The Wah-Wah

Written by Isabel Aldiss

The “Wah-Wah” is a peculiar dance we can do when we are feeling closed, defensive and committed to being right. The steps of this dance go somewhat like this - “Well did you know …they did this, and they said this and then this happened and of course I put them right”. This dance has an energy to it, an addictive energy that drags you into the circle and before you know the moves feel very familiar.

For many of us, any small or large life change can leave us feeling closed, defensive and committed to being right, particularly when you feel “life happens to me.” When you think you are the victim of circumstances, like "my partner left me" or "the company downsized", or virtually any life event that takes us off guard. This sort of event always is a problem - its someone else’s fault, is someone else’s to fix and you have the answer should any one bother to ask you. Whilst in this chaotic state of negative emotions, without the right people around us we can poorly navigate the loss which can make us lifelong victims to darker emotions which keep circulating and diminishing our capacity for moving forward. You become the master of the Wah-Wah.

The Wah-Wah dance is also the descriptive narrative we are engaging with around the events that occurred. This narrative is a construct of ideas that assist to keep us safe. We become the master story teller, embellishing the details of the narrative to whomever will listen. The Wah-Wah steps create a drama triangle which we move into and out of. It creates overt conflict and passive aggressive micro behaviors. Fine print, the Wah-Wah is very different from a distressed friend who is experiencing darker deeper emotions

Whilst this response is an entirely natural evolutionary reaction, human beings have an infinite capacity to change or grow. If the lens with which we view the event is a courageous, curious, fun lens we can become committed to growth. Learning and relearning how we are in the world and making meaning out of the change. This requires us to be vulnerable so that the narrative has a different ending and different meaning. Any circumstance change requires us to take 100% responsibility for the state of happening in our life. Not easy and probably more frightening than the event itself, but far less energy sapping than the Wah-Wah.

During the times in my life that I have danced the Wah-Wah, my support group has consisted of really great friends who have been straight up and said “That sounds tough but how come you’re making this tougher on yourself? Is there something you can do differently?” They have taken me by the hand (not literally) kicking and screaming, pushing me to see that I can do, be, and see things differently. The fine print is that this group of friends are those who I feel totally safe to be vulnerable with, they never judge and are always there for me.

These people in my life allow me to get a different perspective on the events. But they allow me to reach internally to use self-compassion as a means of making meaning and relearning my world. Self-compassion isn’t just self-care, it is the new narrative, a slow-moving waltz that soothes my soul and calms my nerves system. Self-compassion is not about self-righteousness, in some ways its learning to reparent yourself to allow a decrease in the darker emotions. Self-compassion replaces the narrative and sounds something like “..I did my best, I am doing my best and moving forward.”

It is fun learning a new slow waltz this way - beautiful, youthful and creative. Finally as the late David Bowie sang “…turn and face the strange.. ch-ch-ch-changes… we are there’s gonna have to be a different man.. time may change me, but I can’t trace time.” I can only go with it.

About the author

Isabel Aldiss is a Resolution Practitioner at Fair Way, who specialises in mediation and Preparation for Mediation.

She is an accredited Family Dispute Resolution provider through AMINZ . Isabel is also an accredited counsellor with the New Zealand Association of Counsellors.

If you would like to get in touch with Isabel, please contact her by email at