Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Neon Neurochemistry of the Drama Queen

 Are you one of these babes?

    I can hear Gigi's shrill laughter all the way down a long hospital corridor. "You are such a cute doctor!" she cries. "A cute doctor for a cute patient -- that's only fair!"
    I don't want to visit this exhibitionistic, narcissistic drama queen, but I promised her father I would make an appearance every few days while he's out of town.
    "I refuse to eat the food here -- it's like being in Auchwitz or something," she is telling a group of nurses as I approach. "I have my meals delivered from 'The Good Earth.' Beautiful food on the inside makes you beautiful on the outside. Look at me!"
    That's Gigi's implied motto: Look at me.
    I have known a few drama queens over the years, but she is like a caricature of a caricature. As I approach her, I see that she has rejected the hospital gown and is instead wearing a sheer, shocking-pink peignoir set, trimmed with a feather boa, and a pair of pink stilettoes.
    "Sylvia, where have you been?" she cries irritably as I approach. "Did you bring me the brie and pears?

    Of course I brought her the brie and pears. I got some Godiva chocolates, too, as a special treat, and I took a risk by sneaking in a picturesque botttle of Raspberry Pale Ale as well. Isn't that pathetic? I wanted her approval, even though she disapproves of me (and everyone else). She creates a twisted dynamic around herself, and even I -- a pretty "screw-you" sort of person -- have succumbed to it. 
(To match her negligee)

     Gigi is a powerful force. She is a beautiful woman, but she just had to be even more beautiful: She's had two facelifts, regular Botox and Juviderm injections, breast implants, lavishly highlighted hair, and lots of shimmery makeup. She had genital surgery to "refresh" her not-tight-enough vagina. Once in a while, she even wears pigtails! She is 40 years old, but she could pass for a high-schooler when she puts on her teeny bopper outfits. She dates men half her age, and she consistently lies about her age, even to female acquaintances.
    More importantly, she has charisma. She is clever and vivacious, and she's a hilarious storyteller, although her anecdotes always glorify her ability to dazzle men or create a commotion wherever she goes.  When she sweeps into a room -- even a conference room -- she waits for the hush to descend as people gape at her fabulous appearance, and then she says majestically, "I have arrived -- let's get this party started."

Yes, it's really me. Are the networks here?

    Gigi is the epitome of a drama queen. God, they're tiresome. And no matter how good you're feeling about yourself that day, they manage with one look -- one disdainful glance --  to make you feel ugly, and several inches shorter. If you don't phrase your comments carefully, they will misinterpret them as critical or skeptical, and either attack you or sulk. They regularly discern a "tone" or "implication" in what you're saying that isn't there. Totally defensive! So you tiptoe around their feelings in that "walking on eggshells" way.
     Drama queens loom and glow. They don't quite feel alive unless they are creating an uproar, whether they are in the grocery store or at a formal ball. They have so many people jumping through their hoops that it's like a three-ring circus.They are the center of the universe, and everything is about them. In spite of their little fits and complaints, they are determined to be the teacher's pet, the doctor's favorite patient, the life of the party. And they are!

Indeed, your highness, you have outdone yourself.
    I am so pathetic that in addition to the brie and pears and chocolate and beer, I brought Gigi a L'Oreal "age defying" skin product that had just been introduced two days ago. Why did I want her to like me? I think maybe it wasn't that. I just didn't want her to dislike me and add me to her gossipy blacklist.
    "You keep it," she said,without any show of gratitude. "I order my products from Paris. They have placenta in them, and pure argon oil.

    Gigi was in the hospital to have her implants reduced in size. The double-D model was giving her back trouble and ruining her posture. "How can you bear to have such tiny boobs?" she once asked me, turning up her nose. 
    I've always been grateful for tiny boobs. I don't want my boobs to draw attention. I prefer that men focus their eyes elsewhere, on my eyes, for example. I don't want boobs flying into my face when I jog or hanging down to my navel when I get old.
It was fun while it lasted, flouncing and bouncing about.
    "It's kind of like losing a child to have your boobies die," Gigi said, tears filling her eyes (proving conclusively that she had never lost a child). "They were me! I've been amputated! Now I know how those guys in Afghanistan feel. I think I might get PTSD."
    This why I avoid drama queens. I am not one to indulge silly people, to commiserate without sincerity, or to to cow-tow. I wouldn't be here if my friend weren't afraid his sweet little girl might commit suicide when her favorite body part was ripped from her tender chest. 

