Chaos Addicts, Drama Queens, and Toxic People… Oh My!

I am a recovering chaos addict. This revelation often surprises people, mainly because I’m fairly calm and keep a level head in emergencies. But let’s not confuse effective emergency management with the lack of attraction for chaos and drama.

While I was growing up, life was always hectic. My parents often made poor decisions and regularly looked to the future in the hope of an easier time, which unfortunately never came. This led to many of my early misconceptions about how the world works that I now realize are not true. For example, when I was young I thought it was common for families to move at least once a year and for cars to spontaneously run out of gas. From a wider viewpoint, it created the belief in me that near constant chaos and drama is both normal and acceptable.

As a young adult, I found myself attracted to others who also grew up in chaos, often resulting in dramatic relationships. I was convinced that everything was supposed to be difficult or complicated and, as a result, when life was “too easy”, I would add my own difficulty. I would often unconsciously take the hardest path. As far as I was concerned, life and relationships were something to endure and survive, not thrive within. This was reflected in my work life as well.

Then one day, after a series of particularly dramatic events, I realized that there was a reason I always found myself in chaotic and dramatic relationships: I was attracted to chaos and drama like a moth to a flame.

Chaos had been the status quo for the majority of my life up until then and, when it wasn’t there, I would get bored and agitated without understanding why. This led to me seeking it out subconsciously, as I felt more secure when facing a crisis, even if it wasn’t’ my own crisis. I didn’t feel comfortable unless I was working through something or supporting someone else going through a personal drama (that I would subsequently take on as my own).

Ok, so taking the hard way did instill in me some pretty great traits; a strong work ethic, resiliency, and endurance for change. But it’s simply not a healthy way to live.

You might not be a recovering chaos addict like me, but you’ve probably encountered your fair share of drama and toxicity that you’d like to minimize, here are a few tips from a recovering chaos addict:

1. Recognize when you are the drama factor

If there’s drama in multiple areas of your life, take a good look in the mirror—you’re the common denominator. Are you creating it? Attracting it? What are you getting from it? Are you bored? Need a distraction from dealing with a bigger issue? Looking for attention or excitement?

Now let’s find a better solution. If bored, what adventure can you create? If you need attention, who can you get it from more directly? If you’re looking for a distraction, what is it that you’re avoiding?

2. Shift your perspective

Most drama is created in our heads through story. Using story is how our brain makes sense of the world and how it categorizes stimuli and information. But it’s not very accurate.

The stories that we create often have the purpose of helping to support existing beliefs. These beliefs could be based on a fear (usually of something that is unlikely to ever become a reality). Or maybe the beliefs are based on a “should” regarding how people or the world should be. Our beliefs drive our reactions to situations. If we can shift our beliefs and keep an open mind to other beliefs, then our reaction can move to a more thoughtful, rather than reactionary, response.

Try this exercise:

  1. Write down a story of an injustice done to you.
  2. Go back and cross out anything that was not a fact. Be honest here.
  3. Notice how short your story is, and that there was most likely no apparent injustice when your interpretations and perceptions are removed.
  4. Now replace the perceptions with something funny or positive, and see how the story has a different meaning altogether. 

You can also use this exercise to experience another person’s perception of the same event by inserting their perspective instead of something funny.

3. Don’t take on other people’s drama

While it’s true that being a good friend means being there through good times and bad, this doesn’t mean that you get to take on the bad times as if they’re your own. Resist the urge to add fuel to the fire with your own reactions. This is still your friend’s problem, so listen more and talk less. A pity party isn’t helpful.

Your calming energy will often help. Breathe and get them to breathe.

4. Unhealthy relationships

Do you have someone in your life who seems to consistently have catastrophes or is stressed and unhappy most of the time? This kind of person can be referred to as an “energy vampire”.

Do an inventory of your relationships. Who amongst your friends and family recharges you and brings out your very best? Who makes constant withdrawals, making you feel drained and depleted when spending time with them? When the latter is true, it’s time to take a look at what you’re getting out of the relationship. Is it worth it?

If you aren’t sure if you have any energy vampires in your life, you can use this quiz to help you.

If you don’t feel that you can just end the relationship, then, at a minimum, reduce the time that you spend with that person and develop clear boundaries to keep yourself charged and healthy.

 5. Be clear, honest, and vulnerable

If you have an issue with someone, talk it out. Misunderstandings and assumptions are typically the cause of relationships going sideways and can lead to a lot of drama. If you are willing to open up, be clear, honest and vulnerable then, typically, so will the other person.

Talk to the person when neither of you are “charged”. Share how you felt using “I felt” statements instead of “You made me feel” to fully own your own feelings. Resist the urge to blame or react. Yes, you may be hurt, but that was likely not their intention (and, if it was or you feel that it was, maybe the relationship needs to end).

6. Surround yourself with other people’s Joy

Stress and negativity are contagious. There are studies suggesting that when you see other people in pain it can activate the pain system in your own brain.

According to this study positive emotions can also be experienced vicariously, meaning joy and happiness are also contagious.

This sort of contagious joy can be a source of well-being according to this study, so indulge in the joy of others and feel it with them.

7. You have a choice

Sometimes it may feel like drama just happens to us, that we are powerless and without choice. But the reality is that we always have a choice, even when we are blind to it.

It’s not unusual to find yourself in a situation where you think the options are just A or B with a strong preference for one, making it hard to see anything else. This makes creativity and openness challenging.  

If, on the other hand, you believe that there are thousands of options, and you are willing to consider even the most absurd, then options you couldn’t see before start to emerge.

Try this exercise:

  1. Start with a deep breath to create space.
  2. List as many silly, absurd, and crazy options as you possibly can - no filtering. Write as fast as you can, as many as you can, for a full 20 minutes.
  3. Breathe.
  4. Read what you wrote.
  5. Reflect for a day and do it again.

See what becomes available to you. Feel free to solicit help with ideas from someone who is not involved in the situation (asking them to help you brainstorm and not give advice).

You might be surprised how many reasonable alternatives there actually are!

Do you need help shifting from chaos to freedom? Do you feel there are too many dramatic relationships in your life? Do you want more control over your future? Does work suck? If so, I’m here for you, just reach out. 

“When you are not honoring the present moment by allowing it to be, you are creating drama.” ~Eckhart Tolle