Dear Neil: I feel like I am living in a soap opera. My girlfriend and I have lived together for the past six months. In that period of time, she has gotten pregnant, aborted, lost her job (she was accused of dressing inappropriately), threatened suicide, left me, came back, got in a car wreck and has had a breakdown. She calls me 20 or 30 times a day at work, and is frequently in some sort of crisis about something or another.
I love this woman, but she is driving me crazy, and I am unsure I can be with her forever like this. Help. What do I do?
On A Rollercoaster in Ontario
Dear Ontario: It sounds like you’re living with a drama queen. Drama queens (and kings):
- Require that they be the center of attention. So they are always calling attention to themselves—or appealing for your help or sympathy—and may do so in a coercive, manipulative or deceptive way.
- Are overly dramatic and theatrical. There’s a tendency to be intense, exaggerated and emotionally reactive. There’s a melodrama quality about what happens to them—things that other people take more in stride.
- Are often flirtatious, sexually seductive or provocative in their conversation and behavior.
- Consistently use physical appearance to draw attention to themselves. Physical prowess and/or attractiveness are heavily valued. There’s a tendency to be an exhibitionist.
- Typically have superficial relationships with others, and they consider those relationships to be more intimate than they really are.
- Tend to have wild swings in emotions which are often triggered by minor problems or dilemmas. Emotions may shift frequently and rapidly, and emotional storms are common.
- Are suggestible and impulsive. They’re easily influenced by others or by circumstances.
- Have a style of speech lacking in detail. They give impressions rather than details.
Technically called Histrionic Personality Disorder, drama kings and queens may be surprisingly out of touch with their inner feelings, act demanding, self-centered and emotionally needy, and crave novelty, stimulation and excitement.
Although it’s not easy to alter these personality traits and behaviors, it is possible. A drama queen’s essential work is to improve her self-esteem, to form and maintain authentic (rather then superficial) intimate friendships and relationships with others, gain a greater emotional awareness of what she’s needing in her various social and family relationships, gain a greater awareness of her personal goals which are not directly related to other people’s approval—and to be more aware of and sensitive to the feelings and needs of others.
So what do you if you’re in a relationship with a drama queen (or king)? Help her develop self-worth and self-reliance, and do so benevolently, not harshly or through meanness. Assist her in uncovering her true feelings. They are often very hidden from her. Encourage her to deepen her friendships and connections to other people, especially those that care about her. And assist her in learning to be sensitive to the feelings of other people, especially those she cares about.
A good psychotherapist may be able to guide and teach her these things as well.