Toxic Drama and Righteous Indignation

by Dr. Joe :) · 22 comments

Ever hear of the Scorpion and the Frog?

The fable of the Scorpion and the Frog

Beware of Scorpions! Drawing by Carolyn Bulger

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion, in a charming manner, asks the frog to carry him across on its back.

The frog is familiar with the scorpion’s dubious reputation and replies, “But you’re a scorpion. How do I know you won’t sting me?”

The scorpion answers, “Well my good frog, I can’t swim. If I was foolish enough to sting you, I would surely drown.”

Satisfied with that answer, the kindly frog allows the scorpion to climb on his back. They set out across the stream.

In midstream, the scorpion cannot resist temptation and stings the frog.

The frog quickly feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink. Knowing they both will drown, the frog gasps “Why?”

The scorpion snarls back, “Stupid frog. I’m a scorpion. It’s in my nature… “

There are different versions of this story. There’s one where the scorpion adds with an evil smile “By the way frog… I CAN swim.”

The point of that story is some people have a toxic nature and are very capable of hostile or self-destructive behavior.

Beware of scorpions.

In Drama Queen Parts I and II, I’ve covered Personal Drama and the Expressive Profile. Now I’ll reveal the extreme version of dramatic behavior…

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Toxic Drama

Imagine stopping you car at a light. The light changes but you were momentarily distracted.

Poison symbol to represent toxic drama

Toxic drama is potentially harmful.

The person behind you leans hard on their horn and then lets loose with a barrage of obscenities as they change lanes and roar past you.

What just happened? How could anyone flip a switch and display such extreme road-rage? Such Toxic Drama?

Being inside a vehicle has something to do with it. People feel a sense of invulnerability, power and control while driving. Also, our roadways represent an Arena of Performance where people are already more intense and edgy. People have their “game-face” on whenever they’re driving. All that leads to Road Rage.

Road-rage or not, why do some people act like they’ve just been handed a free ticket to be toxic?

It’s about breaking unwritten rules. When you get hit with a blast of toxic venom, in the other person’s mind you’ve broken some sort of rule and now they believe they’re allowed to attack you without mercy. Your perceived indiscretion is punished with a venomous outburst or even physical assault.

It’s disturbing that some people still abide by the ancient philosophy of revenge – “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

The medical term for this is Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) and according to Wikipedia’s definition is characterized by “extreme expressions of anger, often to the point of uncontrollable rage, that are disproportionate to the situation at hand.”

Such a toxic response is often drastically more severe than the instigating event. Along the lines of, “You accidentally stepped on my toe, and now I’m going to gouge out your eye!”

I’m exaggerating, but you get my point.

It’s disturbing that some people still abide by the ancient philosophy of revenge“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

Couple that revenge philosophy with a tendency to disconnect from emotional responsibility, and you’ve got a powder keg ready to blow.

By the way, 2 sets of rules exist for these people. The easy, flexible rules they set for themselves and the harsh, firm rules they hold everyone else to.

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3 Steps to Toxic Drama.

Here are the 3 easy steps to Toxic Drama:

  1. The Insult.
  2. The Upset.
  3. The Drama.

The Insult may be something interpreted as a personal attack, or it may just be someone breaking their perceived rules of conduct as in the case of not noticing that green light.

Forget about the calm eye, these people are the storm.

Are you easily insulted? People who grow up amidst violence tend to see the world as violent and flee or fight back at the drop of a hat.

The Upset is the reaction to the insult. This is where your inclination to emphasize and express Personal Drama comes into play.

It’s been said that you can measure the size of a person by what it takes to make them upset. It takes a lot to provoke some people. They can remain the calm eye at the center of the storm.

Then there’s those who are very sensitive and emotionally volatile. It might take very little provocation to get them upset. Forget about the calm eye, these people are the storm.

There are huge differences form culture to culture. Some cultures are serious and stoic, others are seen as passionate and volatile.

Toxic people may seem friendly enough, but like scorpions, it’s in their nature to attack.

The Drama Step is “payback time” where theatrics are displayed, revenge is given, and punishment is delivered.

People inclined to toxic rage will make the jump from the Insult step to the Drama in a heartbeat. There’s no pause for reflection. They’re combat-veterans and if provoked, they’ll pull out their claws and rip you to shreds.

