Episode Summary

In this episode we discussed the drama continuum, why we are attracted to and attract drama into our lives, and what we can do about it.

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Show Transcript

All right, hello, everybody, and welcome to another episode of the Emotional Embuffination podcast. I’m your host, David Enevoldsen, and here on Emotional Embuffination, we are training to become emotionally buff enough to overcome any conflict in life. And at the same time, we are trying to discover and optimize new levels of success and happiness and just continue feeling all those good feelings as much as possible as we go through this journey of life. This podcast is just one of a number of resources I have available. If you want to learn more about any of that, check out the Emotional Embuffination website, which is embuff.com. That’s E-M-B-U-F-F.com. When you are on the website, make sure that you sign up for my newsletter. In the newsletter you will get quick weekly Emotional Embuffination tips.

Okay. On today’s show, we are going to be talking about emotional attraction and drama and the kind of spectrum of emotional development. And so this is going to be particularly relevant to relationships, especially romantic relationships, but not limited to that. It’s mostly just talking about kind of where you are in the framework of emotional development, especially as it applies to the drama triangle which we’ve talked about in a previous episode. We’ll kind of revisit it here, but that’s going to be the topic of today’s show. So this all kind of starts with let me tell you a little story from a while back that I think is representative of what I’ve seen a lot of times as a family law attorney.

So I had a friend who was in this kind of bad relationship. She, it was very dramatic, very toxic. The two, she and her husband, were just not in a good place. And they were always fighting. And all sorts of terrible things happened out coming out of that. So eventually she gets out of it. She gets a divorce. She severs all ties with this guy. And then once that’s done, she starts going out and dating again and she’s going out to these bars, holding herself out as being single, etcetera. And she’s repeatedly approached by these guys who seem very stable and nice, seemed reasonably attractive. Were height-weight proportionate, all that stuff. And every time these guys came up, she was not interested at all. She was just not engaged. And when we would ask her why, she would say, “Well, they’re just boring. They’re just not my type.” And she just was not into these dudes at all. The guys that she was into, the ones that she was actually attracted to were invariably chaotic drama. And there was something about them that she just found absolutely attractive. So she started dating several different guys. She had a couple relationships going on at the same time. And in each of these relationships, it was a mess, like an absolute mess. Total drama and we continued for years after this. We being all the myself and friends and other people that kind of knew this person, were watching her just go through all these additional really chaotic situations in relationally. That is to say, it was just perpetual drama, much like what we saw in her marriage. Now, I saw very similar things when I was working as a family law attorney. It was let me give you an example of something I saw repeatedly. You would see a woman who’s in an abusive relationship, and obviously it’s not okay to be abusive. You should not be abusive. But I saw this a lot. You would see a woman in an abusive relationship. She goes through a divorce or otherwise separates from this guy who is abusive. Gets out of the relationship. And then once she severed ties with this guy as much as possible, she gets into a new relationship. The new relationship turns out to also be abusive. And so she’s kind of gotten out of one abusive relationship and gets right into another one. I saw this a lot, and yet I saw other people who would go from one relationship which was not abusive to another relationship, which was not abusive. So what we’re looking at today is kind of why does this stuff happen? Like, why is it that you see these, you know, somebody’s repelled by the people that are low drama and they keep cycling back into drama or they’re in an abusive relationship and they keep getting into an abusive relationship over and over and over again, even with different people.

It’s almost like the abusers can smell something about these prospective victims. And it’s there’s there’s something in that dynamic here. And that’s really the topic of today’s show. I think it all starts with this premise that I have been holding on to for quite a while, and that is that we attract and are attracted to people of comparable emotional developmental levels. Now, this this applies, like I said, in all sorts of different situations. It can apply in romantic relationships. That’s primarily where my focus is going to be on this today, but it’s not limited to that by any stretch. This can apply to business partners to to colleagues. You know, how you’re interacting, friends that you have, how you’re interfacing with your friends. It’s all over the place. And it’s just this idea that we’re just sort of intrinsically drawn to people that are at kind of a similar level emotionally in terms of emotional development. Now, this exists on a whole spectrum. You know, we can say somebody is like hyper emotionally developed. They’ve done a ton of emotional intelligence-type work and they are just nothing fazes them and they handle everything very well. Or you have on the lower end of the spectrum somebody who is not good at dealing with problems, dealing with drama. Et cetera. A lot of this is coming from the way that I it took me a while. I thought, I had to think about this for quite some time because this was a concept, frankly, I’ve been mulling over for years now, and I ended up using the Drama Triangle as kind of a mechanism by which to measure this, because otherwise it just became this amorphous concept, which was nice, but I needed something a little bit more empirical. Not that this is necessarily that empirical, but I think it’s very useful in understanding why these dynamics happen. So let’s circle back to the drama triangle for just a second. Now, I’ve done a podcast, I’ve mentioned this on numerous podcast episodes. I’ve done a podcast specifically about the drama triangle. So if you want a more in-depth discussion of that, go back and listen to that episode. I’m going to go over it again just briefly so that you understand the basic concepts here because it’s important. But if you want a full explanation, just go back and listen to the previous episode I did on that. So Drama Triangle, if you’ve not heard of it before, if you just need a quick refresher, is this idea that human beings sort of instinctually deal with conflict, things they don’t like, difficulties in life by shifting into the drama triangle. Now the Drama Triangle is essentially it’s a triangle, so it’s got three points on it. And each of the points represent a different kind of mindset orientation. That is to say, they you when you’re injected into this sort of conflict and you go into the drama triangle, the game of the Drama Triangle, you’ll embody these different mentalities.

