NOT to say during a drama attack:
“Oh, you’re just acting like a Victim”. Ouch! That will surely cause more pain, defensiveness, and drama. Also avoid saying: “Just get over it.” Or asking “Why are you feeling this way?” These will only make things worse during a full-blown drama attack.
Instead, try these suggestions:
- Remain calm (maybe pause and count 5 red things). Others can pick up on your calming energy.
- Do your best to understand the situation and their feelings without judgment or blame. It can be helpful to let them know you see them and their emotion, without enflaming it. For example, “I can really see you are frustrated.”
- Recommend that they take a few slow deep breaths. Breath slowly with them.
- Saying less is often best. Listen deeply and, when you do speak, use short, and simple sentences.
- Take care of yourself. If the situation is abusive or threatening, know that you cannot fix or change the other person. You are not being disloyal to a co-worker or a family member if you focus on yourself while others are having a drama attack.
If a person has truly “gone down the drama attack rabbit hole,” no amount of rational thought will help in those moments. It is best to stay calm, listen, and try to understand. If things get too intense, remove yourself from the situation.
Once the person has calmed down, it may be possible to revisit the situation and coach them on what triggered the drama attack and what they can do in the future to interrupt the pattern.
Remember, in their essence, they are a Creator – whether or not they know it, or act like it!