Personal Growth

Name, Frame, and Brave Gossip

Episode Notes

We don't want to gossip, but most of us do it. What if gossip actually plays a deeper role in our lives and relationships?

So often in life we bump into "grey areas," areas that can stir up dissonance inside of us. We hold certain beliefs or values, yet we find ourselves acting in ways that are contrary to those values.

In this series, we're exploring some of these areas that can bring up dissonance inside. Our focus today is gossip. I explore the problems with gossip, as well as some of the surprising research on how it can be constructive. By examining both the positive and negative aspects of gossip, you'll feel empowered to name, frame, and brave a healthier understanding of gossip in your life and relationships.

Here's what we cover:

  1. Why gossip is a gray area (3:09)
  2. What the Bible says about gossip (6:42)
  3. What psychology research says about gossip (12:46)
  4. 6 motivations behind gossip (13:43)
  5. Constructive vs. destructive forms of gossip (21:40)
  6. How to Name, Frame, and Brave gossip in your own life (29:17)

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Additional Resources:

Related Episodes:

  • Episode 102: I Shouldn’t Feel Conflicted About God—How to Name, Frame, and Brave Complicated Emotions About Faith & God
  • Episode 96: Signs of Emotional Immaturity & How to Bring Emotional Health Into Your Relationships
  • Episode 89: When A Relationship Has to Change—How to Tolerate Discomfort, Face an Attachment Void, & Resource Yourself

Music by Andy Luiten

Sound editing by Kelly Kramarik

© 2024 Alison Cook. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Please do not copy or share the contents of this webpage without permission from the author.

While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.


Hey everyone, and welcome back to this week's episode of The Best of You Podcast. I am so glad you're here. I'm so glad you keep coming back each week to join me for these conversations. I am thrilled about this brand new series that is based on the framework I laid out in my brand new book, I Shouldn’t Feel This Way

Many of you have it in your hands already. Many of you have already read it. In this series, I'm going to apply the framework, the three step process in I Shouldn't Feel This Way, to complicated real life challenges that I don't address in the book.

So we're going to cover a wide range of topics in this series, topics that are sometimes the source of debate or differing opinions, and they might lead to some internal dissonance. Dissonance is this feeling of discord inside of you when you have two competing priorities that are at odds with each other, or maybe you're behaving in a way outwardly that doesn't match up to a belief you hold inwardly.

As I teach you in I Shouldn’t Feel This Way, that experience of dissonance is a gift. It's a cue to get curious. I wonder what that's about. For example, I noticed that I'm really tempted to tell a little white lie in this situation, even though I don't want to be someone who lies. When you notice that experience of dissonance inside of you, it's a cue to do some naming work, some framing work, so that you can brave a healthier way through it.

My goal is not to give you formulaic or pat answers or quick fixes, but instead to empower you to name, frame, and brave a wise discerning path through some of these areas in your own life.

Today's topic is the topic of gossip. Now listen, most of us tend to think of gossip as negative or bad. We don't want to be a gossip. We don't want to gossip with our friends. The Bible warns us against gossip. I personally have seen the damaging effects of gossip in so many ways. We're going to talk about some of that in today's episode. 

At the same time, what's really interesting about gossip is number one, its prevalence. Social psychology research has shown that over two thirds of our conversations as adults contain some form of gossip. So whatever we think about it, most of us are doing it. Then number two, social psychology research has also unearthed some of the positive aspects of gossip that may explain a little bit why some of us are doing it.

In today's episode, I want to untangle some of those knots through naming, framing, and braving this gray area of gossip. Why do we do it? What does the Bible say about it? What's negative about it? What is the positive component, if there is one, that we actually want to preserve? And how can we preserve that component in a healthy way? 

There's so much in this episode for every single one of us. I had so much fun learning about gossip, both from the Bible and from social psychology research. I think there's some really interesting questions we can ask ourselves about the role of gossip in our lives to be a healthier human, a healthier friend, a healthier family member, and to help us in partnership with God's spirit to bring more goodness, more kindness, more compassion, and more wisdom into our relationships and into this world, which is in such desperate need for that. We're bringing it into the world through doing this work of naming, framing, and braving healthier paths together.