Now the first one is a victim that’s always on the bottom of the triangle. The victim is sort of powerless, doesn’t know how to do anything on his or her own, or throws his or her hands in the air and says, “I can’t do anything. I’m held back by some situation or some person,” you know, something like that. They’re very disempowered. That’s kind of the theme of the victim. There is the persecutor, which is typically in the upper left corner of the triangle. The persecutor is very wrapped up in control, very driven by anger, very oriented to punishing wrongdoers, teaching people a lesson, making sure that. You are following the rules and everybody is following the rules and you’re doing the things that you’re supposed to be doing. That’s the persecutor. They’re often represented by lashing out in anger. So they’ll yell, attack, scream, go on the offensive in toxic ways, essentially. Lastly, we have the rescuer. So the rescuer is in the upper right corner of the triangle. To the extent that the triangle has a corner that’s in that upper right point of the triangle and the rescuer essentially wants to save the day. They want to come in and usually they’ll see a victim and they’ll say that person is being held back.

It is not fair to the victim. I need to help them. So they want to jump in and save the victim from their victimhood. The problem is what they typically do is they’ll sort of solve the problem on behalf of the victim and thereby disempower the victim, because really the victim just becomes dependent upon the rescuer. And so the rescuer is motivated by this sort of subconscious desire to be the the knight in shining armor to come in and save the day to protect the victim from the evil persecutor or whatever it is that’s holding them back. The problem with the rescuer is they sort of keep the victim in perpetual victimhood because the victim cannot solve the problem on his or her own. They need the rescuer to come in and fight for them. So they are, in essence, perpetuating disempowerment. Okay, so that’s the Drama Triangle orientations. And the idea is that we get into one of these different orientations when we’re dealing with conflict and you’re not limited to one, you can kind of shift around. And we often do shift around to different orientations, but that’s kind of how the Drama Triangle works. Now, the problem is when you’re in there, things tend to get worse. You, drama tends to ensue, which is hence the name, the Drama Triangle, and it just nothing good typically comes of it. Or if problems do get solved, they’re kind of on a short-term basis.

So we don’t want to be in the Drama Triangle. It usually leaves people upset, angry. It often fireballs the situation further out of control than it originally was. There are a number of models to escape the Drama Triangle I’m not going to go into too much on that right now, but in essence you’re trying to seek empowerment is kind of the short version. You’re trying to deal with problems without blame, without blowing up. You’re trying to find ways to become empowered. You fixate on solving problems instead of pointing fingers. If you’re in sort of the rescuer mode, you try to figure out how to get people to solve their problems on their own, even if they need a little push, a little guidance, but you’re having them actually fix the problem, not you doing it for them, that kind of thing. So that’s the Drama Triangle in a nutshell. Like I said, if you want to hear more on that, go back and I’ve got a ton of resources on that. Now, the way that I’ve begun to become or I have begun to perceive this excuse me, is if you think of the Drama Triangle as a spectrum, like somebody completely immersed in the Drama Triangle, and that is like they’re living every moment of their life in drama, flipping around into these different orientations. Somebody that finds themselves a victim of everything in every moment, no matter how reasonable that that presumption may be.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have somebody who does not get sucked into the drama game, just focuses on solving problems, is not oriented to blame is not just blowing up out of anger, is dealing with things effectively and or they’re when they see someone else in need, they may help, but they’re not like solving the problem on behalf of somebody else. They’re kind of pushing them in a coaching sort of way. Think of that as everything in between and those two extremes. So that spectrum sort of drives the kinds of things that you’re going to attract. That is to say where you fall on that spectrum is going to result in you attracting to you and being attracted to people that are kind of a similar level. Now, I have put together a little assessment and you can go to I’m going to have the link in the description of wherever you found this podcast episode. It’s going to be on the website. So if you can’t find it anywhere else, go to the embuff.com website and look at the podcast tab. Find this episode and you’re going to have a link to the assessment. So the assessment is something I put together. It’s based on this Drama Triangle idea. And what it is, is you have 30 questions. They’re self-reporting questions and at the end of it you’re going to get an assessment as to kind of where you are in the spectrum of the Drama Triangle and it’s going to give you a little feedback about each of your your proclivity for each of the orientations, the victim, persecutor and rescuer, as well as kind of a global assessment as to where you are, what you might want to work on, that sort of thing.

