Gossip is an unavoidable part of society. It functions as a “gatekeeper”, enforcing rules of acceptable behavior in the group and society. However, gossip is also used to attack other people. There are many reasons why people use gossip to attack other people: some want more power and use gossip to destroy the reputation of a rival, others are emotionally damaged and use gossip to hurt other people and feel better about themselves. Whatever the reason, it is during the teen years that gossip is most powerful as a social force and tool to lash out at others.
Adults are also victims of gossip, but they are better equipped to deal with it because they are more mature and their identities are more formed. Teens who have a healthy sense of self and healthy relationships can withstand nasty gossip without the associated trauma, but may teens who are struggling with issues of identity are more prone to being hurt. Susceptible teens are often devastated by mean spirited gossip. Because they are still in the process of forming identities, teenagers internalize gossip to a deeper level. Uncertain of who they are, teens look more to others to help them define themselves. This opens them up to devastating attacks through vicious rumors and gossip.
The Damaging Kind Of Gossip
Demeaning gossip is a form of bullying. Bullies are more likely to seek out vulnerable people and use gossip against them. Those who gossip are often dealing with a damaged sense of self and/or power. They are prone to try to soothe their damaged egos by using gossip as a weapon against other teens.
Talking about others who are “breaking the rules” to feel better about themselves
Taking out their own anger on the other person without having a direct confrontation
Controlling how others see them or their target by spreading misinformation in a way that puts them in a position of authority and power
Distracting others from noticing their own (internal sense of) inadequacy
Putting other people down who make them feel inadequate
Maintaining a safe, black and white system of “us and them” which helps them feel like they belong
Keeping everyone separate and apart instead of having to develop compassion, understanding, and togetherness
Making “weaker” people “other” and therefore making themselves “strong”
Not facing the parts of themselves that they see reflected in their targets
Being Powerful At The Expense Of Others
Gossip is a way to be powerful at the expense of others, and it is incredibly corrosive. To form bonds, people need to trust in each other. Few things can destroy trust like gossip. Gossip destroys peoples faith in each other and creates an extremely negative environment. Once trust is destroyed there is very little possibility of bonding or building a positive relationships and community. So who benefits? The person who spreads the gossip feels a sense of power and control over the other person.
Gossip And Addiction
Addicts are very prone to gossip because of their own struggles with identity and power, which is probably why there is such an emphasis on anonymity in AA and other -Anonymous programs. This is because gossip erodes community so badly that anonymity needs to be a rule for addiction recovery.
Gossip is addictive. The (usually false) sense of power, belonging, and connection that comes with a good rumor is incredibly addictive. To a brain that is depressed, anxious, and craving affection and attention, can be a powerful attraction. Therefore, in a therapeutic environment, gossip needs to be treated as a serious obstacle to healing.
Gossip In A Therapeutic Group Environment
In a group therapeutic environment like Fire Mountain, a huge part of recovery is for residents to identify with each other in their vulnerability and “weakness” and to develop compassion and love for each other. Gossip is not just discouraged, but openly addressed as a detriment to the healing process. Overcoming the impulse to gossip is an important part of growth and healing. Developing healthy relationships, facing challenges together, and feeling a part of something is the most important thing we can offer the kids here at Fire Mountain. The kids are taught new skills and expected to make a commitment to supporting each other.
How Can Parents Help
Parents can provide an important foundation to help their teens withstand the negative effects of gossip. They can be an example of inner strength and integrity for their kids. This usually requires that the parents do some self-examination and some inner work. When parents make themselves stronger, they make their kids stronger.