This past week, three female friends said to me, "My life is like a soap opera." Were they telling the truth? Was it an exaggeration? Were they drama queens? Or were their lives so fraught with drama and crises that they really *did* feel that they were living in a soap opera?
I was intrigued by their stories and decided it might make an interesting blog. As I listened carefully to their narratives, I found some common themes.
*They all were wrapped up in various crises involving friends, acquaintances and family members. How did they get so involved in things that really didn't concern them? As busy professional women, wives and mothers, surely they had enough on their plate -- why get involved in the drama of others? Sometimes it was a *boundary* issue, sometimes they had a heightened sense of responsibility for others, sometimes they were sucked into other peoples' emotional demands without realizing what was happening.
*Women seem especially vulnerable to "the soap opera syndrome." Excitement, drama and living on the edge is entertaining in soap operas, but it doesn't make for a healthy emotional life. People -- whether friends or family members -- with fragile egos and a flair for drama, can be exhausting. Women are accustomed to being caregivers and we feel an innate desire to help, to listen, to give counsel. Sometimes the "drama queen" just wants to vent and our helpful advice falls on deaf ears. We walk away from the encounter exhausted and vaguely irritated. "Well, there's an hour of my life I'll never get back," I've been known to mutter.
*Relationships with needy, histrionic people (female excitement-seekers) can be addictive. It's almost as though we're tuning in to see what new crisis, what new drama has erupted in their lives. Just like we tune into a soap or our favorite TV drama. Sometimes their stories are so fascinating we find our own lives drab by comparison. How could so many dramatic events happen to one person, we wonder?
*Our own sensation-seeking traits can make us blind to what is really going on. Are we really helping our friend by spending hours on the phone -- or over coffee -- hearing their rendition of "Woe is me!" Since the same scenario seems to be playing out over and over in their lives, we have to assume that there is no end in sight, and we are not helping the situation.
*You can gracefully extricate yourself from these situation, but it is not easy. There might be some ruffled feelings at first. Keep the conversations short, and when possible, turn the topic to something pleasant or calming. (This will be difficult but persevere.)
*Remind yourself that the best favor you can do for a sensation-seeking person is to inject a note of reality. Everything is not as black and white as they are describing. No one could survive the constant drama in their lives without a strong sense of self. You can offer a friendly sounding board, but don't let yourself be dragged in. Remember, it is their drama, not yours.
*There is a very good book, sadly out of print, but you can buy it used, called The Soap Opera Syndrome by Joy Davidson that is a great resource. Good luck and let me know how you do!