Aimed for Shame: When Fighting Doesn't Feel Fair

Have you ever been called a “dirty fighter” or told that “you don’t fight fair?” Ever been on the receiving end of someone’s anger and left feeling confused and awful, hurt to the core not because of actions but because of words? Chances are you were part of a fight aimed at shame.

Shame is a primary human emotion, something all of us feel and one that, at its root of roots can stand alone without any other emotion. Think of it like the primary colors on a color wheel. There are just some colors you can’t have without red, yellow or blue but they're also strong on their own.

Anger, sadness, hurt and betrayal, embarrassment, humiliation, insecurity and rage are some of the emotional colors that are associated with shame and are often the ones that get triggered easily and quickly in a heated conversation or argument. Since these are more common emotions that people are more generally familiar with, they can very easily disguise shame. If you’re not aware or don't know, you can get caught up in an unfair fight without realizing what emotion you're really working with. 

Shame is mean. It’s vengeful. It does not aim to understand or empathize. Forget compassion or consideration. Shame won’t hand you a tissue if you’re crying in fact it’s not phased at all. It stares cold, icy and hits you at the core. It feels like rage, it’s loud, and it’s so incredibly pained that it will do anything to get out and onto someone else. And its often successful because its sneaky. Before you know it you’ve either launched shame or you’ve been verbally pummeled. 

If you’re on the receiving end a couple of tell-tale sings can include feeling stunned, deeply hurt, and sometimes, often times, speechless. Your thought process often sounds like, “I can’t believe she/he just said that,” “how could he/she say such a thing,” “he/she’s not making any sense.” Your emotions are hurt, pain and confusion, which can of course flow right into anger. But before you launch a counter shame attack, stop and try a few things first.

One, consider yourself an innocent bystander in this person’s shame storm. You’re the debris, not the tornado. Don’t become the tornado. Two, acknowledge internally to yourself that the person you’re in conflict with is in their own shame storm. What most of us know is how to fight shame with shame, which breeds shame. What most of us don’t know is how to fight shame with the anti-body; acknowledgement, attention and empathy. Third, if you deem it appropriate and and can keep your cool, call it like you see it. “I see that you’re really really angry with me right now. You’re saying some incredibly hurtful things that make me think this might not be a good time to talk about this. I know you want to hurt me because you feel hurt. I don’t want to do that with you.”

Signs that you could be throwing some shame around; emotional flooding, seeing red, immense physiological response(s) like head-to-toe tingling, body heat rising, verbal vomiting, confusion, rapid-fire thoughts and overwhelming urges of anger, rage, even disbelief. On the contrary, you may feel nothing at all, like an untouchable numbing.

If you’re the shame-thrower, stop. Recognize that shame is running your show, you’re not in control emotionally. Take back control by recognizing that there are a number of players in your shame game here. You can be hurt, angry, afraid, disappointed, embarrassed. You probably are at least one of those if not more. You might even feel shame in and of itself. But unless you call it what it is, you remain out of control. Own what you feel, not revenge of what you feel.

It can be helpful to keep in mind that the goal of an argument isn't to make someone feel the pain you feel. It’s to try and describe how you feel to the other person so they can have an opportunity to support you and show empathy. When you’re using shame to argue, the only thing you are making someone understand is that you are capable of immense amounts of hurt, the absolute opposite way to get someone to give you what you need. Used over time, this style of fighting can deeply damage trust and can create emotional trauma in your relationship, drifting both you and your partner further away from the emotional intimacy and trust we all need. 








My Love for a Band Taught Me There's Room for Us All

 Matty Healy with The 1975 playing in Denver, May 2017

Matty Healy with The 1975 playing in Denver, May 2017

 Dan Reynolds and Imagine Dragons addressing the crowd, October 2017

Dan Reynolds and Imagine Dragons addressing the crowd, October 2017

I've got to back up a bit for this one to July 2016 when I attended my first Lollapalooza as a grown up and left that show having fell in love with another man. My husband knows, it's okay, we've talked about it. 

The 1975's frontman Matty Healy and the band itself, The 1975, became a source of some borderline obsessiveness for me for nearly a year. I say nearly only because I didn't allow myself to start really getting into the band until about February after seeing them in July. Not that I didn't think about their performance at Lolla every single day, or the way Matty worked the stage like he was the only one at the entire event, or just how weird he was in a very attractive way. 

