Drama, crazy making, chaos. Why? What for? What are the psychodynamic reasons behind such behavior or misbehavior? And what are the goals, if any? Why do people with borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, even antisocial personality disorder, aka psychopaths on the extreme end of the spectrum? Why do people with other personality disorders, histrionic, paranoid, with mood disorders such as bipolar disorder, with a variety of other mental illnesses, why do they engage in dramatic, erratic behavior?
This is such a defining feature that the cluster B personality disorders are also called erratic, dramatic personality disorder, erratic, dramatic cluster. So drama is not a minor thing. It's not a fringe event or occurrence. It's not atypical. Drama is at the very core of these mental health disturbances.
And in this video, we're going to explore the whys, the hows, the wheres, the whens, and the whos of dramatic, crazy making.
My name is Sam Vaknin. I'm a former visiting professor of psychology and the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited. And onward to this dramatic, crazy making video.
You heard my word.
First of all, as you've already understood, well, some of you at least, crazy making, drama or dramatic behavior, chaos, dysregulation, acting out, even defiance or reactance, recklessness, all these are indications of mental illness.
Mental illness can be severe. Personality disorders are considered severe mental illnesses. They could be mid-range, for example, mood disorders or anxiety disorders, or they can be really extreme, for example, psychotic disorders.
In all these disorders, there's an element of drama, an element of theater play, element of production. The protagonist, in this case, the mentally ill patient or the mentally ill client, is thespian, is acting or play acting. It's like a character in a movie.
And the whole thing feels very unreal. The escalation is immediate, disproportionate.
And you want to grab these people by the lapels, whatever they're wearing, and just shake them and say, "Wake up. What are you doing? Are you nuts? Why are you escalating? Why are you making this much, much worse? Where is the need? What's the need? Why do you need to be so dramatic? Why do you need to introduce an element of insanity, unpredictability, disproportionality, indeterminacy, fear into the whole situation?
Are there other ways to tackle it? Stress, catastrophizing, panic, anxiety, depression, adversity, conflict? Does it all have to go to hell in a handbasket?
And there's no way to get to these people, because when they are in the throes of enacting their personal dramas, they're no longer with us. The sun were floating, detached.
Indeed, many, many of these clients and patients, when they are being erratic or dramatic or unpredictable or arbitrary or capricious or dangerous or psychopathic, they are also at the same time dissociative. They experience amnesia or partial amnesia. They simply forget what they've done.
They go through phases of derealization. It's as if reality is not real. It's a kind of fantastic movie like cinematic theatrical space.
And whatever they are doing to you and to themselves has no consequences because it's just a script. It's just a piece of fiction.
Depersonalization, which is another dissociative mechanism, they don't feel inside their bodies sometimes.
So in many dramatic and erratic and crazy making moments, the person who is on a rampage, the person who is out of control, is also dissociative. He's not there. He's not inside his body.
Depersonalization is not in reality or he perceives, misperceived reality. As unreal, he loses reality testing and that's derealization.
Or there is a memory gap or a memory lapse for the entire period. Dissociation is actually in this sense amnesia, dissociation, depersonalization and derealization is a criterion in some of these mental health disorders, most notably in borderline personality disorder.
So crazy making, drama, theater plays, rendering your life a movie, this involves dissociation, this involves slicing yourself off your own life, standing aside as an observer, sometimes a disinterested observer and just letting the energy out, letting it all go.
There are a lot of internal processes that are happening at the same time, for example, hyper introspection, immersion in oneself so that environmental awareness is at a zero or at a limit, actually acting from within as if there's no outside, which is essentially a psychotic feature. This happens to narcissists in mortification, it happens to borderlines when they're abandoned or rejected, especially cruelly and abruptly. This happens to psychopaths when they see red, the famous Irish red mist.
So there's a lot of withdrawal, a lot of avoidance of reality, environment, other people, including intimate partners and significant others, and kind of shutting the gates, withdrawing the bridge, positioning oneself behind a moat in a fortress under siege. Drama and crazy making are desperate attempts to fend off invaders and intruders and to redress the perceived asymmetry of power by acting crazy, by acting disinhibited, by being evil and cruel. I'm going to regain the power that has been taken away from me. I'm going to have the upper hand and therefore I'm going to be safe.
It's an anxiety reaction actually.
Now each of the mental illnesses has a different combination of aecheology or aecho-pathology and behavior.
So the crazy making or the dramatic erratic behaviors in narcissism are not the same as they are in borderline or in psychopath, psychopathy or in histrionic personality disorder or in bipolar disorder or in psychotic disorder or in paranoid disorder, personality disorder.
So we need to delve deeper to decipher and deconstruct the acts of crazy making in drama and the choice of drama because drama is a choice.
Ultimately these are choices. I mean if you talk to borderlines or even narcissists and they will tell you, I can't control it, I can't help it, that's who I am. That's of course nonsense. These are choices, they are learned choices, they are acquired choices, they are survival strategies and coping techniques developed over decades starting in early childhood but still ultimately their choices.
