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How To Respond To Malicious Gossip

Click on the picture below to watch the short video:

Malicious gossip is negative and brings everyone down. This video includes several examples of ways to respond to someone rumor mongering and gossiping maliciously.

Malicious gossip can involve maligning another person and making hurtful negative judgments or the spreading of sensitive or confidential information. If you gossip a lot, you will attract other people who like to spread rumors and thus don’t have much of interest going on in their lives. Distorting information, talking “dirt”, and bringing other people down will affect your life negatively.

How do you respond to unwelcome gossip?

First of all, you don’t want to encourage gossip with curiosity and further questions. Nor is it necessary to become overly hostile and angry at the gossiper.

1. You can have empathy for the person being gossiped about. Take the other person’s side and show compassion.

2. Respond with humor.

3. Change the subject.

4. Turn the tables and focus your attention on the gossiper and what’s going on in his or her life. For example, “You seem to want to talk about who Susie is sleeping with. How about we talk about who you’re sleeping with!”

5. Be direct. Say you’re uncomfortable talking negatively about other people.

6. Finally, you can avoid persistent gossipers and leave.

While harmless gossip is fine, malicious gossip is not inspiring and does not enhance people’s lives. Freeing yourself from malicious gossip will give you more time to enjoy life or to talk about more interesting subjects.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Watch “How to distinguish between harmless and malicious gossip” https://www.youtube.com/my_videos?o=U.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Watch “Distinguishing Harmless from Malicious Gossip.”

“My husband is a gossiper. He even has the nerve to gossip about me.”

“Sorcery” by Mimi Stuart ©

“My husband is a gossiper. He gossips about everything and everybody. He even gossips about his daughter to his sister and has the nerve to gossip about me to all of them. I have caught him on the phone doing it. It is sickening.

He did not gossip when we were dating or in the beginning of our marriage. Now everything is out on the table and I’m wondering what is what. How do I handle this without destroying my marriage?”

The Harm in Gossip

While your husband is probably not intentionally trying to hurt you, he is hurting you. Moreover, he has lost your trust and your respect — two of the most crucial components in a long-term loving relationship. Therefore, I think that his perpetual gossiping is a very serious matter and that you should treat it that way.

If it were merely harmless gossip on occasion, then it might not be so bad. After all, everyone has some flaws. But persistent gossip, particularly when it is negative and about private matters concerning you and his own child, is offensive and damaging to your relationship. He doesn’t seem to realize that such gossip simply broadcasts his own insecurity and is only appealing to those who are equally insecure.

You must let him know how seriously this affects you and your relationship. You will be forced to withhold your private thoughts in an effort to protect yourself. As a result, you will become isolated and feel increasingly repelled by him. Under such conditions, the relationship will inevitably whither.

I would take a two-pronged approach including 1) a frank discussion about the matter, and 2) speaking up each time you catch him gossiping in an inappropriate manner.

1. Having a Discussion

Sit down with your husband. Let him know clearly how serious the matter is. Be kind. Start by telling him what you like about him or what initially attracted you to him. Then tell him that you don’t intend to hurt or criticize him, but that you need to tell him how your feelings about him are changing due to his behavior.

For example,

“I am concerned that I am losing my respect and love for you because you gossip so much. When you talk about others and especially about me to others, I feel uncomfortable and repelled. I think you should know that it is causing me to lose my trust in you, the core of our relationship. I don’t want to criticize you and hurt your feelings. I want us to go back to cherishing our relationship and our private life. I am asking you if you are willing to stop gossiping with others. I am telling you this because I need you to know how much it is affecting me, and it is also affecting our relationship.”

If he gets defensive, remain calm and listen to what he has to say. Repeat the above if necessary. If he will not converse, write it down in a compassionate letter. There is also a lot of resource material available online. You might want to share a couple of articles or a video on this topic with him.

2. Responding to specific instances of gossip

Let harmless gossip go unchallenged, it is common. But each time you hear him gossiping inappropriately or maliciously, say something like the following:

“I heard you talking about me (my sister, my father, our daughter) to X, which makes me feel terrible. If you have something you want to talk to me about, please talk to me, but not to anyone else. I want our relationship to be special, appropriate and private. Let’s be a team and avoid bringing other people into our relationship.”

If he continues despite your speaking up over a period of time, then I would let him know that the trust is gone, causing the connection to be broken, and that you want to attend counseling with him in order to try to rescue the relationship.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

What to do when people gossip about you.

"Approach - Rory McIlroy" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Approach – Rory McIlroy” by Mimi Stuart ©

“I know people who seem nice but gossip about me behind my back. They are such hypocrites, it’s depressing. Being confrontational hasn’t worked.”

