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Spilling the Cup o’ Drama

It's exhausting. And harms relationships and wastes valuable time and energy that could be devoted to more worthy pursuits.

At my desk sits a little mug with a picture of a queen and the word “drama.” A friend purchased the mug for me a few years ago because of my love for acting.

The thing is, I’m not the drama type — when I’m off stage. So you can imagine my frustration at recently being in the epicenter of several interpersonal earthquakes. I’m not going to spill my own personal drama, but let me throw out a few general categories in which overblown emotions and actions tend to show themselves.

Exhibit No. 1: The Family Feud

Much of the drama in our lives begins with family. Just think about Joseph from the Bible and his brothers. First there was major favoritism from Dad Jacob; then there was extreme and unhealthy jealousy on the part of the brothers. One thing led to another and the situation escalated to grown men selling their little brother as a slave. Now that’s drama.

While my family drama may not be as extreme as Joseph’s, I have experienced my share of family blow-ups. Because we know each other so well, my family members and I also know how to push each other’s buttons. Our faults are also more evident and irritating to those in the inner circle.

I love my family dearly. No one in my life is more accepting of me. They are my biggest fans. But when sin interferes with those relationships, hurt feelings run even deeper.

Exhibit No. 2: The Misunderstood Relationship

This may come in the form of a thwarted romantic relationship or a faltering friendship. All relationships share something in common: expectations. Whether I consider you my best friend, a potential suitor or a dependable work colleague, I have expectations for how you will treat me. When those expectations are breached, relational drama is created.

Once a friend approached me to tell me how I had hurt her. Her expectation of our friendship was that I would return her e-mails and phone calls in a timely manner — her definition being within the week. Because I am unorganized in that area, I had neglected to respond quickly and she believed our friendship was in jeopardy.

Exhibit No. 3: The Proving “I’m right” Moment

Why is it that I am SO intent on defending myself and proving to others that I am right? When two people disagree and both feel justified in their position, drama ensues. The heart of this crisis is the feeling that I must stand up for myself and get what I deserve.

A few years ago, a friend and I were working together on a project and ended up having very different opinions on how to accomplish it. Both ways would have been satisfactory, but we had a sharp argument and ended up not speaking for a few weeks. The root of the feud was neither of us wanted to admit we were wrong.

Lights, Camera, Action

No matter what its cause, drama is exhausting. It can also harm relationships and waste valuable time and energy that could be devoted to more worthy pursuits.

In light of my current attraction to drama, I have given some thought to what my attitude should be toward these circumstances and how I might diffuse unwanted relational crises.

Drama Fix No. 1: Have the Right Attitude

Much of the drama in my life arises from a lack of humility. My friend Carolyn McCulley once told me: “We’re speaking about people God created and redeemed, and our lack of charity in conversation just reveals our own arrogance — as though we can see the whole picture of someone’s life.”

When we harbor overblown negative feelings toward someone, we make assumptions about their motives. We’re likely to say, “They did such-and-such just to hurt me!” Then come our payback plans. Even if we don’t enact them, we may fantasize about carrying them out.

This hardening of heart goes directly against what we are told to be as Christians. Philippians 2:5-8:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!

Jesus didn’t have a need to be right (though He was). He humbled Himself and became a servant to the most extreme measure. How much drama would be diffused if I did the same?

Drama Fix No. 2: Look For the Real Problem

The issue on the table rarely turns out to be the true problem. My fiancé, Kevin, and I recently went through premarital counseling. In revealing some of the tensions we were feeling with family members, we received this advice.

“Anger is a secondary issue,” our counselor told us. “The primary problem is someone feeling hurt or not getting their needs met.” When I took considered the problems I was experiencing with people from this perspective, it changed my attitude. What I perceived to be someone’s unreasonable demands, was actually her need to feel valued.

This is where grace comes in. There are times when people are acting in ways that stir up drama and hurt you. But understanding what might be behind their bad behavior can help you not play into the hurt feelings game. Once I understood the emotions that might be fueling my friend’s hurtful responses, I was able to find ways to address the real issue with her.

Drama Fix No. 3: Refuse to Join the Fray

Our premarital counselor pointed out that when someone calls his office ready to rant about the service they’ve received, he stays calm and doesn’t give in to the temptation to defend himself or his staff. Instead, he says, “I’m sorry you feel that way. What can I do to help you?”

This communicates compassion (even if the person is being unreasonable) and a desire to make things right. This kind of response refuses to play into drama.

Recently a friend sent me a long, accusing e-mail about something I’d done that had offended him. My first reaction was to write a long, scathing e-mail back to defend myself — and, oh yeah — point out the areas in which I felt he had failed. Drama.

Instead I waited a few days, prayed about it and sought some wise counsel. In the end, I sent a very short e-mail describing my disappointment at receiving such an e-mail but refraining from personal attack. The sender was receptive to my calm response and we were able to work things out.

I wonder how many relationships are ruined by something said in the heat of the moment that cannot be retracted. This is why James says: “But no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8)

As a side note: If drama is the fire; gossip is the gasoline. Once you start “confiding” in other people about your issues with someone, people start choosing sides and you lose control of the situation. The original problem becomes almost impossible to fix.

Drama Fix No. 4: Reclaim God’s Heart for Relationships

Discord — or drama — is not God’s heart for believers. Quite the opposite. Paul tells us that God reconciled us to Himself through Christ and “gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18). God’s passion is reconciliation. So much so that He sent His Son to die for our sins.

True reconciliation involves getting to the root of the problem and exercising humility, grace and forgiveness when dealing with others. These responses will not allow drama to thrive. Speaking of unity among believers, Paul says: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

There will be times when the other party will not want to reconcile. At this point, God may call you to let go of the hurt or step out of the situation. But “as much as it depends on you” choose peace over drama. We are told that God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As His children, we should seek to emulate this characteristic. Essentially, drama opens the door for Satan to do his work of disunity.

I may enjoy sipping coffee out of my quirky mug, but I pray that God helps me rise above being a drama queen. He’s got a better way.

Copyright 2009 Suzanne Gosselin. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Suzanne Gosselin
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin

Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is a freelance writer and editor. She graduated from Multnomah University with a degree in journalism and biblical theology. She lives in California with her husband, Kevin, and her four young children: Josiah, Sadie, Amelia and Jackson. When she’s not hanging out with her kids, Suzanne loves a good cup of coffee, conversation with friends, musical theater and a trip to the beautiful California coast.

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