Toxic people may seem friendly enough, but like scorpions, it’s in their nature to attack.

Alcohol has been known to set off toxic drama. People lose their inhibitions and self-control.

Passive-Aggressive behavior can also lead to episodes of rage. Passive people can usually take a lot, but once they finally blow their top, their emotions overwhelm them and the drama can be extreme.

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Righteous Indignation

Many who engage in Toxic Drama act out of Righteous Indignation. They act like they’ve been given the right to express outrage or strike an offender down with complete impunity. They feel completely justified in their outburst or in harshly punishing the targeted offender.

This can be a dangerous viewpoint, especially when collectively shared. It only takes two people in righteous agreement to create a mob mentality. Once that mentality takes hold, there’s a collective madness that ensues – a crowd hysteria that can lead to uncharacteristically violent behavior.

Last Canada Day weekend, I was at the Toronto Ribfest doing my annual volunteer work of serving beer for our Rotary Club. It was Friday night, some time past 10, and we were closing up after serving the last round. Two guys showed up late wanting some beer. They had driven from some distance to get there.

They were told “No” and to come back again the next day. They were disappointed and tried persuading us to serve them. After repeatedly hearing “No” they changed tactics. These two didn’t like the manner in which they were told and worked themselves up into a collective frenzy. Each one feeding off the others indignation over the situation. A clear case of “Bar Rage” except these two hadn’t even had anything to drink.

Some people, believing they hold the righteous side, will act swiftly and viciously.

Fortunately there was no violence, only a brief verbal barrage. I probably wouldn’t have taken much notice of them, accept I happened to have started writing this at the time.

In a mob, there can be rapid escalation of collective indignation as fuel is rapidly added to the fire. Anger feeds on anger. There’s also a sense of raw power within a mob that reduces vulnerability and inhibitions.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the mob and feel that rush of power. People in mobs  stop making personal choices about their actions and behavior. They’ll start following the loudest, angriest voice in the crowd.

Such mob mentality has led to horrific crimes and genocidal acts.

Once people believe they hold the righteous side, they’ll tend to act swiftly and viciously. If their target counter-attacks with equal ferocity, now you’ve got a war and things can turn ugly in a hurry.

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Emotional Transference & the Blame Game

How can anyone justify toxic behaviour?

Justifying Toxic Drama requires something called Emotional Transference. That’s where your upsets and actions are perceived as entirely the responsibility of someone else.

Drama is a choice, and you own that choice.

Case in point – Mel Gibson with that recorded phone call to his ex-girlfriend. He went into a toxic rage over her breast implants and how she dressed provocatively. His ability to blame his rage on her was astounding.

It’s all part of the Blame Game people play. As in “My anger is all your fault.” Once you can deny responsibility for your outbursts, you’re free to indulge in intoxicating rage.

You’ve granted yourself a free ticket to be toxic.

Remember those 4 Steps of Emotional Response that I covered back in Drama Queen Part I? The last step –  Owning Your Emotions – is completely ignored when someone engages in Toxic Drama.

Drama is a choice, and you own that choice. Once you finally realize you OWN your upsets, you forfeit the perceived right to make those mouth-frothing rants and acts of Toxic Drama. You also forfeit the right to be swept up in a mob.

Do you know anyone that displays extreme volatility, engages in Emotional Transference and has a tendency to indulge in Toxic Drama?

Beware of these scorpions.

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Stay Tuned…

There you have it, Toxic Drama, Righteous Indignation, and Emotional Transference.

In previous posts you’ve learned about Personal Drama, the Expressive Personality Profile. Now you know about Toxic Drama.

Why do I drag all this drama stuff up? Drama is very relevant to the dental world. Recognizing and diffusing drama are vital skills for a dentist. Building a winning team involves getting everyone past the Drama Habit. Building a terrific customer experience involves helping patients avoid drama and get past their old stories.

Next post I’ll delve into the fantasy realm of the Drama Triangle. A place where evil ogres terrorize poor helpless damsels and battle heroic knights.

Stay healthy and keep smiling!

Signature for a Toronto Cosmetic Dentist.

Dr. Joe 🙂


Dr. Joe Bulger

About the Author: is a West Toronto dentist. He’s also the founder of Royal York Dental – a respected dental clinic serving Etobicoke since 1950.


