Written by Amber Fuller, LMFT, Clinic Director, and owner of Fuller Living
Growing up, I remember hearing a story that an old friend told me about an experience he had within a friend group that he was in. I was about 14 years old when I heard the story and watch it all unfold. This friend of mine in particular was a new kid at the school I was going too. He was incredibly wounded and hurt but also very positive and forgiving.The story went something like this...
”So, I was sitting at the lunch table, and all of a sudden, Joe Schmoe came up to me and said to me, ‘I knew it. I knew that you were the type to steal a person’s girlfriend’ and then he proceeded to announce to the whole school lunch room very loudly that I was a ‘girlfriend stealer’ and that the guys better watch out for me. I was humiliated. This happened because Jan Doe was sitting with me at the lunch table. She was really upset because she had failed her math test and the teacher told her I was good at math so she came up to me in the lunch room, asked if she could sit down with me, and asked me if I would teach her some math. I was elated just to have some company to sit with because it was my first week in a new school and I was eating lunch alone. I have all sorts of triggers, even at this age, when it comes to walking into a new group of people. I do it, I take a deep breath, walk in a room, and smile, but sometimes, it’s hard because it takes me back to that one time when I Was 14 at that new school. I was only trying to be a nice guy. That’s it. It’s amazing to me how somebody, somewhere, started a rumor and was gossiping about me and told Joe Schmoe that I was a ‘girlfriend stealer’. It was almost like he had convinced himself that I was this terrible person and there was nothing I could do to convince him otherwise. He had his mind made about me and the moment he ‘thought’ something was going on that would validate the gossip he had heard, he jumped on it. I make sure to highlight every time I tell this story that not only was I not doing anything wrong, but I was actually trying to help somebody, and I have absolutely no idea why people were convinced I Was a ‘girlfriend stealer’. When I Was 14 I didn’t even really like girls. My parents told me I couldn’t date until I was 16 so I kind of put them on the back burner so that I could stay out of trouble.”
This story has always stuck out to me. I remember the vivid details of it and there are SO MANY life lessons. Life lessons like, don’t gossip about others because it hurts the one being gossiped about, and it ALSO hurts the LISTENER. Life lessons like the irony when a person is only trying to do good. The life lesson of not making assumptions about people. The life lesson of healthy ways to handle conflict. The life lesson that I’m trying to tackle in this blog of how when we create a “monster” in our head, our brain will go to great lengths to convince us that what we believe is true, when in all reality, it’s typically that the opposite of what we are believing is true. Do you know what I found out later on, when I was, I think, 17 or 18...I found out that Joe Schmoe had cheated on every girlfriend he ever had and that he was cheating with girls that had boyfriends. Oh the irony. There’s the life lesson of projection...believing that others are doing the same things we do.
Did you know that these negative thoughts you have about other people can actually lead to a chemical being released in your body that causes your blood pressure to elevate thus potentially causing heart issues. Not only does it hurt you mentally when you create monsters in your head, but it also can hurt you physically. If that’s not incentive enough to try to create positive thoughts about others, I don’t know what is. If you’re having negative thoughts about the guy on the road who cut you off, he will carry on his merry way, never batting an eye, while you give yourself a heart attack. Nobody wants this, so what do we do about it?
Unfortunately, we live in a society that thrives off of gossip. Without realizing the negative impact that gossip can have on others, people literally spend their whole work day doing it. I wonder sometimes if people gossip because they enjoy the “high” that they feel while doing it. I believe that when people gossip, it is a reflection of what they themselves have an issue with, rather than the one they are gossiping about. There are easy targets as well for gossip. Have you ever noticed that those that are gossiped about are typically the people that probably aren’t going to fight back? They may be the meek and mild ones that don’t like conflict...so the gossiper gets away with their dirty antics while the person being gossiped about silently suffers. It’s really plain and simple. Just don’t do it. If you have a problem with somebody, go directly to them. Not their wife, not their mother, not their best friend, not their pastor...to THEM. Bring your problem to them. With an open mind. Let them tell you their story and the truth of who they are. But also, if the problem that you have with them doesn’t even effect you or have anything to do with you, then mind your own business and drop it. Doing anything else really doesn’t make very much sense. Lastly, did you know that if you personally are the one who has the problem with gossiping you are setting the scene for there to be problems with the “listener” and the one being gossiped about? You are already helping the listener create a monster in their head before they’ve ever even had a chance to get to know the person being gossiped about. It’s messy. Just don’t do it.
Creating Angels In Your Head
When I find myself having negative thoughts about other people, the first thing that I start to do is create positive arguments to my negative argument. I assume the best of them and I try to come at the negative thought with a piece of understanding. When I do this, I find that I’m leaving room for the person to show me their positive character. Being an INTJ (www.16personalities.com),I’ve found that when I am meeting new people or watching people from afar, I’m able to consider every reason why a person would be doing what they are doing, and although this can be overwhelming and exhausting at times, it also allows for me to leave a little room to understand why people do what they do. I consider every single angle. I could definitely improve with this skill, but I also really like this skill. It leaves room for me to create angels in my head rather than monsters. It creates a lightness rather than a heaviness. I promise you, it is easier to assume the best about people rather than the worst.
I know that this blog is kind of...weird, but I think I would sum it all up by saying:
1. Just don’t gossip. It hurts everybody including you!
2. Handle conflict by going to the person directly rather than around the person.
3. Assume the best of people. We all have a story and a reason for doing what we do. Usually when we are assuming the worst there are 3 fingers pointing back at us and the other person is actually the opposite.
If you’re struggling with gossip, struggling because you have been gossiped about, or struggling because you find yourself in the middle of gossip expected to be the peace maker, we get that all of these can be anxiety provoking and we would love to help.