Peace and the Drama of Relationships

Not long ago, a colleague shared with me a situation in which ‘a lot of drama’ was playing out in a business relationship. She was wondering how she could gracefully and peacefully ‘exit’ this situation.

This reminded me of what my mediation instructors used to say … that even really good, kind and the best of people can and do get caught up in conflict or in a drama they don’t know how to get out of. They don’t know how it ‘got to this point’ and they feel embarrassed to seek help of any kind.

In my practice, people frequently share how a particular relationship triggers them in ways that they don’t understand and they find themselves reacting to the other person’s comments or engage in behaviour they themselves find ‘icky’ and intolerable.

To think that ‘that will never be me’ is a mistake. Getting caught in the drama of relationship dynamics happens to all of us. Without realizing it, we have sent that email with words we can’t take back, or we have said something that we simply can’t pretend wasn’t said. Or we find ourselves playing out the drama because we don’t know what else to do. We may not have the boundaries or tools to step out of the drama and stop it (yet) – I believe we use the word ‘drama’ because we don’t really know what is going on.

I think this kind of ‘drama’ happens when participants within the relationship dynamic do not take responsibility for how they feel or what they think. Participants end up ‘throwing around’ their shame, guilt and anger or lashing out in hurt or blame causing a wave of disrespect, disregard or failure to truly listen. People feel ‘hit’ by this anger and in this emotional chaos of energy, words begin to be thrown about. All communication speeds up and quickens in reactions, our shame being fuelled. A true recipe for disaster and deep hurt – even with those we love the most.

So what can we do when drama shows up?

BREATHE. And breathe again. Breathe into your kidneys (practise doing this when you are not stressed, so it can be a reflex-like response in a necessary moment). This will begin to calm your heart rate and regulate your stress flight instinct so you can think more resourcefully.

SLOW DOWN THE CONVERSATION! As I mentioned, ‘drama’ is fast and mindless. So slow down the conversation. Put in breaks such as a 24-hour delay in responding to emails or simply say in a conversation, “I will need 24 hours to think about what you just said and get back to you.” Or, “let me go outside and put my feet on the ground and get centred, so I can show up here feeling good about how I am doing that.”

ANSWER THIS QUESTION: What is the boundary of respect that is needed here? When we become reactive and step into a drama dynamic, our sense of shame (sense of inadequacy, failure or not being good enough or worthy) often becomes fuelled. When shame is present, respect is absent. Be present to your feelings, including shame. Perhaps tap on specific points if you know how to do that (ie. EFT, TFT, Midline Therapy, or some other way to bring down the emotional arousal level). Shame feels ‘icky’ and we fear being ‘exposed’ when shame takes over. It’s often the best time to ask for help from a trusted other, because it’s precisely the time when our subconscious will try to convince, and our ‘shame voice’ threaten, us that if we ask for help we will be exposed and even less acceptable than before.

EVALUATE YOUR OWN TRIGGER. What does this dynamic awaken in you which feeds your shadow relationship pattern? Even if you assess you have contributed only 5% to the drama, you have contributed that much and so that is the part that remains your responsibility. Often our own core wound, such as we feel our incompetence or lack of worth has been exposed somehow. Learn to detach from this trigger and know its patterns so you can catch it early when it becomes activated. Have someone help you develop more responsive relationship patterns, especially in conflict.

CHANGE YOUR POSITION. Whenever we are relating to someone or something, we are in a certain position to them/it … often without our awareness. For example, perhaps we have repeatedly put someone else on a pedestal or supported that person beyond what may be healthy for us. If you pay close attention to the structure of this dynamic, it means that you have given permission for the other to be oriented in a way they can look down on you or you are ‘underneath’ that person in an attempt to be supportive to the point of your own deterioration. In noticing the structure of this interaction, you can choose to stand up for yourself, which encourages a different set of responses behaviourally and verbally. Perhaps you are always putting yourself behind the other person and you need to come into equal -side by side- position and drop the victim narrative. ( I will be sharing more about this in the near future).

IDENTIFY WHAT YOU REALLY NEED AND VALUE. Clarify what you really want to happen and what the relationship means to you. Perhaps you need to exit the relationship because it is draining your energy. Perhaps you each need to clarify what values and core needs are being disrespected so it becomes clear what you need or want to have happen instead of the ‘drama’. Don’t shortchange this step. Take the time to deeply listen to what you need and then the other person. When people come back to the same issue again and again, even ‘after it’s been discussed’, it signifies that a core need or value is still not validated and people are still not feeling listened to, nor respected. David Ausberger says that deep listening is really an experience of true love. I agree. Establish boundaries that reflect your core values and true needs so that your relationships have improved patterns of connection rather than ‘drama’.

These are just a few ways to address ‘relationship drama’ when it shows up. I challenge you to pay attention to our theme of ‘peaceful relating’ and see what other insights and techniques you can gather. For this next week, write down what relationships are ‘drama-driven’ for you and see if you can identify where the lack of respect is playing out and notice your position (above, under, ‘in the right’, ‘out in left field’, behind, ahead) in this drama.

In upcoming blogs, we will continue to explore how you orient yourself to your world and the ways you communicate and give permission for others to be in relationship with you. Gift yourself with what spring can awaken in your heart to re-kindle meaningful relationships.


Shirley Lynn