We know that their choices, because as the environment changes these behaviors sometimes vanish. For example in prison or in the army. We also know that following therapy, for example, dialectical behavior therapy, many of these behaviors abate or disappear altogether.
So they are not, they are choices. Absolutely. There is willful control, there's voluntary control of these actions and inactions of these escalatory moves and defined conflictive postures. They are all utterly under control.
Let's start with narcissists and paranoids.
Now before we proceed, you know my position. I think paranoids are actually narcissists.
The paranoid says I'm at the center of attention. It's a malign attention, I'm a level endbut I'm still the center of attention and I'm important enough to be pursued by the CIA or aliens or whatever.
So the paranoid positions himself as the pivot around which events and other people rotate is like an axisand so there is a centrality, a self-imputed centrality of the paranoid which is indistinguishable from the self-imputed importance of the narcissist.
Both paranoia and narcissism are forms of grandiosity.
Now in extreme casesof courseparanoia is a hallmark of schizophrenia and so it is psychotically tinged but still this is grandiose psychosis.
So narcissists and paranoids as far as I'm concerned are in the same group.
Paranoid personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.
Now why do these people engage in drama and in crazy making?
Because they're prone to fantasyand what is a fantasy if not a form of drama?
A fantasy is a theater play.
Narcissism and paranoid ideation are fantasy defenses gone awry.
So the narcissist always inhabits a never-ending tale or land of drama. His entire inner world is dramatic populated by internal objects and introjects which represent other peopleand the same goes for the paranoid.
The game is afoot. There's some conspiracy unfolding. There's referential ideation, ideas of reference. Other people are busy, occupied in planning the demise or the end of the paranoidand so everything and everyone revolves or revolves around the paranoid and the narcissistand this swirl, this cloud is the drama.
The narcissist and the paranoid feel dead. They feel absolutely vacated, empty when their lives are routine and drab and predictable and safe and stable. They hate these things.
Psychopaths hate the very same things for another reasonbecause they have a very low threshold of boredom. They're bored easilybut narcissists and paranoid. They have a cognitive distortion. It's known as grandiositybut how can you trust that you are perfect and brilliant and amazing and unprecedented and unique and a genius and super important, cosmically importantand so how can you trust any of this?
If there's no drama around you, if other people don't affirm this and confirm it with their behavior or misbehavior, so grandiosity and paranoia are the twin engines of dramatic erratic behavior in narcissism and paranoid personality disorderbecause the drama and the crazy making aid abet, buttress, uphold and protect the self-perception, the fantastic inflated self-perception of the narcissist and the paranoid and the cognitive distortion that filters out reality and and or refrains it dramatically.
Also known as grandiosity.
With the borderlines the situation is not the same. I meanthe reasons are not the same. The borderline engages in dramatic behavior because she feels vulnerable. She feels that she's about to be hurt, that she's about to experience pain.
The borderline is dysregulated. She is ill- equipped to regulate her internal environment. Emotions overwhelm her. Her moods are labile. She is like an ocean in storm. She cannot, she is skinless. It's as if she doesn't have a skin and everything immediately impinges on her inner core.
The core she believes that she is, actually she doesn't have, but so she constantly experiences pain, being overwhelmed, drowning and so she's vulnerable. As a defense against this vulnerabilitymost borderlines are aggressive. The aggression can be directed inwards and then the borderline becomes self-trashing, self-destructive, self-harming, self-defeating. All the aggression can be directed outwardswhich is more common with borderlinesand then the borderline can even become violent or dangerousespecially when she switches to the secondary psychopathic self-state.
The compensates, loses her defenses and acts out.
So in the case of borderlinesthe drama and the crazy making are a form of signaling whereas many victimhood oriented peoplevirtue signal, there's virtue signaling, the borderline signals aggression. The borderline is crazy making and drama is a message. I am crazy, don't eff with me. I am unpredictable, don't scorn me. I'm dangerous, don't abandon me. I'm dramatic, don't drag me down.
So vulnerability plus aggression, aggressioncompensatory aggression.
This is the background to the borderlines dramatic erotic behaviors.
What about psychopaths?
Psychopaths are exactly the opposite of borderlineswhereas the borderline feels constantly exposed, constantly unprotected, unsafe, open to assault, vulnerable, fragile, broken, damaged, brittlepsychopath feels exactly the opposite.
Psychopath feels that he is invulnerable, impermeable, invincible, untouchable, king of the world, king of all worlds, emperor or whatever he sees. This invulnerability is actually an engine of drama and crazy making because the psychopath feels disinhibited. He believes that he's above the law. He is a rule unto himself. He makes the rules as he goes alongand yet they can be contradictory of course because borderlines suffer from identity disturbance.
Psychopaths do not adhere, do not conform, do not sign up to any set of values or beliefs or commitments. They are human beings or wannabe, imitation human beingsreconstructed on the fly time and again.
