239 Days ’til 40: Putting Out Fires (Metaphorically)

27 Jun

Yesterday’s post about poison in our lives, for whatever reasons, caused me to make a leap to putting out fires in our lives.  We have all had situations that erupt in violent flames or simmer forever….. but what do we do about it?

There are times when I find that individuals come at me (at work or in my personal life) with such emotional force behind them that I feel as though I am trying to put out a forest fire with a squirt gun – have you ever had that feeling?  I see it coming too and am so frustrated when I cannot escape.  There are people who can be highly emotionally involved that seem to thrive on high levels of drama – filled with crying, screaming, and a plethora of random physical gestures.  I must say, drama is not something I enjoy.  I can handle drama in children, as it becomes a wonderful teaching moment to help them learn to handle their emotions in more beneficial and productive ways.

However, drama in adults is a bit harder to tolerate, particularly because adults are far less willing to learn more productive ways to process their emotions.  I wrote a post quite a while ago entitled, “Why People Won’t Heal”. In this post I talked about the fact that there are people who refuse to heal because they believe their wounds are the ultimate currency that buys them attention…….  so how do we put out fires in our lives?

I have found a few things that help.

  1. Do NOT fuel the flames.  Do not engage, do not correct, do not say a word – no matter how tempting it may be.  We want to correct people when they are not seeing reality as we do, we want to calm them down and to make them feel better, but this will often feed the patterns of drama that exist.  Also, as we look to pacify, we are actually encouraging future behavior as we are reinforcing drama as a vehicle to obtain attention.
  2. Do NOT engage – if you feel you are in the midst of that drama with only a squirt gun to put out the larger fire, walk away.  Make up an excuse and disappear – you do not need to suffer so that someone else can enjoy their emotional release.
  3. Tell the person that you love/like them too much to argue with them.  Use this as a mantra, practice the “broken record” technique and say it over and over and over again until they let up and move on.
  4. Remind yourself that this too shall pass – no matter how uncomfortable the situation is, it will eventually be over.
  5. Prevention is the best treatment – if you have a friend or acquaintance that is prone to drama, ask yourself what limits you want to place on your relationship with them in order to maintain healthy boundaries for yourself.

Today, 239 days ’til 40, I will remind myself that I need to take care of myself and not get pulled into someone else’s drama, particularly unarmed.  I will not stand for being placed in situations where I am forced to fight emotional forest fires with squirt guns.

I hope you will stand up for yourself too!



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30 responses to “239 Days ’til 40: Putting Out Fires (Metaphorically)

  1. buckwheatsrisk

    June 27, 2012 at 00:07

    yes funny how we adults actually act like children, and maybe need the teaching moments more lol

    • 400daystil40

      June 27, 2012 at 09:23

      Ah yes, so very true and funny (and frustrating, depending on the situation).

  2. oolalang

    June 27, 2012 at 00:44

    Such good advice, but so hard to follow when someone close to you won’t do the same thing. Some people don’t create drama, but they don’t protect themselves from it either, and you end up kind of getting a “secondary-drama” impact when you spend time with them. I should probably apply the above principles to that person in my life as well.

    • 400daystil40

      June 27, 2012 at 09:23

      Yes, you are so correct – it is so hard to follow in the moment. Good point that some people do not create drama, but rather, they do not seem to know how to avoid it (maybe they do not want to?) – I agree that the key is to avoid the secondary-drama impacts we end up having to deal with – that is often my personal objective!

  3. ocdtalk

    June 27, 2012 at 01:51

    Great post! I love the vision of fighting emotional fires with a squirt gun. You are right; it doesn’t work. Thanks for the good suggestions on how to handle these ” fires.”

    • 400daystil40

      June 27, 2012 at 09:22

      Thank you! Yes, I always use that squirt gun analogy, because I personally feel so overwhelmed with that sort of intensity – I hope the suggestions work for you!

  4. craftythriftydecoratingwifemom

    June 27, 2012 at 02:20

    You are SOOO right. I try to avoid these people when I can tell they’re in full drama/explosion mode, but it’s not always possible. I hadn’t heard/read “I love you too much to argue with you” and leave. New mantra!!

    • 400daystil40

      June 27, 2012 at 09:21

      Very good point, sometimes we cannot avoid these people, even though we really want to. Yes, that is when the mantra really does come in handy!!! Please let me know how it works for you when you try it.

  5. rabidmongoose

    June 27, 2012 at 04:19

    Those are some great tips! I found myself sucked into a highly emotional argument with a pastor at my church, and I unwittingly tried several of the tips you outlined. They seemed to work well, especially #2…this person tried to force me into a conversation I was not ready to have, and I kept up my boundaries and refused to engage with him. Eventually he gave up and I emerged relatively unscathed.

    • 400daystil40

      June 27, 2012 at 09:20

      Thank you so much! Good for you, keeping your boundaries in tact and protecting yourself. It is easy to talk about doing this, but harder to hold on to our convictions in the face of a true situation.

  6. anotherthousandwords

    June 27, 2012 at 04:53

    Great advice, 400…hard to believe you’re not even 39 and a half yet!

  7. sued51

    June 27, 2012 at 14:02

    Well-written post. As someone else mentioned, I love the metaphor of the squirt gun and the fire. It is definitely how it “feels” to be the target of an emotional drama lover.

