Harmful or Normal — What’s the Deal With Gossip?

By Chrissy King

Gossip, defined as casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, occasionally involving details that are not confirmed as being true, can feel really enticing at times.

That said, I will also be the first to concede that I have engaged in gossip far more times than I care to admit and that I have secretly really enjoyed it sometimes, even though I know it can be very damaging.

Sharing vs. Gossip: What’s the Difference?

Here’s an important question: Is there a difference between sharing a situation with a friend for perspective and gossiping?

I happen to think there is. Generally speaking, we find comfort in sharing challenging or frustrating situations with other people. If you have been wronged or treated maliciously by someone, or if you’re feeling triggered, a natural reaction is the desire to reach out to a friend. Is that bad? I don’t think so. We are wired for human connection and sharing our lives is a useful and productive part of this process.

I believe that the key is to share these situations with friends or family members whom you trust, and who will allow you to talk it out while also being honest with you. Talking to a loved one who will be a sounding board and provide valuable insight while allowing us to be vulnerable is important and necessary.

(As tempting as it may be to call the friend who will willingly join you in hurling insults and wishing ill-will on the person you are discussing, it’s probably not the best course of action.)

While some may argue that gossip is inherent, I would argue that it’s a learned behavior — one that we likely adopted early in life. As previously noted, we all have a need and desire for human connection, but it can be really easy to use gossip as a means to connect with others, bypassing real intimacy.

My most meaningful relationships are built on honesty and vulnerability with one another, not on gossip and idle chatter. In my opinion, gossip is like choosing the cheap seats, while maintaining integrity with our words and actions is springing for the VIP package: it’s the same show but a completely different experience.

When the Urge to Gossip Hits

Let’s be honest — haven’t we all gotten lost in the rabbit hole of reading about the latest celebrity gossip? Please tell me I’m not alone here! In total transparency, I’ve also texted my sister on many occasions with just the words, “I’ve got tea” (code for, “I’ve got gossip”) and it’s usually not about celebrities.

When I feel the urge to gossip or talk maliciously about someone, I usually use it as an opportunity to reflect on why I’m so triggered by this person.

  • Am I jealous?
  • Am I finding myself caught in the comparison trap and feeling unworthy?
  • Do I feel I’ve been wronged by this person in some way and am simply reacting out of hurt and anger?
  • Or do I just find the gossip entertaining?

While all of these reasons can feel justifiable, reasonable, or even simply entertaining, the truth is, gossip can not only be harmful to those we are discussing, but it can also be harmful to ourselves.

When we spend so much energy spreading negativity about others, it can leave us feeling unhappy with our own lives, experiencing loneliness, isolation, and bitterness, even ruminating over how unfair life is for us or how much easier it is for other people. Generally speaking, gossip drains us energetically.

Seldom do we leave a gossip session feeling better about ourselves or the situation.

Not only does it perpetuate a culture that thrives on negativity, and possibly lies, but it also has the potential to ruin our reputation.

“Gossip — be it in the form of a rumor that's sweeping the nation or a gripe session between friends — reflects the insecurity of those who initiate it. When we make negative statements about others behind their backs, we often do so because we want to feel powerful — and that's usually because we in some way feel powerless, unworthy, not courageous enough to be forthright. Hurtful words also send the message — both to ourselves and to those with whom we share them — that we can't be trusted.” — Oprah Winfrey

When I find myself particularly drawn to engaging in gossip, here are some questions I typically ask myself:

  • Why am I sharing this information?
  • Am I being truthful?
  • Do I have ill intentions?
  • What am I hoping to get out of this conversation?
  • It is harmful?

Asking myself these questions can usually provide me with some good perspective and understanding.

How to Navigate Gossip in Social Situations

While holding ourselves accountable for not perpetuating gossip is something we can control, navigating gossip when we are in a social setting with other people can feel uncomfortable or particularly difficult to maneuver.

What’s the best way to handle those situations? Here are three approaches to try if you find yourself being unwillingly pulled into gossip which doesn’t feel productive or kind.

1. Change the Subject

Once those juicy tidbits start flowing, it’s hard to stop. The urge to hear more is enticing. If you don’t want to find yourself sucked into the rumor mill, a great option is to change the subject relatively quickly. As soon as you hear the conversation broaching on dangerous territory, find something else to discuss.

2. Find a Reason to Walk Away

Gossip is contagious. It’s my responsibility to protect my own energy. If attempts to change the subject don’t work, and you don’t want to be involved in gossip or negative energy, you can politely excuse yourself from the situation. You can excuse yourself to go to the bathroom, make a phone call, or simply say, “Excuse me,” and walk away.

3. Speak Up

An amazing way to hold yourself and those around you accountable is to speak up when someone is dishing out the gossip, especially if you find it harmful or malicious. You can be the one to say that you think the conversation is toxic and unfair, and that you would prefer to discontinue this particular subject. You can even use it as an opportunity to discuss the perils of gossip or how you have personally found it hurtful.

A Last Word

As juicy and enticing as it is, gossip is largely unproductive if we are just using it defame people’s character or as a reaction to feeling triggered.

It’s important that we always hold ourselves accountable, hold space for others in a way that is helpful and honest, and treat others with the same kindness, empathy, and compassion that we would want to be shown.

When we frame our conversations from that perspective, we can more readily ensure that we are engaging in conversation that is not harmful to others. In a world that pegs women as catty and backstabbing, we can do our best to demonstrate true sisterhood in our deeds and our words.

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About the author:  Chrissy King

Chrissy King is a strength and nutrition coach, powerlifter, and writer. When she’s not serving her clients and empowering them to create stress-free and sustainable lifestyles, she spends her time reading, traveling, and hanging with friends and family. You can learn more about Chrissy on her website and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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