You don’t need to view this test, assessment as kind of the be all end all. You know, I’ve taken it. I did not get a perfect score when I tried to be honest about it. But if you think of it in terms of a couple of things. One is getting a sense of where you fall and how much work you have to do and what kinds of work you need to do. But also when you go through the questions, you can listen to it or read through it as potential highlights, recognitions of the ways that you’re dealing with problems and whether or not you might be able to improve on something. So check that out. It’s like I said, it’s going to be on the Embuff website. Find the podcast episode if you can’t find the link wherever you downloaded this podcast, go to the embuff.com website. Find the podcast tab, find this episode and you’ll find a link to the assessment. Take it, figure out where you are. And that’s also going to give you an interesting sense of what you’re attracting, which again is the ultimate kind of concept here that we’re looking at in today’s episode.

Now let’s talk about the implications of this. If you are seeing a lot of drama in other people, this is one of the big things that comes out of this this whole lesson here, because you see this all the time and you hear people say like, “I’m perpetually finding these terrible guys or terrible girls and this is just a constant problem and I can’t seem to find a good guy or girl.” If you look at it from this perspective of you are drawn to and draw in people of comparable emotional developmental levels and you’re perpetually drawing in drama, then that says something about what’s going on in you. I know, that’s a difficult pill to swallow, but it’s I’m telling you, I’ve seen this in so many different relationships that if you are perpetually finding problems, you need to find a way to essentially level yourself up. But there are so many things that I see within the drama realm that are just these kind of ties that don’t need to exist. Anger is an emotional tie, which relates back to the drama triangle. So when you’re getting into anger at someone for whatever it is they may have done, you’re kind of going into that persecutor mode when you’re feeling sorrow, which is another common negative emotion you have in relationships, you’re going into victim mode. If you are excessively helping the other person, you’re going into sort of rescuer mode. Or if you want to help them to become better people, this is a common one I see, especially from like abuse dynamics. For some reason there’s this perception that I need to guide you because you’re not really that smart or educated or able to deal with the world. So I need to guide you and deal with you. Well, that’s kind of getting into rescuer mode. But all of these are sort of different reflections of potential problems or indicators that you are kind of playing this drama game. So, if you are indeed attracting problems, if you’ve got if you keep finding yourself in a relationship with people that are trouble of some sort or have troubles, why are you drawn to that person? Like, what is it that sucked you in in the first place? Now, there’s a caveat here because sometimes I have seen shifts, you know, like especially when you have like a long-term marriage. I’ve seen situations where like, one party starts to change and the other one stays stuck. And over time, you start to see these rifts where ultimately I have seen a number of times where I thought this is what happened in terms of a divorce, where you had somebody together for like ten years or something or a long period, whatever the period of time is. And during that ten years, they kind of started off in what seemed like the same emotional developmental place.

But then over time, one of them started to change and the other one didn’t. And now all of a sudden you’ve got this weird rift and the parties just aren’t quite getting along in the same way that they used to be. And so that can create a real problem and ultimately lead to divorce very often. But if if you’re finding this in rapid succession, that is to say, if you’re getting like in a relationship and it blows up and you you end up with a breakup, then you find another partner and you think that they’re amazing. And then it just kind of blows up and it’s this crazy drama. And then you find yourself in another relationship and it’s the same thing that is an indicator that you need to look back at what’s going on with you. Now, I, It’s it’s fascinating because I have seen a couple of times now where I saw people that were in that cycle and then they stopped and they made this concerted effort to go out and do self-improvement stuff. And like, I have a friend I know, for example, who did this a couple of years ago. She was cycling through like really chaotic relationships. And then I remember, she stopped and she was listening to all these, like, self-help things for a little bit. And she kind of took a break on the dating for a bit. Started, she got like obsessive with Tony Robbins and some other stuff, which was all very self-improvement oriented.

