Shameless + Positive Psychology? What would Frank Gallagher say?

My father’s father. He was Frank Gallagher, just not as charming and not as nice. Pop was a raging mean-as-spit alcoholic. God only knows how his children survived.

They were one in the same though. Frank, I think, was the better man. Frank knew how to love. Pop? Not so much.

Shameless on Showtime and Netflix

If you haven’t seen Shameless though, (Netflix. Go Google it if you’re curious enough, otherwise, you will not get the comparison).

Short answer, he, along with my father would say (and did say) that psychology was a bunch of horse shit. They would laugh at everything I’ve been teaching for the past 15 years (and did). They were also poster children for traumatized abusive people who did whatever they needed or wanted to survive.

Honestly, most of the people in the gentrified field I’ve been in … well, they are too delicate to handle some of the grittier truths about what it is to be raised by people like that. They put blinders on so not have to think about it.

“Think happy thoughts, and you can change your brain to think happier thoughts”.

Sort of and for a while. It’s partly true and for some demographics but … not for all and not for ever.

Consciousness Addiction?

“Psychology is for crazy people”, my dear old dad would say.

Right before saying or doing something morally incomprehensible.

His father? Worse. So much worse. Want to talk about grit? Ask any female raised by the king of misogyny and hate of all others who aren’t white males.

It’s a shameless story. Not Chicago, but close enough. More like Shameless on steroids.

It’s a surreal thing to hear the fiscally privileged talk about poverty in America today based on the statistics and stories they heard while volunteering at the soup kitchen the gentrified put together.

It’s another thing to live it. To come from that gritty survival skill building life.

Then, to put one’s self into a gentrified place in society, where people wouldn’t even comprehend hardship if came along and stole their car. (Gallagher stuff).

When I talk shop with people from the Ivy’s ~ I want to hear from those who get where I came from. My white skin, blue eyes and bottle blond hair didn’t help me escape out of the poverty trauma-bond ~ my need to survive did.

I’m acutely aware of when I was treated with privilege and when I was treated with shame and blame. I literally had to “un-friend” a woman who was so entitled, she was actually Clueless to how out of touch her world was with my world. Plus, she was insulted when I pointed that out. Ten years watching someone become a totally different version of herself because of her fortunate connections … flushed.

I WISH I had some great Fiona speech ready to clap back ~ but nope. I just hit unfriend. NOT as satisfying.

Yeah ~ I’m going there ~ poverty is the great equalizer, but survival means, we are not scared to talk about any of life experiences.

Sometimes, the art of living is more like what my gentrified friends only understand from the movies.

My theory is ~ if you haven’t experienced it, shut up and read. Learn. Grow. Or go live it for a year at the least. Then, come back and tell me what you learned. I know … that’s pretty hard core Gallagher of me.

I’ve heard some of the now famous researchers talk about poverty as if they lived in. In truth? They were raised in wealth and privilege, but had the audacity to go into third world countries to “interview” the abject poor to see if they could find happy people. People who were happy in spite of their poverty.

They had good intensions. They wanted to focus on the happiest people on earth. Instead, they featured a brown asian man who was happy, in spite of his grueling life.

Um? …

Did they think twice about how THAT human perceived them? Talk about taking advantage of the culture of the disadvantaged.

It never occurred to them to spend some of the millions in speaking engagement money to get that person OUT of poverty, but then, they got their movie.

I’m embarrassed that I used to hold that film in such high regard. I was a very misguided white lady, trying to fit into a world where I didn’t belong.

Always a big mistake. This desire to fit in with a professional identity, even if it didn’t align with your own values.

After rewatching it years later, now I think it screams, “Hey look at me and my money interviewing this poor brown asian man and his lack of it.”

Putting an actual movie on their resume, so they could head home and talk about that time they visited poor people. Wealthy other white-collared, upper- class gentlemen and ladies LOVED the bravery it took to go visit poor people. Damn it! I was one of them ~ for a while.

It’s so very Regency Era UK.

The people in my field are white washed ~ wealthy ~ beige wearing gentlefolk.

I forgot to pay attention to that for a long time.

When we know better ~ we do better. I put my money where my mouth was.

Photo by Anna Shvets on

NOBODY is allowed to talk about it. NOBODY is welcome IF we do talk about it.

That was the clear message I received when I started questioning them.

Shush up. Stop talking. Do not question us. Or else.

(sound familiar? It sure as shit did to me. I grew up with that tone).

I’m sure they care about the concept of poverty.

But, it makes them uncomfortable. Some of them may actually want to “fix” it somehow. But they’d never go live there. They don’t dare live there. A few do. Not enough.

In truth?

When I wanted to talk openly about poverty ~ they did not. When I wanted to figure out how to serve underserved populations ~ they weren’t interested. When I wanted to question the validity of some of the programs ~ I wasn’t wearing the “right suit”/image of someone they’d be interested in.