Leave a Comment

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Michael Aviado July 21, 2010 at 12:25 pm

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Amazing how you can bring psychology and infuse it humor to make it relevant to dentistry. As for myself, I’m not much for being a drama queen but I do have that righteous indignation personality.

2 Dr. Joe :) July 21, 2010 at 2:37 pm

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Hi Michael. Righteous Indignation isn’t a bad thing – in small doses. Taken too far it becomes justification for rage and abuse. “You spilt that milk and now I get to scream in your face and smash you with this baseball bat.”

Warped logic…

Mel Gibson gave the perfect demonstration. People think he’s mentally ill, but he’s not. He’s just another raging narcissist who has failed to grow up. Seems they’re everywhere these days.

Joe 😀

3 CNA work in the health-care field July 23, 2010 at 12:40 am

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this post is very usefull thx!

4 roxyd32 August 5, 2010 at 11:16 am

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Great read… I love the starting point with the Scorpion and the Frog.. My takeaway was that some people will always be a certain way, (they’ll never change!!!)… I can relate ever so slightly to the tendencies of the Drama Queen – but for me it’s all dependant on the situation at hand… Each situation can bring out a different emotional outburst.. Now toxic drama on the other hand in my eyes is lethal. This I cannot relate to, and quite frankly find that behaviour to be very annoying. That’s where my righteous indignation personality may shine through.. LOL!! Can’t wait to read the “drama triangle”…

5 Dr. Joe :) August 6, 2010 at 10:52 am

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Great comments Roxy. Everyone loses it sometime or another. Most soon regret their outbursts and make amends.

Drama Queens are different. They’re completely caught up in their heroic perspective and turn every little thing into a huge drama. Righteous Indignation is a constant attitude for them.

Just putting the finishing touches on the Drama Triangle.

Joe 😀

6 Dentist in Los Angeles August 9, 2010 at 5:43 pm

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I believe that you don’t allow your emotions to control you, and live life based on logical reasoning of what’s right and wrong and how do I feed myself and grow, emotions only get in my way, and slow me down at the task at hand, get emotional with god but not with the tasks in life that have no feeling.

7 Dr. Joe :) August 9, 2010 at 8:48 pm

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Thanks for your comments Dr. Afsoon. Great to hear from a dentist from LA.

I agree with you about temperance and controlling emotion.

You said “Emotions only get in my way.” I understand what you mean. I used to feel exactly that way.

Here’s the thing. I came to realize emotions are powerful and useful. Channeling them appropriately is the secret of exceptional results.

No easy task. I’ll probably spend a lifetime trying to develop more emotional mastery.

Joe 😀

8 Gold Shoes Size 4 October 21, 2010 at 2:34 am

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Hi Dr Joe Bulger you should have been a psychologist, but I must agree you are a master storyteller. I am amazed with all the fresh storylines. For some moments I thought the post could be the best listed stories of a story-writing competition with the topic ‘Toxic Drama’.
Very insightful way to explain the drama involved in the dental world. It is the duty of a dentist to diffuse drama in patients before performing vital operations.

9 Cheap Retractable Dog Leads January 11, 2011 at 2:41 am

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I am a big fan of your writing and your information. I am very interested in knowing in analyzing humans. I really enjoyed reading this. I think we humans fall into each of the category one time or the other. Probably some might not have a strong inclination to a particular profile. And some do, Bottom line –No drama. 🙂

10 jane@dentists in alpharetta July 17, 2011 at 10:57 pm

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thats a nice little fable that i have not heard. this article has made me think about my road rage a little bit…

11 Tom@Seguro del Automovil November 10, 2011 at 11:40 am

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These stories always make me smile. The poor stupid frog doesn’t realize that the scorpion could just wait until it’s safely across to sting him? No different than humans, I suppose. What’s easy to see in a story we simply never recognize in our own lives, or else we intentionally disregard what we do see. thanks for an insightful article.

12 Heather Smith @Dental Website Design December 29, 2011 at 9:58 pm

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Good read ! very interesting you can give humor with the dose of psychology. Keep it up !

13 Peter Bloch Healing February 15, 2012 at 9:31 am

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Dear Dr Joe, Many psychologists believe that the most basic factor in what you call ‘toxic drama’ is narcissism. I am not saying that all people who become enraged are basically narcissists. Sometimes somebody who has normal empathic abilities can be under tremendous stress, but in that moment (though not usually) they are narcissistic.

