“You won’t believe what I just heard” “Spill the tea” “I’m no gossip, but....”
Everybody gossips. Everybody has derived some delight from sharing or hearing news about someone else. It’s human nature. But how is it impacting ourselves and others?
As humans evolved and began living in groups, communicating about peers - who to trust, who might make a good mate - became very important.
Hearing stories about others can teach us about what is and isn’t considered acceptable behaviour in our group. In that way, the thought of being gossipped about can serve as a kind of deterrent to ensure that all members of a group contribute appropriately.
Additionally, sharing secrets can make you feel a greater bond with the person you’re confiding in. This is probably linked to the fact that some studies have shown that gossiping increases levels of oxytocin, the hormone that’s released when we feel in love or in lust.
If you and a friend repeatedly gossip about another person you dislike, it can bring you even closer together. Having a common ‘enemy’ can build an extremely strong bond, stronger than sharing a love of yoga or Game of Thrones.
So what’s the big deal?
It seems gossip in small doses isn’t all bad, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it will make you or others feel good consistently.
The most obvious downside to gossiping is that you will probably hurt another person.
You may hurt their feelings, their reputation, or both. If you hear a rumour and treat someone differently as a consequence without knowing whether or not it’s true, you are definitely negatively impacting that person. If you then go on to spread the rumour to others, it gets even worse for that person.
Say you think that your brother’s new boyfriend seems like a snob after meeting him once. If you don’t find out the truth for yourself before sharing that opinion with others, you could end up sabotaging your brother’s new relationship or making things tense between yourself and your brother. Not only is this unfair to the man you barely know, if he ends up actually being a nice person, you end up looking like the bad guy.
There are lots of ways to feel more deeply connected with friends - like trying something new or doing something that scares you - you don't have to resort to gossiping to create friendships.
“I only gossip about people who I know are being jerks,” you might say. I get it. Some people act like jerks and it’s frustrating, and after a while it starts to take its toll on you. Letting off steam by venting your frustrations can make you feel better.
If you have a coworker who never does her share of the work, it can be cathartic to get those frustrations off your chest with another coworker. It can give you a sense of emotional relief to have those feelings acknowledged and reciprocated.
But everything in moderation.
If you complain about this colleague constantly, there are diminishing returns on the feelings of relief you get. You’re no longer letting out feelings that have been bottled up, you’re just continuing on a tangent where you’re always looking for something else negative to say about the person.
Negativity on negativity on negativity
Constantly looking for things to complain about won’t make you feel better, it’ll actually make you feel worse. On top of that, if you’re constantly focusing on the negative, the people around you will start to feel negative or associate you with negativity. So while gossiping can bring you closer together, it can also make the bonded people feel lousy.
There are lots of ways to bond with people - doing something that scares you a little like riding a rollercoaster or watching a scary movie has been proven to make people feel closer to one another. While sharing frustrations about a lazy coworker may be an easy way to make a fast friend, it’s not the best foundation to build a relationship on.
If someone in your life is doing something that is really bothering you, consider talking to them about it rather than talking about them to someone else.
If you decide to do this, try to stay calm and to not get overly emotional. Let them know how you feel and what you need to feel better while avoiding accusatory language or name calling. There’s a chance they don’t realize what they’re doing or that it’s causing you frustration.
If for whatever reason that’s not an option, try coming up with healthier ways of dealing with the stress, either through exercise, meditation, the use of mantras, or distraction. There’s always a way to de-stress without diving into a spiral of negativity that feeds on itself and doesn’t actually solve the problem at hand.
So definitely keep talking, and always vent when you need to, but try to look for the positive rather than the negative in your life and in the people around you - you'll all feel better for it.
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