  8. beverlydyer

    June 27, 2012 at 15:20

    This is one of the hardest parts about being human. Watching others engage in destructive behavior in passive ways – ie. continuing to smoke after a throat cancer diagnosis. I should look into Caroline’s book Why People Won’t Heal. It’s disheartening to not be able to do something to help them see another way to live, sad to see their life seem miserable, maddening that you can’t shake them and say “DO SOMETHING, ANYTHING, JUST TAKE A STEP FORWARD.” And yes get your mind off yourself by doing something for others!! So how can we help those that “refuse to heal because they believe their wounds are the ultimate currency that buys them attention……”

    • 400daystil40

      June 27, 2012 at 21:59

      I love the Caroline Myss book – so sad, but so poignant and true. It is hard to not be able to do anything….. I have known people who end up driving away everyone on their lives (children, grandchildren, colleagues, etc.) because they cannot allow themselves to heal….. often these people have severe underlying mental disorders that are untreated (also sad, because it is not their fault, but they refuse to admit they have a disorder that needs treatment)…. it is all so tragic.

  9. Fay Moore

    June 27, 2012 at 18:11

    What happens if you are married to the Drama Queen or King? Walking away or staying neutral works to diffuse immediate behavior, but can actually fuel the drama if those techniques are the sole tool used. You’ve wrangled a sore bull of a topic. Good for you. And good for you for suggesting that maybe we should be better at curtailing bad behavior in those, other than immediate family, around us by not buying into the drama. Sadly, we’re stuck with our relatives.

    • 400daystil40

      June 27, 2012 at 22:02

      Yes, you are so correct, there can be extenuating circumstances. If our partner is the drama king or queen then we have tough decisions to make. I think the key is to work out what you can and cannot live with (in those circumstances)… perhaps it is something you can live with and you make concessions and do your best to alter coping mechanisms as needed… and sometimes a person decided they really cannot live with the drama (perhaps it is too destructive) and they have to work to move out of the relationship…… as for family, it is never easy…. but you can choose to remove yourself from the drama – move to another state, another country, etc….. it limits the contact.

  10. Karmic Diva

    June 28, 2012 at 01:27

    I think drama is a great motivator for attention too. Great post and fab advice.

  11. viveka

    June 28, 2012 at 22:34

    Prevention is the best treatment – totally agree … if we learn to avoid hard words and arguments – the whole world would be in much better condition *smile – and to 99% is it all down to communicate in the right away.
    Somebody told me that .. if we have bad news and have something less pleasant to talk about – should we sit close to the other person and have physical contact before and under, like holding a hand when talking about the issue.

    • 400daystil40

      June 28, 2012 at 23:24

      Yes, it is so true…. and very good question about how to tell someone bad news…..

  12. simon7banksS

    July 6, 2012 at 21:51

    Agreed, and I couldn’t agree more about people who depend on suffering and being wronged. However – it is possible to misread the situation. What if the apparent drama is because the other person has a substantial reason for getting upset, either about something you’ve done or about something you might be able to help with? Not engaging and especially telling them you love/like them too much to argue with them would pour oil on the fire.

    • 400daystil40

      July 6, 2012 at 22:08

      Which is why you really have to know the person to know the difference… the first time you cannot tell, but if a pattern develops, then you know whether it is the situation or the person. 🙂

  13. Lucianus Mauricius

    August 21, 2012 at 05:18

    I agree and disagree with you in this post from my own perspective. Let me start by saying what I agree with.

    First, you’re right, there’re people out there who thrive on drama, who know very little or no boundaries to how much you can share, when and how you do so. And of course there’re people out there who love to pull you into their drama/misery at all costs in order to make you “understand” their problem is worse than anyone else’s. It’s a fact there are people out there who have issues expressing their feelings and when/if they do it comes out as an avalanche of thoughts, gestures, expressive over-statements and so on, which would make even the Dalai Lama bitch-slap them. Most of it comes from how these people never really learned how to express themselves, either because of upbringing or later on growing up through adolescence. You have to keep an open mind to a few simple facts which factor into this equation;
    1) Emotional Deregulation
    2) Childhood trauma
    3) Socio-economical differences
    4) Invalidating environment (home/school/playground)
    5) Abusive parental behavior
    6) Self-abusive behavior (feeling on being unworthy, useless, hopeless)
    7) Biological (depression, compulsive behavior, self-harm, paranoia)

    Having said that now let me just explain on what I don’t agree with you. I totally understand your need to self-preservation by not being sucked into someone else’s drama, after all one must look for her/his own best interest and when someone makes us feel uncomfortable and down right and I quote “I feel as though I am trying to put out a forest fire with a squirt gun” there must be set boundaries. Yet, your approach (the way it was written) sounds very simplistic and almost downright mean. Comparing between children’s drama, as a tolerable learning way to emotional regulation coping skills and adult drama as, a coerced way to attract attention, sounds like you’re making the case between a cute puppy and a big dog who barks all the time. Children can be just as manipulative, or manipulated as adults can, and it has been my experience that childhood drama is just as ugly mostly in part of society’s unwillingness to lay a good ol’ fashion slap on them to actually give them a reason to be “dramatic”.

    In conclusion; yes there’s a need to lay ground rules in order not to get sucked in, and sometimes let people go for you and their sake. Other times, letting someone express their feelings with all the gesticulation and plethora of over the top emotional expressions is a way to say – I’m hurting.

    • 400daystil40

      August 21, 2012 at 22:17

      I like it when people agree and disagree – it is great discussion. I think it is always about balance and making sure that the drama of another does not hurt you (or vice versa). Sometimes things need to be expressed, I agree – I think, when possible, this should be in a safe environment around other adults who are able to be fully supportive when things are expressed.

      • Lucianus Mauricius

        August 22, 2012 at 04:40

        I absolutely agree. Unfortunately those are rare case and most times expressive such as myself don’t get a chance, so on that note we tend to over-express ourselves at the wrong time, wrong way and wrong person, thus becoming ostracized.


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