At its simplest form, gossip is the exchange of information about the personality traits, the character, or the behaviors of someone who is not present in the conversation. So when we use the phrase “talking behind somebody's back”, that's a very clear picture of what gossip is. 

It's simply talking about another person when they're not present. They're not there to engage in the conversation with you. Now, when I give you that very simple definition of gossip, talking about someone else when they're not present, I bet every single one of you listening, whether you're driving or at home or at work is saying, yeah, I've done that.

I've done that. I've talked about someone with another person when that third person wasn't present. It's so common. I think that two-thirds estimate is probably fairly low. We do this all the time. Parents talk about their children when their children aren't present. Siblings talk about their parents when their parents aren't present. Friends talk about another friend when their friend isn't present. Friends talk about their family members with their friends when that family member isn't present. 

We can get very literal about that description and see it everywhere. You begin to see why I'm labeling this as a gray area, because immediately we begin to recognize in ourselves those instances when we are talking about another person in the absence of that person. We're trying to do that in a constructive way.

I want to mention what the Bible has to say about gossip, because it's an important backdrop for so many of us as we try to develop our moral compass around the topic. The Bible addresses the topic of gossip in numerous locations. We see it in the Proverbs, for example, Proverbs 11:13, “a gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret”. So we get at this component of how important it is to be people who are trustworthy, who do not betray the secrets that our loved ones share with us.

We see another example in Proverbs 16:28, “a perverse person stirs up conflict and a gossip separates close friends”. So again, we get this idea that someone who is gossiping is trying to separate people, is trying to stir up conflict and chaos.

On the other hand, we get another picture of what happens when we're not gossiping in Proverbs 26:20– “Without wood, a fire goes out; without gossip, a quarrel dies down”. So there's this image of gossip being the kindling that fuels and stokes the fire of quarrels and conflict that keeps it going, as opposed to being the opposite, which is someone who works to reduce the flames of chaos, reduce the flames of conflict. 

We want to remove the wood from that fire. But, you can already tell as I'm saying this, that it gets tricky. Because I can already feel the questions forming in my own mind. Okay. Let's say I'm in a conflict with Bob over there. I don't want to stoke the fires of that conflict. That's not my goal. I do want to reach a resolution of that conflict. 

But on the other hand, if I simply refuse to talk about what I'm feeling about that person, I'm also at risk of never solving the problem–of stuffing or sidelining or numbing those emotions that I'm feeling because I'm struggling. I'm struggling with this person. Yes, I do not want to stoke the fires of that conflict, but I also, in order to solve or resolve or arrive at a better solution, I do need to figure out and get to the root of the struggle that I'm having. 

Again, this is why there's a gray area. When is it appropriate to go outside of this relationship that I have with this person or to divulge the secret information that I'm carrying about this person that is really troubling me? I don't want to hurt them. I don't want to do something damaging but I need help. I need wisdom. I need to be discerning. I need advice. 

How do I go about that constructively? So we already see some of that inner tension building up as we read through these scriptures. Then we go to James 1:26 where we have this really almost harsh admonition about our tongues and the way that the words that come out of our mouths can be used to hurt others. They're really powerful. James 1:26 says, “those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless”. 

James says the religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. Now, I love this passage because it's really saying, here's what we don't want to be doing. Here's what we do want to be doing.

We want to be people who are not slandering others and using our tongue to harm others and cause destruction and cause chaos and increase conflict. We want to be people of peace. We want to be people who are lifting up the poor, lifting up those who are hurting, caring for the most vulnerable among us, including the vulnerable parts of ourselves.

So again, here's that inner tension. We want to be people who are using our words, using our mouths in conversations with our friends, in our families, with other people for good, to encourage, to empower, to improve the lives of others. Also, what do we do when we're struggling, when we're hurting, when someone has hurt us, when we're in a situation that's complicated and we need help untangling the knots of that situation?

