Why Drama and Anger Are Addicting
Okay, I’m going to tell you a story, but before you read this, you have to agree not to judge me. Nearly 30 years ago when I first began dating my husband, I was certain that he was cheating on me–even though I had absolutely no reason to think he was. I just did. I came from a home where infidelity was the norm, so I believed that was the norm in relationships. Because of this mindset, I was always trying to catch him cheating, like my mother and father were always trying to catch each other cheating. One day I was on Sunset in front of the Roxy and I saw a car that was exactly like his. It had two people in it. I knew it was him and the person he was cheating with. So I jumped out of my car, ran up to the car, and snatched the driver out of the car. (Remember, you agreed not to judge me). Anyway, it was some shocked guy, and his even more shocked girlfriend. Fortunately, this is LA and when a guy gets snatched out of a car by a black queen screaming, “Who is this bitch and what is she to you?” it’s not that big of a deal, if the queen immediately apologizes and explains that he thought the guy was his husband. So, nothing happened there. However, I immediately went to see my shrink and reported the incident. She explained that I was addicted to the adrenaline. That is, it was exciting trying to catch him cheating, planning, stalking, my heart starts racing, my blood pressure elevating etc. I realized she was right. I also recognized that’s what my parents were doing, and I stop participating in that drama that day.
However, drama, (as described by my friend Marcia) is a quick change artist. It knocks on your door, you let it in. Then you realize it’s drama and you kick it out. Drama goes outside, puts on a red nose, knocks on the door. You say, oh you’re not drama, you have a big red nose, come on in. You discover that it is drama, you kick it out. It goes outside, walks around the house, puts on big glasses and a hat. It knocks on the door, you say, oh you’re not drama, you wear glasses, come on in. And as we all know, drama has a costume trailer parked outside and has a million outfits and a million faces and will get in every time. So now, 25 years later I’ve turned in my weave and acrylic nails for a PhD in neuroscience, I ask the question why do we always let drama in. Surely we recognize it, the costumes aren’t that convincing. Of course we recognize it. We let it in for the same reason we buy food that is yummy but not all that good for us–because we like it. So, why do we like it is the next question.
When humans like something dopamine is involved. Dopamine is the brain’s feel good drug and neurotransmitter (chemicals that transmit signals from a neuron to a cell) that the brain uses to motivate humans to participate in vital behaviors, such as eating and breeding for example. The brain is a dopamine whore; end of story. While less is more sometimes, more is always more and was more first. Hence the more dopamine the better as far as the whorish, hedonistic brain is concerned. When you participate in drama your sympathetic nervous system increases: blood pressure, fuel availability by metabolizing fat, adrenaline, oxygen circulation to the vital organs, blood clotting to minimize the loss of blood if you’re wounded, pupil size and pupil size and peripheral vision (improves vision), while decreasing fuel storage (decreases insulin activity to store glucose, for example), digestion and salivation. Generally speaking this is the HPA (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal) Axis response. The HPA Axis is the Marines of our biology. Like when our nation perceives threat we send the Marines first, the sympathetic nervous system and the mid-brain calls out the HPA. Recent studies show that when this occurs, the brain produces dopamine (in the substania nigra) which makes this process more pleasant and rewarding, thereby making humans more likely to participate in it. If it wasn’t rewarding, i.e., if there was no dopamine in it for the the brain wouldn’t make us do it. Just like if the Marines didn’t get paid they wouldn’t go to war.
SO VOILA! There it is. The reason we let drama in is because drama presents as threat in the brain. Now true, drama is not usually a real threat. It usually doesn’t endanger life and limb, but more often ego and expectation. However in the limbic region of the brain, where the mantra is survive now, ask questions later, there is no distinction between real and actual threat. When threat is perceived it sends out the Marines. And in sending out the Marines, the brain gets paid in dopamine. AND THAT IS WHY we let drama in time and time again. Our brains like getting paid. That is why people become addicted to drama and to anger, because it results in the release of dopamine in the brain, just like cocaine, sex, food, and all the other highly addictive substance.