‘Drama Queens’ and their male counterparts may look like they’re responding quickly – rallying the troops, taking charge and solving problems. But they cause more chaos at work and create more fallout than the problems they’re reacting to. Don’t be fooled by their high energy and don’t promote them. Drama Queens come in many forms. For example:
To learn to recognize and stop them, read more.
Our language has many expressions for the perspective necessary for judicious action: ‘Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill; don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; don’t try to kill mosquitoes with a bazooka; don’t jump to conclusions; don’t promote a Drama Queen.’
Let’s analyze a worst-case scenario for loving, caring parents.
You were pretty good parents but one of your children has turned out toxic – not a psychopath but someone who acts like she (or he) hates you.
It’s not your fault, but she blames you for not giving her everything she wanted or wants now, she’ll be sweet one moment and then abusive, vicious and hateful the next, she harasses and bullies you relentlessly when she wants something; she tries to involve the rest of the family in her schemes and feuds. Or her boyfriend or husband hates you and she goes along with it and it gets worse every year. And they’re narcissistic losers; they barely have enough money and you know that they’ll leech off you forever if you let them.
But that’s not the worst-case. The worst-case is when that toxic child has children. Your daughter has let you play with your grandchild, let you grow to love him and vice versa. Of course he loves you; you’re the sane rock in his life. He’s safe around you – no craziness, no yelling and screaming, no lies and broken promises, and no anxiety, brutality or manipulation of his affections like in his interactions with his mother and father. You treat him with loving kindness and he can trust what you say. When he’s with you he’s not stressed out; not blamed, guilty and abused for everything he does wrong.
The worst-case is when your daughter starts blackmailing you emotionally. She won’t let you see your grandchild unless you play her games and give her everything she wants. She raises the ante every day. You know she lies to your grandchild about you and why he doesn’t see you. It’s worse if she’s divorced because then you get jerked around and thrust in the middle by her ex-spouse and his family.
You love your grandson. He’s important to you, you’re important to him and you hope you can be a lifeline to help him make a better life than the chaos he’s growing up in. But no matter what you do, it’ll be wrong and your daughter will blame and abuse you. There will be days when you want to run away, leave no forwarding address, change your names and fingerprints, get new social security numbers and telephones. But you won’t because of the hope you can help your grandson.
What can you do to stop the bullying and extricate yourself from a horrible situation?
Usually there’s little you can do legally. It’s hard to exercise “grandparents rights” if your daughter or her spouse won’t let you. You can consult a lawyer and learn to document enough evidence to show delinquency and neglect so you can get custody, but that’s a faint hope.
You have to make one of the hardest decisions for anyone; how much will you sacrifice in order to get any time with your grandson? Realize that no matter what you decide, your heart will be broken thousands of times until he’s independent and maybe even for your whole life. Recognize also that nothing you do will change your daughter – this pain and violence to your spirit will go on as long as she has any control over your grandson. Understand that she will trample any boundaries you think you’ve set.
There is no magic bullet that will cure her. You won’t bring her to her senses, help her to act reasonably and consistently, make her to keep her promises, convert her to see that the child is better off with you or get her away from a controlling husband. Even if you act reasonably, she won’t. You’ll never understand why she does what she does; she’s selfish, nasty and changeable from moment to moment. You’ll be embroiled in her painful games and anger as long as she controls your grandson. Each episode will rip you apart.
Suppose you choose to get as much time with your grandson as you can; what are the best things you can do to help him? Most people choose this path. After all, how can we give up, turn our backs and live with our broken hearts?
In a loving couple, most grandparents differ over how much time and money they’re willing pay and how much pain they can stand for the privilege of seeing their grandchild. Love each other and keep working with that difference, knowing that both your hearts are broken anew every day. Don’t let this drive a wedge between you.
