Imagine you are sitting in a coffee shop, chatting with friends. One of your friends reaches into their pocket and brings out a vial of poison and begins sprinkling it into each person’s cup. Wouldn’t that be shocking? You can imagine that you would be very unlikely to invite that person to coffee again!
You will not likely ever have that exact experience, but did you know it’s possible to poison yourself and your relationships without even being aware of it? Nearly every day I talk to men and women who are either engaged in, or hurt by, behaviors that are a form of relational poisoning. The damaging toxin is gossip.
You would be hard pressed to spend a day in any workplace, social media site or other gathering and not be exposed to some form of gossip. Gossip involves the spreading of rumors or information about others. Although there can be sociological benefits associated with some forms of gossip, today I want to address the epidemic problems associated specifically with malicious gossip.
Think of the number of famous people you have heard about in the news who report having had their reputations and lives seriously injured by malicious gossip. The numbers are staggering, and the damage done often irreparable.
Although the person sharing malicious gossip may attract people who take delight in hearing about the misfortune or bad choices of others (whether true or not) they are often oblivious to the fact that their own credibility, trustworthiness and character are being seriously undermined. Like the friend sprinkling the poison, if you gossip you will never experience the depth of intimacy with others that you really desire because people soon learn that you cannot be trusted. In the absence of trust there can be no intimacy.
The malicious gossip carrier often lies, distorts or embellishes the truth or breaks confidences in an effort to gain attention, hurt another person or make himself look and feel better. From a psychological perspective, malicious gossip is often a byproduct of immaturity and insecurity.
The gossip has an underlying need to feel superior in order to counter deep feelings of inferiority and inadequacy, and as long as they continue to engage in this self-defeating behavior they will undermine the healthy development of their legitimate psychological and emotional needs.
If you have developed the habit of gossip and you want to change, don’t despair - there is hope. Changing your behavior begins with understanding just how destructive or poisonous it really is and then making the decision to do something about it. Once you successfully direct your attention to your unmet needs and insecurities you will no longer feel compelled to resort to unhealthy patterns of behavior and your confidence and relationship satisfaction will significantly increase.
One simple principle can set you on a course in the right direction: When you speak well of others, people think more of you. As you build others up, people will perceive you as strong and confident.
If you are serious about wanting to stop ingesting and spreading the poison of gossip I recommend that you read the book Keep it Shut: What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Say Nothing at All by Karen Ehman.
Live, Work and Relate Well!