Again, to underscore the James passage, we see in Ephesians 4:29, another admonition that is such a beautiful aspirational admonition. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”.

Okay. So there's some very clear guidelines there of the kind of people we want to be. We want to be people who are really careful about what we talk about and what the impact is of those words that we use. So this is the backdrop that I'm going to drop into this conversation about gossip.

We want to be people who are using our words to uplift, to empower, to create more goodness, to create more wholeness in ourselves and in the lives of other people. That's the backdrop. We do not want to be people who are stoking the flames of conflict, of hatred, of malice, of controversy, of slander. We do not want to be people who are sowing the seeds of division and destruction through our words. 

This is a really important value for so many of us. It's why I love this podcast every week, because I know those of you who are listening, who are people wanting to live as fruit-bearing, goodness-bearing people in this world, we're trying to do that. Also, we find ourselves in complicated situations where we need to confer with other people in our lives about how to best navigate challenging relational situations.

I want to turn now to some of the research in social psychology that has exposed the more constructive side to gossip. I think it's important in the interest of framing this conversation about gossip because most people do it. Why are we doing it? What is the motivation behind it? 

According to research and social psychology, there are about six distinct motives that underlie gossip behavior. I want to walk through these with you. As you listen to them, I want you to think about them, honestly, inside your own soul. Which ones resonate with you? Yeah, I think that's why I do it. Or I think that might be underneath it for me. 

Notice that again, without shame, as part of naming and framing your own relationship with gossip. What is the underlying motivation for you? So number one, the first motivation that was found to be the most common is information exchange. 

We gossip about other people to validate our own perceptions about other people, and to gather information. So at its most basic form, gossip can be a form of information gathering. For example, I am starting to make a new friend, I'm going to make up names here, so these are not real people, but let's say for example, I'm starting to make friends with a woman named Joan, who I don't know very well.

I don't know if I can trust her. I'm not sure how intimate to get with her. so I go to another friend who knows her very well. Maybe we're part of the same community, maybe we're part of the same neighborhood, maybe we're part of the same church group. I say, hey, what do you think about Joan? Do you trust her? Do you think she's a good person? What's your impression of her? 

Suddenly I'm in a conversation with a mutual friend about Joan, and Joan is not present. My primary motivation is to gather information. I'm trying to understand my own perceptions and I'm trying to get more information. So this is one motivation for why we might talk about somebody else when they're not present. 

It might happen in a family. Maybe you and your siblings are talking about a parent or another sibling. What's going on with dad this week? He's been so grouchy. Has he been mad at you too? You're trying to gather information. Is it me? Is he on my case? Is he in a bad mood? Is something else going on? What's happening? So you're trying to gather information. That's the number one most common motivation that we gossip about other people when they're not there.

Number two is social bonding. It's a way to strengthen bonds within a group. If I share information with you about someone else, I might feel like I'm providing added value. I know things that you don't know. I have information that you might want. It's a way to establish my importance in a group.

So for example, I might say, did you hear the news about so and so? Can you believe that this person did this thing? I'm bonding with you by letting you know, I know information that you might want to know. If I give you this information, I will be valuable.

A third motivation is emotional catharsis. We need a place to vent sometimes. For example, if you're struggling, maybe you care for somebody in your family or maybe you have a friend or a family member that you really love and that's really important to you, and sometimes there are really hard things about loving this person.

Most of us have been in a situation like that. Every once in a while you need to vent. You need to tell someone you trust about what's hard about being in a relationship with this third person when they're not there. Now, there's a really important distinction between venting and dumping.

Venting is when you're sharing frustrations with someone you trust with the goal of reducing your own stress. It's like one of those Instant Pot pressure cookers. Sometimes the pressure is building and building inside of you and you need to release the valve and let some of that steam off so that you can re-enter the relationship from a healthier place.

This is a really fine line. Talk about nuanced, because venting, if not done appropriately and in a healthy context, can actually become toxic and it can keep us from working through conflicts that actually need us to work through them directly with the other person.

