Desperately seeking attention
Trying to get attention is said to be an evolutionary need. Some scholars in social science call this the “social safety theory,” suggesting that since the dawn of time, being a part of a group has kept us safer and better equipped to handle threats, which improves our odds of survival.
Even today, social isolation and loneliness are linked with an increased risk of chronic disease and premature death. But in the May 2023 book, Addicted to Drama, Scott Lyons, PhD, DO – a doctor of osteopathy and licensed holistic psychologist – is bringing enlightenment to the notion that there’s a fine line between striving to maintain healthy bonds and attention-seeking behaviours.
What is a drama addict?
Dr Lyons’ book is part of a growing conversation in the psychotherapy community about how being a drama queen isn’t just a quirky personality type. Psychologists have honed in on a behavioural pattern they call “Need for Drama” (NFD), which some explain is a maladaptive personality trait more informally known as a drama addict. What is a drama addict? “A drama addict is someone who has an uncontrollable drive toward creating or perpetuating drama,” explains Holly Schiff, PhD, a licenced clinical psychologist.
Drama addiction is more complex than someone’s typical interest in neighbourhood or tabloid gossip, adds psychotherapist Alissa Martinez. “A drama addict finds joy and/or thrill in involving themselves in conflict, confrontation, and gossip,” she says. “The behaviour is typically over-the-top or exaggerated by the individual, and the drama may also have nothing to do with them.”
Signs of drama addiction
The research identifies three key components of NFD – interpersonal manipulation to control others’ behaviours and reactions or to meet a personal need or goal; impulsive, uncontrolled outspokenness (often with fabrication or exaggeration) when they share thoughts, stories, and opinions; and persistent perceived victimhood.
Martinez explains what these patterns look like in real life. A drama addict often:
- Has very chaotic friendships and relationships.
- Is not shy about making their personal drama public for others to know, to grab attention, and frame themselves in a victim-like manner.
- Tends to be resentful and hold grudges.
- Struggles with moving on and frequently rehashes old situations.
Still, drama addicts generally lack an awareness of their own role in creating or perpetuating drama in their lives, says Meredith Van Ness, LCSW, founder of Balanced+Well. As their behaviour makes it difficult to maintain stable, healthy relationships, they “may experience a cycle of drama followed by periods of emotional exhaustion or depression.”