What a narcissist is, is a person who is not able to identify with another human being, to experience their existence as a feeling, experiencing, separate and significant person. In these conditions, it is quite normal to “attack without mercy” because the other person is not being experienced as a person, but only as an object, and why would you wish to show mercy to a nail with your hammer?

People who suffer from narcissism feel very vulnerable. Although they may act as if they are confident, in reality they are anything but. This is why your first stage of “the insult” is such common experience – narcissists are very sensitive to insult, and often the insult is more imagined than real.

The drama that you describe is a desperate attempt to re-establish the sense of superiority that allows the narcissistic person to survive their underlying sense of inferiority without a collapse – that is why the drama is so wholehearted.

For “normal” people, the question is how best to deal with the drama. I would suggest this: if the person is not very disturbed (the “common narcissist”) it may be possible to reassure them that no offence was intended and to communicate to them that they are hurting you with their attack.

If the person is very disturbed (“narcissistic personality disorder”) then you may be in trouble. The first priority is to try get away, preferably permanently, because they may not stop until they are satisfied that they have “destroyed” you, and you must somehow get away without creating further “offence”. Not easy!

I’ve written quite a lot about narcissism, because I used to treat it psychologically. Now I take a different approach, only seeking to make personal contact with the narcissistic person in order to heal the underlying causes of the disorder, the delusion of separation from other people.

I’ve provided links to two short articles here:
On narcissism: http://blochhealing.co.uk/narcissism-and-society and on how you could approach dealing with a mild narcissistic rage: http://blochhealing.co.uk/what-is-a-healer although to do this you would need to be neither angry nor frightened.

This should not be tried with somebody who is very disturbed, as it may make matters worse.

I hope you find this useful!
Peter

14 Dentarizea March 17, 2012 at 9:38 am

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So glad i’ve found this blog! Greetings from Romania!

15 Peter@Bloch Healing March 18, 2012 at 1:25 pm

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Hi Dr Joe,
Having looked at your blog again, I feel that in my (long!) comment above about narcissism, I should have said a little bit more about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). This is because the characteristics that you describe are more those of this disorder than those of the ordinary narcissist.
The comments that I made still apply, but the underlying conditions are much more severe and dangerous. The “attacking without mercy”, “striking down of the offender”, “complete immunity” and desire for revenge are very much characteristic of this disorder, and there is no appeal for mercy that will be heard.
Psychologists have a number of different theories about the causes of NPD, both psychological and genetic, but most who have made an extensive study are united on two points: it’s not treatable and if you would save yourself, you should get away! Resist the temptation to fight, no matter how badly they behave, because you cannot win without being like them and theirs is not a world that you will be glad to have spent time in. You cannot “teach them a lesson”, because they are too disordered to “learn”. Some experts think that up to 2% of the population have this disorder, although most will not attack you during normal interactions unless you are more deeply involved with them or unless they perceive it to be somehow to their advantage.
Again, hope this helps!
All the best, Peter

16 Dr. Joe :) March 21, 2012 at 7:27 am

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Thank you for explaining that Peter.

I once had a coworker that demonstrated NPD. The percentage of time her nasty side would be revealed gradually shrank over time. But it was always there lurking in the background. She had everyone walking on eggshells for years, and she liked it that way.

17 Jane@iheartbliss.com April 18, 2012 at 10:05 pm

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Oh my, I can relate to the toxic drama scenario. True I get a fit at times whenever I’m driving. I feel like my patience is obliterated the moment I drive a car.

18 Jacob May 12, 2012 at 2:21 am

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Interesting read about the psychology of people, some of it was way over my head but none the less I’d like to thank you for your effort and writing skills 🙂

19 John August 28, 2012 at 6:08 am

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Good read! Have you tried to write a script and sell it to the Hollywood moguls? 🙂

20 Dentist@Raritan Dentist November 3, 2012 at 10:44 pm

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Everyone has “that” moment. I would say many people say I’m a calm person, but sometimes we can’t control ourselves due to a given situation. It doesn’t mean the behavior is acceptable, but we should realize that we should also be willing to forgive it too.

21 Dental clinic in Gurgaon April 15, 2013 at 7:02 am

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I like your post and most of the “Drama Triangle”.

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