On the other hand, there are situations where sometimes we need to vent. For example, when you're parenting, or in marriage, or sometimes taking care of an elderly parent, it can be helpful to release some of that excess frustration to someone else so that again, you can be empowered to go back into that relationship from a healthier place.

So again, when you're venting, you're really intentional about what you share. You're not trying to throw that person under the bus. You're primarily venting about your own experience, your own emotions about that person, and you're very mindful that's what you're doing.

It's really wise to ask for permission. Hey, I am dealing with some frustration. This is really hard. Can I share with you some of what I'm dealing with in the context of this other relationship? You're asking for permission from the person. You've got an express purpose and there's a boundary.

I'm going to do this for this amount of time, and then my goal is to be able to reenter that relationship and work through it directly. So this isn't going to be chronic. This isn't going to be habitual. I'm not going to constantly complain about this person without boundaries around that. That's venting. 

Dumping is unloading emotional baggage on another person without any regard for the other person or for the person about whom you're dumping. You're maybe complaining incessantly without really ever doing the work to fix it or figure out how to navigate a better solution. 

You're maybe oversharing about intimate personal information that doesn't need to be shared to effectively communicate about the frustration you're experiencing. You're probably not even aware of it when you're dumping. To be honest, it's become a habit or a chronic pattern of behavior where instead of dealing with a behavior directly in an effective way, you pull in an outside person. This is what often gets into triangulation. You triangulate a third person and complain to them constantly, while never really addressing it in your own relationship directly.

So again, there's a big difference between venting and dumping, but when we're venting strategically, consciously, with boundaries around it, that can be a form of gossip that allows us some emotional relief.

Number four, another motivation, and we're progressively moving toward the ones that are more damaging, this one is simply for entertainment and distraction. Gossip can sometimes serve as a pastime, a form of entertainment, where we discuss the lives of others as a form of amusement and a way to pass the time.

I remember the Anne of Green Gables books. I loved those. There were some characters in the book that you got the sense that it was their hobby. That was their pastime. They sat on the front porch and gossiped about people who walked by.

So this can be semi-benign, where we all know people who seem to know everything about everybody. That's what they do as a pastime. Maybe they're not even malicious. We see a lot of this in celebrity gossip. People want to know what's going on with what celebrity, who's dating who.

So there's an entertainment value to it. It might be a hobby, and while this may not dramatically have a negative impact on the person about whom we're gossiping, at the same time, I would think about it like any passive pastime, such as television or scrolling social media or reading, gossip magazines–what function is that serving in your life?

Is that time being taken away from other things? I put this category as a numbing category. When you think about numbing, we're trying to numb or distract ourselves and sometimes disappearing into the lives of others through gossip, celebrity gossip, or even gossiping about friends can be a distraction. It can take us out of our own problems. 

The question I would have for you is, to what extent is that dominating, to quote Mary Oliver, your “one wild and precious life”? Do you really want to fritter a lot of time away down the gossip black hole? You might want to name for yourself, wow, I do spend a lot of time gossiping about friends. I wonder what that's about. 

What am I distracting myself from? Is there another part of me that needs my attention? Maybe I'm more focused on other people's lives because I don't know how to engage with my own thoughts, goals, dreams, and hopes. Is that distracting me from real needs in my own life that need my attention? 

Again, so as with any habit or recreational activity, it may not be super harmful in small doses, and it may not be harming other people, but is it really helping you or is it keeping you from other more important things that you could be doing with that time? 

Then we move into number five, where it gets a little bit more overtly insidious, and this is the dynamic of influence and power. Engaging in gossip can be a way to manipulate. Maybe if you have information about someone else, you share that information and contaminate their own standing within a group.

You might use that information to gain power for yourself. That gets pretty toxic where someone's reputation can be ruined. We can harm somebody else's life by sharing information about their lives that is not our information to share. Another form of that is sharing information about someone else in order to make ourselves feel better. 