Plant seeds in your grandchild. He sees the truth but he’s told by his parents that his vision is wrong. He needs to learn to trust his vision. He needs you to tell him that what he sees about his home and parents is true. He’s not crazy – he didn’t do anything to deserve it; it’s not his fault; it’s just the way it is. That won’t confuse him; that’ll reinforce his confidence and self-esteem. He needs to know who’s jerking all of you around and the price you all have to pay as long as he’s in their clutches.
Collude with him to lie to his parents. Strong children – survivors – sense what they need to do in order to stay safe in a chaotic and hostile world. For example; he can’t say he’s having too much fun with you; that he loves you too much; that he’d rather be with you. He already knows what he has to hide.
Make a safe place for his heart and his favorite stuff. With you, he can dream big and not get his dreams crushed or used against him. Keep your promises consistently. Let him express his frustration and anger. Anger is better than apathy or depression. You can express your helplessness. At your home, don’t let him use the tactics he sees at your daughter’s home. Appeal to his better nature. Be very gentle with correction and discipline; he gets yelled at enough at home.
Prepare him emotionally and spiritually for the future. The more he can ignore his crazy parents, the better. Keep a spark alive in him that by biding his time, one day he’ll get free. He has to stop the bully in his head. When he’s 18 (to pick a number) he can leave and make his own way. Remind him of all the great and wonderful people who escaped from cages and prisons. He owes your toxic daughter, his mother, absolutely nothing.
Prepare him economically for the future. For him to live free he must plan to become monetarily independent. Depending on his brains and talents, he has to develop a marketable skill, even if his parents don’t like it and he has to do it in secret. Help him do that now and when he leaves home.
Many children are too weak to overcome their toxic parenting. But there are always some who are invulnerable to horrible circumstances, some who keep that spark alive and get free from the cage or prison they’ve been trapped in.
Your heart insists that you try to help your grandchildren. For clear examples, read in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” the studies of how Kathy, Doug, Jake and Carrie got away from manipulative or toxic parents. Also, see the example of teenage Stacy bullying her mother.
In almost all cases where the child flies free, they never look back and neither do their grandparents. If they or you look back, you’ll be turned into pillars of salt.
There are toxic people in every environment – toxic family, toxic friends, toxic lovers and toxic coworkers. If you don’t recognize and respond effectively to toxic, bullying coworkers they can make your life miserable, harass you, turn the rest of your team against you, scapegoat you and even get you fired.
Jane is known to be difficult, obnoxious and an out of control retaliator. But she’s very bright and hard working so management tends to minimize the problems she causes, overlook the tension, hostility and chaos she creates, and explain away her behavior by saying, “That’s just Jane. She must have a good heart.” She specializes in vendettas. Most people are afraid of her; they usually walk on egg shells around her and try to avoid setting off one of her tirades.
The bosses make you the leader of an important project that requires tact and people skills because they don’t trust Jane. Jane is enraged. Sometimes she blames and threatens you – you stole her job, she’ll report everything you do wrong, she’ll ruin your reputation and she’ll get you fired. Sometimes she acts sweet – as if she wants to be your best friend. Sometimes she tries to make you feel guilty so you’ll refuse to lead the project she thinks should be hers – that’s the only way you can prove to her that you’re a good person and her friend.
Is Jane right? Are you sneaky and manipulative and have you wronged her? Or is this a misunderstanding you can overcome so she’ll still be your friend?
How can you distinguish a friendly coworker who’s justifiably upset from one of these toxic bullies? Simple. You look for patterns in how Jane acts and how you and others feel when you’re around her.
Are sneaky, manipulative, back-stabbing stealth bullies.
Are over-reactive, control freaks – their interpretations give them permission to search and destroy, no matter how slight or unintentional the insult. They throw fits and attack or embarrass people they’re upset at.
Are you afraid of what Jane might do or that Jane won’t be friends with you?
Does she threaten you?
Have you seen Jane attack, manipulate or lie about other targets before you?
Does Jane apologize but not change or even strike back later?