I'd never even heard of The 1975 before Lolla let alone watched them but sometimes the experience of watching a band or a performer for the first time with no preconceived notions is the best way to really experience them. The show was, well, really really great, one of the best I've seen in live performances and not just because their music was catchy but because of the way Matty Healy didn't really give a shit who was watching. Talk about a walking example of authenticity, here he was living and breathing and singing and performing in a way where you just knew he wasn't holding back. 

For what I do, and what I help others do, seeing people live out authentically is such a confirmation of the work I live and breathe. It embodies my soul without speaking.

So I said I had to back up a bit, but it’s also worth telling you that my obsession with Matty Healy ran so high and so fast that I booked tickets to see them everywhere I feasibly could by the time I figured out they were touring. Three concerts isn’t a lot to some people. For me, two concerts one weekend in Denver and then another in Chicago two weeks later, was proof that I was serious. But it didn’t stop there. The 1975 flowed into nearly every conversation I had with people for a solid month at least, maybe two. Someone asked me if my husband had a problem with it and to be honest, I never even stopped to think about that. Besides, he got a concert out of it too, really enjoyed it and by now, after being together for 21 years, we’re both aware of the intensity my “passion” can unfold. 

I learned every song, every line and watched a lot of YouTube videos. Turned my best friend and my husband into fans. By the time the last concert was over, I almost fell into a depression based solely on the fact that I didn’t have another date to see them. Concert depression is real people, not even kidding about that. It’s October now, five months out from the last show. I’m now fully recovered and back to my normal life, thankfully. My kids were starting to really get pissed at me. Even my own mother’s obsession with Wham! didn’t compete to the amount of times I made them listen to The 1975 (without the cuss words) and my newly found British accent.

I share all this to illustrate that my love ran deep and I became a committed, loyal fan, in it for the long haul. But in May of 2017, after I frantically downloaded Q Music’s interview with The 1975, holding my breath throughout the interview, my heart sank a little bit. Right there, page 47 in pull-out quote fashion, Matty Healy says “Songs like Radioactive by Imagine Dragons…it might as well be called Pikachu Banana. It’s nothingness. There’s no space for nothingness any more.” Up until this point, I appreciated all of the political and cultural and sexual orientation commentary Matty provided on the topics through his Twitter, Instagram and FB accounts (and yes I follow all of those). When he spoke of these things at the concerts, the crowd including myself went crazy. But insulting another band’s greatest hit and calling it “nothingness” says a few things that we just can’t make room for anymore.

Every day people are criticized and bullied and made to feel shame for liking something different than someone else or for doing something different than someone else or for being different than someone else. In fact many of The 1975’s songs engage people because of the freedom of expression in being able to do and like whatever you want. Music makes people feel like they finally belong to something, like - no matter what - at least there’s belonging in this. A lot of people seemed to feel connected over “Radioactive”. From an article on (in 2013 by Gary Trust),  “…”Radioactive” logs its best streaming week yet (4.6 million U.S. streams, according to BDS). It's sold 4.3 million downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan.” “Radioactive” isn’t nothingness to those 4.6 million streamers or 4.3 million downloaders, in fact, just the opposite. “Radioactive” is definitely somethingness to a lot of people. 

The comment from Matty Healy also illustrates an intolerance for “otherness.” I would love to be a fly on the wall of a conversation between Matty Healy and Steven Tyler, two music icons who’s prolific prose are alone music. But that’s a style not everyone has or can have. It’s what makes them different than anyone else and it’s also what sets them apart from everyone else. Comparatively speaking, being different than other people and speaking to the kids that feel different than other people makes up the majority of The 1975’s audience. Promoting difference while calling out difference in someone else’s music basically sends the message The 1975 works to eliminate: Don’t be different. How about instead, don’t be judgey. Opinions can also be observations and not attacks which is something I feel like we could all take a lesson on right now in our social climate.