Maybe we share something bad that someone else did because it makes us feel better about the bad things we've done. At least it wasn't as bad as that person. This gets a little bit into social comparison. It can provide a means for us to puff ourselves up in comparison to someone else. At least I'm not like that person, at least I'm not as bad as they are. 

Did you hear how they yelled at their kids? Did you hear about how terrible their marriage is? Did you hear about how they got fired from that job? With the subtle implication and the internal motivation that at least I'm doing better than that person is. Gossip functions as a way to puff myself up and make myself feel better at the expense of someone else. 

Lastly, number six, it can really get negative and toxic if we are specifically using gossip to harm another person. At this point, yes, it's to puff myself up, but really I want to harm that other person. I want to take that other person down. My motivation is really to harm that other person. 

Now, research shows this is the least common type of motivation. Most often when we're gossiping, it's not to try to directly harm somebody, but still it's a spectrum. We don't want to go anywhere near this side of the spectrum. This is what slander is, when you start to twist the truth about someone, maybe take a story that has a grain of truth and magnify it or distort it and spread it around about someone behind their back as a way to malign their reputation.

Sometimes the word we use for this is backbiting or stabbing somebody in the back. We go behind their backs and say something mean about them with this specific purpose of undermining them, trying to get their job, trying to get their friends, maybe trying to erode attention that this other person is getting that we're jealous of.

This is where we might start to spread rumors about somebody or really malign somebody's character in a really malicious way. Again, this is an extreme form of gossip, but it does happen. If you've had this happen to you, it is incredibly painful. It's incredibly damaging. It's incredibly toxic, and it's really destructive and something we don't want to be anywhere near in our lives. Nor do we want to be engaging with folks who are using the strategy to harm somebody else.

So again, these are six motivations for gossip. So it's really important to search your own soul. Ask yourself, why do I do this? What do I get from it? What purpose is it serving? Where is there some constructive and beneficial value? Where is this getting toxic? 

Not only maybe for the other person, but also for me, because if it's not good for someone else, it's also not good for my own soul. So really to do that personal soul searching, number one, but then number two, to think about the effect of that on the other person. There's a reason why we want to be really careful about talking about someone when they're not present. 

Imagine a world with me, for a moment, where your friend group, your church group, your neighborhood, your community, where everybody really had everybody else's best interests at heart, genuinely. The bottom line is, I know that if people are talking about me, it is out of love. It is out of a place of love. They love me. They're for me and any conversation that has had when I'm not there is in the service of that love.

To close today, I want to talk about how to name, frame, and brave gossip in your own life. So the very first step is always to name it without shame. I noticed that I'm so tempted to gossip about that other person. Or I notice that in my friend group or in my small group or even in my family, we tend to talk a lot about other people.

I've noticed it. It makes me a little uncomfortable. I'm not sure what to do about it. I try to pretend like it's okay, but really it's bothering me. All right. So the very first step is to name it without shame. Notice: what do I feel like when it's happening around me? What do I feel like when I'm doing it? 

Pay attention to those cues. What are the situations that trigger it? When am I most inclined to indulge in it? Is it after being on social media? Is it within a certain friend group? Again, naming without shame. We're not jumping to try to fix something. We're trying to notice and name without shame. 

Number two, frame it. Think about those different motivations that we talked about and reflect on it in yourself honestly, in partnership with God's spirit. You might ask yourself, do I do it because I'm trying to get information? I'm trying to assess somebody's character. I'm trying to understand how to interpret this other person's behavior. That's valuable to me. I want to be able to exchange information. I want to do that in a healthy way, or do I do it for social bonding?

Do I do it because it makes me feel closer to certain people? it's not all bad, but I want to watch it to make sure that it doesn't get unhealthy, or am I doing it as a way of venting? I have a couple of really hard relationships that are hard for me to navigate. Yes, I noticed that I tend to vent about these relationships, and if that's the case, how often am I doing it? 

Am I aware that I'm doing it? Is it a habit that isn't really yielding fruit or am I trying to rely on other people constructively to help me carry a heavy burden? If I'm doing that, is the other person okay with that? Maybe I need to check in with that other person?

