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Drama or Authentic Distress

My (Paula) attention is often peaked when people use the word “drama” to define their behavior. It seems to me to be a word that dismisses the reality of emotion.  Having been around little girls between the ages of 3 and whatever, I do understand the origin of the word’s misuse; however the overuse of the word which writes off valid emotions has become widespread and seemingly politically correct.

That said, my “drama” (as Michael called it) around the issue of cycling was indeed powered by profound emotion, more than I could actually identify or define at the time. As a woman who had experienced many unhealthy insecure relationships, I smelled trouble (abandonment).  My eyes got big and a little-girl-like fear arose in me. My new togetherness was threatened and I felt lonely before Michael ever took his first pedal stroke. Cycling was going to be our sport and Michael was taking us down a path for it to become his sport. To discourage him from riding with the serious riders would appear controlling and would surely be putting my insecurity on display.  I wanted to begin this relationship differently.  I pretended to be secure enough to let him go with the guys, stuffing the emotion that welled inside me and signaled danger.

During the bike-buying process I had felt excited and loved…the man who had begun to capture my heart wanted to invest in equipment ($$$) in order to spend quality time with me.  I felt very special!  Then the dream shattered.  I woke up and realized that I would simply be robbing him of his fun so I sent him off on his own to conquer the mountain with man-like dignity (speed) and accomplishment (beating all the others).

It is so sad and a waste of authentic emotion that when we live in a place of insecurity we often don’t have the confidence to speak our hearts. Michael and I eventually ended up riding tandem, conquering mountains together, but there was a bit of a journey in getting there.

I Michael, like so many of the male and some female counterparts that I see in therapy, at first had difficulty taking Paula’s concerns about my riding a racing bike seriously. Her protests seemed like over-reactions and did not hold water against the mountain of evidence I had collected for the good reasons to ride a faster bike. Paula’s protests took all kinds of forms which included how silly I would look in spandex and how a good bike was too expensive.  I didn’t take the time to dig deeper to see what the real concerns were under her surface emotions.

What we were doing was setting up the conditions for a reactive cycle that could, if not attended to, easily spin out of control. Protest behavior happens when one person has a fear that the other is doing something that will cause distance or separation in the relationship.  When the other person hears protest it can be written off as irrational emotional excess or “drama”. When the protest behavior is dismissed the protestor often feels hurt, misunderstood and either withdraws in resignation or protests even louder. Both responses create distance and fail to resolve the real issue.

I was so excited about my new found passion that I really didn’t want to slow down and listen to Paula and get to the heart of the matter. She backed down on her protest and I began to ride alone or with other male friends. Her real emotional fears failed to be addressed.

Every decision to ignore the emotions of our partner leaves us misinformed and often misguided.


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