For Thanksgiving 2012, my grandmother, “Bepa”, who was 88-years-old at the time, planned to drive herself to my house for the holiday. Sadly, the night before her trek, she made a mad dash for a ringing phone and crashed into a doorway, breaking her arm in the process. When the paramedics arrived, she was holding her arm, cradling it to calm the pain and keep it protected. As they attempted to examine her injury, she practically beat them back with a stick – at least verbally. And the reason for that was because the pain of her fresh wound was too intense to let it be touched, even in order to receive care. Within a few months, however, after a surgical procedure and extensive physical therapy, her arm was completely healed, and she was able to get dressed, shower, use her walker, hug me (the most important function), and move normally as if the injury had never occurred.
Dealing with our emotional and spiritual boo-boos is not much different. When there is a fresh or an unhealed wound, perhaps one that’s been festering for years even, we cannot tolerate having it touched or pried into. And we will defend against anyone who approaches it, or even appears to come close, regardless of their intentions. We catastrophize, we make assumptions about how we might be hurt again, and we mentally fight back as a preemptive protective mechanism. We gossip and collude in an attempt to get support and feel validated in our defensiveness. And thus is the DRAMA born.
(As a reminder, the acronym for DRAMA is: Thought patterns that are Disempowering, Reactive, Assumption-based, Maladaptive and Addictive. See article “So You Think You Know DRAMA” for more.)
The three primary human wounds are: shame, abandonment, and betrayal. We all have all of them… and, we have done things to cause them in others. Wretched, I know. We all think we are the innocent, good-hearted ones (because we are) AND we are also modeling machines; what we witness, we learn and duplicate. So what this alludes to is that those who went before us and influenced our lives were also wounded. They were not capable of teaching or offering us anything they themselves did not possess… like self-love, transparency, authenticity, courage, and a slew of other virtues that, had we learned them, would make our existence feel more whole. This is not to place blame, but simply to acknowledge that there is a torch that gets passed.
Although these three primary wounds are caused by a variety of behaviors and experiences, some of the dominant ones include: criticism, blame, neglect, not being listened to, broken trust, being abandoned physically or emotionally, and any kind of abuse. In other words, we become wounded when we are not seen, heard or otherwise learn that we are valued just as we are.
So the three primary wounds get established and integrated into our systems during our developmental years, mostly by our well-meaning adults, but also by siblings, classmates, and other peers. And then we continue to live out our grown-up lives according to how wounded we are, how much of our identity has been shaped around it, and the extent to which we are able to heal. We learn to see, speak to, and treat ourselves according to our wounds, constantly shaming, abandoning and betraying ourselves, which only attracts people and experiences that will reinforce our woundedness, becoming a vicious cycle that perpetuates the DRAMA lifestyle.
In our modern day lives, these wounds can be activated in a variety of ways, such as: receiving a “nasty-gram” email or text, mean tweeting, being misrepresented on Facebook, having a boss who doesn’t take responsibility for their actions, a passing comment that suggests “you’re not doing your work in the ‘right’ way”, not having our time respected, mentally blasting our bodies and obsessing about our weight, a misunderstanding with our significant other, a reduction in financial status, negatively judging our imperfections, and otherwise feeling a threat to our sense of value and belonging.
In response, DRAMA thinking and behavior is the method we develop – albeit ineffective – to try to be seen and heard and to get our needs met, and to know we are valued and that we matter. In its most simplistic form, DRAMA thinking tends to focus on our need to be “right” or meritorious, and the resulting behavior functions as an attempt to gain acceptance, approval and validation from the outside world. So, DRAMA is not just being “nuts”, going crazy”, “losing control” or some other form of wacky weakness that we judge it to be. DRAMA is actually a modern day social survival phenomenon.
Looking back on Bepa’ s injured arm, it’s clear why it could not be touched while the wound was fresh, but was fine and fully functioning again once it healed. We need to start thinking about DRAMA in the same way: an indication of an emotional or spiritual injury that is still tender and needs to be restored.
In order to have greater social connection and interpersonal intimacy, which brings great meaning to our lives, we must take charge of healing our own primary human wounds. We do that through a number of practices (and they do take practice!), such as: self-love, positive self-talk, honoring our needs and our feelings, setting healthy boundaries, keeping the promises we make to ourselves, practicing self-authority, taking personal responsibility, acknowledging our worth, and reclaiming leadership of our own lives.