Moving into those latter three, am I doing it as a form of entertainment and distraction? It's easier, frankly, to have conversations about other people than it is to get real about my own life, or to ask real questions about my friends or my family members. If that's the case, then maybe there's going to be a different braving step to take to pivot away from gossip as a distraction or even as a form of idle entertainment and move toward other shared activities that actually help me develop the intimacy and the sense of connection that I crave. 

Number five, am I doing it to gain power or control or to manipulate other people? Or am I in groups where I notice that my friends or the other people around me trade in gossip to exert their power, to try to show their superiority, to try to maybe malign people behind their backs?

I noticed that I don't like how those friends or how those work colleagues talk about other people behind their back, but I don't know what to do about it.  I haven't known how to get myself out of those situations. 

Again, name and frame without shame. You're getting honest with yourself about how gossip shows up in your life. Then lastly, am I around people who are maligning other people in an effort to harm them? I don't like it and it makes me uncomfortable, but I don't know what to do about it. 

Or am I ever tempted to do that? Someone's really hurt me and I don't like this person and I'm going to start spreading stories about them. If that's your motivation and you can name that honestly, good for you. That's the first step toward change. 

I'm going to be honest with you. When I name and frame gossip in my own life, it almost always falls into those first three categories. I'm trying to bond with someone, I need to vent, or I'm genuinely trying to get information so that I can be more discerning. It's been so freeing to me to recognize if I can put it in one of those three buckets, I can figure out how to have conversations with the third party in a constructive way, and then I've worked through some of that dissonance in my own life.

Here are some braving steps you can take based on how you framed the role of gossip in your life and in your friendship groups.

Number one, according to the BRAVE acronym that I set out in chapter four of I Shouldn't Feel This Way, boundaries. What are your boundaries around gossip? Here are some examples of realistic boundaries you might consider setting.

Think about the boundaries within your family. What norms have you cultivated in your immediate nuclear family? For example, maybe in your family there is a norm and you even state it transparently in a family meeting. Listen, Sometimes your dad and I talk about you kids when you're not around because we're trying to understand you better. When we talk about you and what's going on in your life and with school and we don't keep secrets from each other, it helps us be better parents for you. It's for your good and for the good of the family. Likewise, sometimes you and your siblings might talk about us. We might do things that annoy you and when you're together, you might talk about us.

What we would ask for you to do as siblings to support each other is, if you're sharing things with each other, to encourage each other, to come to us directly, to help us have more transparent conversation because we have blind spots. Sometimes we don't get it right. Sometimes when you go to your siblings and you guys talk about what happened, they might be able to help you come to us more transparently so that we can approach something we're not doing right. You begin to have conversations about what it looks like to rely on other people to help improve the relational conflict that we're actually having with another family member. 

You might have norms within a friend group. We've got an upcoming interview coming up where a group of women who are in a small group talk about the norms they set with each other about talking about other members of the small group behind their backs. It has to do with consent and norms, and it's for the constructive benefit of the other group members. 

So for example, if we're talking about another friend, because we're trying to understand that friend, we're trying to figure out how to help that friend, or I've got a blind spot about that friend. The goal of going to that third party who's not in the immediate situation is, I need to understand this better. So would you help me so that I can grow wiser? What do you think is going on? 

It's from a place of love. We're trying to arrive together deeper layers of truth. If that friend were to catch you in the act of having that conversation, would she be surprised? Would she be hurt? Or would she say, I get it. I know that you're trying to love me better.

You also want to set boundaries with your own self. Sometimes our motivations slip and we're like, I really want to pray for that person, but really, I want to tell you everything that happened. We know our motivations. We have to check that. If you need to vent, if you need to gather information about somebody you're trying to understand, is this someone I can trust? Do you see this the way I'm seeing it?

Be clear to name that when you go to the third party. Listen, I'd like to have a conversation with you about this. Number one, do I have your consent? Are you on board with having this conversation with me? Because I don't want to pull you into it if you don't want to be a part of it. 

