“To be seen, to be heard, and to be witnessed are primal needs,” he says. “To feel safe in the world, you need to know that you are okay in your existence. When those needs aren’t being met, it will trigger survival behaviors that are sometimes outside of our conscious control, and we might intensify ourselves to be recognized.”
This is especially true if you grew up in an environment where you had to shout above the level of arguing that was in the family chaos. “You learn that loudness, intensity, and extremes are the way of survival,” says Lyons.
Social media often makes things worse, since dramatic behavior is often rewarded on these platforms. Posts that include venting or gossiping often get more likes. And when you share a negative news story, more people usually comment on it.
“We begin to learn the strategies that make you feel seen, and it reaffirms the pattern,” says Lyons. “It feels good, and we get a dopamine hit that says, ‘Keep doing this because you’re getting your primal needs met.’”
Drama at Work
If drama isn’t enticing to you, it’s often possible to disassociate yourself from them. But what if it’s your boss? Having a drama-driven manager could be negatively impacting your workday and your career trajectory. Lyons says managers who are addicted to drama will display a false sense of urgency in everything that the team does, often micromanaging employees’ tasks and outcomes.
“It’s the feeling that if we don’t push, push, push, then we might lose profits,” he says. “They’ll come up with stories for the urgency. [Having a boss who loves drama] creates tension because it comes down to your paycheck or your own personal preservation and energy.”
Having a boss who thrives on drama is similar to having a parent who loves drama, says Lyons. “If your livelihood depended on this job, you might not be able to walk away,” he says. “If you don’t have choices and you don’t have agency, there are other strategies.”
The first is to consider how you decompress after work. For example, going home and watching the news on TV could be giving you more overstimulation. Instead, Lyons suggests going to the gym or doing something that requires movement or practicing meditation. “Find a process that relieves you of the stress response that you’re experiencing all day,” he says.
Another strategy is to schedule breaks throughout the workday. While they can give you a sense of relief, it can help to be intentional with what you do.
“Don’t just eat lunch; really taste it,” says Lyons. “This is a mindfulness practice that helps you center yourself to the present moment of you.”
The third strategy is recognizing that your boss’s addiction to drama isn’t personal. “In the whirlwind or tornadoes, you may take things on as truth, especially if you have authority-figure challenges where you think whatever they say must be true,” says Lyons.
Instead of being sucked into their energy, return to your own sense of power and timing, which isn’t based on their internal crisis. Understand that a drama-addicted boss wants you to get pulled into their drama; it’s how they feel powerful, says Lyons.
“You can create a boundary that says, ‘I’m going to do what’s asked of me, but I’m not going to join in, throwing logs up to the fire. I’m not going to use their same intensity to accomplish my task. I’m not going to take on their energy,’” he says.
Lyons likens a drama addiction to drinking 10 cups of coffee at once. “You may love coffee, but your nervous system would be jacked up on caffeine,” he explains. “Don’t feel forced to drink their 10 cups of coffee. Take some time to drink water and feel a sense of movement and breath in your body. Settle your energy and separate it from theirs.”
Bosses who are addicted to drama often cycle through employees and burn bridges with clients, and these outcomes can spill over to you if you’re not careful.
“We all have a propensity for drama,” says Lyons. “The important thing to do is to take care of yourself. While you may want to try to fix them, in reality, it’s not likely to happen. The best you can do is not enable them. Stay settled within yourself and don’t add fuel to their fire.”