When we confuse ‘showing love’ with emotional drama…

Photo by Andrew Nicholson

I can’t help feeling that sometimes people mistake emotional drama for empathy or love. I think there’s a common misconception that if something negative has happened to someone they love, the more drama they respond with, the more compassionate, empathic and caring they will be perceived as.  The opposite would be true too of course… that if they don’t respond with drama, then they simply can’t love the person who’s going through a difficult time.

Except, what happens in reality is that the drama shifts all the attention from the person who actually needs it, onto them instead….and now someone has to take care of them also. All too often, the role of carer shifts onto the person who is suffering most as they attempt to deal with the distraught emotions of those around them. When this happens, our desire to show just how much we love someone by getting emotionally dramatic about their situation can actually place a burden on them.

We’ve seen a great deal on the workshops we’ve delivered. Some deeply sad circumstances, experienced by some incredibly beautiful people. The one thing I know for sure, is that the human race has the most indomitable strength, and that authentically strong people who have overcome adversity don’t actually like it or enjoy it when others feel sorry for them.

One of the philosophies we’ve been teaching from day one is acceptance. I’ve learned how to process and work through my emotions with very little need for drama. That doesn’t mean I’m not feeling anything. It just means I’m not demanding attention or sympathy from anyone else while I work through it. Doing so is not going to change the outcome after all. I’m more empathic than I’ve ever been, and feel more love for others than I’ve ever been capable of before. The need to descend into drama feels like an illusion to me now. This has definitely been a process. I’ve learned to show my love by taking on more of a leadership role when someone is in pain. It’s my strength they need, not my drama after all. It means I’m more capable of effectively helping them without imposing any need upon them to have to console me for the pain that they themselves are experiencing.

This is not about encouraging what’s commonly known as spiritual bypassing, which is using positivity to ice over, deny or avoid dealing with emotions which need to be dealt with. It is not about disengaging from life. It’s about recognising the difference between truth and illusion. Grieving is absolutely essential. It is harmful not to reach out, have a good cry, talk, scream or hug someone to release our emotions when we are processing and working through the very real pain of grief. All that pain has nowhere to go if it’s not acknowledged and dealt with. It becomes suppressed instead, only to take up residence in the core of our energy and behaviour.  What I am saying however is that grief and drama are entirely different. Grief needs to be worked through. Drama, on the other hand, is an egoic illusion which demands and draws energy from others by shifting attention onto self. I believe it’s a fundamental part of our journey to learn the difference between the two – when grief is necessary, and when drama is not.

If you feel offended, I don’t blame you. Seven years ago when I first heard someone explaining how the ego loves using drama, I felt offended too. He was a motivational speaker, a total stranger to me. He was on stage telling us about the recent passing of a close member of his family. He told his story peacefully. It felt callous from my perspective for him to have shared this without drama, without somehow needing to draw attention from me and the audience to soothe him. I felt angry at him. How could he speak about it so peacefully? He was supposed to be showing his pain to illustrate just how much he loved that member of his family! Wasn’t I meant to be feeling sorry for him? (You know, it felt strange even writing these last few sentences, but when I look back and ask myself some really honest questions about why I felt that way, this was why. It was a wholly egoic reaction on my part. I didn’t know that then. I do now.) 

In reality, what had happened was that he took nothing, nor needed to take anything, from the audience. He simply shared his story logically, peacefully, and without having to spill his pain onto all of us. He was in complete acceptance. It was me who wasn’t. It took me around a week to mentally process what he had shared, and I remember my righteous indignation lecture to Andy as we left that event and walked back to our car. I was adamant about how wrong it was, and how ‘I could never be that way!’ (This in reality was my ego’s way of justifying what a wonderful person I was in comparison to him, because back then, I would have done drama in his situation. Exhausting? You bet!)

Thankfully, no longer. My role has changed from a taker of attention to a giver of strength. That speaker had been on his own journey, and was at the same stage of understanding that I reached a few years later. I understand completely why it was genuinely more loving and authentic for him to share his news this way. Now, I would do the same, and yet I know it would possibly offend others, because they too are used to the drama.

The more I processed and thought about what he shared that night, the more I began to understand the true meaning behind his words. Now, I find it difficult to think any other way. I learned a lot because I was willing to actually look at why I felt so offended by something that wasn’t aimed at me personally. At first I looked at him and judged. Then I picked up the mirror and looked at myself, at what I was actually judging and why. Why was I so unwilling for him to deal with his grief quietly, undramatically, and in any way other than the way I would have? The answer is simple. It’s because our ego loves to be loud, dramatic, righteously justified and in pain.

The journey is immense and it never ends. Added to my lack of attachment to drama is the sheer lack of resistance I feel towards anything life throws at me. Resistance is all too often where our drama stems from; our overwhelming desire to resist anything that dares to throw us into the path of victim-hood. Instead of shouting ‘No, why does this always happen to me!!!’, I accept everything as part of my journey. I can clearly see how much I’ve learned and progressed through my negative experiences, so why resist them? My resistance and drama wouldn’t have undone anything I was resisting. It would simply have made it more painful to come through, and I would have missed all the learning.

Empathy is vital. Every soul needs to be heard and acknowledged. But sympathy is not. You see, I also believe that feeling terribly sorry for another individual is disempowering them somewhat too. It pretty much reinforces how dreadful their situation is, and is a little like saying ‘I don’t think you’re ever going to recover from this!’  It just doesn’t feel right to me any more. I prefer to see the greatness in someone instead, because at the end of the day, it’s their greatness and their indomitable spirit and strength that will bring them through. Sometimes, someone else just has to see it in them first, so that they can reconnect with their own light again. All of this potential becomes a little lost under the illusion of drama.

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