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Carolyn Hax: How to play director to a high-drama friend

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: How do you deal with a friend who is a total drama queen, who seems to always have a "crisis of the moment" that fizzles out about 10 seconds later? My friend "Allie" is like this. It seems like almost every conversation we have starts with her SO UPSET about something — at work, with her family, in her dating life — and she needs all this support, but then the next time we talk she has forgotten all about it and/or doesn't want to talk about it anymore. It's exhausting! And I have gotten tired of investing brain space in her dramas that never go anywhere.

So what do I say the next time she lays one at my feet? "I'm sorry, but I can't pay attention to this because I know it'll turn out to be nothing," doesn't seem like an option here.

— Exhausted

Exhausted: Why not? Maybe those aren’t the exact words you want to use, but you can say, “This sounds a lot like [similar recent crisis], and remember that turned out okay when [she did something to fix it].”

I know, a drama queen’s gonna drama, so you can expect her not to shower you with gratitude for giving her this perspective. But it’s a perfectly civil and friendly way to let her know you are not going to respond as if this is a crisis when you have ample evidence to assure you it is not one.

You can also cut off the validation supply, just stop offering any suggestions at all, stop giving them brain space, since her MO is pretty clearly just to dump and feel better. “Aw jeez,” “Huh,” “So then what happened?” “What do you think you’ll do?”. . . as you fold laundry, file your nails, scratch the dog . . . until the 10 seconds of crisis have passed.

Readers say:

●This was written for parents, but it seems apt: Basically, you’re her emotional trash can.

●For longer than I like to admit, I was a high-drama person. Somewhere along the line I had learned high drama = interesting. A few things helped me unlearn that lesson, and continue to help me deal with high-drama people lovingly: (1.) a few true friends making gentle, loving comments about there always being drama (2.) a simple check-in to know if I am problem-solving or venting (with venting, I hear it as a story, not a problem) (3.) asking myself why not me instead of why me — and when would be a good time for anything to go wrong? (4.) and finally, deciding a one-sided relationship isn’t actually a relationship, not one I want. With one friend, I finally spelled it out — I wasn’t in a place to carry his guano. Once, I thought he was suicidal and dropped everything — and he didn’t even remember that conversation as significant in any way. Now he is very conscious of any emotional dumping, and I am very conscious of his needing to vent occasionally. Mutual awareness has made all the difference.

●“I wasn’t in a place to carry his iguana.” That’s how I first read that line. I think it still works.