So you never come across the same psychopath twice, it's like a river.
And so this invulnerability leads to a behavior which doesn't obey or conform to social mores, cultural edicts, sexual scripts.
Psychopath feels he can do anything he wantsand so this leads to coercion and reactance.
Psychopath is defiant, he rejects authority and he imposes on other people his willand his will is the ultimate and only arbiter that everyone has to succumb and it's subjugation or nothing.
And so the psychopath drama and crazy making are manipulative, they're Machiavellian. They're ways to render people submissive, to tame them, to brainwash them, to coerce them into behaving in ways which please the psychopath or cater to his goal orientation, fulfill his goals.
Histrionics are also dramatic, people with histrionic personality disorder are also of course dramatic. Drama is the core feature of histrionics and they're crazy makingbut again for a completely different set of reasons.
They crave attention, they will do anything to gain attention and that includes hyper-sexualize and objectify themselves. And the attention is embedded in a fantasy and that is why the histrionic person misjudges reality.
For example, the histrionic person misjudges the intensity of intimacy. So a histrionic would claim to be in love with someone or about to marry someone when that alleged intimate partner is not even aware of this.
So histrionics escalate, generally, everything, they escalate their emotionality ostentatiously and conspicuously, they escalate their sexual behavior, they dress provocatively and skimpily, they misjudge the depth and intensity of relationships, especially intimate relationships. Everything is blown out of proportion, everything is bigger than life.
To be histrionic is to be dramatic and the drama in this case and crazy making have a single role in mind and that is to obtain and to secure attention.
Now the narcissist is focused on narcissistic supply. Narcissistic supply is intended to support the self-inflated grandiose view of the narcissist.
The histrionic is hell-bent on obtaining any kind of attention just to be noticed. It's as if when she is not noticedshe doesn't exist.
So there's a need to be seen writ large and gun awry and embedded in a fantasy of I am being seen all the time even when this is not happening.
And these are the root causes of the dramatic behavior of the histrionic.
In bipolar disorders we have the manic phase. The manic phase involves losing touch with reality and again entering a fantastic space which is very much theatrical and cinematic where everything is possible. That's why bipolar is in the manic phase, engaging in hair-brained crazy schemes, get- rich- quick schemes or amazing inventions which will change the world or adventures circling the globe in 80 hours or you know crazy things.
So the craziness of the borderline. The insane dramatic element in the bipolar, I'm sorry, the insane dramatic element has to do with a misapprehension of limitations, shortcomings, one's own weak points and flaws and frailties.
And so at that point reality testing is impaired beyond measure. The bipolar perceives himself or herself as divine in the sense that she's omnipotent or omniscient and there is a convergence here between manic, the manic phase of bipolar and narcissism and I encourage you to watch the two or three videos I made about this misdiagnosis when manic bipolar, a misdiagnosis narcissist or vice versa.
At any rate the crazy making in the drama in bipolar are intended to support the plans, the unrealistic grandiose plans of the bipolar.
Not the grandiosity itself because the bipolar is utterly convinced it doesn't need any proof.
Bipolars do not seek narcissistic supply unlike narcissists. The narcissist is vulnerable, is fragile. The narcissisttrust his own grandiosity.
So the narcissist needs constant reassurance that he is the greatest of them all.
The bipolar doesn't. The bipolar believes himself to be godlike anyhow. He doesn't need anyone to tell him that. If people are stupid enough to not notice that it's their problem but he does need reassurance and succor when it comes to his super insane unrealistic crazy making grandiose plans and that's where the drama comes in.
And finally in psychotic disorders. The drama and the crazy making are the direct outcome of the inability to tell external reality from internal reality, something known as hyper-reflexivity.
The psychotic confuses his internal space with the world out there and because of this confusion many processes which are internalized in healthy people and even in not so healthy people, many internal processes in the psychotic person are externalized.
And because internal processes, mental processes by definition involve all kinds of defense mechanisms, ups and downs, repression, there is forbidden material, trauma and so on so forth. The inner world is very chaotic, it's not structured, it's chaotic, it's volcanic, it's an earthquake, constant earthquake with prequakes and post tremors. That's the inner world.
When this inner world is externalized and misperceived as reality, of course behaviors become very dramatic, very erratic, very unpredictable, very crazy making and you can see it for example in the movie Joker which is a masterpiece for all ages.
This was a brief overview of dramatic behaviors and crazy making.
If you're in a relationship with any of these people, with the narcissist, with the borderline, with the psychopath, with the histrionic, with the bipolar, with someone who has a psychotic disorder, you are in for a roller coaster of your life. It could be even dangerous or risky because of their inability to tell reality apart from reality, they can end up shooting you in one of the scenes with a prop, so to speak, metaphorically speaking.
You could become a victim of their own need to reenact their internal environment and then reenact the world to conform to it. You could be collateral damage. Here you have been warned.