Number two, state your goal. I'm looking for wisdom. I'm looking for action steps I can take and I need some help either through venting to you some of the emotions that I'm feeling so that I can get greater clarity, or through getting some information or some perspective from you to help me approach the situation better.

You're always bringing the accountability back to yourself. Would you be willing to help me? I will be the one who will then take action based on this conversation. This conversation will be over after that. Meaning there's a beginning and an ending to it. This is not idle gossip or idle chatter that we'll keep coming back to. So you put boundaries around that conversation.

The other thing you can do when it comes to braving steps around reducing gossip is to expand your range and learn about how to have direct conversations with people. Sometimes I think we don't know how to go to somebody and say, listen, I'm struggling in this relationship right now. So the easier thing to do is to talk about it behind their back with someone else. You might want to work on: how do I communicate more directly with people? 

You might work on a norm of transparent communication, especially in families, especially in friend groups. Some of us who are more inclined to be people pleasers, we tend to tailor how we show up based on who's in the room. But the more you work on being your true self, the more you work on being authentic, the more you work on being transparent and you expand that range of authenticity, the more you can show up the same, no matter who's in the room.

Number three, you might need to brave assertiveness skills to speak up when folks are gossiping in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. Now, listen, sometimes folks are toxic. As we know from past podcast episodes, if someone is toxic, maybe the bravest, most assertive thing you can do is simply excuse yourself and get up and leave. Excuse yourself from the conversation.

Please excuse me. That's a full sentence. Please excuse me. I have to go now. You don't have to tell them why, especially if you sense that there's a toxic situation that could have some backlash for you. You can simply excuse yourself. That's quite assertive. Sometimes, you might need to speak up. 

Here's some examples of things you could say to a friend or a family member. They're really practical. You might say, listen, I want to be here for you, but I'm not comfortable hearing all of the details about that other person. Could you share with me broadly what you're struggling with so I understand enough to help you, but I don't feel like I'm getting information from you that's not mine to have? 

Another norm you can set either for yourself or with someone else is say, Can you share with me the situation you're struggling with, without telling me who the person is? That's a great thing to challenge yourself on. I want to share with you something that happened to me without identifying the specific person involved, or I want to share with you some emotions I'm struggling with in a relationship without identifying the specific person involved, because then I'm getting the help I need without gossiping about someone else. 

So those are examples of assertiveness skills that you might need to learn. If you're in friend groups where there's a lot of gossiping, again, sometimes it's excusing yourself, letting your behavior do the work for you. Sometimes it's speaking up and saying, hey, could we work on some different norms here? 

If you're someone who resorts to gossip or resorts to reading about or talking about other people as a pastime, or it's become a part of the way that you bond with your friend group or within your family, what are some other things you could do?

What are some other hobbies you could pick up? Are there games you could play? Could you go on a hike? Are there fun activities that would bring you joy and meaning and purpose together, not talking about other people? Sometimes I think it's a habit we get into and we need to gently remind ourselves, Oh, let's brave something more life-giving that we can do together.

Finally, sometimes you have to change your environment. You might have to shift away from people who cannot stop bringing up other people when those people aren't around for no good reason. You might have to shift away from people who try to pull information out of you. You might have to shift away from family gatherings. 

Maybe you go for an abbreviated amount of time. Maybe you excuse yourself early because it's so focused on criticizing or demeaning or talking about other people. Maybe it's a church group or a small group. Now, listen, here's the thing about shifting away from a certain environment.

Is it possible that they'll potentially talk behind your back once you take that brave step to leave? Absolutely. They probably already are. People who are in the habit of constantly talking about other people aren't going to make an exception for you.

But again, you're moving forward on your path toward wholeness. You're moving forward to different kinds of people where you're going to have shared activities, where you're going to have shared vitality, where you're going to only talk about other people insofar as it's ethical, edifying, and helping you be a better, healthier, more whole person. So who cares if there's some idle chatter behind your back? You've left that behind. You're on your path to a better, braver future.

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