Oh, the grief is killing me! I am verklempt!
     Despite her difficult temperament, Gigi had managed to become a much sought-after interior designer. Although her personal aesthetic was flamboyant verging on tacky, she could transform an uninspired living space into a wonderland of good taste and breathtaking juxtaposition. I loved looking through her portfolio. Her clean lines, fanciful use of color, and artistry in merging textures and genres, made me realize that she wasn't entirely the outlandish bimbo whom she had chosen to present to the world.

    I don't recall ever knowing a drama queen until I moved to New York City, and there I came across quite a few women who exhibited grandiosity (either in fantasy or actual behavior), an overwhelming need for admiration, and usually a complete lack of empathy toward others. They seemed to believe that they were of primary importance in everybody’s life, and had a special, elevated place in the world's pecking order.

I have kissed myself a few times, but on the bicep, not the mirror.
    Many years later, I learned that this is an actual mental illness. Those with "narcissistic personality disorder" often display snobbish, disdainful, or patronizing attitudes toward others as well as the traits described above.
OMG -- It can even become malignant!

    To meet this diagnosis, one must meet  five or more of these criteria, accordidng to the Mayo Clinic (do you?):
When you enchant yourself, it's hard to put a stop to it. It's mesmerizing.
  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  • Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  • Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
I'm here. What are we waiting for?
    In spite of Gigi's snootiness, I have sensed an almost heartbreakingly fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism.  In fact, if she wasn't constantly being complimented, that was tantamount to criticism in her mind. And if anyone else was being complimented, she seethed. She was constantly in a state of tense readiness, so that she could take immediate retaliatory action if another raving beauty appeared. How exhausting that must have been! She once told me that she had a full-fledged panic attack in Saks Fifth Avenue when she noticed their gorgeous new mannequins, complete with nipples. "I almost died, literally," she said, getting teary-eyed. "I had chest pains!"
When she asked me to a party, she said, "don't wear THAT dress.
    If you have narcissistic personality disorder, the Mayo clinic adds, "you may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious. You often monopolize conversations. You may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior. You may feel a sense of entitlement — and when you don't receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry. You may insist on having "the best" of everything — for instance, the best car, athletic club or medical care."
Gigi's BMW is "a fashion accessory that tells people I'm somebody special."
    That's Gigi, all right. And a few others I've known, too, although they have all mellowed quite a bit as they've aged. But Gigi is 60 now -- still a shapely, glowing, wrinkle-free "sex kitten" -- and she shows no signs of giving up her Mistress of the Universe role.
    But since Gigi is so very special, she has added a few more disorders to her repertoire, although she believes it's everyone else who is tiresome and exasperating. I believe she also has Borderline Personality disorder (as Princess Diana was rumored to exhibit).     According to Psych Central, those with BP exhibit: 
  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  • A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation
  • Identity disturbance, such as a significant and persistent unstable self-image or sense of self
  • Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
  • Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior
  • Emotional instability due to significant reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
  • Transient, stress-related paranoid thoughts or severe dissociative symptoms        

When she sulks, her hair goes into a frenzy of rage and recklessness.
   And let's not forget Abandonment Disorder. It has several striking symptoms, accordng to the APA: 

DSM-5 criteria include these features:
  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
  • Requiring constant admiration
  • Having a sense of entitlement
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want
  • Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner
These traits are becoming quite repetitive, aren't they? The shrinks ought to just create a Drama Queen diagnosis, and throw all this stuff into the same silky, slinky heap of clothes, shimmery lip gloss and eye shadow,  and Manolo Blahniks.

Dramatic shoes in drama-queen hues.
As with other mental disorders, both abandonment and narcissistic personalities are caused by  "likely complex" forces,Mayo concludes. They may be linked to:
  • Mismatches in parent-child relationships with either excessive pampering or excessive criticism
  • Genetics or psychobiology — the connection between the brain and behavior and thinking
  • Parenting styles that overemphasize the child's specialness and criticize fears and failures may be partially responsible. The child may hide low self-esteem by developing a superficial sense of perfection and behavior that shows a need for constant admiration
    But why stop now: We're just getting to know Gigi, and she insists on being thoroughly, exhaustively and exhaustingly known. In addition to her other convolutions, she is also a clear Histrionic Type. 

