In many ways, gossip could be considered an addiction.
In the short-term, a gossiper feels a sense of confidence, privilege or attention when they tell stories about other people. It gives them a boost for feeling ‘one-up’ on someone else, or perhaps a bit of relief for taking any negative attention off of themselves. This is how an addict feels when they take a hit of their drug of choice – dopamine rises and pain is temporarily relieved. Long-term the gossiper starts to feel low as they realize how much damage they are doing to others and how they have discredited themselves by sharing toxic information. They feel so low that insecurity starts to brew and when presented with another opportunity to feel better, they do what they think will quickly bring them back up - they gossip again. It’s a behaviour pattern that gives us a perceived boost short-term, followed by a low in the long-term, then a craving to feel better quickly. The good news is this addictive pattern, can be broken.
How do we break this pattern of addiction? It’s simple. We need to assume good intent. This should not be hard, because you know and I know that deep down we are all good people, with good intentions and would prefer love and kindness over pain and cruelty.
Let’s look at why people gossip in the first place. Typically gossip erupts from a place of fear. We are afraid to communicate with someone who has hurt us, directly or indirectly. We lack the confidence required to confront a difficult situation, so we take a short-cut to healing by villainizing someone else in a story meant to prove we are good and right.
Jealousy, insecurity and fear - these are all inescapable emotions. We all have weak moments. However, if despite what seems like overwhelming evidence that someone has wronged us, when we assume good intent of others, we give ourselves the option to say no to gossip.
Try this: the next time you find yourself telling a story about people who are not present, ask yourself: Do I know this is true? What is my intention? Would my story be different if the subjects were here? How will this affect them (and me) in the long term? Assuming good intent does not absolve them of any sins they may have committed against you – it simply does not serve you well to think negatively. You are freeing yourself when you assume good intent.
What do we do if we are the victim of gossip? Again, we need to assume good intent. Although someone may have caused you legitimate pain and angst, it does not serve you to hate or retaliate against gossip. If you are able to assume the gossiper is at heart a good person, who did a bad thing, it will allow you to choose freedom and joy. Rise up, move on and wish the gossiper well.
We can reduce or eliminate gossip from our lives if we assume good intent. In the presence of gossip, do not participate. Move the conversation to building people up – particularly the gossiper, who clearly needs the boost. Choose love and kindness. People will gravitate to your positive energy and join in the fun that comes with sharing compliments.
The more we assume good intent, the more resilience we build for the culture of gossip. We promote confidence, kindness and support. If you are feeling badly about gossiping right now - remember - it is never too late to apologize. Something wonderful may result. Break the pattern of gossiping today.