And shortly after that, she met a very different caliber of guy that she’d then anything she’d ever seen before and then ended up getting married for the first time. And to this point, they’ve been fine and it’s been a few years now. So if you are in that cycle and we’re not necessarily talking about you changed over time and the other person hasn’t and you’ve become more emotionally developed than the other person hasn’t. But if you’re finding yourself kind of caught up in this, I’m perpetually attracting dramatic or crappy partners, then it’s probably time to take some serious effort, unless you want to continue attracting crappy partners, take some time, put some serious effort into leveling yourself up. And what does that mean? That is kind of the subject of the Emotional Embuffination project in a general sense. When we say level up, I’m saying you’re taking on all of this emotional embuffination stuff. You’re taking on all this emotional intelligence, all the concepts related to emotional intelligence, and you are trying to improve yourself. You’re trying to become better, more resilient, more able to deal with conflict, less blamey, less caught up in the drama, all of that stuff. And you work on it constantly, or at least a fair amount. And when you can start to recognize some of these patterns in yourself and then you start to take actions to correct them, then it’s going to completely change the way that you’re engaging in this game.

Now, this is not an overnight thing. I mean, it takes some time. There’s a serious, serious pull to to play the game. I remember when I first started learning about all this stuff, I was in a couple of very dramatic relationships and I remember one in particular where I had friends that kept telling me like, “Stop texting that girl.” And I couldn’t. Like I couldn’t stop texting. Like, I had to respond to all these things that she was saying. And it was me just playing into this drama game because I had to correct her. I had to tell her that these things that she was saying about me were wrong and that this was all nonsense and she was wrong. And I needed to explain to her why. It was so hard, even though I recognized what was going on. So understand that it’s a process and it’s going to take some time, but really you have to level yourself up. And that means things like don’t just vent anger all the time. I’ve talked about this in a number of episodes, like don’t vent. Venting is a bad thing. I’m not saying don’t deal with problems or never address them, but don’t just vent them because that increases focus on the negative thing and you’re effectively dumping energy into what you don’t like. And we tend to culturally think of anger as this steam valve that needs to build up and be released, but that is not supported by the research.

The I’ve talked about this elsewhere, including in the Emotional Embuffination book, but the research shows us that the more you engage in anger, the more you perpetuate it. Now, you may get a sense of euphoria by expressing anger momentarily, but the anger itself doesn’t go away. And so, not unnecessarily venting, not expressing more anger than is necessary is important. Now, at the same time, you don’t want to be suppressing emotions. This is another thing I talk about in the Emotional Embuffination book and I’ve talked about elsewhere. We don’t want to suppress. That’s kind of the opposite extreme and is also problematic. There’s here again, there’s a lot of research around that. We don’t want to just suppress because that that creates problems as well. We want to acknowledge that we are feeling what we’re feeling. We are going to feel anger. But there is something about simply acknowledging that and saying, okay, I get that I’m angry. I’m going to accept that feeling. That in and of itself deprives the anger or the negative emotion, whatever it is, of a lot of its power. One of the risks that you often run into is you you start to say, “Well, okay, I know that I’m not supposed to be venting and I know that I’m not supposed to express anger, and now I’m feeling anger.”

And so now you’re feeling frustration on top of the anger, because the frustration is coming from the fact that you think you shouldn’t be angry. And now you’ve essentially just made everything even worse. So acknowledge that you have negative feelings, like if you’re feeling depressed or upset, angry, whatever, acknowledge that that’s there and be okay with the fact that that’s there. Just accept it and it sort of passes through you in a different way than if you start saying, “I shouldn’t feel angry, I shouldn’t feel angry, I shouldn’t be depressed right now.” It’s okay to be those things. Just experience them and go through it, but don’t enhance them by running around to everybody and telling everyone you know about the thing that he or she did to you and how unfair this is, because that’s going to amplify the negative emotion. So don’t just unleash anger. This is another thing with anger. I’m hitting anger a bit because this is such a common relationship emotion. But another issue with anger is that you can kind of inflame the situation by running out and directly confronting a person and making them defensive. Like when you know, that story was telling you a minute ago about the girl who was constantly texting me and I had to respond, you know, when she was saying toxic things to me, I had to say something back and I got very defensive about it.

The same thing is going to happen if you’re doing that to somebody else. If you start saying something that they feel is unjust, whether it actually is or isn’t, if you start to say something in any way deflecting blame off of yourself onto them and or even if you’re completely right, but your tone is very toxic, then you’re going to prompt something that inflames them and comes back at you. So anger, again, let it be. Let it pass through you, but don’t indulge in it more than you have to.

