People without verbal restraint: Dealing with people who vent too much and gossip about you.

"Jazz Night" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Jazz Night” by Mimi Stuart ©

“How can I deal with a person who tells the same story over and over about someone who hurt her 20 years ago?
 Also she gossips about me even though I have asked her many times to stop.”

Verbal restraint is a virtue

Your friend’s problem is that she cannot contain her feelings and thoughts when it is appropriate to do so. She cannot resist her impulse to express whatever will get the attention she is desperately seeking. She does not try to restrain herself from venting her feelings of victimhood and from gossiping about other people’s lives despite the toxicity of such behavior.

The bottom line is that she is seeking attention in unhealthy ways and the solution for you is to stop enabling her.

Broken record—victim story

Individuals who continuously vent and complain about a past incident are psychologically stuck and seek relief by venting. Like having a cigarette, the relief from their anxiety is only temporary, and the long-term effects are harmful.

If you can, it is worth telling her in a compassionate way that telling the same story continuously will not help the situation, and in fact will keep her from dealing with the underlying issue and moving on. She is defining herself as a victim, and thereby limiting her own life. Perhaps suggest that some counseling would help her.

You might also gently tell her that she is causing others to see her as unempowered. If she could try to contain her resentment by focusing on improving her life, she would open up new possibilities in her life—talking about interesting ideas, for example, and hearing about other people’s pursuits and passions. As a result, she might feel less need of getting attention for being a victim.

It takes guts to say things like this, but it can be extremely helpful if you do so with compassion.

However, she may not have a strong enough sense of self to take such poignant input, in which case, she will be hurt and angry and you may have to limit your exposure to her. You can emphasize that you are not trying to be judgmental, but that you just want the best for her and therefore wanted to make a helpful observation.

An easier, alternative response is to say something like, “ I have heard this before,” each time she tries to bring up the same old story, and then change the subject to something more inspiring. This may not stop her from venting to others, but over time she might become aware of her tendency to repeat herself.

The simple act of denying her a sympathetic ear may be the best solution because in this case, listening sympathetically without challenging her is harmful enabling behavior. So you may ultimately have to distance yourself from her and the relationship.

How to stop gossip about you

Since your friend is disclosing too much about your life even though you have asked her not to, you need to keep your personal life private! Everyone makes the occasional mistake saying something they should not have. However, you cannot trust someone who continues to talk about you and your private life in spite of your specific requests not to do so. It’s fine to keep her as a casual friend, but do not disclose to her anything personal that you wouldn’t want circulated.

You may want to consider distancing yourself from her. Make other friends, and don’t disclose private details about your life until you really know, trust and are intimate with them.

George MacDonald’s saying is so true: “Few delights can equal the mere presence of one we utterly trust.”

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “You sound like a broken record repeating stories about your psycho ex!”

Read “Venting and Triangulation.”

Read “Setting Boundaries.”


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