Do you consider yourself a gossip? Before I sat down to write this series I thought gossip was spreading malicious rumors or trying to discredit someone in the eyes of others and, if you had asked me a month ago whether I was a gossip, I would have said a flat out no.
The truth is sometimes I do gossip. Sometimes I am hurt and endlessly find fault with those who I believe have caused the situation to my friends; sometimes I make judgments about others in conversation, without fully knowing their story. Sometimes, when I am very hurt, I even resort to labeling them when describing them to others.
I’m completely ashamed to admit this of course, but in order to do something about it, I first had to acknowledge the issue existed.
Naturally, in time I forgive them, or realize I don’t know the full story, but by then the damage has already been done, leaving a bitter aftertaste in my mouth.
I don’t want to be that person anymore, regardless of how I’ve been treated and neither do I ever want to jump to conclusions – after all, everyone is on their own journey and is doing the best they can with what experience and resources they have.
So this series is as much about my own journey as it is yours. Think of it as a detox for the soul – a lighter, happier way to live.
Why We Gossip: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Whilst most of us are aware just how poisonous malicious rumors and gossip can be, very few of us are aware we gossip relatively regularly, so ingrained it is in our culture. Have you ever read a Hollywood magazine about A-Lister news? Did you share with a mutual friend that you thought one of your close friends was making a mistake? Then you have likely engaged in gossip. So why do we do it?
The Good (ish)
In truth there really isn’t any good kind of gossip, however there are understandable psychological reasons why we may be drawn to gossip.
The most common reason is that it is a subconscious way of bonding with others. In between the lines you are communicating to those you gossip with that they are more important to you than those you are gossiping about.
Another common psychological reason we are driven to gossip is that it makes us feel important when we know information others don’t, in part elevating our unspoken status.
In some cases it might even be a form of projection. The key to know whether you might be gossiping about others as a form of projection is when your reaction to certain behavior is disproportionate.
For example, why does it bother you so much that someone who is single and you barely know, slept with two guys in the same week? Could it be that you are suppressing feelings about your own sexuality out of misplaced shame and guilt?
On the more sinister side of gossip (the side that I thought all gossip originated from – how wrong I was!) sometimes it makes people feel better about themselves and their lives to say something negative about others.
This is the type of gossip whereby false rumors can be spread or particularly harmful things said. The impact for the gossiper is that they temporarily feel relief from their own pain, anxiety or worry by deflecting attention on to someone else.
How To Stop Gossiping
Without recognizing when you are gossiping it is impossible to stop. Are you talking negatively or judgmentally about someone to others? If so you could stop by saying something more balanced about the person, perhaps even positive and then change the subject.
As a general rule ask yourself:
Is it kind?
Is it necessary?
Is it definitely true (and not just your opinion)?
Why does the information need to be spread?
What impact would the spread of this information have?
Sort Out Your Motivations
Get familiar with the different psychological reasons we gossip and ask yourself – after you have stopped yourself from gossiping – why you were drawn to gossip.
Deep down did you want to bond with someone?
Brainstorm ways you can bond with the person in question – what about going to a theme park or going with them on a spa day?
Did you want to feel important?
There are other ways to measure importance than achievement, do kind acts or help someone at work and allow that to make you feel like you matter and are important.
Were you projecting?
If so, what underlying issue within yourself do you need to accept and work upon and how will you do this?
TIP: Look on my ‘Best Resources’ page for top quality CBT courses (they’re free!) which cover everything from boosting self-esteem to combating social anxiety.
There are also worksheets which will help you track your thoughts and feelings in order to discover the root cause of worry, rumination, panic and anger; showing you how to re-frame things in a healthy way and making you feel better.
Did you do it to relieve or distract yourself from personal pain, anxiety or worry?
How could you make yourself feel better in a more healthy way?
Have A Gossip Buddy
Another option is to have a gossip buddy. This should preferably be someone who doesn’t know who you are talking about and is unlikely to meet them on any meaningful level. Limit yourself to gossiping to them for only twenty minutes per day if you can.
Look For Direct Solutions
If you still find you are really struggling to not gossip, look for solutions directly with those you are gossiping about.
Could you try and resolve the situation by assertively communicating with them? You might be surprised what some sensitive but direct conversation can accomplish.
Do you still need to forgive them? Forgiving those you believe have wronged you is extremely healing, even though it can be challenging at first.
Cut Contact With Toxic People
If they really are toxic, rather than gossip about them is it possible to cut contact with them?
Avoid ignoring someone as this can be passive aggressive. If someone asks you directly why you have cut contact you could say something like you genuinely wish them all the best but you are not looking to pursue a friendship at this time.
Take time in considering whether to cut contact and always do so in a sensitive and discreet way when possible. For example, say no to invites but also wish them a good time or move jobs but remain polite to them whilst working your notice.
Stay tuned – next Monday we will explore how to stop engaging with gossip.
Do you ever gossip? Do you watch gossip TV shows? Have you already made a conscious effort to stop gossiping? What do you think constitutes gossip? Please share your thoughts in the comments below to gain understanding and support from our community, we’d love to hear from you.