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Monday, January 9, 2017

#NYC #Psychotherapy Blog: How to Stop Getting Caught Up In Other People's Emotional Drama

If emotional drama is a way of life for you, it's easy to keep caught up in other people's drama (see my article:  Hooked On Emotional Drama: Getting Off the Emotional Seesaw).

How to Stop Getting Caught Up in Other People's Emotional Drama

Why Do People Get Caught Up in Other People's Emotional Drama?
Not everyone gets involved in other people's drama.  Many people run the other way when they detect the chaos of emotional drama.  They find it stressful and annoying, and they want nothing to do with it.

But there are also many people who become fascinated by the drama.  For them, emotional drama has been part of their life since childhood and so it feels "normal" and even exciting.

Recognizing and understanding the root of the problem--that it usually begins early in life--is the start to resolving it, but it's not the entire solution because having an intellectual understanding often doesn't change anything.

It's often a way to take the focus away from oneself by focusing on other people's problems.

What Are the Consequences of Continually Getting Caught Up in Other People's Drama?
For people who habitually get involved in other people's drama (when they're not creating their own), it can feel exciting and addictive.

How to Stop Getting Caught Up in Other People's Emotional Drama

It might start with gossip about an argument between two friends.  It might begin with a rivalry between two family members or some other similar event.

The problem is that, besides usually being a waste of time, the person who habitually gets involved with drama usually gets pulled into the negative vortex of the situation.

Even though it might have started as "juicy gossip," the drama has a way of spiraling out of control and having negative consequences for everyone involved as the problem snowballs beyond anyone's expectations.

So, while it might start with a shot of dopamine and bring excitement, it usually degenerates into a bad situation.  Everyone involved usually loses in the end.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario that illustrates the problem:

Anna liked to say that there was "too much drama" going on among her friends.  But even though she expressed disdain for emotional drama, she found herself getting continually pulled in whenever there was a situation among family or friends.

On a certain level, Anna knew that whenever she got involved with a brouhaha that was going on with other people, she eventually felt exhausted, depleted, annoyed and regretful.

But try as she might, each time a similar situation arose, she felt compelled to jump in and get involved, no matter how many times she vowed to herself not to do it again.

The situation that brought her into therapy involved a problem between two close friends who had a bitter argument about one of the friend's husbands.

Rita called Anna in tears after she found out that their mutual friend, Lisa, was having an affair with Rita's husband, Carlos.  Although her husband and Lisa both denied it, Rita found text messages and nude pictures that confirmed her suspicions.

Rita told Anna that she threw her husband out after she found out about the infidelity, but she wanted him back.  She had thrown Carlos out many times before because of his affairs with other women.  But she feared that there was something more than sex between Carlos and Lisa, and she was afraid she would lose him to Lisa if she didn't take him back.

But before she took him back, Rita wanted Lisa to know that she had to stay away from Carlos because she didn't want to take him back if they were going to continue the affair.  The problem was that Lisa wasn't taking her calls, so she wanted Anna to speak with Lisa.

When Anna heard what happened, she couldn't believe it.  She and all of Rita's friends knew that Carlos was a philanderer.  He had even tried to hit on Anna.  But Anna couldn't believe that Lisa, who was a close friend to both Anna and Rita, would have an affair with Carlos.

How to Stop Getting Up in Other People's Emotional Drama

Anna stayed on the phone with Rita for hours.  Although she felt compassion for Rita, she also realized that she also felt excited.  Her heart was racing, her breathing was heavier and she felt energized.  

By the time she agreed to call Lisa, Anna was completely immersed in Rita's problems.  When Anna put down the phone, she felt pumped as if she had run a race.  

A few minutes later, she got a call from her friend, Paula, who had been friends with Anna and Lisa for more than 20 years.

"Can you believe what's going on with Rita and Carlos!?!," Paula said.  

Then, without even waiting for an answer from Anna, Paula launched into her own interpretation of the events and they remained on the phone for two hours.

By the time Anna got off the phone, she realized that she forgot to go to the store for tonight's dinner, which the store was now closed.

She hurried to something throw something together for dinner.  Then, she thought about how she would approach Lisa.

By the next day, she called Lisa and broached the topic with her.  Before Anna could get too far, Lisa got angry and interrupted her and told her that she was the third person who called her about the "so-called affair" that she was having with Carlos.

Not only did Lisa deny that she had anything to do with Carlos, but she was offended and hurt that anyone would think this, "Whatever pictures Rita thinks she had--they're not me!"  

The conversation devolved into a big argument where Anna told her that she didn't want to be Lisa's friend anymore and Lisa told Anna that she didn't want anything to do with her as well.  Then, they both hung up in anger.

Anna was sad, angry and exhausted.  She realized that she had only made the situation worse and she wanted nothing to do with Rita's problems.  

A few days later, Rita called her sounding sheepish.  She and Carlos were back together again.  She realized that the messages and pictures that she found on Carlos' phone were from a few years ago and they didn't involve Lisa.

Rita was annoyed that Carlos kept these pictures and messages on his phone, but she forgave him and they were planning to take a romantic vacation together soon.  She also apologized to Lisa and told her that she didn't want to lose their 10 year friendship over a mistake that Rita had made.

Then, Rita said, "Lisa is very angry with you and I don't know if she will ever have anything to do with you again."

Anna's mind was spinning by the time Rita got back to talking about her reconciliation with Carlos and how passionate they had been the last few days, Anna wasn't even listening.

All Anna could think was, "I allowed myself to get pulled into someone else's drama and now I may have lost a good friend.  I'm too old for this."

After their conversation, Anna sat quietly for a while.  She felt that there was something old and familiar about all of this, but she wasn't sure what it was.

She tried to reach Lisa to apologize, but Lisa didn't return her calls.

When Anna talked to her husband about it, he told her that this was just like her feuding family and all their emotional drama.  He suggested that she talk to a therapist.

During Anna's therapy sessions, she began to see the similarity between the situation with her friends and old pattern of triangulation in her family.  

How to Stop Getting Caught Up in Other People's Emotional Drama

Anna's mother was constantly getting into arguments and disputes with her siblings and then Anna and her sisters wouldn't see these relatives for months because of the feuding.

Anna realized that she had unconsciously developed the same pattern in her relationships.  Even though she was in her mid-30s, she was still getting in the middle of these feuds with friends as if they were teenagers.

After she overcame the shame and guilt, she was able to come to terms with the underlying issues and why it was so familiar, exciting and compelling to her.

Gradually, Anna worked through her family issues in therapy, and she learned to be more involved in her own life and not get pulled into these dramas.  

The initial excitement and compulsion to get involved in other people's emotional drama is often unconscious and based on early personal history.

When it comes to getting involved in drama, age often has little to do with it.  

An objective outsider might look at the situation and think that the people involved are acting like teenagers, but the people involved in the situation often have little awareness of this.

We each carry around our younger selves, including the infant, young child and the teenage selves.  Any one of them can get activated in a particular situation.

You might recognize the pattern in hindsight, but this is often not enough to disengage the next time because of the unconscious nature of the problem.

Boredom or depression can also be a factor in wanting the temporary "rush" involved with the drama.

Getting Help in Therapy
Since this problem is usually difficult to overcome alone, getting help in therapy is often the solution.

A skilled therapist can help you to understand the roots of this problem and why it feels so compelling whenever it occurs, despite the fact that it hasn't ended well in the past. 

Rather than suffering alone and continuing to make the same mistakes, freeing yourself from the effects of your history in therapy can help you to lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many people to overcome a habitual pattern of getting involved in other people's emotional drama and to stop creating their own.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

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