Rise above the fray. Don’t allow yourself to dwell on the petty gossip that many people participate in, whether they are gossiping about you or others.

People often gossip out of boredom or envy. Thus, Oscar Wilde said, The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

This is one of the situations in life where you must create a mental barrier around your feelings. If you become confrontational, fearful, or humiliated by gossip, you increase your vulnerability and give those who gossip power over you. Ignore them and you take away their power. Don’t be hostile, but don’t allow yourself to dwell on what they are saying.

Focus on more positive, interesting people and activities. There are many people in this world who have adequate self-worth and are too busy living their lives to have any time or desire for malicious gossip. Keep your eye out for these people and find activities that you are passionate about.

If you have to engage with people who are prone to gossip, maintain a casual, even somewhat friendly but unconcerned attitude. Convey a lack of interest in what they are saying by simply ignoring them, but avoid acting superior. Thus, you will maintain your dignity and inner strength without giving up your power or provoking more hostility.

Above all, the best way to stay above the banality of scandal-mongering is to maintain a sense of humor, as expressed by Vanna Bonta’s attitude:

Gossip can be entertaining: occasionally, I’ve heard the most fascinating things about myself I never knew.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

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.”

Triangulation: “Two of my best friends are telling me about how bad the other is and making me promise not to say anything, and then I feel guilty.”

"In the Loop" — Jim Furyk by Mimi Stuart ©

“In the Loop”—Jim Furyk by Mimi Stuart ©

Next time one of your friends starts talking to you about another friend, you might just ask, “What would you like from me? How can I help you with this?” If they just want to vent and complain, then I would back away from the conversation because it’s just not going to make anyone’s life any better.

People “triangulate” when they bring a third person in the middle of their conflict in order to relieve their anxiety, not to improve the situation. Sometimes people allow themselves to be triangulated because they like the feeling of being included and needed. But triangulation usually involves taking sides and doesn’t end well. Listening to complaints is draining and fuels negativity.

Dealing with triangulation and dealing with derogatory gossip have much in common. Here are some ways you can respond:

1. Have empathy for the person being talked about. Take the other person’s side and play the devil’s advocate.

2. Respond with light-hearted humor.

3. Avoid getting in the middle. “I think it would be more effective if you talked to him about how you feel, rather than to me.” Or “I care about both of you and think it’s best not to get in the middle.”

4. Focus your attention on why your friend is preoccupied with talking about your other friend. “Why are you obsessed with Amanda? Maybe it would be better to focus on your own life.”

5. Be direct. “I’m uncomfortable listening to all this negativity about someone who’s not here to defend himself.”

6. Help your friend improve the situation: “Can you think of a diplomatic way to talk to her directly?” Or “Have you thought about how you may have participated in this situation?”

Part of friendship is helping with dilemmas, conflict, and relationships. However, if someone is not attempting to gain insight and improve the situation at hand, then that person may simply be using you to vent and avoid the difficult task of self-awareness and growth. In situations of attempted triangulation a friend should speak up and challenge the other person to be the best he or she can be.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Healthy Relationships and
Effective Communication


Read “Venting and Triangulation.”

Read “Triangulation: ‘My ex can’t stop complaining about me to my child. I feel like doing the same right back.’”

“My ex was the worst….”

"Mississippi Blues" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Mississippi Blues” by Mimi Stuart ©

Talking about your ex in a disparaging way is tedious and draining to others and reflects poorly on you as a person. Nobody will be impressed that your last boyfriend or ex-wife sent abusive emails or stalked you. They will merely wonder whether you are a victim or a bad judge of character.

If asked about your past relationships, rather than starting on a diatribe of complaints, you could simply say, “We went our separate ways,” or “We grew apart.”

Grow up, don’t put down

Better yet, find a way to view your difficult relationships of the past with perspective and find a silver lining. After all, you were together for a reason and probably got something out of the relationship.

It is often through the very gridlock and troubles in a relationship that we learn who we are and what our boundaries are.

We all live and learn from experience, especially from painful episodes that cause us to grow.

There may be times when you do want to talk about a painful relationship with a close friend in order to gain insight about yourself or the relationship or to share what you have learned. Yet self-reflective conversations are very different from complaining about and belittling others. Remember to stick to the former, where your intent is to understand, grow, gain peace, and become more whole.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen
Twitter: @alisonpoulsen

Read “My ex was a psycho!”

Read “My negative emotions bring me down. I tend to dwell on feeling hurt or angry.”

Watch “Why do people gossip, and when is it malicious?”