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Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Insatiable Queens of Dramatic Presentation

Conflicts and disappointments are natural side effects of the human existence. But, what about those who seem to make every little problem a major setback that triggers huge emotional outbursts and other irrational behaviors. Today, we call this species a drama queen.

Although they may occasionally add a welcome splash of color to a black-and-white scene, drama queens' insatiable hunger for attention can look a lot like arrested development. A drama queen often views the world in absolutes, and only has two settings on her emotional control button: zero and ten.
And, she can push the full-speed-ahead "10" button with skill and egotistical panache.

Psychologists might describe drama queens (male version = "kings") as neurotic personalities with histrionic tendencies, meaning they tend to become needlessly dramatic whenever order is disrupted. "They tend to exaggerate their thoughts and feelings, making everything sound more important than it really is," says Sheri Spirt, an assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Medical Center.  

Scarlett O'Hara in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind is a fictional model of such a self-absorbed drama queen. She assigns who she considers lesser humans to take care of her personal needs. Outgoing and sociable, Scarlett considers solitude her worst enemy.

Diva might be another term to describe the drama queen. Divas, by definition, are high-performing, high-maintenance narcissists. Some are actually spirited, fun, and mentally healthy while others are others are needy, demanding, negative -- and talk almost incessantly about themselves. Researchers say these are "unhealthy divas" and the source of their narcissism usually is low self-esteem: They are constantly trying to pump themselves up.

Though usually considered exceptionally talented, the diva is a perfectionist prone to sudden demands and violent outbursts just like drama queens. As divas consider people as either with them or against them, they are often jealous and even envious of others. 

Drama queens may develop at a young age. Parents are often at a loss about how to deal with their behavior. "Some parents choose to acquiesce to a drama queen rather than provoke the inevitable tantrum or histrionic outburst. By confronting the would-be drama queen's selfish behavior directly, however, parents can demonstrate that a child's demanding or manipulative personality is not enough to force them into doing anything. A young drama queen's worst fear is to be ignored or become powerless over others." (

Young drama queens tend to be unaware of their real feelings, usually overly concerned with physical attractiveness. From an early age they begin to dress in a sexually seductive manner to be the center of attention. Inappropriate flirtatious behavior may also be present. With or without awareness, they often use their attractiveness to achieve other goals or wishes. In time, self-promotion of their sexy bodies and artificial adornments take precedence over much-needed refinement of positive personality traits, ethical behaviors, and development of true skills. 

As drama queens age, their interaction with others is often characterized by inappropriate sexually seductive or provocative behavior. This may help them make friends easily, but when their friends learn that the queens only think about themselves, they have trouble maintaining any kind of intimate relationship. 

Queens relish the spotlight, considering any attention advantageous for them. It is likely that their need for attention is inversely proportional to emotional maturity; therefore, queens indulging in attention-seeking behaviors are actually telling others how emotionally immature they are.

Divas and drama queens often exhibit bullying behaviors, especially manipulation and deception. Ellen McGrath, a clinical psychologist, reports that queens and divas may feel better temporarily after an outburst, but leaving everyone else off-kilter is not an effective way to get their needs met, nor will it strengthen their connections to others. Their audience tends to get angry with their outbursts or even shut down completely when confronted with their dramatic demands.

Sheri Spirt says, "Like the boy who cried wolf, after a while they become hard to take seriously." So the queens get to say, "See the world is a cruel place filled with cruel people" and feel somehow vindicated by their bad behavior. This vicious cycle continues as it feeds from poorly conceived  justification.

 (Jennifer Magid, "Field Guide to the Drama Queen," Psychology Today, September 01 2007)

Problems usually arise for drama queens in the workplace too because their exaggerated emotions bother other employees, stir up competitive and jealous feelings. Most queens have good social skills at work, but they have the tendency to use these skills to manipulate others in order to become the center of attention at other people's expense. They do not think before they act. This, in turn, leads to excessive controversy among employees as the queens make overblown promises and produce incomplete assignments.

Here are some suggestions for stemming drama queen behavior from Angela S. Young and

 1. Give teenage drama queens some space, but put the brakes on to their dramatic reactions over simple incidents. 

2. Refuse to give attention to outbursts from drama queens, instead very calmly send them to their room where they can’t put on a performance for anyone but themselves. 

 3. If drama queens are not teens, but your girlfriends, boyfriends or spouse, attempt using discussion. Be prepared for highly dramatic reactions but don’t follow suit. Remain calm and prepare yourself for three tries at explaining the problem. 

4. When drama queens break things in a rage, do not, under any circumstances, replace the items that are destroyed. This only excuses and encourages such behavior. 

 5. Remind drama queens that you love them deeply, but lack of planning on their part does NOT constitute an emergency on your part. 

6. Tell drama queens, "I would love to listen to you, but I can't when you're like this. When you're ready to talk to me like a normal person, I'll be ready to listen to you." 

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