The Psychology Behind Flame War Attacks

I've been doing research into different psychology topics recently. There's a common type of comment made in flame wars. I wanted to share this with those unfamiliar to help you ignore these without getting rilled up and allowing you to focus on the topic at hand.

Some flame wars examples courtesy of toptenz.net:

What the f-k do you need so much RAM for? I believe it's not even possible to have that much RAM, or maybe it is, but then you must have a huge simm module of about 8GB RAM. THIS IS CRAZY!!!! YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT THE F-K YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT. Fool!

Hello, stupid! If you weren't such an idiot, you'd understand why you're wrong about everything. But apparently you're so retarded that you can't even spell right. And also you're fat.

You really are an idiot... that 15 seconds now these 15 seconds now equal one-half of a minute that I spent letting you know that you are not funny... I sent you the message b/c you shamelessly plugged some gay event, 20 times, that i'm not going to look at... How many medications are YOU on and then you tell me who is the depressed attention-whore... Enjoy balding,


To understand what's going on here, we need to understand shame and guilt. According to shame researcher Brene Brown:

Guilt = I did something bad.
Shame = I am bad.

Shame is about who we are, and guilt is about our behaviors. We feel guilty when we hold up something we've done or failed to do against the kind of person we want to be. When we apologize for something we've done, make amends to others, or change a behavior that we don't feel good about, guilt is most often the motivator. Guilt is just as powerful as shame, but its effect is often positive while shame often is destructive. In fact, in my research, I found that shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can change and do better.

Again, it is human nature to want to feel worthy of love and belonging. When we experience shame, we feel disconnected and desperate for worthiness. Full of shame or the fear of shame, we are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors and to attack or shame others. In fact, shame is related to violence, aggression, depression, addiction, eating disorders, and bullying.

How does this relate to flame war attacks? The attacks mentioned go directly at shame. They are trying saying the person is somehow defective and unworthy of respect or attention. If the person is unworthy of respect, by default, the things they're saying are unworthy of attention.

So, how do you respond to a shame attacks? Don't play Ping-Pong. Ping-pong is where two people shoot insults, snide remarks, poisonous darts, blame, back and forth, back and forth between each other. He says something rude, you say something rude back, he responds with an even deeper cut, you make fun of it, etc. Back and forth, back and forth.

What you actually say, depends on your personality and style. Some examples:

That's so insulting to me. Are you really wanting to insult me or are you wanting xwz?
Wow, I'm sorry that's your experience. I want you to have a different experience.
How can I make it different for you?

I'm not perfect at responding to flame comments, but I'm getting better. I hope you found this interesting.