Saturday, July 11, 2015

IS YOUR LIFE A SOAP OPERA?

By Mary Kennedy                           
 
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!
 
 
Mary Kennedy
 
 
                                                   
 
 

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

In my former life (the one before working at the library for 14+ years and then retiring), I was a lawyer specializing in domestic relations (divorce, custody, domestic abuse) and juvenile law. As you can imagine, I had more than my fair share of soap opera drama from the women, men, and kids. I know that internalizing that drama is part of the reason why I burned out and quit my practice. Now I have more of a "Put up or shut up" attitude. Cordella

Gram said...

I found two books by Joy Davidson at my library. The Agony of it All - the Drive for Drama and Excitement in Women's lives...and The Joy of Simple Living. I put them both on my t-b-r list.

Maggie Sefton said...

Loved your post, Mary, and boy, is it true. I used to have the White Knight syndrome and felt I had to "rescue" my friends or acquaintances. Something about our 40s brings out this "rescue" syndrome. In our 30s we're WAY too busy with kids and building careers and all the myriad activities that come with having 4 children. I call our 30s the SuperMom Phase. Soon you learn SuperMom didn't exist. She died from exhaustion. Our 40s is a great problem-solving age. Perfect for advanced degrees and continued career building. So, needy female friends' problems naturally engage us. I think we try to "save" them. :) Problem is----they don't stay "saved." They don't change, so their behavior stays the same and the results as well. I never could understand that back then. But----in our 50s, Insight hits us upside the head. We realize that none of us can "change" someone else. That's their inner work. We can't do it for them. They have to do it. But----the powerful point we learn is that when "we" change ourselves and make significant changes in our lives, we can shine a light for others. They see that we did it. They can too. :) ----Metaphysical Maggie Moment

Karen in Ohio said...

Our longtime next-door neighbor was ill for several weeks before he died, and out-of-town family members were staying at his house while he was in first the hospital and then hospice. We were trying to help all we could, taking food over, lending a car, etc. Since we've known the siblings for more than 25 years, naturally we visited back and forth a bit. Unfortunately, I did not realize that the sister and the daughter had such nasty personal history, and I got plunked smack in the middle of what came just short of an old-fashioned hair-pulling.

You'd think I'd learned my lesson, since that happened in the last couple of months. Nope. I ended up also getting pulled into a drama involving my brother-in-law (my husband's twin) and an old girlfriend, too. I didn't even realize it was happening until I was in way over my head. Blast it.

Kate Collins said...

Good information, Mary. Many of us are what I call "Helper Angels" who want to rescue people in bad situations. Sadly, I've gotten sucked into a few of those before I learned my lesson. Some people don't want to be rescued. They want to be pitied and pampered and paid attention to. When you stop giving their "dramas" attention, they find other suckers.

Anonymous said...

There is an old saying that I tell myself when I start to get sucked into someone's drama: not my circus, not my monkeys. When it comes to my adult offspring I say to the Creator "Not my circus, but they are my monkeys!" Lol.

mary kennedy said...

LOVE this quote!! I'm going to share it with my friends and clients. Excellent advice....thanks so much for stopping by.

mary kennedy said...

Hi Katie, yes, "Helper Angles," that's it exactly. And you are so right...they move onto the next person. It's fascinating to watch (but not to get caught up in). Thanks for stopping by and have a fun week-end!

mary kennedy said...

Karen, you were very generous to help your neighbor, horrible that things turned out as they did. Hugs! It's so easy to slip back into "helping" mode. I think as women we tend to do that...way too much. Thanks for stopping by.

mary kennedy said...

Hi Maggie, love the phrase "Super Mom died from exhaustion." I think you need to write a blog about it. We have all been there, sad to say. And you hit the nail on the head, their behaviors don't change so their problems continue, playing out over and over. It's like watching the same play with a different set of actors and the ending is always the same. Thanks for stopping by.

mary kennedy said...

Hi Gram, I have both those books, I think you will LOVE them!! Joy is a wonderful writer and makes the material come alive. I see examples of the "Soap Opera Syndrome" every day. Once you're aware of it, you see it again and again.

mary kennedy said...

Cordella, it sounds like you have come up with the perfect solution. "Put up or shut up." I don't know how you survived all those years doing family law....that is incredibly tough. I was a Court Appointed Advocate for 6 years (unpaid) and finally burned out. I know the feeling...you just can't save everybody (but we certainly try...) Thanks for stopping by

Nancy said...

That's a popular saying, these days and I have thought the same thing, or something similar. When it's your child it becomes your circus, too. You aren't as likely to walk away when it's your child who is troubled.

Mary Jane Maffini said...

Thanks for this GREAT post, Mary! You have no idea how timely it is. The monkeys are restless today. XOXO

mary kennedy said...

I hear ya, MJ! Glad you liked it! Have a fun week-end.

Annette N said...

Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys. I think that should be on a tee shirt. Headbands. Bumper Stickers. That is priceless.

Ann Mettert said...

We were at a reception years ago when the ushers started getting really rowdy. My bro stood up. Then he sat down shaking his head. It's not my party, he said. That's become our family mantra. Kinda like not my circus, but relates immediately to us.

mary kennedy said...

I agree, Annette!! It's a great reminder.

mary kennedy said...

Your brother did the right thing! Sometimes not intervening is the hardest thing to do...thanks for stopping by!

Lynda Turpin said...

This is a great blog Mary. I am hopeless when it comes to trying to help people with their problems, but over time I have at least been able to (sometimes) realize when it is pointless. I don't always recognize when a situation is just drama, but I keep trying. There have been a few situations where I stepped back and distanced myself - but not as often as I should.

mary kennedy said...

Hi Lynda, I think we all have the same problem it's so hard to step back! Thanks for stopping by.