The Chaos Coordinator


Chief Sam DiGiovanna

Photo courtesy Landon Jensen.

Most every organization has one. You know – finding delight in stirring the pot and creating chaos. Not your typical workplace fun, but more to cause harm than good. Perhaps you have been one at some point in time?

We will call them the “Chaos Coordinator.”

These individuals create chaos and turmoil to keep you (and others) in a heightened state of anxiety. He/she will do this even when things are good – even more so when things are good!

They can be outright aggressive, or they can be passive aggressive in their sabotaging efforts. Sometimes they are both.

The fire service is extremely diverse and has quite a cast of characters. We learn the art of “psychological warfare” early.

I have worked with a few Chaos Coordinators in my career. One person in particular, I found both interesting and pathetic as he created chaos with at least every member within the organization at one time or another. He was an expert at giving the “silent treatment” to members in the organization. This is passive behavior. His strategy was to place others into a tailspin trying to figure out what happened. He skillfully played others against each other. When confronted, he acted surprised, as if he did not know what I was talking about. His behavior changed for a bit, but soon he was back to his carefully executed Chaos Coordination. These individuals are extremely insecure, and narcissistic individuals who need help.

Now that we have identified one suspect, let us take a quick test and find out if you are creating chaos in your everyday life or possibly Identify one within your life.

Directions: Answer the following questions “True” or “False”:

  • Do you usually yell and scream to make your point?
  • Do you ramp things up to win every argument?
  • If you get sick, do you feel that EVERYONE should know about it?
  • When you argue, do you ever break things or knock them over?
  • Does being calm or bored sound like the worst thing to you?
  • Do you ever yell at strangers if you feel that they are in your way?
  • Do you hate it when you are not the center of attention?
  • Is there usually a crisis to solve in your life?
  • Do you break up or threaten a breakup with a mate often?
  • Are you usually the one who starts fights?

Results: If you answered “True” to five or more of the questions above, you are addicted to chaos.

If you tested positive for being a chaos coordinator, here are five practical ways to promote stability and overcome addiction to chaos:

1) practice yoga

2) meditate

3) use a mantra (suggested: “I will let go of the need to be needed/I will let go of the need to be accepted/I will let go of the need to be accomplished”)

4) unplug from technology, and

5) get your hands and feet dirty (do some gardening, go for a walk on the beach, etc.). Obviously, there is no clinical research confirming that these strategies would help overcome “chaos addiction” but engaging in them certainly will not do anyone any harm.

If you took the test and tested negative, but have a Chaos Coordinator in your organization impacting you and others, here are some tips in dealing with them.

In another article by addiction counselor Rita Barsky notes that many addicts grew up within dysfunctional families and noted:

“They never felt safe in their family of origin and the only thing they knew for sure was that nothing was for sure. Life was totally unpredictable, and they became conditioned to living in chaos. When discussing chaos in our lives, it was often not the kind that can be seen. The unsafe and chaotic living conditions of our lives were not visible or obvious to the outside world. Despite the appearance of everything being under control, they experienced continued chaos, developed a tolerance for chaos, and likely became addicted to chaos. I think it is important to say there has never been a scientific experiment to investigate this theory. It is based on observation of numerous addicts and their behavior.”

I found this interesting. That a person coming from a dysfunctional, unstable, and unpredictable background can become addicted as a Chaos Coordinator, while conversely, a person raised in a similar environment may not always becomes addicted to chaos. Why?

I do not know the answer to that; however, what I do know whatever side you are on this fence, finding a licensed qualified therapist/psychologist can help you control your behavior and/or deal with someone in your life exhibiting this behavior.

Like fighting a fire, the quicker the attack, the sooner you gain control. If you wait too long, it can get out of control and cause more damage to yourself and to others.

Contribution from Mark Griffiths in his article in Psychology Today

About Chief Sam DiGiovanna

Sam DiGiovanna is a 33-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as fire chief at the Monrovia Fire Department and currently serves as chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale, Calif. In addition, he is a regular contributor to NBC News 4 Los Angeles.  Sam also serves as Executive Vice President of Fire Operations at CORDICO INC.