Part 4: The 6 types of toxic friends even the most mentally healthy among us can turn into — on occasion. (The Drama Magnet)

“Drama Magnet” reminds me of Jan Brady. “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” makes my skin crawl as much now as when I was 10 years old. Jan Brady is the quintessential example of a drama magnet and most certainly fits the criteria for Histrionic Personality Disorder.

It is difficult to hide my annoyance with anyone who gripes and grumbles and groans — all while refusing to take responsibility for their own actions.

I totally annihilated him on Facebook. What a jerk. Maybe I broke in, destroyed his home, and stole all his money. But, I wouldn’t have gone to jail if he didn’t call the police.

The most cringe-worthy behaviors that set me off on a rampage of judgment are again and again big fat mirrors reflecting my own insecurity. When I respond from a place of fear and self-doubt, my personal Drama Magnet sees an opening to take over.

What exactly is Histrionic Personality Disorder?

Histrionic Personality Disorder is not a common diagnosis and effects an estimated 1% of the population. The diagnosis of any personality disorder requires a long-standing pattern of multiple behaviors in multiple settings. A formal diagnosis of Histrionic Personality Disorder is more complex than simply acting like Jan Brady.

A diagnosis requires at least 5 of the following long-standing patterns of behavior described in the list below:

1. Discomfort in situations in which he/she is not the center of attention

2. Inappropriate sexual or provocative behavior

3. Displays shallow expression of emotions

4. Uses physical appearance to draw attention to self

5. Speech is excessively impressionistic and lacks details.

6. Shows theatrical and exaggerated expressions of emotion

7. Easily influenced by others or circumstances

8. Considers relationships to be more intimate than they are

The consensus among professionals is that histrionic personality disorder symptoms are a combination of nature and nurture.

It may be in your genes or it may be in the way you were raised. Either way, you can blame it on your mother.

My story as the Drama Magnet

We are all capable of being a wee bit of a drama magnet. As much as I would love to be the sole exception, I am not.

Back Story

My son is not the most academic-minded kid I’ve ever met. He prefers to see how far he can throw a book rather than read it — not for any kind of science experiment on aerodynamics, but because it’s cool. He is a physically oriented kid. He excels on the ball fields, working with his hands, and visualizing solutions to all things moving. On the flip-side, he absolutely hates the traditional, sit at your desk, classroom.

In contrast, I didn’t just “go to college”, I went “all the way”. I enjoyed college so much, I hung around and taught for over a decade. I love school. I love taking standardized tests. I love traditional academic settings. I love my son.

The Setting

My son’s least favorite activity in the world is homework. Reading and language skills are difficult for him and he needs to work harder than many of his classmates. I am abundantly aware that his distaste for academics is as strong today in his senior year of high school as it was on his first day of kindergarten.

Awareness did not reduce the personal conflict brewing inside of me on the day of his first-grade review. With all my kids, I focus on their strengths, support them in everything they do, love them unconditionally, blah blah blah. But, as a professor who believes in the gospel of life-long learning, “How could any of my kids not love and excel in school?” The drama magnet in me saw an opening.

Act I: The birth of insecurity

Veronica scored extremely low on all sections of the WISC (intelligence test for children). With his limited abilities, it will be difficult for her to participate in organized sports, perform self-care independently (i.e. showers), or cross roads on his own. … Caleb has an extreme fear of animals.

There are a few problems with this report. First, and most apparent, I did not name my son Veronica or Caleb. Second, rarely are pronouns randomly selected without consideration of gender. Third, I am quite familiar with the WISC assessment and nowhere does it measure the ability to play sports, shower, or cross roads. Fourth, my son is surrounded daily by horses, cows, chickens, and various other creatures and I have yet to see any fear in his eyes.

Act II: The victim’s journey

Sitting across the table alone from a half dozen or so teachers and administrators, I suggest that maybe this report used some cut-and-paste excerpts from other reports. To which the 25-year-old psychology intern throws the report across the table and said, “I hate when parents are in denial.”

I know my son has difficulties with reading, but I also know this report had no merit. Instead of evaluating the situation as an experienced educator, articulating my unwavering expectation the report not be used in educational decisions, and setting forth to create a plan for re-evaluation — I decide instead to become Jan Brady.

I was dismissive to the teachers and administrators and I was less than kind to the not-yet-graduated intern. I went out and I vented. I vented hard. Thank God it was before the days of Facebook, because I could have done some serious damage.

Act III: The return

Fear and defensiveness only last so long when you meander your way back to reality. Witnessing my son’s incredibly normal progression— in the face of the report I should have ignored anyway — was a constant reminder of my very vocal over-reaction to anyone who would listen.

My reaction was not about the physical report. My reaction was not about the over-worked, short-cut taking intern. My reaction was not even about my son’s “limitations” (because I knew better). My reaction was about my own insecurities. Belittling and criticizing were my go-to defenses that day — and the following weeks. Defense mechanisms are very good at hiding those nagging insecurities. “Where did I do wrong? I am a bad mother.”

The Moral

We all can be the drama magnet … sometimes. When we feel “less than” and “not good enough” blaming others can be tempting. Even if you or other players in your story deserve blame, no benefit is ever gained by pointing fingers.

When that rush of insecurity invades, fight against your go-to defenses. Your defenses are there to protect your ego, but defenses are also a weapon that can hurt others and build mountains of regret.

Get to know yourself and explore your past behaviors. Recognizing your body’s reaction to threat, knowing your tendencies to defend your ego, and creating an arsenal of healthy alternatives for stressful situations can deflate many painful situations before they get out of hand.

We all make mistakes and react with hurtful and unhealthy words and behaviors… sometimes. You can’t take back words and actions, but in the words of Maya Angelou, “When you know better, do better.”

In This Series:

Toxic Relationship Type 1: The Critic

Toxic Relationship Type 2: The Narcissist

Toxic Relationship Type 3: The Controller

Coming Soon:

Toxic Relationship Type 5: The Needy

Toxic Relationship Type 6: The Envious

Psychologist and mom. Working to make life a little better.