You also want to stop playing that game. Consciously work at extracting yourself from the Drama Triangle. I’ve Talked again quite a bit about this in other places, including that other podcast episode. But you really do what you can to flip the orientation. So the the book, The Power of TED talks about kind of embodying different roles. Like instead of becoming a victim, you turn into a creator. I love that model because instead of sitting there thinking how you’re held back and how someone did something to you or whatever, and how you just can’t do things, you start to think, okay, I want to create my reality. I want to become the person that’s solving these problems. What action steps do I have to take in order to get there? And that becomes your focal point. You become a creator. If you’re a rescuer, you become a coach instead of like solving the problem on behalf of someone else, you say, “Hey, how can you fix this? What are some action steps that you can take here?” Again, converting that victim, if you’re talking to a victim, into a creator. And if you’re a persecutor, you kind of restrain, going back to this anger topic, because persecutors are all about anger. You restrain that sense of anger and instead find constructive ways to bring out change, bring about change. And so these are really the things you want to take a look at. It’s kind of hard to say everything in just a second because this is the topic of this whole this umbrella of the Emotional Embuffination project is to figure out how to deal with conflict and the things we don’t like and all of that. But if you level yourself up, you are going to attract different people. You’re going to attract different romantic partners and be attracted to different romantic partners. And at the same time, you’re going to attract different friends, different people that you want to hang out with. Sometimes the family relationships that you have will also change. That is to say, I’m not saying you should cut off family, but if you are in a situation where you have a family member that is being very toxic, I think that we culturally tend to say, well, that’s family. I can’t, I can’t abandon them. I’ve got to go help them. And I’ve seen a lot of times where the family dynamic can really perpetuate drama.

But if you are leveling up in the correct way, I think that not to say that you throw away your family, but I think you can minimize the interactions you have with people who are high drama. And so that can really change stuff. And this is, I think, a sensitive topic. I think it’s worth delving into for just a second here because I’ve seen a lot of really destructive stuff that has come out of “I got to do this for my family.” I not too long ago. I can’t go into details on this just for ethical reasons, but as an attorney, I work with someone who was let me see how I can be vague about this, essentially taking the rap for a criminal rap for a sibling, and this sibling had done something wrong and effectively thrown our client under the bus. And our client kept saying, I essentially have to take the rap for this, even though we had unequivocal proof that the client was not the one who had done the thing. The client was taking the rap because this person did not want the sibling to get a criminal conviction because of the implications to the sibling. And so we worked through a case where our client ended up taking the rap for this thing. And then this this whole situation happened again later and the exact same thing happened again.

So it was like two different criminal cases that resulted on this one person who was not doing anything wrong, but kept saying, well, this is my sibling. I can’t let this happen to that person. I think that’s awful because you start to perpetuate these drama dynamics when you’re kind of attracted to that and you allow it to continue. So family’s a tough one because you don’t we socially don’t want to cut that off. We don’t want to do anything that’s going to hurt family or disrupt the family dynamic or any of that stuff. And I’m not encouraging you to, like cut off ties with your family or anything, but you probably if you have somebody who is high drama in your family, you want to create boundaries and you want to start to establish at least some kind of walls to make sure that you’re not being inappropriately affected by their drama. And at some point, you need to be able to let them deal with the problems that they are creating and where necessary, establish boundaries. So family, friends, romantic partners, all this stuff starts to change when you start to level up and you start to get yourself into a different place in this drama spectrum. But that’s kind of it. Again, go to the site, the embuff.com site or wherever you find the podcast and check out the link to the emotional developmental assessment and kind of explore that a little bit, play with it, see what comes of that, because I think it’s a it’s almost a fun little game to play.

But it also I, I created it and I found it eye opening to see some of the things that I was reacting to and that it made me think about. So check it out, but I’m going to leave it there. That’s going to bring us to the end of today’s show. I hope, as always, that you found this useful. You can take away something, some little nugget. I hope that you continue to improve your life. I hope that you can continue to level up your life and your emotional development. Don’t forget to go to the website and sign up for the newsletter. It’s again, the website is embuff.com E-M-B-U-F-F.com. Remember, keep becoming more emotionally embuffed all the time. This is not something we do one time and then forget about it. This is not just you read a book and throw it in the bookshelf and now you’re emotionally buff forever any more than you go to the gym and work out one time. And that’s the end of the story. You keep going on a regular basis. Same with Emotional Embuffination. You keep working on it. At the end of the day, I want you to be emotionally strong enough to go from saying things like, “The struggle is real,” to saying, “What struggle?” Thank you all for listening. I appreciate your time and attention. I hope you have a great week and I will see you in the next episode.