May 12, 2023 • By Dennis Beaver

Dennis Beaver“Mr. Beaver, I manage an insurance brokerage in the Pacific Northwest. We have 15 employees, and “Frank” was a recent hire. While excellent at his job, he is creating a never-ending sense of things being wrong and upsetting everyone over minor issues. Additionally, he’s a gossip mill.

“The term Drama King comes to mind, as I do not know any other way to describe his behavior, taking small, non-issues and making them sound like the end of the world.

“He seems to love chaos. I do not know what to do or how to deal with him. Do you know of any credible resource that might help me understand and address these issues?

Thanks. Albert.”

Thriving on Chaos

“Your reader is describing the characteristics of a drama addict,” observes clinical psychologist, Dr. Scott Lyons, author of Addicted to Drama – Healing Dependency on Crisis & Chaos in Yourself and Others.

I had the most interesting chat with Dr. Lyons, and he provided useful insight into this real psychological problem that impacts the drama addict and all those affected by the chaos they manufacture.

Mountains out of Molehills

“When we say, ‘Wait, what just happened?’ when someone makes mountains out of molehills and reacts in ways that instantly leave us wondering, ‘Whoa! Where did that come from?’, this is usually a good indication there is some inclination toward an addiction to drama,” he points out.

He described the common traits drama addicts exhibit:

(1) Intensity: What seems like nothing becomes something big. Things get blown up out of proportion, as if they were pouring gasoline on a fire.

(2) Creating Conflict: Very common at work where the drama addict gets into co-workers business, stirs things up, and then backs away, making an environment that should radiate stability, now feel tense. This tension is something they thrive on, often grew up with and to them is normal, even if to others it is disturbing.

(3) Safe is coupled with Chaos: Often raised in environments dominated by havoc, that’s what they seek to re-create as it makes them feel safe. Because of turmoil in their childhood, when they exhibit signs of distress – for example, at school – teachers pay attention to them. It this attention the drama addict seeks and creates on an unconscious level.

(4) An inability to Tolerate Calm, Stable Environments: The drama addict implants their familiar eco-system wherever they go. In a calm, professional workplace – which is boring to drama addicts – they tend to “spice it up” by fomenting tension through gossip, over-reacting to things that do not need a high level of attention and pitting one person against the other while considering themselves a victim.

(5) A denial by the drama addict of their desire to create havoc: If challenged, and told, “You are going out of your way to upset people. Why?” the drama addict – like any addict – will say something like, “Oh, I hate the drama but it’s that the world is always against me. There is something always going on, but I am the one who has to come to the rescue of everyone else.”

They do not recognize that they were creating hostility – then coming to rescue the situation – which gives them a sense of relief.

Signs that You Are Dealing with a Drama Addict

“HR staff need to be aware of employees who cause trouble for no apparent reason,” Dr. Lyons underscores, adding, “Does it feel like they are stirring things up? Is their personal workspace a mess and chaotic? Do they tend to do a lot of gossiping and making up stories? That’s a big one!

“They will take a little bit of information and fill in the gaps with their paranoia— inventing stuff, and believing it. For example: ‘Rudy just texted me. He’s thinking of firing me.’

“The drama addict reaches this conclusion with no factual basis and then tells people around them, ‘The boss is going to fire me.’ As they share their stress, it becomes contagious – upsetting those nearby – because our stress responses are biologically contagious.

“So, if I am anxious, highly activated, very exuberant in my behavior and intensity, everyone else around me starts to have a biological response that puts them in a similar, anxious state. Your stress makes me stressed.”

‘Gossip – Want to Know My Secret?’

If you have ever wondered just how dangerous gossip can be, and how it relates to drama addicts, Dr. Lyons gives us the answer:

“Dennis, if I say, ‘Let me tell you a secret.’ what do you do?'” … “I pay attention.”

“That’s right, and when I tell you that secret, you are part of something. You belong – and we now share a power dynamic. We have power and belonging. That’s what gossip does.

“It gives us the belief that we know or have something that others do not, no matter if it is true or not – and provides the drama addict a false sense of meaning, belonging, connection, relationship – we are the in-group. They are the out group because we know something they don’t.”

“So, by creating gossip, the drama addict becomes a danger to the organization and management needs to be aware how destructive this can be.”

So, how can HR or an aware manager deal with that mentality? “Addicted to Drama” provides an approach that can help restore calm in the workplace. It is a fascinating read, answering so many questions about this behavior we have all seen and wondered, “What’s going on?”