The concept of the control drama was first introduced to a mass audience in 1993 by James Redfield in his bestselling book The Celestine Prophecy.

When we are children, because we inherit the idea that we are separate individuals, that everything we need exists outside of us and that we need other people to fulfil our needs, we learn that we need to jostle for position with other individuals. Part of the overall belief system is that there isn’t really enough to go round and therefore, in order to get what we need, we will need to employ a behavioural strategy. This is essentially what a control drama is.

The loss of connection with our Inner Being which occurs in early childhood leads to feelings of separation and loss. We feel that something is missing. We confuse this loss of connection with the belief that we need to get something from someone or somewhere outside of us to make us whole again. This leads to power struggles and control dramas as we compete with others for whatever it is we think we need.

On the surface it seems that all control dramas are designed to elicit the same response: they are designed to get attention. Beneath the surface we can say that what everyone who acts out control dramas is really doing is trying to feel love. When we feel loved we tend to feel safe, accepted, important, wanted, acknowledged, heard, respected and included. When we feel unloved we tend to feel unsafe, unaccepted, unwanted, unimportant, unacknowledged, unheard, disrespected and abandoned.

By employing a control strategy to get other people to pay attention to us we receive energy from them which becomes a substitute for feeling love, which is the natural state when we are in tune with who we really are. It is only because we have accepted false notions of who we are that we form control dramas in the first place.

Control dramas are created subconsciously and can be seen as the way in which we act out our programs.

Control dramas come in a variety of forms – some active and some passive. Some are noisy and others quiet. Some are peaceful and others aggressive. The common aim of all control dramas is to control the reactions of others.

Examples of aggressive control dramas include:

  • Strategies which create doubt in recipients’ minds: such as undermining, criticising, complaining and guilt tripping.
  • Strategies which make people fear for their safety: such as using dominating, threatening, violent or intimidating behaviour.
  • Controlling / manipulating – getting other people to do things for you.
  • Having a tantrum and making a fuss.
  • Interrupting, talking too much, bragging, boasting, showing off, getting into trouble and generally acting up.

Examples of passive control dramas include:

  • Aloofness – the person who slopes off to a quiet corner on his own, or who retreats to his own room when surrounded by others: this behaviour is designed to prove that someone likes this person enough to notice he is missing and to come looking for him.
  • Sulking – remaining in the company of others but making it obvious through facial expressions, body language and tone of voice that we are unhappy and not willing to join in.
  • Poor me victims – people who focus their attention and ours on their problems in an attempt to induce feelings of sympathy, often by making us feel guilty.

How to tell if someone is running a control drama on you

One way to tell if someone is running a control drama on you is to ask yourself how you feel in his presence. Do you feel drained, confused, uncentred or disorientated? Do you feel inspired, energised or uplifted?

Inherent in the control drama is the message of disapproval. The person running the drama will effectively be saying they do not approve of the behaviour of those around them and that they require other people to modify their behaviour before he will show his approval and acceptance of what is. This disapproval can show itself in a number of ways, from gross to subtle, including:

  • Overt physical actions
  • Body language and postures
  • Facial expressions and eye movements
  • Words, phrases and other vocal noises
  • Intonations / tone of voice
  • Inattentiveness

How to deal with other people’s control dramas

Dealing with other people’s dramas can be tricky, challenging, entertaining or prove to be a great opportunity for learning, depending on how we are feeling at the time. If we react to someone’s drama we effectively play into it and we can become entangled in it like a fly in a spider’s web. The key to not reacting is to be aware of the drama and be mindful of our own responses. Other people’s dramas can trigger our own emotional wounds so we need to be careful that we don’t respond to someone else’s drama by acting out our own.

It can also be useful to be aware of drama escalation in which a person will increase the intensity of his drama if he feels threatened. For example, someone running a complaining drama will find an ever-increasing number of things to complain about if you offer solutions for his other complaints.

