Don’t kid yourself.
Everyone gossips (or has done at some point), even if it’s just a little or only with close friends. I know we like to think that we’re ‘better’ or squeaky clean, but we’re all human here. We might say that we never gossip, but we all most certainly judge–ourselves as well as others. It’s OK that we gossip sometimes or have done in the past. It is different from chronic and malicious gossiping. That said, choose who you gossip with and what you gossip about wisely. If all your relationships have going for them is who you get to chat about, they lack intimacy.
Some gossip is useful
It’s easy to poo-poo gossip and decide that all of it is ‘wrong’ or that it’s a sign, for instance, of a ‘bad’ workplace. ‘Gossip’, though, is how you find out about discrimination, abuse and harassment. People, for instance, talking about their salaries reveals huge disparities. Someone who thinks that there’s something wrong with them gets to discover that their co-worker or boss pulls this shit with other people too. You might, like I did, discover that the person who assaulted you had done it many other times, relieving you of the shame and guilt that hung over you like a black cloud. So, yeah, sure, chatting about people’s private lives just because we don’t like the look of them or how they did the last report is off, but we also need to practice discernment.
Align with your values and know which subjects are off-limits.
When I began blogging in June 2004, I discovered gossip blogs. As an occasional reader, I found that I was uncomfortable with the comments sections, but also, I didn’t want to know that much about someone. And then Britney Spears shaving her head happened, and my discomfort crystalised, marking the end of me reading gossip blogs. I won’t participate in humiliating and tormenting someone, including the lack of empathy for emotional and mental health.
Feeling uncomfortable while gossiping is a boundary alert to get back into your integrity.
You may feel as if you (or the conversation) are going too far. Hell, it might be straight-up bitching that feels like school bullying. It’s okay to change the subject or voice your discomfort, especially if you’re amongst friends. It could be saying “Actually, even to my own ears, that sounded harsh/unfair/cruel”. Obviously, if they’re not your friend or someone else you trust, end the conversation or excuse yourself.
Do you find that you talk about one particular person a lot?
Acknowledge the unresolved issues that need addressing. Sometimes chatting about people seems far easier than confronting the actual issue. Mutual annoyance or dislike of someone can even become a form of bonding with our peers. We need, though, to have a deeper, solid basis for a relationship than our mutual dislike, resentment, envy (or whatever) of someone. Say what needs to be said or choose to let go. Go out of your way to find something else to talk about, and have a line you won’t cross despite your feelings about this person.
The gossip (and bitching) litmus test: Could you say it to their face?
If I can’t and wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, then I don’t tend to say it to others, and I definitely don’t write it. Us humans seem to have lost our filter. Thanks to the internet and social media, the people we talk to and about seem less real because we’re not in front of them and dealing with their actual human responses. This litmus test of basically talking about others when they’re not around, helps me to be conscious, aware and present. I get to consider my words and whether I’m in alignment with my values and figure out what I need if not. This brings me neatly to…
The things that we dislike and criticise in others point back at our own behaviour and thinking.
We have a good bitch about the friend who’s annoyed us because they won’t be direct and honest, not realising that we are also doing similar. It’s not always that we’re doing the same thing, but what aggravates us highlights something that we can be more boundaried about. We gossip about someone’s weight, their choice of name for their child, their relationship, how they spend their money, their mental health–this judgment only points back to where we’re also self-judging and using gossip to big us up or distract ourselves.
Careful around the big-time gossips.
When we’re close to someone who chats about everyone and everything, we assume that they treat us differently. Um, no. Sure, the idea makes us think we’re ‘special’, but that’s our ego, and it’s blinding us to being boundaried. You can still be friends, but work out what you’re comfortable talking about with this person. Tend to hang out with people who are known as big gossips, possibly because, on some level, you think it will protect you from them turning their attention on you? Even though you might be in the listener role, others will perceive you as being a gossip. This goes back to considering your values.
Don’t exaggerate information or spread untruths.
Also, don’t confuse speculation with facts. People have feelings and lives. What’s the baggage behind the information spreading or exaggerating? For instance, is it a means of feeling superior, getting attention or feeling as though you ‘belong’?
Got a gossip habit? Examine your motivations.
Are you trying to be liked? Are you looking for attention? Are you jealous or envious of somebody? Is it a distraction from something else? Try to identify this ‘role’ you play in dynamics and the driver behind this behaviour. If you’re The Listener, does it make you feel less like a gossip even though you sometimes also feel very uncomfortable? If you’re the chief gossip, where did you first learn this role? Is it a legacy habit from school that you’ve continued to replicate in adulthood? Being honest helps you zone in on what you need, but it also enables you to step into your integrity.