When something goes wrong or things are not quite right, some of us have an inner drama queen who pops up with her wooden spoon, ready to stir up the trouble inside and out. There she is when the chips are down, sensationalising the situation, exaggerating the angst and overloading the emotion.
Last week I was in France snowboarding. On the Wednesday I got knocked over by a skier on a blue run. Blubbing inconsolably and wincing with pain, I managed to heave myself up from the snow and walk for 10 minutes to the gondola station to get the bubble lift down to the medical centre. My drama queen shimmied in triumphantly as my internal self talk descended into ‘why does this always happen to me’; ‘I will never do this again’ and ‘I hate snowboarding’. Luckily I managed to acknowledge Ms D Queen and put an end to her dramatisation before it started to snowball (if you’ll excuse the pun).
None of the statements that I was telling myself were true. I seldom get knocked down by people when I’m snowboarding. In fact I went out on my board the following day as my injury was not as bad as I first expected so it was not true that I would never snowboard again. I do not hate snowboarding: it’s one of my favourite sports – I was just feeling like I hated it in that moment as I was in pain. My inner drama queen wanted to ramp up my shock, fear and dismay at the turn of events. Luckily I kept her in check and she shimmied away.
Some people let their inner drama queen leap out and take centre stage at any opportunity: at home, in the workplace or in public. For example, you knock a mug of tea over your colleague’s paperwork and this can become a catastrophe of gargantuan proportions. You miss going out to lunch with your usual Friday lunch friend because you want to catch up with your sister and this becomes a crime punishable by filthy stares and a week of the silent treatment.
If you don’t have your drama queen in check she can be responsible for instigating the start of relationship breakdown. Drama queens love anything that creates tension and expectation: silent treatment; rolling eyes; stern looks; serious stares and communication aimed at proving her ‘drama’ is right.
The difficulty with the drama queen is that minor issues can be magnetised and the responses can be disproportionate to the perceived problem. Let us take an examples of a problem in the workplace. You speak at a works meeting about the problem with car parking on site when it is not your domain; it’s Mandy’s as she is the office manager. You don’t purposefully speak to annoy Mandy but you do so because you are affected by the issue and have a desire to let your views be known. Mandy feels undermined that you have spoken about the problem to everyone at the meeting instead of speaking to her first. She cold shoulders you for the rest of the day. Any time you try and communicate with her she does not look you in the eye and walks off. Mandy’s drama queen has hijacked the situation between you both. All that Mandy could have done is spoken to you about how your speaking at the meeting made her feel undermined. You probably did not know she would feel this way. Because of her cold shouldering, you become offended by her behaviour towards you and you therefore avoid speaking to her. You ignore each other and ‘fall out’. Mandy could have approached you and spoken to you about the issue but she was unable to do that because she was reeling from the sense of being undermined and rejected by you. She felt as if it was personal when in fact it was not.
The drama queen’s reaction is entirely emotional. He or she will adopt a behaviour that will arise from that negative emotion. He or she will also avoid communication for fear that it will become negative or dramatic. Alternatively communication will be loaded with gravity, drama and anger. The life of a drama queen, if not kept in check, can become an emotional rollercoaster. Every small adverse event can be a crisis. Every perceived sleight by someone else can be suffered as a personalised vendetta.
The people who most successfully navigate crises and challenges are those who live their lives without identifying and engaging with the highs and lows: they react unemotionally and with a detached coolness to life’s ups and downs. An extreme example might be James Bond. They live by the virtue of equanimity.
Equanimity is a very useful virtue which is often not given the value it deserves (probably because it’s not that exciting). Equanimity is the ability to maintain a sense of calmness and stability when faced with perceived problems, challenges or difficult emotions. People who act with equanimity tend to live more realistically in that they surf life’s ups and downs using whichever skill or response is called for in the present moment to keep them afloat. They do not get washed away by elation or deflated by depression but maintain an even state of mind, whatever happens around them.
Drama queens don’t like equanimity. They think it is beige and boring. The truth is, you will be a lot happier and calmer if you adopt it. If you often find it hard to respond to life with equanimity (and let’s face it, we all do at times), here are 7 pearls of wisdom that might help.
1. Don’t look for the negatives
If we look for the negatives in things, we will find them but also – they will find us. We can create problems by our own negative responses to situations. If the problem is with another person, it is always diffused by communication aimed at solving the problem.
2. Ask yourself whether your response helps you
Ask yourself whether your attitude or response helps you. Be honest with yourself about your answer to that question. Take responsibility for your emotions so that they do not backfire on yourself or on others. It is ok to have feelings about something but then it’s good to let them go.
3. Don’t give too much power to your thoughts
Don’t give power too much power to your thoughts and beliefs about a situation. Most of our analysis, speculation and conjecture is not based in reality. Challenge any negative or suspicious thoughts. Thoughts with overtones of ‘drama’ or ‘exaggeration‘ are likely not to be based in fact. Keep an open mind about everything until you have spoken to people or sought further objective information. Ask whether a thought that you have about something can be true.
4. Have some humility and don’t take things personally
Have some humility and don’t take things personally. Most of the time people do things not because of you but because of what is going on for them. If someone has offended or affected you, ask yourself whether this was because of something they did deliberately to personally to offend you. It is probably not.
5. Accept that life is dynamic
Accept that life is dynamic. People and circumstances are in a constant state of flux. Not everything will go your way all the time but the more you accept and let it go, the more easily you will move on. Your drama or crisis today will be yesterday’s news tomorrow.
6. Look to change your situation for the best
If you’re unhappy with something, look to change it positively. Have the intention that you want to create the best solution for yourself AND others.
7. Laugh at yourself
Most importantly – laugh at yourself and your inner drama queen. If you find it hard to laugh at yourself: don’t worry -there will always be someone ready and willing to do that for you!