Another strategy is drama switching. This happens when the person running a drama feels that a particular drama is not having the desired effect and decides to switch to a different kind of drama. For example, if someone is running a passive drama which is not eliciting the desired response, he may switch to a more aggressive drama in order to get what they want. Equally, someone who is using aggressive control dramas can switch to a poor me drama – if intimidating others doesn’t appear to be working they may decide to switch to eliciting sympathy instead.

A powerful tool to use in combating control dramas is to take time out and to remember that our own development is about empowerment, not control. Therefore there is nothing to be gained from “winning the argument with someone”. Whatever you try to control will end up controlling you, so disengaging from the drama is often the best policy.

Of course once we have a good understanding of how control dramas work we put ourselves in a better position to be able to stop running dramas on others.

Sweets, toys and love

Our loss of connection with our Inner Being and the subsequent creation of control dramas lead to an interesting cultural side-effect: consumerism.

We are born with a basic set of needs: food, nurture, shelter, and to feel safe. We can say that these are all expressions of love.

Somewhere along the line we feel that we are not getting what we need emotionally, so we develop strategies or control dramas to get attention which acts as a substitute for love. Many parents, not realising that what we really need is love, try to make us happy by giving us things. We learn to associate sweets and toys with feeling better.

But things are not love so they cannot fulfil our emotional needs, so we get older and continue to carry around with us our emotional needs. We continue to crave sweets and toys because we forget that what we really seek is love.

The people who want to sell us more things create the illusion that acquiring these things will make us happier. We buy into this illusion and when we first get these new things they give us a temporary high – enough to sustain the illusion. But these things do not ultimately satisfy us and our emotional holes persist, waiting to be filled. So we remain susceptible to buying more things in the hope that they will satisfy us.

Advertising plays on our emotional weaknesses by stimulating our feelings of guilt, envy, fear and desire. Because we rarely manage to heal our emotional wounds we remain susceptible to advertising which makes it harder to change.

Things become like drugs: we start to crave new things; we get a high when we first receive them; the high wears off after a while and we are left wanting more. We are addicted to consumerism.

We also learn to associate buying things at a reduced price with achievement: how many of us buy something at a reduced price, feel that we have “got a bargain”, tell someone about it and then get told “you did well there, getting that thing for that price”? “You did well” so you can afford to feel good about yourself. Buying things at a reduced price becomes associated with “doing well”.

Large retailers such as supermarkets buy in bulk so they get things cheaper than independent shops. Because they make so much money they can afford to offer more “deals”. These reduced price deals tempt us in and we also buy into the idea that we should “stock up on things while they are at that price”. We learn that buying cheap and buying in bulk is good. Buying more than we need is good.

We can see from this how easy it is to become outwardly-focused and to believe that all of our needs will be met from outside of us. When the thought of acquiring something arises within us, being able to discern whether that thought has come in an attempt to fill an emotional void, or as the solution to a practical problem, can be tricky. One way in which we can gain an insight into this is to ask if we feel any desire for the something which we have thought of acquiring. If there is desire then it is most likely that the impulse to buy is coming from an attempt to fulfil an emotional need. If there is desire there will also be justification. If we have a strong desire for a new television, for example, and someone challenges us by questioning why we think we need a new TV, we may respond by justifying the desire – by saying that we need to buy a new TV because…

Of course desire can masquerade as need which makes the challenge doubly difficult. Someone who has a broken wardrobe might want to buy a new one and it would be easy to accept that they need it, but someone who has had the same wardrobe for 20 years and feels that it is “outdated” or “past its best” may also feel that he needs a new wardrobe even though the existing one does the necessary job of storing clothes quite nicely.

Similarly, at the opposite end of the spectrum, someone who has a poverty mindset may carry on using old things and never replace them because of the belief that he can’t afford it. People like this convince themselves they don’t need to buy new replacements by justifying their viewpoint – perhaps by saying that they want to take from the world only what they need.

In both cases the people concerned will be acting out their emotional wounds and trying to fulfil their emotional needs by the choice of behaviour they adopt towards consumption.

Next Chapter: Not My Problem >>

*** This chapter is taken from my book The Light Within ***