Gossip is a social behavior that will never fully cease for most people. It is often considered by sociologists to be necessary for survival, a useful social function in bonding group members together. However in our society it seems to have evolved out of a survival mechanism and into a pass-time. With shows such as “Gossip Girl” and popular celebrity-stalking blogs, it seems that more of our time is being spent discussing the lives of others.
The obvious problem with modern day gossip is that time spent gossiping is taking away from productive and healthy activities. Gossip can involve negative thought processes, upsetting discoveries, and the expression of anger. Gossip becomes especially problematic when it is used to elevate your sense of self above that of another person. Statements such as “Can you believe he did that?”, “You are so much better than her”, “I’m right, he’s wrong” or “I know best, she should have listened to me” are all too common amongst even the closest of friends. Gossip can have a profound negative impact on relationships with friends, family and loved ones due to the devastation that can be felt when one finds out that confidentiality has been broken or that they themselves have been the subject of a conversation between others.
The physical response to a negative thought, word or conversation is an immediate chemical reaction that manifests quicker than the effects of dangerous stimuli such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or eating bad food. In our article on Stress, we explain the undeniable mind-body connection and how negative emotions can cause a damaging chemical response in the body. Furthermore, the effects can be lingering; the aftermath of a night out binging on wings and beer might “pass” in 24-48 hours while a negative thought can manifest itself for decades. The immediate toxic effects of negative thoughts include stress responses and lost sleep which can eventually result in impaired immune function. Longer term, gossip can encourage a constant spiral of negative emotion, which can churn in both the conscious and subconscious mind, affecting future thought patterns and most problematic – behavior – for years to come.
Here are some things we can do to stop the negative thought-behavior cycle stemming from gossip.
Be Conscious of Your Actions
Learn to identify when you are engaging in unnecessary discussions about other people and why you feel compelled to do so. Social connection stimulates the feel-good brain chemical oxytocin, so regular gossip might be a way of feeling good about yourself. Ask yourself if you are bored and need new positive activities to feel good and occupy your time. Be aware of your ego, especially if you are casting someone else in a negative light. Consider possible insecurities or jealousy about the person you are talking about. Also be aware that you might be passing judgment on someone without knowing all the facts of a given circumstance.
Think Before You Speak
Project positive energy by being conscious of your words. Only speak if your words are going to have a positive impact on yourself and the person you are speaking to. Ask yourself:
- Is talking about this person right now helping them?
- How is it helping them?
- If they heard this conversation would they be upset?
Instead of talking about someone, you might be better off addressing the person directly or refraining from saying anything.
Protect Your Good Relationships
If you value having someone in your life, treat them with respect by protecting confidentiality, telling the truth, and keeping your promises. Try to focus on giving off only good energy to enrich the quality of your life and others. Don’t dwell on past negative events, stay present and like mom always said “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all!” Statements such as “I told you so” are counterproductive.
Choose Friendships Wisely
You are who you surround yourself with. If you feel compelled to talk about someone, ask yourself why they are in your life. Perhaps they are projecting negativity and you might be better off without them. The same goes for the people you are gossiping WITH. Unhealthy activities can be difficult to kick if you are constantly bombarded with poor quality relationships, including those with gossipers. Only spend time and energy on positive people that inspire you and who truly care about your best interests.
Consider the Consequences
Relationships can be affected when confidentiality is broken or insulting words are discovered. This can be crucial with regards to communication in the workplace. We’ve all heard the stories about a juicy email ending up in the wrong hands. Before speaking about another person, ask yourself if there are any possible consequences to your actions. Gossip can ruin your personal relationships and professional image and reputation.
Gain Control Over Thought Patterns
If you feel compelled to start talking about someone, stop yourself and remember that if this person is in your life, chances are you care for them in some way. Try to redirect your thoughts and remember their positive attributes, why you like them and why you are better off leaving them out of your conversation with others. Research has shown that humans can “think” themselves in or out of stress and therefor, their state of health. Try allocating 10 minutes each day to either think, discuss, or write down the things and people in your life you are grateful for.
Show You Care
Communicating that you care can make a profound difference in someone’s life and positively influence their own thoughts and behavior. The term “emotional contagion” refers to a process by which others mimic positive actions and words because of their feel-good effect. Too often we take our loved ones for granted and don’t realize how even little things like our tone of voice could be changed to improve the relationship. Give others compliments and let them know how much you value them in your life.
It isn’t a secret that we are drawn to people with positive energy. By projecting positivity onto others, we can not only enrich the lives of those around us, but we will ultimately benefit ourselves by improving the quality of people we will attract.
U R B A N C L I N I C