How To Respond To Malicious Gossip

Malicious gossip is negative and brings everyone down. Here are examples of ways to respond to someone rumor mongering and malicious gossiping.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Watch “Distinguishing Harmless from Malicious Gossip.”

Read Gossip: “I can’t stand malicious gossip, but sometimes I end up participating in it!”

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How to Distinguish Harmless From Malicious Gossip

Talking about other people is natural. Sometimes though, talking about others brings everyone down. How do we distinguish harmless from malicious gossip? And why do people partake in malicious gossip?

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Watch “How To Respond To Malicious Gossip.”

Read “Gossip vs. Honesty: ‘It is better to be honest and realistic than to pretend everyone is such an angel when they are not.'”

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“It’s always your way or the highway!”

"Angle of Approach" — Furyk by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Angle of Approach” — Furyk by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

So… what I REALLY meant was…

“Let’s agree to include both our opinions into the solution. Let’s start by finding our common ground.”

Sarcasm furthers hostility.

Giving in causes resentment.

You can frequently find a healthy compromise if you remain calm, respectful, and persistent.

Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

~John F. Kennedy

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “I end up arguing with him because he’s usually too busy working to talk.”

Read Positive Bonding Patterns:
“We never fight, but we don’t talk anymore and there’s no more passion.”

Watch “How to avoid becoming a doormat.”

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“We need to travel to re-energize our relationship.”

"The Kiss" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“The Kiss” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Sometimes a trip or special date can bring back the energy and romance of a relationship. Yet, it’s the totality of your communication, tone of voice, and words that cause a relationship to become fulfilling or miserable.

If 80% of your communication is neutral or positive, that is, appreciative or respectful, then your relationship is likely to be fulfilling in the long-term*. If, however, more than 20% of your communication is disrespectful, hostile, or withdrawing, then your relationship is likely to deteriorate over the long-term.

Respectful communication does not mean becoming a yes-man or yes-woman. It simply means treating another person as worthwhile. You can do this without discarding your important values, desires, and opinions. You can respectfully disagree. You can decide to do your own thing without demeaning the other person. Respect and love for another person does not contradict self-respect.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Respect each other: ‘He’s always talking down to me.’”

Read “Positive Bonding Patterns: ‘We never fight, but we don’t talk anymore and there’s no more passion.’”

*Read John Gottman’s “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail.”

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“I worry a lot over my adult children and I often call them to give advice.”

"Tempest" by Mimi Stuart ©  Live the Life you Desire

“Tempest” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Fear is an important emotion that signals there is potential danger. Being aware of danger makes it possible for us to protect ourselves and others from jeopardy.


Worry, however, is an ineffective state of anxiety where we repeatedly imagine all sorts of negative possibilities. Once our children are young adults and off to college or work, worry on our part degrades the quality of our lives rather than helps our children. While unfortunate things do happen, there is a point where worrying about our children doesn’t help and in fact sometimes can make things worse.

Too much warning

When you continually warn your adult children of all the dangers in the world, it often causes them to be less careful. Even with young children you should make sure not to be overly anxious or you will lose credibility with them. Moreover, you will annoy them by infantilizing them and implying that that they are not capable of thinking on their own.

Imagine being a child. If an adult is constantly warning you of danger, you don’t take on responsibility and accountability for looking for those dangers yourself. Moreover, you soon see the warnings as being exaggerated. So the reckless part of you wants to act out. The degree to which someone focuses on telling you to be careful is the degree to which you will either become overly fearful or overly reckless, and sometimes ironically both.

Learning to evaluate risk

The best way to learn to evaluate risk is by having many experiences of evaluating risk, and sometimes making mistakes and facing the consequences. When you know that you are accountable for yourself, you tend to put more effort into evaluating situations and making decisions.

Children need to be able to make mistakes, sometimes painful, within the context of a safe environment. Of course, small children need to be kept safe. Over time, however, parents should gradually allow their children more leeway to think about the choices they make. Certainly by the time their children become adults, parents are only cultivating codependence, resentment, and rebellion by inundating their children with lectures and warnings.

Thus, if you tend to worry and frequently give caution to your adult children or excessively give warning to your younger children, you need to take stock, gain some self-discipline and resist focusing on your children. If you rarely give advice, the advice you do give will be taken more seriously.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “I am overwhelmed by worry.”

