Are You A Gossiper?

I am surrounded by people at work who seem to constantly gossip and/or complain. If I don’t participate in it, I feel like an outsider. When I do participate in it, I don’t feel good about myself. What can I do to stop feeling caught in the middle?

This is a great question! My guess is that many of my readers experience this not only at work, but within their family or groups of friends.  Gossiping and complaining are very similar habits, but I decided to split my response into two parts rather than combine them into one post. In today’s post, I talk about the effects of gossiping and how to stop participating.  In my next post, I’ll address complaining, why it is destructive and how to break the habit to bring more contentment into your life.

Part I – Gossip

It is easy and effortless to get pulled in to gossiping with others. Participating with others in a conversation about another person can give us a feeling of belonging. This can be a very powerful force tempting us to participate.

Gossip can be used in an unconscious way, to carelessly inject humor into a discussion with others. Or, it can be done consciously with a malicious and destructive intention behind it. Either way, it is disempowering and toxic not only to the person who is being talked about, but to those who participate in the gossip.

If you participate in gossip, don’t for a moment believe that the subject of your discussions will not know that unkind things were said about her. She may not know the exact words in the dialogue, but she will feel the negative energy that pours out of each person who participated. Maybe you can recall times that you have gossiped with others and felt embarrassed or ashamed afterwards. Perhaps you were unable to look the other person in the eyes and you deliberately avoided them in the days that followed. Not a good feeling, was it?

Words are the most powerful tool we possess. Words can be used to chip away at a person’s self-esteem and cause them to feel unworthy or doubt their ability to succeed. We can use our words to tear others down, or build them up. With our words, we can inspire someone to push against the ceiling of their perceived limitations and move past self-imposed obstacles and excuses. When we take time to look for something great in another person and we share our observation with that person, we help him to build confidence and feel good about himself. In the process of uplifting someone else, we also uplift ourselves and reinforce our own good feelings about who we are.

Have you ever heard someone say, “I care about her, but… ” and they proceed to go into a long, uncomplimentary tirade about that person? Typically, remarks like this come from someone who is unconsciously participating in gossip because she has a deep seated need to belong to the group. Her insecurity overrides her basic kind feelings toward the person she is talking about.

So what is the solution? I think the solution will make more sense if we understand why people gossip. Let’s take a look at two different forms of gossiping.

The most common form of gossiping is unconscious. It’s done without thinking, almost automatically. The loud, jokester who makes fun of everyone and the woman who is always finding fault with others, may seem to have it all together. However, the need to put others down points to a low sense of self-worth, feelings of jealousy and a need to cover up his or her own shortcomings. Shining a bright light on the perceived flaws in others gives the gossiper a false sense of superiority that temporarily pushes their own feelings of unworthiness back into the far corners of their mind where they can be ignored for just a little while longer.

The second type of gossip is one that comes from anger, feelings of victimhood or a need for revenge. An example of this very conscious attempt to discredit or cause harm to another person would be someone who makes vicious, unkind remarks about someone who got promoted over her at work. Or it could be anger at a family member who did not act as she thought that person should act. Rather than speaking directly with the person she is upset with or talking to her boss about why she was not chosen for the job, this gossiper goes around talking to everyone who will listen, looking for others to justify her anger and add fuel to her feelings of resentment.

Both types of gossip are destructive and unkind. To put a halt to gossip around us or at least our own participation in gossip, we must make a conscious decision not to cause pain or do harm to anyone. If you find that you are easily drawn in to unkind conversations about other people, then becoming aware of your actions on a day to day basis is the first step toward breaking the habit. When you catch yourself gossiping about someone, think about what you are doing to that person and ask yourself if continuing is in alignment with your personal values. How will you feel about yourself after the gossip session? Is that the way you want to feel about yourself?

The second step to ending gossip is to become self-aware, to know who you are, how valuable you are and to have love and respect for yourself. When we cherish and respect who we are on the deepest level, we naturally choose not to participate in anything that diminishes us in any way. When our sense of our own self-worth is solid, we don’t feel a need to belong to a group if belonging requires us to sell-out ourselves or another person.

It is not possible to feel loving or caring toward another person AND gossip about them at the same time. It is not possible to have a true sense of self-acceptance AND feel good about participating in gossip. It’s your choice.  Your words can build a beautiful world for yourself and others or your words can create a world filled with pain, jealously, sadness, mistrust and anger. Which do you choose?

Please check back soon for Part II on Complaining.

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