“Often those that criticise others reveal what he himself lacks.” ― Shannon L. Alder
Gossip is so pervasive in our society. And even though we know that it’s a completely toxic habit, most of us find ourselves doing it from time to time. It’s a difficult beast to tackle because gossip infiltrates our minds and effects how we think. Yet I’d argue that it’s imperative to our self-love journeys that we all learn how to kick this nasty habit.
But, what is gossip? It can be a tricky little to define because it’s not that talking about other people, and even being critical sometimes, is always bad. In fact, if you’re a manager of some kind, it might even be part of your job description.
So, let’s start with a dictionary definition. The Oxford American Dictionary defines ‘gossip’ as: “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.”
That’s simple enough, but what is it about gossip that makes it so virulent?
Like any of our thoughts, they create feedback loops in our minds and over time they form patterns that are difficult to change. The more we gossip, the more likely we are to gossip – which means the more likely we are to focus on the negative, to judge others, and to says things we aren’t even sure are true.
By its very nature, gossip reinforces the idea that we are in competition with each other. It keeps us in a cycle of judging, rather than supporting, collaborating, and inspiring. In this way, gossip keeps us playing small and it keeps us stuck in a pattern of judging ourselves while we judge others. We can’t ever really love ourselves and step into our power when we’re propping ourselves up by tearing others down.
Simply put, gossip doesn’t come from a place of love and it certainly doesn’t foster self-love. What we criticize in others usually boils down to our own self-doubts. Which is a huge part of why we do it.
Instead of examining our own insecurities and working through them, we hurl the same judgments we pass on ourselves onto someone else. Of course this just reinforces the thoughts we’re trying to avoid.
Yet it can be so difficult to stop gossiping. We get sucked in by the false sense of intimacy it creates. We feel like part of the gang being one of the gossipers, rather than the one being gossiped about.
But at the end of the day, gossip is a symptom of our own unhappiness and self-destructive thoughts (and I try to keep this in mind when I know someone is gossiping about me). Erica Jong said, “Gossip is the opiate of the oppressed,” and I couldn’t agree more. Most of us live oppressed by fear and self-hatred. Learning how to detach ourselves from gossip is so important when we’re learning to love ourselves. But how do we do it?
How to Detox from Gossip
Set a time frame. It’s my hope that at the end of this process, you’ll decide to kick gossip to the curb for good. But for now, pick an amount of time for working through these steps and holding yourself accountable to not gossiping. Apparently it takes 42 days to make or break a habit because this is how long it takes to change our thinking about something, so I’d recommend that. But, if you can hardly imagine life without Perez Hilton and TMZ, you might want to start with a week or even a few days. Make it realistic.
Purge your life of external gossip. I’m not one for gossip websites or celebrity tabloids, but there’s a reason they’re so popular – they feed our societal addiction to gossip. It’s essential that you get rid of these influences during your detox. If clicking onto PerezHilton.com is the first thing you do in the morning, you might want to download a plugin like Chrome Nanny to help yourself avoid them. Your detox also means avoiding those water cooler conversations that are essentially one big gossip fest (tips on how to handle this below).
Stop judgmental thoughts, before they even leave your mouth. If you find yourself thinking something nasty about yourself or someone else, repeat in your mind: “I release this judgment. I choose to see love instead.” And then decide to pick a different thought. Choose to see the situation more positively. If someone has done something to hurt or annoy you, what could be going on in their life to warrant your compassion and understanding? If something’s just not going your way, ask yourself whether there’s a lesson that can be learned from that moment. How can you turn the situation around?
Arm yourself with scripts. What are you going to say if someone starts steering your conversation in a gossipy direction?
I’d recommend guiding the conversation in a different direction. You might say: “I don’t know anything about that, but…” I’ve been meaning to pick your mind about X. or I’ve noticed you’ve been doing really well with B, can you give me some tips? or I’m thinking of trying this really awesome thing, Y, do you want to do it with me? Fill in the blanks as desired – just keep it positive.
If you’re feeling really brave, you might want to explain that you’re doing a gossip detox. This will offer some context on why you’re no longer willing to speculate on your friend’s love life or talk smack about how horrible your boss is. And you might even inspire your friend/co-worker/gossipy partner-in-crime a little.
Whatever you’re going to say, think about it in advance. That way you’ll be prepared and won’t fall into old habits.
Write it down and reflect. You might slip up. In fact, you almost certainly will. We’re all human and we all make mistakes – this is about progress, not perfection. If you find yourself gossiping or thinking nasty thoughts about someone take a moment to jot it down in a notebook or on your phone. It doesn’t need to be detailed, just enough that you’ll remember the incident when you go back to it.
At the end of each day or each week, sit down and do some journaling to reflect on these slip ups. Where did these judgments come from? Why was it so enticing to think them? Are they attached to your own insecurities? Did someone rub up against an old wound and you were defending yourself? Understanding where our patterns come from is the most important step for dismantling them and letting them go.
Fill yourself up with positives. If you’re particularly attached to gossiping, you might think I’m asking you to give up a lot. Even if these don’t seem like big sacrifices, it’s important to fill up that mental space with something else. Seek out positive news articles, blog posts, photographs, and quotes. Share them via Twitter or email one to a friend who you know needs to read it. Give compliments liberally. Write gratitude lists. Offer to lend a hand. Go to events that inspire happy thoughts. Overwhelm yourself with so much positivity that it actually starts to push out the negative thoughts and watch your urge to gossip dissipate.
"It is one of my sources of happiness never to desire a knowledge of other people's business." —Dolley Madison
It’s no secret that our society is largely built on systems that promote self-hate. How we advertise products. The way magazines tell us to think about our bodies. The traditions that tell us we’re of no value without a romantic partner on our arm. It all serves to reinforce the idea that we aren’t good enough.
And the fact that we glamourize gossip on magazines, TV, the Internet’s most popular websites, and in our own lives, only further serves to tear us down.
But by becoming conscious of the thoughts we think and the words we speak we give ourselves the power to choose different ones. To align our hearts with the positive. To free ourselves from gossip. To love ourselves instead.
What role does gossip play in your own life? Do you think you’d have any trouble giving it up?
Photographs via I Love Wildfox.