Karen, “Positive Psychology Practitioner since 2007”

Sure I could have made myself look like them, sound like them, and act like them. Shit, I even took the head shot ~ but that’s not me.

In my heart ~ I’m a survivor of CPTSD

I don’t smile nearly enough, and I certainly don’t float around on a rainbow unicorn pink bubble cloud of joyful wonderland candy.

…. my bullshit meter is on all the time.

Me ~ working. That’s all the smile I give. Unapologetic for my wrinkles, crows feet, imperfections and lack of trying to be lady like. I’m delighted to talk about my age, and it’s none of your fecking business how much I weigh. This is researcher/writer karen …

And of course, though males in the industry are welcome to cuss like a trucker, the females are more … gentle mouthed.

I leaned back toward what I know. The clients I had in a not-for-profit agency for the financially less fortunate who were survivor heroes … they reminded me of where I came from.

Parents spanking? No. I’m talking about watching him slam my bro’s head against a wall when the kid was 10, or the time he punched him in the face when he was only 12 years old.

I was afraid of my grandfather. I was afraid of my father. I grew up watching my father beat the shit out of my oldest brother on multiple occasions.

Then one day, my father was afraid of me. I was going to call him out on his abuse, but he retaliated by slandering me … just in case. SO very Frank Gallagher of him. So very Fiona of me.

Grit? Giirrrlllll …. we define grit differently. Both have their place. Again, Gallagher life.

From a very early age, it made my stomach hurt to have to visit their family. I loved my grandmother, but she had so many children and grandchildren to pay attention to, I was lost in the crowd.

Thank God I looked like a boy. It saved me from even worse fate. Another page for another story with that one.

I also wasn’t raised in poverty. Middle class? … yes. Not like my dad was raised. My mother made sure of that. Daddy dearest hustled the best he knew how, but my mom was a nurse who kicked ass at making life better for all of us.

Melodious Hearts

To this day ~ I avoid Thanksgiving like it’s the plague. That was the holiday we were forced to hang out at my paternal grandparents house … something awful must’ve happened … I hate thanksgiving.

I’m not psychoanalyzing it more than that.

The doomed Irish Catholic-poor in America ~ a family that never fully pulled themselves out of the trauma bond to their social status.

They survived. That was the goal. That was the end point.


That’s what happens. Generational, systemic trauma. We don’t talk about it.

If anything awful ever happened, the unsaid rule was, don’t talk about it or else.

The ‘else’ was to be ridiculed, disrespected, devalued, belittled, and even laughed at or shunned entirely.

Nobody wants their family tragedy spoken of.

I have forty or so cousins I’ve only met once or twice. They are not like me at all. Polar opposites in fact. And yet, I know where they came from. I know what they survived. I wish them all well in spite of whatever the hell that was.

When someone lives through a traumatic event, they don’t talk about it with just anyone. When they live through a lifetime of it, they don’t talk about it.

It takes a great deal of strength to survive a hard life. If you think that only one “group” of people suffer more than others, you’ve never experienced the great equalizer.

That’s the Gallagher way (the family from Shameless if you’re still not sure what I’m talking about).

Get out of your demographic stats and move into an impoverished life. It’s brutal.

I’ve lived in both ~ advantage and disadvantage.

Perhaps that’s where I had an advantage to speak on what it is to be poor vs. financially comfortable.

Trust me ~ or don’t, I don’t care.

Being poor sucks. You get by, but it’s not thriving. The nuances of poverty include having to do battle with social constructs; a more organically raw way of life, and not in a chia seed on avacado toast organic. I’m talking about how other people treat you when they think you are worth nothing.

Shameless shows one side of poverty. They show what could happen. But it’s not the truth of it. Not all of it.

Sure, survival is part of it. Ethics are more challenged.

Education seems a long lost idea of entitlement. The people are more vulnerable to having community systems putting pressure on them.

Poor kids are encouraged to only focus on community colleges or joining the military ~ learning a trade.


I was furious to watch how little their dignity or rights were respected by an agency I worked for, simply because they were already victims of circumstance.

Abused women, elders, and children were also told that in order to get help, they would have to leave their dignity at the door, so they could be constantly reminded of their value to society.

Talk about wanting to throat punch a system ~ Debbie Gallagher style.

We are wrong to assume that any of our ‘positive psychology’ grit, resilience or character strengths would work on the individuals in poverty, but then, nobody dares to talk about that out loud. I tried. I was gaslit and ghosted. By both sides of that argument.

Well, the Finance Twins do ~ and they prove that it is possible. That sometimes, the Ivy’s get it. I love when people pull themselves out of a situation, then write about it for the rest of the world to learn from.

There IS hope.
We live in a class war here in our country.


