It has a negative ring to it, doesn’t it? A less-than-positive connotation.
I know I’ve caught myself telling my children to “stop being so dramatic.”
The expression of emotions, especially strong ones, evokes an interesting array of reactions in us. At least in my experience, a whole spectrum of behavior has transpired after someone expresses anger, despair, elation, or fear.
One doesn’t need to go far to see a number of people displaying a range of emotions. In fact, we don’t even need to leave our couch to see anger, lust, joy, and sadness in their heightened forms. The extreme, dramatic emotion is often what draws us in to television series, attaches us to our favorite movie characters, or keeps the songs running through our heads.
Yet, what do we do with emotions in our daily lives? When someone slams a door or weeps in public, what is our first response? When we feel frustrated or heartbroken, what do we do? I would propose that we often like to get away from it. And not just because we fear for our physical safety or find ourselves too busy to deal with it.
No, we tend to turn the 180. Get the heck out of there. This is particularly true for the “negative” emotions as they are unfortunately named. Anger, sadness, disgust. We don’t show those off. And when we see them on others, we frequently feel uneasy and do the about face.
Yet, I’m not sure about you, but there’s always a curious eye that looks back or peeks in. There is a part of us that really wants to see it. We like the drama. We crave it to some degree. I would venture to say that we even long for it in our own lives. The best movies, TV shows, songs, and books, are the ones in which the characters’ emotional lives capture us. We are pulled towards it. We want to connect with them and particularly with the dynamic that is built from the emotional exchange of the characters.
As I was driving one day, a woman in a car perpendicular to mine at a four-way stop threw up her hands in disgust as I took my rightful turn at going first through the intersection. Not only was it clearly my turn (I arrived a good 5 seconds before her), I was somewhat astonished at her visual display of disgust towards me. “Wow, that was a little overdramatic,” I said out loud.
My 11-year-old daughter, being the ray of light that she is, came back with a shrug and a very wise rebuttal: “Everyone needs a little overdramatic at times.”
Huh. I chewed on that for several days.
And I’ve come to the conclusion that she’s exactly right.
We need the extreme at times to catch our attention. In a world in which we often find ourselves a little numb to one another, a little deadened inside, it makes perfect sense why we crave the drama on TV. Why we can let ourselves go at music concerts, movies, or broadway shows. We want to feel it. We want to experience the emotions to know that we are truly alive.
Unfortunately, we have been conditioned to believe that emotions, at either extreme, represent a weakness. Too much emotion is bad. The extremes are meant only to be displayed at “appropriate” times, such as the birth of a baby, the death of someone close, or… the superbowl (Go Broncos!!!).
Guys and gals are stuck with certain rules regarding emotion. Ladies, hold it in. Don’t even think about showing anger towards your coworker. You’ll get labeled a “bitch.” Or perhaps be the star of rumors in which you’re having trouble in your marriage, problems with finances, or spilling over with “feelings” for the coworker that are now affecting your job.
And guys, don’t you cry. “Men don’t cry.” Unless your son or daughter is being deployed. Unless your parent is dying from cancer. But, not just because you’re having a really rough week. And no giddiness or excitement allowed. Not until we get to the game man. Keep it together.
Keep it contained, we tell ourselves. We are taught that a wise, mature person controls his or her emotion. And sure, it is true that emotions are not meant to control us. We’ve seen the negative repercussions in our world when they do. Extremes can indeed be detrimental. Yet, to say that emotions are bad, or should be significantly muted, distorts the truth and can leave us feeling empty inside. Unattached.
I would argue we naturally have strong emotions. Our brains are wired to use emotions as signals, as adaptive mechanisms. If we repress or stuff those natural instincts, they will come out in other ways. And often, not in ways that edify relationships or connect and attach us to one another.
So, embrace the drama. Express the emotion. Do it in healthy ways, but let’s not hide the natural drama of life from one another. We need it. My daughter and I recently took a plastic blow-up mallet, brightly colored with monkeys on it. And to Miley’s “wrecking ball”, we let out the frustrations of little brothers on clothes, pillows, and an assortment of random objects in the bedroom. It was fantastic.
I’m still working on letting myself cry in situations where I feel like I want to. I’m working to not fight the tears when they come. What or who am I trying to please anyhow? What am I trying to hide, my humanness?
I’d love to hear your ideas on this subject and any healthy ways you have of expressing emotion and being dramatic.