Confessions of a Drama Queen
by Kathy Batesel
If you had called me a drama queen or an attention whore, I'd have been devastated! How could you be so cruel? I'd spent hours, days, weeks, feeling sorry that I'd ever met you. I'd have been angry, too. My anger might prompt me to tell you exactly what I thought about you now that you'd crossed that line. While I was at it, I'd probably tell everyone else who had ever met you about what a jerk you'd been, too.
All of my reactions would be accompanied by rapier-sharp sarcasm and ample eye-rolling, of course. Maybe even a bit of flouncing just to keep my audience's attention.
Over time, though, I've grown up and now I handle things more maturely. These days, I smile when I really mean "Go to hell!" I ask questions instead of lashing out. And I've become much more effective at getting my way because of it, but I have to admit, my inner attention-whore is always waiting in the wings to take her place onstage.
And every once in a while, I still let her.
Keep reading to find out why being a drama queen isn't all bad, what prompted me to (mostly) say goodbye to her, and what the men I dated discovered about loving an over-reactive femme.
Are Drama Queens Made or Born?
I don't know whether I was born a drama queen or became one. Maybe it was a mixture of both. I wasn't even in school yet before my parents laughed and said, "Here come the waterworks!" when I was unhappy enough to cry.
My father, who raised by brother and me, called me histrionic and dramatic on a weekly basis.
Ok, maybe not every week, but it felt like it.
I felt belittled by my parent's attitudes. I was too young to put it into words, but it seemed like when I felt upset enough to cry, they ignored what I was upset about, simply because I showed it. It made matters worse, and so I learned to escalate my behavior until they couldn't ignore the reasons I was upset.
I yelled. I screamed. I stormed from the room. As a teen, I once refused to leave my bedroom for three days. I outlasted my dad, who finally caved and paid attention to what I wanted.
Drama Queen or Attention Whore?
There is a difference between a drama queen and an attention whore, but they are very closely related. An attention whore wants attention just like the drama queen. The difference between them is whether the AW takes it a step further and tries to manipulate others' behavior.
An AW has empathy and can take constructive criticism better. She's more cooperative and less combative.
A DQ tends to pride herself on "being herself."
Most people use these terms interchangeably, though, so someone who is only seeking attention could be perceived as the more manipulative DQ.
People who are drama queens (including men!) may have personality disorders like these:
Dealing with Drama Queens
If you love someone who is an attention-seeker, this book can help you find ways to lovingly detach so you aren't overwhelmed by their behaviors.
Drama is More than Just a Way to Cope
My childhood household wasn't a healthy one, to say the least. Although we didn't go hungry, there was very little love or affection in it. Looking back, being dramatic was the one solution that got the attention I craved and needed.
As a pre-teen, I discovered other benefits, too. Take shock value, for instance. When David (not his real name) pretended he would pierce my ear with the jumbo-sized sewing pin he'd picked up in his art class, I took it from him and pierced it myself on the spot. Crazy? Absolutely. Yet it put an end to the months of insults and teasing he'd been directing my way for three months. He was a little scared of me, unsure of exactly what I might be capable of doing. Plus, I captured the attention of everyone in the vicinity in a flash with that unbelievable but oh-so-dramatic act.
Another benefit was that some people just plain envied me. "I wish I was as brave as you," they said. They weren't talking about putting holes in my body. They were talking about my ability to use clever comebacks, sarcasm, and passionate retorts to get my way.
"You have a tongue that could cut concrete," is the way my first husband phrased it.
My crazy, drama-laden antics cultivated a reputation that grew larger than me. It ensured that interesting people and unusual experiences became part of my daily lifestyle. I can't say it made me any real friends, but I didn't know that at the time because so many people hung out with me. It did make me an interesting person to know, but I wasn't the kind of person people trusted.
After all, I fell asleep to the sounds of sirens and police helicopters a mile away from what was then the most violent street intersection in the country. I buddied out with a guy who slept in a coffin the same year I went on dates with a fellow student whose dad loaned him the family's Rolls-Royce. Another friend's brother was in prison for killing a man that had picked him up hitchhiking, then propositioned him. And my BFF's family included her wealthy father, CEO of a prosperous aerospace company, and her sister, who was in love with a gay man. My drug dealer reported his illegal sales as taxable income, which paled in comparison to my friend whose father sold drugs while his stepfather was a criminal prosecutor who lived in Barry Goldwater's former home. (Beautiful rose bushes lined the front walkway!)
Yes, my penchant for drama brought intrigue and excitement into my life.
Drama, Attention, Excitement - Not Always a Good Thing!
My need for attention had grown into a monster, perhaps, as my craving for excitement and novelty merged with my new-found freedoms as I went from adolescent to teenager with a driver's license and raging hormones. I felt strong, capable, and well... interesting. I met famous people and homeless ones, and I absorbed their stories while sharing my own.
