One of the more difficult and prevalent experiences in the presence of someone in an active cycle of drama is the whirlwind that gets created. Without warning, it can suddenly feel like the room is spinning and there’s less air to breathe; you may become disoriented, confused, ungrounded, and disconnected from yourself. It can suddenly feel as if you’re on a roller-coaster ride that you didn’t choose to be on.
No matter how clear your boundaries are, sometimes the force of the whirlwind can dislodge you with a dramatic impact. The following are some suggestions in supporting yourself during a whirlwind.
When you recognize that you are being pulled into someone’s whirlwind, name it. Say to yourself, “This is their whirlwind,” then remind yourself why this is happening and what choices you have:
“They are trying to pull me in as a way to feel connection. I can say no to connecting in this way.”
“This is the only way their unprocessed trauma can show up right now. As the trauma is being deposited onto me and into the environment, I won’t be able to make sense of it and I won’t try.”
“This situation has become the stage of their pain. I can choose not to be part of this reenactment.”
Stay Present and Come Into the Here and Now
When entrapped in a drama whirlwind, it can be difficult to orient to what’s happening in the moment; it can feel like a warped sense of time and space. Orient yourself to the present by doing the following:
Take ten slow, deep breaths and feel the heat of the breath as it moves in and out of your nose. Just focus on your breath. Remind yourself what is truly happening in this present moment is your breath, as it’s moving in and out.
Build up some saliva in your mouth and bring your awareness to how it moves through your mouth and down your throat.
Unlock your eyes by looking around the space and seeing and naming some of the colors that are in that space.
Listen and name five things you can hear.
Often, those who were in a drama whirlwind report feeling pulled into a chaos where it becomes difficult to find their own physical and emotional stability. The main focus is to reclaim your sense of anchor and recalibrate from that sense of stability.
Plant your feet into the floor. Push them down and notice the floor beneath you, supporting you.
Plant your hands down into the ground or supporting surface. Feel the engagement of your muscles as you press down.
Place your hands on top of your head, feeling the gentle compression and sense of gravity flowing down through your head, spine, legs, and into your feet.
Reexamine the situation from a sense of being more anchored and grounded.
Bring Yourself Back to You
Once you have anchored yourself, focus on bringing your attention back to you. Often those who are in this situation feel like the whirlwind is pulling them out of themselves, similar to how people feel like they lost themselves in a job or relationship. Here’s what to do:
Reclaim your attention and focus back to you.
Turn your attention to how you are feeling.
Then, turn your focus to what you need and how to get it.
Stay Focused on What’s Real
Being pulled into a whirlwind can seem like reality as you know it is spinning out of control. What you knew as up is down, and what was right and true is now warped and unclear. For now:
Avoid making any new conclusions or understandings of yourself or the world in this state.
Keep focused on what you know is true, simple things like the world is round, apples come from trees, the grass is green, and the sky is blue.
Stay with facts that are absolute and not open to interpretation.
Shaking It Off
Remember that all that activation circulating through the person addicted to drama is contagious. And if you have spent time with someone while they are in the active phase of the addiction, you will have some secondhand drama in you. It’s important that you connect to that activation in yourself and mobilize it. You might do some gentle shaking, a workout, or yoga, whatever activity most allows you to discharge that energy.
One simple practice is to notice where in your body that activation or residual charge is. Tap on it to bring it to the surface, or imagine spreading it so it’s more dispersed through your body. Then, mobilize that activation by any of the methods suggested earlier.
Identify What Restores and Recuperates You
Often people who have interactions with those who are addicted to drama report feeling a residue of the drama and exhaustion. Here are some suggestions to support you in those times:
These might include being in nature, listening to music, doing some exercise or movement, eating something nourishing, or creating art. Make a list and refer to it after an interaction, and make sure you take the time to replenish yourself. It wasn’t a conscious choice for you to have given up so much of your energy (just as it wasn’t a conscious choice for the person with the drama addiction to have drained your energy), so be gentle with why it happened and focus on caring for yourself.
Use Cleansing Rituals
Plan a ritual that will help remove the residue of the interaction or exposure to a whirlwind of drama. These could include the following:
Hand washing: You can literally wash your hands or just imagine doing so. As you wash your hands, visualize all the residue being washed away.
Showering: Similar to washing your hands, sometimes you may feel like you need to be immersed in running water as a way to cleanse yourself of any entanglement or residue from the interaction.
Zooming out: You might feel “stuck to” that person or what they were saying or how they were behaving. Zoom out to a bird’s-eye view and see how much space is now between you and them. Try imagining a refreshing gust of air moving through the space between you and them.
Affirmation: Repeating an affirmation for cleansing can be helpful, such as: “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours.” Try this affirmation as you place one hand on your chest and the other hand in front of you with your palm facing out. You might imagine that the hand facing out is giving back any of the residue you took on from them.
Smudging with sage: Burning dried sage, known as smudging, is a purification ritual emerging from Indigenous traditions that helps cleanse the space and change the composition of the air. As you move the burning sage around your body, picture any energy or activation that is not yours moving out and way along with the smoke.
Naming your experience: It can be helpful to simply acknowledge for yourself or share that it was a difficult or heavy experience to be with them while they were in a drama cycle.
Purifying light: You can imagine a powerful purifying light moving through you. As the light moves completely through you, allow whatever energies or feelings that you picked up from your encounter to move out.
Cutting the cords: Draw an infinity symbol on a piece of paper. Put your name in one loop and theirs in the other. Then, take scissors and cut the “cord” link between the circles.
Body brushing: Brush your whole body from head to toe with your hands, brushing off the entanglements that you are carrying along with you.
Excerpted from ADDICTED TO DRAMA: Healing Dependency on Crisis and Chaos in Yourself and Others by Scott Lyons, PhD. Copyright © 2023. Available from Hachette Go, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.