Read “I fear something bad is going to happen. It feels like the end of the world.”

Read “I found out my daughter has cancer. All I can do is cry and worry.”

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“You left the place a horrible mess again!”

"Mr. Hole-in-One" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Mr. Hole-in-One” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire


So… what I REALLY meant was…

“I feel discouraged when I come home and see dirty dishes. It would make me happy to come home to a cleaner house. I would appreciate it if you would accommodate me.”

Criticism, complaints, and blame put people on the defensive. On the other hand, you can give the other person an opportunity to do something nice for you by phrasing your request diplomatically.

First of all, instead of attacking the other person, express how you feel given the simple facts, that is, “dirty dishes” instead of “horrible mess.” Then describe specifically what you would like him or her to do and how good it would make you feel. Most people enjoy making others happy. So express how appreciative you would be to come home to a clean house.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Communicating Effectively under Stress: ‘This is horrible!’”

Read “Living together Part I: Manners and Boundaries — ‘What’s the matter with you? Look at this mess you made!’”

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“When she gets angry, I feel overwhelmed and have to withdraw.”

"Take Off" — Blue Angels by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Take Off” — Blue Angels by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

People react to conflict, anxiety and disapproval in different ways. Some people become bossy and directive, some get angry and attack others, and some become defensive. Others feel overwhelmed and either freeze or withdraw emotionally or physically.

People who withdraw may do so because they do not know how to respond or they get flooded with emotion. People who feel overwhelmed when they seem to be attacked are unable to think rationally and to express themselves in an articulate way. Often withdrawing is a response to the feeling of helplessness and fear – it is a defense mechanism developed to protect a person.

However, withdrawal often triggers feelings of abandonment and hostility in the other person. The more outspoken or argumentative person may view the withdrawal as a passive-aggressive punishment directed at him or her.

Explain your behavior

If someone is raging, repetitive, mean, or unreasonable, it may be best to withdraw. If you need to withdraw from conflict simply because you feel overwhelmed, it is best to say something to the other person before walking away. For example,

“I can’t discuss this clearly right now. I need to take a break.”

“Please let’s stop for a while.”

“Give me a moment. I’ll be back.”

“I’m feeling overwhelmed.”

At a moment when there is no conflict, it’s very helpful to explain to the other person how you are feeling when you withdraw. Let him or her know that you are not trying to be hurtful by walking away. Rather, you feel overwhelmed and unable to think or discuss anything rationally and clearly. “I need a moment to clear my head.”


Some people choose to step away from discussions to avoid a difficult issue. Sometimes it’s best to buy yourself time to think about an issue. Yet when you consistently avoid difficult discussions, the issues will often become more problematic, and people with whom you’re in relationship will become increasingly frustrated with you.


When you become aware of your anxiety-management systems, you have the opportunity to gradually become stronger and more capable of handling difficult situations. If someone is angry, but not out of control, practice remaining calm without leaving immediately. See if you can withstand a little more discomfort without becoming overwhelmed. Have some responses readily available to state in a calm manner, such as,

“I’d like to hear what you’re saying. Can you explain that again in a more positive way.”

“I feel criticized. Could you rephrase that?”

“I feel defensive. Let’s start over again and remember I’m on your side.”

“I need a moment. Please be quiet for a moment and listen to me.”

“I think we could have a more productive conversation if we kept our voices down.”

With an awareness of what triggers you, you can gradually control the withdrawal process. Instead, you can thoughtfully choose whether to comply, withdraw, or assert yourself, among other possible responses. Sometimes it is best to withdraw, but it’s nice to feel as though you have a choice and can control your behavior in any situation. You will feel more powerful and others will sense it as well.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “The courage to say ‘No’: ‘I wish I hadn’t said ‘Yes,’ I just don’t have the time!’”

Read “To fight or not to fight: ‘After a fight, we barely talk to each other for days.’”

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Guest Author Sam Vaknin:
Tips: How to cope with financial abuse.

"The Raven" by Mimi Stuart ©Live the Life you Desire

“The Raven” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Q. Would narcissists often try to restrict their partner’s independence by reducing their access to shared family finances? Why?

