Updated: Oct 12
Why some people seem to perpetuate a chaotic existence for themselves and try to create one for those around them.
After the last couple years we've had with a pandemic, wars, racial and cultural clashing, environmental disasters, and inflation - it seems almost normal that we would accept all of this chaos as the way of life.
However, we all have people we know who always seem to have the D-word aside from the stuff we are all already experiencing.
If it's not the same person, we know another who seems to always side with the extreme approach. Why do these people exist? What drives them? How do we coexist while protecting our own wellbeing?
Scientists recently conducted a study that concluded that those with the highest tendency for chaos possess it because they feel dismissed or minimized. Because of that, they have an intense need for social dominance driven by anger that they're not on top or accepted. They feel the instability they help create will somehow make it easier for them to rise. Oftentimes, the sensationalist comments they make or dramatic scenarios they create are just a way to garner attention and bring others into their fold, giving them a false sense of social value or importance because they know more than the others do. What the professionals also found is that a large portion of this chaotic group don't just create chaos for chaos' sake, they actually want to be part of the recovery from it.
Well, the chaos is kind of like a side effect.
Two psychologists, Arie Kruglanski, and Jocelyn Bélanger outlined a model called "the significance quest." They started with the long-time understood, natural, human desire for people to want to feel they matter and that their lives have purpose. The issue arises when this natural desire is compounded when someone feels powerless (like when stressed, after a serious loss, or even humiliation).
The natural desire for purpose will drive people to do anything in their pursuit which can result in extreme displays, stories, or behaviors. At the very core of this is the desire to be empathized with, accepted, and to feel like something important and bigger than oneself.
Living with the Chaos
So now that there's a bit of understanding of the potential reasons for your friend, family member, or coworker's actions. What do we do with it?
First step is to come from a place of empathy. Try to feel what that person does without imagining how you, yourself would feel in their situation. Creating the personal space is necessary in being able to come from a place without judgement. Although we talked about a potential core cause, it may not be the only factor at play. Avoid jumping to conclusions about the source!
At the basic level, recognizing that they are in pain and may feel powerless is foundational in not harboring unfavorable and unhelpful feelings toward them. You can understand they're suffering, but do not have to agree with the way they're trying to build connection and purpose.
While in conversation with someone who is choosing chaos, it can be useful to try emphasize what you do agree with and find common ground. If you choose to introduce a view point in opposition of something they're trying to convince you of, stick to softer introductions by using words like "might, maybe, or sometimes." Saying something like, "I think another way to look at this is..., " or , "This might have happened."
Ultimately, we all need to decide the space necessary for us to feel peaceful. If you are feeling too drained after interactions with someone perpetuating too much instability and drama, it's ok to create the distance needed for you to regain your emotional and psychological wellness.