Oh my Gosh, did you hear that Justin hooked up with Caitlyn at Ross's party on Saturday? But then the cops came and everyone had to leave and Ross wanted to beat up Justin, and then Julie was so mad about everything that she blocked Caitlyn online and put up a really sad away message and everyone got really worried, and now none of Julie's friends will even talk to Justin or Caitlyn! And since Caitlyn's my roommate it's really awkward and we don't even talk now but she cries all the time and I feel really bad but I don't know what to do. . .
If you have ever had a conversation like this one, chances are you have felt drawn into and probably overwhelmed by the drama in your social life. Is it possible to have friends and a social life, but not this kind of drama? How do you do this? In this article I will talk about some ways to minimize your participation in social drama and also minimize its impact on you (when your friends are involved).
First of all, it is important to define "social drama" as opposed to normal socializing or relationships. Where normal socializing can involve spending time with other people, talking about all kinds of topics (including yourself), listening to your friends do the same, and addressing any conflicts that arise directly and assertively, "drama" is something different. The drama usually comes in when people start to talk about other people (instead of themselves or their own lives), become overly concerned with what other people do/say/think, and make verbal judgments or criticisms of others (i.e. gossip). It also arises when people get angry with each other and, instead of dealing with their conflicts directly, they engage in passive-aggressive vengeful behaviors (i.e. blocking someone online, putting up an away message that says how angry you are but not actually telling the person you're angry at, giving someone the silent treatment, trying to get other people to be mean to someone you're upset with, etc. ).
Minimizing your participation in social drama can dramatically reduce your stress level and allow you to enjoy your social life and friends a lot more. Doing this is fairly simple (but not necessarily easy). It requires that you refrain from gossiping and act assertively in the face of conflict. Translated into specific behaviors, this means being really careful about what you say and how you say it. When you talk to your friends, make sure that you're talking about yourself- your thoughts, feelings, actions, and even reactions are all fair game for conversation. If someone does something that upsets you and you feel like you need to process your feelings about it with another friend, make sure that you stay focused on your feelings and not on making judgments or criticisms about the person who triggered your distress. For example, instead of saying "Can you believe she said that? What a b---ch!", you might say, "When she said ____, I got really upset and now I'm not sure what to do. " Most of the time if you're upset enough about something to need to talk about it, what you're really seeking is someone to understand and validate your feelings. Having your friend bad-mouth the person who wronged you might feel good temporarily but doesn't actually help you in the long run.
The other part of minimizing your involvement in social drama is acting more assertively. This means recognizing and clearly communicating your needs and feelings to other people. Therefore, if someone does something that hurts or upsets you, instead of telling everyone else about it, consider talking to that person directly. Let them know what they did and how you felt about it, without attacking or blaming. Just state the facts. This preserves your integrity and also respects the integrity of those around you. Being able to communicate assertively with your friends and romantic partners is one of the key ways to reduce social drama. When you're assertive, there's nothing to gossip about!
But let's be honest here, you can be as careful as possible never to gossip and to speak assertively but if your friends aren't doing the same thing, you can get drawn into the drama anyway. How can you minimize the impact of other people's drama on your life and relationships?
One of the key ways to do this is learning to keep your mouth shut. Just listen! If one of your friends is upset about something and is getting dramatic about it, you can listen to what (s)he has to say without engaging the drama aspect. After you've listened to what your friend says, you might ask questions like, "So what are you going to do?" or "So how does this affect you personally?" Helping your friends refocus on themselves is a gentle way to point out that they weren't doing that initially. You can also say this more directly to people; you might let people know that you are trying not to engage in gossip and that, if you hear other people doing it, you won't participate. Remember, bonding with someone through bad-mouthing someone else is not a real or lasting bond.
Another way to minimize the impact of drama on you is by learning to limit your contact with people who you know tend to engender chaos. We all know those people who seem to bring drama with them wherever they go. Being polite and civil to these people but making sure not to share anything personal or spend too much time with them might be the best way to proceed if you really want to reduce the drama in your own life.
Part of reducing social drama and its impact on you is also in changing your attitude. Remembering that, even if it doesn't look that way, we're all doing the best we can. Everyone wants the same thing- to be loved, respected, and connected to other people- it's just that people don't always go about it in effective ways. So next time someone starts gossiping, acting passive-aggressively, or just generally being dramatic, remind yourself that what they really want is love and attention. Thinking about it in this way can limit the distress it causes you and can shift your focus to being kind to the other person rather than critical. Finding healthy ways to get love, respect, and attention without undue social drama is the life-long task we all face.