A. Narcissists are control freaks, paranoid, jealous, possessive, and envious. They are the sad products of early childhood abandonment by parents, caregivers, role models, and/or peers. Hence their extreme abandonment anxiety and insecure attachment style. Fostering financial dependence in their nearest and dearest is just another way of making sure of their continued presence as sources of narcissistic supply (attention.) He who holds the purse strings holds the heart’s strings.

Reducing other people to begging and cajoling also buttresses the narcissist’s grandiose fantasy of omnipotence and provides him with a somewhat sadistic gratification.

Q. Would it also happen with female narcissists exercising control over men?

A. Yes. There is no major psychodynamic difference between male and female narcissists.

Q. What advice would you give to someone in a relationship with a narcissist? Should they try to keep their finances separate?

A. They should never allow themselves to be irrevocably separated from their family of origin and close friends. They should maintain their support network and refuse to become a part of the narcissist’s cult-like shared psychosis. They should make sure that they have independent sources of wealth (a trust fund; real estate; bank accounts; deposits; securities) and sustainable sources of income (a job; rental income; interest and dividends; royalties). Above all: they should not share with their narcissistic intimate partner the full, unmitigated details of their life and critical bits of information such as banking passwords and safe box access codes.

Q. I understand that narcissists will sometimes sacrifice their finances and get into big trouble financially (even going bankrupt) in order to satisfy other narcissistic desires – so I presume this means that narcissists are also people whose finances can be instable?

A. It is not as simple as that. The classic narcissist maintains an island of stability in his life (e.g.: his job, business, and finances) while the other dimensions of his existence (e.g., interpersonal relations) wallow in chaos and unpredictability. The narcissist may marry, divorce, and remarry with dizzying speed. Everything in his life may be in constant flux: friends, emotions, judgements, values, beliefs, place of residence, affiliations, hobbies. Everything, that is, except his work.

His career is the island of compensating stability in his otherwise mercurial existence. This kind of narcissist is dogged by unmitigated ambition and devotion. He perseveres in one workplace or one job, patiently, persistently and blindly climbing up the corporate ladder and treading the career path. In his pursuit of job fulfilment and achievements, the narcissist is ruthless and unscrupulous ˆ and, very often, successful.

The borderline narcissist reacts to instability in one area of his life by introducing chaos into all the others. Thus, if such a narcissist resigns (or, more likely, is made redundant) ˆ he also relocates to another city or country. If he divorces, he is also likely to resign his job.

This added instability gives this type of narcissist the feeling that all the dimensions of his life are changing simultaneously, that he is being “unshackled”, that a transformation is in progress. This, of course, is an illusion. Those who know the narcissist, no longer trust his frequent “conversions”, “decisions”, “crises”, “transformations”, “developments” and “periods”. They see through his pretensions, protestations, and solemn declarations into the core of his instability. They know that he is not to be relied upon. They know that with narcissists, temporariness is the only permanence.

Narcissists hate routine. When a narcissist finds himself doing the same things over and over again, he gets depressed. He oversleeps, over-eats, over-drinks and, in general, engages in addictive, impulsive, reckless, and compulsive behaviours. This is his way of re-introducing risk and excitement into what he (emotionally) perceives to be a barren life.

The problem is that even the most exciting and varied existence becomes routine after a while. Living in the same country or apartment, meeting the same people, doing essentially the same things (even with changing content) ˆ all “qualify”, in the eyes of the narcissist, as stultifying rote.

The narcissist feels entitled. He feels it is his right, due to his intellectual or physical superiority, to lead a thrilling, rewarding, kaleidoscopic life. He wants to force life itself, or at least people around him, to yield to his wishes and needs, supreme among them the need for stimulating variety.

by Sam Vaknin, Author of the comprehensive book on narcissism “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited.”

Read Codependence by GUEST AUTHOR SAM VAKNIN:”Issues and Goals in the Treatment of Dependent Personality Disorder.”

Read Alison Poulsen’s Marrying into Money:
“He used to take care of me, and now he treats me like a child.”

Read Guest Author SAM VAKNIN’s
“He Abuses Me in So Many Ways. How do I Cope?”

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