Drama queens are both steely and easily shattered.
    HPD is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as a personality disorder characterized by a pattern of excessive attention-seeking emotions, usually beginning in early adulthood, including inappropriately seductive behavior and an excessive need for approval. Histrionic people are lively, dramatic, vivacious, enthusiastic, and flirtatious. HPD affects four times as many women as men.[1] It has a prevalence of 2–3 percent in the general population and 10–15 percent % in inpatient and outpatient mental health institutions.
The internal hierarchy of the hysteric. You are nowhere.
    HPD lies in the dramatic cluster of personality disorders that we have already discussed. People with HPD have a high need for attention, make loud and inappropriate appearances, exaggerate their behaviors and emotions, and crave stimulation.
    "They may exhibit sexually provocative behavior, express strong emotions with an impressionistic, theatrical style, and can be easily influenced by others. Their makekup and physical appearance is used to draw attention to themselves. Associated features include shallowness, egocentrism, self-indulgence, continuous longing for appreciation, and persistent manipulative behavior to achieve their own needs, the American Psychological Association manual notes.
    "Psychoanalytic theories incriminate authoritarian or distant attitudes by one (mainly the mother) or both parents, along with conditional love based on expectations the child can never fully meet.
    Subtypes of HPD include (are you one of these? I think I'm several of them, at various times):

Vigorous, charming, bubbly, brisk, spirited, flippant, impulsive; seeks momentary cheerfulness and playful adventures; animated, energetic, ebullient.

Impulsive, out of control; moody complaints, sulking; precipitous emotion, stormy, impassioned, easily wrought-up, periodically inflamed, turbulent.

Underhanded, double-dealing, scheming, contriving, plotting, crafty, false-hearted; egocentric, insincere, deceitful, calculating, guileful

Affected, mannered, put-on; postures are striking, eyecatching, graphic; markets self-appearance; is synthesized, stagy; simulates desirable/dramatic poses.

Labile, high-strung, volatile emotions; childlike hysteria and nascent pouting; demanding, overwrought; fastens and clutches to another; is overly attached, hangs on, stays fused to and clinging.

Gigi enjoys making a splash at poolside.
    That says it all, doesn't it? What interests me most is realizing that I have or formerly had many of these traits myself. Why didn't anyone tell me? They never cautioned me about my alcoholism, either. I guess they thought I was a wild-and-crazy girl -- never boring, thanks to the Jack Daniels and Tanqueray -- and their egos were stoked by my acceptance of them, since there were so many people I callously (I'm really, really sorry) deprecated.
    Do you feel as normal now as you did before reading this article? I feel less normal than I did before I wrote it. I knew I was messed up -- but not in so damn many ways!
    I think that one reason drama queens get away with their misbehavior is that they are often particularly entertaining, witty, dynamic people. They're a hoot. If you can tolerate their negative responses to your new haircut ("OMG, Sylvia, you got butchered!") or their belittling remarks ("Are you seriously going to wear that tonight?"), or their cruel whispers about other people's weight, intellect, sexuality or attractiveness, they can give you an amusing evening now and then.
DeAndra was a magnificent person, but I couldn't handle her rampages.
   In Denver, I had a friend who was a total hysteric. Being with DeAndra  was like "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" She was always raging, crying, melodramatizing, beating her breast, tearing her hair (literally), saying, "I can't bear this." I felt totally inadequate to comfort her. But in social situations, she was irresistible, with her sophisticated humor and flirtations. She also happened to be brilliant, and she was the very first person who had ever shown me unconditional love. I was stunned by this generosity of spirit. 
    As I have aged, and my need for attention, conquests, etc., has diminished considerably, I have been able to view the histrionic, narcissistic drama queens of the world with greater compassion. Their grandiosity and arrogance come from a place of pain, I believe. I visualize them when they're alone in their apartments, agonizing over how to stay on top, how to sabotage the new blonde knockout at the office, how to hog the spotlight forever.
Just keep taking selfies. It makes you feel like you really do exist!
See: She exists.
   It's kind of fun to hog the spotlight it for a little while. Applause is nice. Having men vying for your affection is pretty fun, if you're in your twenties. Knockin' em dead when you walk into a room makes you feel very cool -- but I have come to prefer invisibility.
    I have reached the stage where I would rather tell a woman she is beautiful,  or that she's a compelling, delightful presence, or that I enjoy her perspective,  than to be given such a compliment myself. I got my fill of flattery before I turned 30. I'm glad my neediness in that regard has "resolved itself into a dew."
Maybe if I love you, you can focus on other things.
    I don't claim to be a bona fide adult -- I'm way too screwed up for that -- but at least I've made some minor progress. It's liberating. If you happen to see me making a scene, it's not a drama-queen scene. It's righteous indignation at the way I or someone else is being treated. I don't apologize for that. We need to push back against the impersonal and unfair culture that we have created. If you don't dare raise hell yourself, scrounge up a drama queen. They do serve a purpose, and they have perfected the Art of the Tantrum.