I’m hard on the cream of the crop of education …. but honestly, I want to have that same dialog in a language that everyone can understand.

The more I wrote out the pros and cons of staying or leaving for a new professional endeavor at midlife ~ the further I clarified the importance of inclusion.

Every single time I read about a new or well researched concept, I looked at the stats of the population studied. How old were they? What was the mean income? What racial identity did they align with? Can this theory apply to ALL populations?

If it can’t help poor people out of poverty, or POC out of a racial divide … then why or why not? Fix it. Don’t get offended that you may be wrong. Just … fix it.

I’ve taken a huge step back.

One thing ~ a strength and a curse ~ that low income or poverty taught me?

I’m not afraid to speak my truth, even if it pisses other people off.

Survival of the fittest includes not being made to feel shame by those who know nothing when it comes to survival ~ people in poverty, in all their constant trauma, will know how to survive. They may end up crispy, or hard, or even ready to fight, but they are survivors.

But damn … it’s exhausting.

Sometimes, I feel like Sandra Bullock’s character in Two Weeks Notice. We all know … she wasn’t too popular with her desire to fix the system while systems in reality … aren’t very anxious to be fixed.

Two Weeks Notice

The women who came to me for mental health counseling because of domestic violence or the stress of making ends meet for their children have more integrity, grit, resilience, and courage than anyone in the high end 6 & 7-figure salary speaking circuit. I knew a few of them.

When I became a life coach, I was listening to instructor after instructor tell me that I should focus on the high paying customers/clients. That the poor people could have a “charity” day (I’m paraphrasing to meet the tone of the Shameless community.

When I said I wanted to find a grant to pay for services, they told me it would be a mistake because people at all levels of income wouldn’t respect receiving services from a life coach if they didn’t have to pay for it.

The mental health counseling world told me the same thing.


Statistics do prove that people want to feel included in the wealthier life style so would in fact, pay more than they could afford for some life coaching, if they thought it was useful.


That part is true.

Groups popped up ~ self help books popped up ~ YouTube celebrity motivational speakers popped up ~ Bam! New gig economy.

So ~ here I am, with all these conflicted feelings, much like Fiona Gallagher who tried but failed to change a paradigm. Then one day said,


To set out on her own path, away from everything that dragged her down.

If you don’t know Shameless, you’ll miss a lot of the point of this.

Wait, what is the point of this?

Photo by Masha Raymers on

Every slice of life in our one single country is a world away from the other side of town. Look at Harvard ~ go there, no matter how smart or connected you are, it’s a golden ticket. Head over to the other side of the tracks in Cambridge, the streets of hard knocks are going to educate you.

Come on ~ Good Will Hunting. Gilmore Girls. … it’s a long list.

Simple google search ~ there are hundreds of wealth discrepancy movies.

Plug in any city with an Ivy League school (or one of those audacious pretend Ivy League private colleges ~ I’ve attended them ~ I’ve worked in them, I speak from experience) ~ and don’t get me wrong ~

I love higher education. I love books. I love learning. I also love social justice and equity.

Photo by Kelly Lacy on

I love higher education and the concept of pulling our intellectual side out of the poverty mindset so much, I’m critical of it’s imperfections. Of its flaws.

Imagine the potential if Lip Gallagher had been able to attend one of them or if Ian was given a full ride, instead of left hanging at the end of season 11 for fates unknown?

Damn it higher ed ~ stop giving all your money to the cream of the crop and start sharing that wealth with those kids in poverty with brilliant minds.

Brilliant minds, stoned with nutrition-less foods that deter their ability to think from a sugar detoxed brain.

My grandma was forced to use a food bank ~ there is no shame in that. However, you … society, told her to be ashamed of her status. You shamed my grandmother. F*ck you for that. She deserved better.

Okay, okay … once again, my brain dump of ideas ran way over the attention span of most readers and half of y’all are telling me to feck off ’cause you’re offended that I criticized someone you love (MAPPSTERS) … but then,

True scholars will analyze while actively listen to the criticism. They won’t be offended. They will say, “Okay, thank you for sharing. Now, I’m going to think of ways of using what I’ve learned today”.

I could always go back to slinging diner food ~ that was actually fun. Hard work, but fun. Maybe I’ll reinvent myself and open a pie diner ~ give away my psychology knowledge w/ a slice of peach and a side of chi latte w/extra foam. 😉

See, I’m not afraid to fail. The gift that keeps on giving from living a hard knock life.

Never underestimate survivors of trauma.

In peace and education,

(c) @happinessnoir @InkHoneyPub @K.ArenHenryMiller

Published by happinessnoir

Writer | Advocate | Free Range Female | Change Agent | Essayist

2 thoughts on “Shameless + Positive Psychology? What would Frank Gallagher say?

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