Does Jane tell you that you’re special and she’d never go after you?
Does Jane make efforts to be reasonable and to overcome misunderstandings, to say that the problem is partly her fault and then does she make amends and change?
Of course, you want to be careful that you’re not overreacting. You want to know if you’re seeing their actions clearly. But if you answer the first five questions with “yes,” and the last one with “no,” you should beware.
When you identify Jane as someone who is relentless, implacable and has no conscience in pursuing her targets, you know what you’re dealing with. She’s out to destroy you just like she went after other coworkers in the past.
Your first thought may be, “How can I win her friendship?” or it may be, “She’s suffered so much in her own life, how can I not forgive her?” If you follow these thoughts with feelings of kindness, compassion and compromise, if you don’t mobilize to protect you life, limb and job you will be sacrificing yourself on an altar of silly sentimentality.
I take a strong approach: Recognize evil and recognize crazy or out of control people who won’t negotiate or compromise. The Jane’s and John’s of this world are bullies, abusers and predators that do tremendous damage. They’re why well-meaning people have to consult with experts. Remember, you would have already resolved situations with coworkers who are reasonable, willing to examine their own actions honestly, and to negotiate and compromise. You need help with the terminators that you face.
Will – determination, perseverance, resilience, endurance, grit.
Skill – overall strategy, tactics and the ability to maintain your poise and carry out your plan.
Convert doubt and hesitation into permission to act and then into an inner command to act effectively. Until you have the will, no tactics will help – you’ll give in, back off, bounce from one strategy to another and you'll fail, even with the best plan.
Don’t let your good heart blind you to the damage she’ll do to you. You’ve already given her second and third chances. That’s enough. She’s not merely misunderstanding you in any way you can clear up; logic, reason and common sense aren’t effective with the Jane’s of this world.
See Jane as a terminator – she’s relentless, implacable and has no conscience. Under her human-looking skin she’s out to destroy you. Your good heart and attempts to reason politely won’t stop her.
Assume that you can’t rehabilitate or convert Jane in your life time. That’s not what they pay you for at work anyway. You’re merely Jane’s coworker with an important personal life, a personal island that needs protecting. Let Jane’s therapist change her in professional space and on professional time that she pays for.
You don’t owe her anything because she got you the job or rescued you from drowning. She’s out to get you and you must protect yourself. Let Jane struggle to change on someone else’s professional time. Don’t put your reputation, your job or your family’s livelihood in harm’s way. Don’t minimize or excuse. Deal only with Jane’s behavior.
All plans must be adjusted to your specific situation – you, Jane, the company, your personal life. Added complications would be if Jane is your boss or the manager of your team likes her or is afraid of her and will collude with her against you.
Don’t believe Jane’s promises; don’t be fooled if she acts nice and sweet one time. Pay attention to the pattern of actions. If she’s sweet, she’s probably seeking to get information that she can use against you.
Don’t expect her to tell the truth. She’ll say one thing to you and report exactly the opposite to everyone else. She’ll lie when she reports bad things you have supposedly done. She knows that repetition is convincing; eventually some of her dirt might stick to you. Have witnesses who’ll stand up for you in public.
Don’t argue the details of an interaction to try to convince her of your side. State your side in a way that will convince bystanders. Always remind bystanders of your honesty, integrity and good character, which they should know.
Document everything; use a small digital recorder. Find allies as high up in the company as you can. When you report Jane, be professional; concentrate on her behavior, not your hurt feelings. Make a business case to encourage company leaders to act. It’s about the money, coworkers and clients that the company will save when they terminate Jane.
When you listen to voice mails from Jane or talk with her in person, tighten the muscles of your stomach just below your belly button, while you keep breathing. That’ll remind you to prepare for a verbal gut-punch.
Each situation is different – you, the toxic coworker and the rest of the company. The need to protect yourself and your career remains the same, while the tactics vary with the situation. All tactics are situational tactics.