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OMG! How to spot a ‘Drama Queen’

Do you have a friends or loved ones who suck the life out of you? They may be drama queens or even “emotional vampires.” Dr. Debra Mandel writes about the difference between the two and how they (or you) can get help. An excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY books

You know this person. He makes mountains out of molehills. She is stressed out by the smallest events. In her new book, “Don’t Call Me a Drama Queen!”, Dr. Debra Mandel explains the difference between drama queens and emotional vampires, and shares how they can stop being oversensitive. An excerpt.

No matter how diligent we are in our quests for happiness, we find that life inevitably tosses us many unavoidable curve balls — often ones we’d rather do without. Yet most of these unpleasant events and experience don’t have to cause undue stress, anger, or any other form of unrest. For instance, the mother of a child who constantly throws temper tantrums doesn’t have to become upset every time one happens. The wife whose husband fails to clean up after himself doesn’t have to pull out her hair in frustration. And the homeowner whose power gets turned off because he forgot to pay the electric bill doesn’t have to feel ashamed or perceive the world as cruel.

Granted, such situations may cause some people to go into a tizzy, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Why? Because whether we’re aware of it or not, we can minimize stress and profoundly increase peace and joy in our lives once we fully embrace our power to choose how we respond to the ups and downs of day-to-day living. And while this may seem like a simple enough formula on paper, far too many of us can’t put it into practice because we don’t believe we can actually make conscious decisions about how we feel and how we react. Hence, many people react to life like a knee jerking in response to a doctor checking for reflexes.

I’m not saying that we can avoid all unpleasantness. There are certainly situations that would typically produce strong negative emotions, terror, or extreme stress in everyone — witnessing a plane crash, being trapped in a burning building, or getting held up at gunpoint. But how often do we encounter such traumas or potentially life-threatening moments in our daily lives? For most of us, the answer is “not too often, if ever.” Yet millions of us walk the planet in a perpetual state of distress, suffering from conditions ranging all the way from mild anxiety to suicidal depression. Some people feel exasperated all the time, even when their lives are fairly peaceful. And we all know how damaging chronic stress can be to our bodies, often leading to life-threatening conditions, such as heart attacks, hypertension, strokes, diabetes, and cancer (visit for a comprehensive explanation of the effects of stress).

While some overreactors truly do suffer from actual mental or medical conditions requiring professional help, most are simply trapped in what I call the drama queen syndrome. This doesn’t mean that such people mean to be so hypersensitive or overly reactive to each subtle nuance of life — they just can’t seem to help themselves, or so they believe.

Contrary to what the media portrays, drama queens aren’t always stereotypical. They come from all walks of life, regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.

As a drama queen you perceive danger when there is none. You personalize things that aren’t personal. You spend hours a day trying to control things you have no control over. You fear you won’t receive your fair share of things, often feeling mistreated or put upon by others. You’re usually very sensitive to changes in your routines and you may become quickly overwhelmed by even mild stimuli. You commonly take on far too much burden of responsibility for other people’s happiness while simultaneously storing resentments for carrying too much unnecessary weight on your shoulders. You’re often easily offended.

As a drama queen, you feel like you’re constantly on the receiving end of a boxer’s left hook. Yet once you’re more removed from the situation you originally reacted to, you almost always feel foolish for having made such a big deal out of what turned out to be nothing. But you can’t seem to break the cycle. Sadly, you may destroy your loving relationships because you constantly need to receive comforting and soothing.

While some drama queens resemble “emotional vampires,” that is, people who suck others dry, giving nothing back, and really don’t give a damn about the impact of their behavior on others, most usually have had good reasons for having developed an over-reactive style because, at some point, they actually were in powerless positions without choices. Sadly, however, they don’t recognize that danger no longer exists. Hence they don’t believe they can truly lighten up.

Sounds grim, doesn’t it? Don’t despair. If this describes you or someone you know and love, you’re already well on your way to learning how to cruise through stress simply by having picked up this book. With this book you’ll learn how to:

  • say “good-bye” once and for all to unnecessary response styles that cause you to feel unhappy, angry, resentful, disappointed, and stressed-out by daily life
  • distinguish potentially traumatic, life-threatening, or truly dangerous situations which warrant an exaggerated response from those that aren’t a huge deal by using the R.E.A.C.T. guide (Reality, Emergency, Action, Consequence, and Thought)
  • become comfortable letting go of the need to control situation, people, and places
  • focus on the present moment
  • transform negative situations into true positives
  • learn to accept life on all its terms

Certainly there are countless resources available to teach the art of stress management, anger reduction, and how to lead happier lives. But for drama queens, these tools either fail entirely or remain Band-aids. Not because of a lack of intelligence, but because drama queens can’t incorporate these other methods of soothing. They lack the foundation for understanding why they have such strong reactions to begin with, and they are missing the tools to make positive changes. Plus, they don’t believe that they will be okay if they let their their guard down and stop worrying so much. So they can’t incorporate the methods in a meaningful way. “Don’t Call Me a Drama Queen!”takes a huge leap beyond the other resources by teaching the art of stress prevention.

If what I’m describing applies to you, but you’re a bit tentative to accept the level of “drama queen,” please don’t disregard this information prematurely. You’re not alone in this category and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. This book isn’t addressed to the “emotional vampires” whom we commonly confuse with drama queens (more on this distinction later). You are among many millions of people, old and young, single and attached, of higher education or not, who are sick and tired of being referred to as “drama queens.” You’ve probably been repeatedly told by others to “stop making mountains out of molehills” and you’re tired of being labeled and judged. Or, maybe, you’re in a relationship with someone you believe is a drama queen (your brother, your mother, your lover, or best friend) and you’re frustrated with the ups and downs. You’ve often thought about dumping the relationship but you’re hoping there’s a way you can become more helpful and possibly improve the connection.

People commonly misunderstand drama queens, believing that they are trying to cause trouble. And while drama queens may enjoy the upside of their dramatics, such as when other people find them amusing and fun to be around, they can certainly do without the downside. But they just don’t know how else to be, since they don’t recognize that their reactions are of their own choosing.

Just in case you’re feeling any shame or reluctance to embrace the concept that you might be a drama queen — especially since the label often carries a negative image — please note the following very important distinction. When I refer to drama queens, I’m not talking about those people who are better termed “emotional vampires” — that is, people who don’t give a rat’s ass about others, who don’t experience any particular distress over the dramatic way they react to the world and the people they encounter, and who would have us believe their lives would be ruined if there were no more Prada bags or Seven jeans.

Unlike the drama queens I refer to throughout this book, emotional vampires suck the energy from everyone else and give nothing back. They have superficial relationships, at best, and they are permanently committed to seeing themselves as victimized by the world because they have no sense of personal responsibility for their actions. They rarely see their behavior as problematic in any way. Many even truly believe they're entitled to wreak havoc on the lives of their significant others (or even strangers for that matter), and they have a general disregard for the rights of others. True, emotional vampires can be quite comical and entertaining at times, particularly while viewing them on the big screen. But in real life, they rarely change their behavior, let alone seek help, and they can ultimately be very toxic.

Excerpted from “Don’t Call Me a Drama Queen!” Copyright (c) 2008 by Debra Mandel. Reprinted with permission from Alyson Publications.