Expressionism is so uniquely personal and vulnerable. I teach and counsel vulnerability every single day in my practice with clients and in my home. Being vulnerable by no means means being safe. In fact, if you’re being vulnerable, you’re taking a risk every single time to unburden your heart, de-armor your core. Not everyone will respond to vulnerability with open arms and that will hurt so deeply it might make you not ever want to be vulnerable again. We’re not responsible for holding other people’s missions of authenticity and vulnerability. That’s uniquely their’s and it’s one’s own journey. I do think we’re responsible, especially when we’re in a place of influence, to respect it and recognize it as such, even if we disagree with the message.

"We're only human and we're just like you man" is just one of many inclusive lines in Healy's music. 

It wasn’t necessarily Matty Healy’s quote that cranked my crazy fan dial down big time. I mean, I can respect, very much, a difference of opinion on tastes and views on very many things. But “Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons is a song my two boys (nine and six) and I belt the lyrics to in the car. The five of us, my husband, myself, my daughter and my sons all - at the same time - take the exaggerated breath in the beginning and channel our inner Dan Reynolds. We join together over a song and its lyrics blow through our car, our home, all of us connected by music - this music. It doesn’t feel like nothingness to us.

My son (who’s 9) often dances emphatically to “Gold”, putting on a performance for us to witness. He knows the words to nearly every line. So when we heard Imagine Dragons were coming to Chicago, my husband and I decided to bring him and a friend to experience the love of a band - live. Then a shooter in Las Vegas killed 58 people and injured hundreds more at a concert the weekend before our show here in Chicago. There was a blaring part of me that begged me to stay home and not risk our lives. In fact we almost did. I was so scared.  But music is so powerful and he was so excited and ultimately the experience of what Brené Brown calls “collective effervessence” that intense no-drug high you get from taking part in something with others over something you feel a complete connection with is something I wanted him to have, one of the gifts of living.

Imagine Dragons is a new band to me. I know they’ve been around a long time but my discovery and experience of them is still unfolding. And the last concert I attended was, of course, The 1975. At one point while Imagine Dragons was singing their second song, I said to my husband that it kind of felt like a Christian rock concert. Let me tell you the vast difference in experiences compared to The 1975 that was. The boys, they were in a trance and would break out only to dance and smile - their faces wowed - throughout the whole show. 

But what moved me from liking the band, to having a deep respect and admiration for them wasn’t what they sang at the concert, it was what Dan Reynolds said at their show that gave me goosebumps, twice. First about a half hour into the show, Dan addressed the audience about Las Vegas, promising his fans that they would do everything they possibly could to ensure that their concerts continue to be safe and that fans can continue to feel safe at them. As a mom bringing the people I love most in this world, to a concert where weeks ago people who were loved by their people more than anything in the world were gunned down, addressing that was a big deal to me. The thought of a shooter terrorizing a show - something that was once unimaginable, and now a reality, nearly kept us home, and kept me searching for exits just in case, and on high alert the entire time. Dan Reynolds is not magical. He does not have the power to guarantee the safety of his fans, but acknowledging that he’s aware of what it takes to be there now, earned him icon status in my book. 

The second time I felt a rush of awe and admiration at the show, was when he addressed the fans about his personal struggle with depression, right before belting into “Demons.” The coolest part about the whole montage, was his ability to identify his depression as also the source for his deep creativity and the gifts he’s able to bring into the world. He didn’t just say, “I have depression, and you’re not alone.” His message was, “I have depression.” and “You’re not alone.” and “Seek out a therapist.” and “These demons are also the source of my gifts.” A lot of people talk about depression and awareness of depression is growing. But not many talk about the struggle between the gifts they’ve been given and their depression that haunts them. There were a lot of young people in the audience that night. And I’m willing to bet there were a lot of young people in the audience that struggle with depression. That message that you can have depression and that as dark as it is there are stories inside of it, well, people need to hear that more.

I fast-forward now to the present. I still love The 1975, still really respect and admire Matty Healy’s clever, lyrical prose and his vulnerability in being so completely authentic. Being that public and authentic is, I’m certain, a difficult feat saying it incredibly lightly. But now I have another favorite band too and who would’ve thought they’d be the nothingness band that Matty Healy suggested. I’m holding space for Imagine Dragons in my heart now, and whether you like it or not Matty, you’re right there with them. There’s room for us all.