But not all the stories were good ones.
By the time I turned 25, three different people had threatened me with guns, and ten people I'd known had died, mostly to violence and drunk driving.
Being the dramatic type, I felt every sadness to my very core, and found it harder to move past those moments. I got stuck in them sometimes, unable to find joy in the things that brought pleasure to other people. Depression plagued me, punctuated by periods of high excitement.
The worst of it for me was what happened in my relationships. I grew disenchanted and bitter as one relationship after another crumbled, especially when they'd looked so promising in the beginning. I was ok with casual sex that wasn't geared toward commitment, but when I thought I'd met the man I wanted to love forever only to watch it disintegrate, it magnified the cycle I found myself in - wavering between depression and excitement seeking that could life those yucky feelings. Still, it took decades for me to realize that they fell apart largely because of me!
Can YOU Spot an Attention Whore?
YOU CAN SAVE YOURSELF! (Before it's too late!)
The young woman who made this video calls herself an attention whore. She's right. She's a lot like I was in many ways. By watching this video and taking the quiz below, you can learn to spot clues about women who have such dysfunctional needs for attention that they wreak havoc in others' lives.
Identify Common Signs of DQ/AW
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Men and the Attention Whore...ME!
I never had a problem meeting men. They saw me as charming, exciting, intelligent, and sexy - exactly what I wanted them to see. I could just as easily sport blue jeans and a t-shirt (my favorite attire) or a provocative leather skirt with a see-through lacy blouse and four-inch stiletto heels.
They liked my enthusiastic libido, followed by my sharp wit and my ambition.
Correction... They loved those things.
I was more than just an interesting person. I was an interesting person who was interested in them. They found me easy to talk to, and claimed I was a great listener.
Often, though, I ended budding relationships myself, often because I felt bored. The relationship felt like a bad cliché after a few months. Yawn.
Some of them lasted longer. My first husband filled my drama quotient. He was a singer in a popular local band that was climbing closer to that elusive recording contract. When we were together, I met celebrities from the rock-and-roll world and became a mother to one, two, and then three beautiful daughters. He also "couldn't keep the zipper on his pants zipped," to use his own words. We argued constantly - about his excessive drinking and overspending, and the way I was too critical and perpetually unhappy.
I discovered that there is such a thing as too much drama, and I left when I couldn't take any more. In the years to come, I replayed similar scenarios in other relationships. What started out strong turned into vicious power struggles.
In their eyes, I stopped being the great listener with a keen sense of humor and was told I was "too analytical," and sarcastic, and was accused of over-reacting on many of the problems that arose.
Now, I won't pretend that I was entirely at fault. There were real issues. But today I can reflect on the patterns I found in my relationships and I recognize that besides having standards that were too low, I let my sense of drama get in the way:
- I over-reacted to ensure I got their attention, which put men on the defensive right away.
- I told others about my relationship problems to get their sympathy. My partners felt betrayed when I did this.
- I resorted to sarcasm when I felt myself losing, which escalated arguments. Sometimes they ended with physical violence.
- I constantly remained alert for the BBD - the bigger, better deal. This made it easier for me to leave instead of facing up to how I contributed to relationship problems. (I've noticed many drama queens in similar situations will cheat. I'm happy to say I never crossed that line.)
- I constantly sought changes - better jobs, bigger houses, more travel. This caused my partners to feel like they failed me no matter how much they tried to please me.
The End: Curtain Call
Exiting the Theater
Learning to say goodbye to drama in my life has been a long process. I still crave excitement at times, and even in my mid-40s, I'm not above throwing in a little shock value here or there. It's fun! But I have to make sure to channel my impulses in healthy ways that produce laughter instead of pain.
Here are some things I've done to strip drama of its negative effects:
- Minimizing contact with other dramatic or toxic people
- Teaching myself to appreciate stability and peace more than excitement
- Reminding myself that I can be right, or I can be happy, but usually can't be both
- Practicing affirmations and dealing with depressive feelings in healthy ways
- Using abundant praise to put other people at the center of attention in groups
- Confiding in just one person I trust instead of talking to many when I'm unhappy (which also means avoiding the temptation to post gripes on social media like Facebook!)
- Avoiding talk about personal problems in my workplace
I can't say that the things I do differently today are the sole reason drama is no longer such a dominant part of my personality. It's possible that hormonal changes helped ease my attention-seeking behaviors, too.
What I can say is that I'm happy to be in the audience as the curtain closes and let someone else take center stage. It has proven helpful for letting my relationships deepen with my husband and my friends. I've been better able to navigate office politics and find more success at work.
Although I will always have a certain fondness for that plucky girl I've left behind, I deeply appreciate the woman who has taken her place like a fine mellowed wine brewed from fermented grapes.