I’m sure you would agree that finding out about the latest celebrity drama and sharing it with a friend or a coworker is just part of our culture today. It may not feel like such a big deal to let a trusted friend know what you heard about that difficult mother in the PTA. Gossip can be a little exciting at first and maybe you feel a little bad afterwards but in the grand scheme of things it’s no big deal right?
What if I told you that gossip is harmful to your brain and can hurt you in the long term if it goes unchecked? Once I learned about how our brains work and how we experience life, I realized how harmful gossip is to the lives we say we want to have.
This week I’m going to discuss why we gossip, how gossip affects your brain and how to curtail it.
Why we gossip
In Twelve Step recovery programs the following statement is often read at the close of a meeting “Talk to each other, reason things out with someone else, but let there be no gossip or criticism of one another. Instead, let the understanding, love and peace of the program grow in you one day at a time”. I attended Al-Anon meetings for many years to deal with the effects of my ex-husband’s alcoholism and this closing statement read at the meetings I attended brought a peace I cannot describe.
Before attending those meetings, gossip seemed like an innocent part of life. I never considered it harmful to anyone and never meant it to be malicious. I believed it was just what women do when they get together and talk.
Gossip didn’t seem harmful when there are entire branches of the entertainment industry producing and promoting gossip. Getting caught up in the latest news about a celebrity’s life doesn’t seem so bad.
The reason we gossip is because sharing the drama of someone else’s life can give us an escape from ours. It can give us a momentary distraction and appears to create a connection with the person we are gossiping with. It makes sense that our brains would desire the slight dopamine hit we get from the excitement of gossip.
However, the peace I got from the closing statement of those Al-Anon meetings began to show me how not participating in gossip made me feel so much better. I started to see life in a more positive light. There seemed to be more things to be grateful for.
What I later learned about the detrimental effect that gossip has on your brain made me question whether it was worth the temporary excitement I got versus the long term negative effect on how I showed up in my life.
How gossip affects your brain
When you gossip you probably innocently believe you are just sharing the facts about someone else’s life. However, when you are drawn to the action of gossiping, it is because you are trying to make yourself feel better. Your brain is motivated to seek pleasure in any form and gossip gives it that momentary pleasure.
The issue is the net negative effect that gossip has on your brain. Gossip is a buffer just like overeating, overworking and overspending. It is an action taken in order to feel better in the short term without awareness of the long term negative effect.
When we engage in gossip it may feel fun in the moment but afterwards the feeling of regret can replace the feeling of fun. You may realize you aren’t being the best version of yourself. You know you aren’t showing up as the person you want to be.
The most important thing to know is that when you practice gossip you train your brain to focus on other people’s shortcomings which then creates the filter through which you experience life. This filter is called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) and its job is to filter all the external stimuli your brain processes every second of every day. The RAS only shows you what you’ve intended for it to show you. It’s basically like an executive assistant in your brain allowing you to focus on what you have decided is important.
For example – you decide you want to buy a car and have narrowed it down to a particular make, model and color. Then all of a sudden that exact car seems to be everywhere! You are shocked that you take the same route to work every day with basically the same cars and never realized how many of those desired cars are out there. That happens because your brain filtered all the other cars that weren’t desired and signaled when the desired car was in view.
The same thing happens when you habitually gossip. When you train your brain to look for negativity, that’s what it will show you; more negativity. Gossip is creating negative stories about other people which signals to the brain that that is important to you. It’s like telling your brain you like that particular car and to show you more like it.
When gossip has become a habit, your brain is looking for more things in the world that are negative because that’s the filter you’ve told it is important to you. Before you know it your brain continuously shows you what’s wrong or negative about your own life as well.
How to curtail it
When we gossip about other people, we are in effect saying that we know better than them. We are judging them and using their life’s issues as a way to feel better about our lives.
Have you ever engaged in gossip with someone and then thought afterwards “If they can talk about that person like that, I wonder what they say about me behind my back?” It’s not such a great feeling once the reality of participating in gossip sets in.
I was at a party once with a group of women I was just getting to know. They were gathered in a circle gossiping about another woman at the party. They went around making comments and when it was my turn I had nothing to say. One woman said “Come on. You must have an opinion based on what we just shared”.
In that moment I felt so torn. Do I give these women what they want or bow out of making a comment and risk damaging my new relationship with them? When gossip becomes the glue that binds relationships together, then you may want to take a look at the truth about the relationship and why you are looking to be a part of it in that way.
If some of your friendships are based on gossip then what do you do? What if the gossip happens at work? How do you change the dynamics in the relationships that have been fueled by gossip?
The most important thing is to notice how you are feeling before you participate in gossip. What is the emotion that is driving you to talk about another person?
- If you are feeling love or true concern before you talk about another person, then you are not gossiping.
- If you speak to another person in order to bounce ideas about what to do to help another person, you are not gossiping
- If you are feeling bored or annoyed or insecure before you share details about another person, you are gossiping
- If you are feeling disconnected from someone and then share some information about someone else in order to feel connected, you are most likely gossiping.
Remember that your feelings drive your actions in the Manage Your Mind Model so that is the best place to begin. When you create the awareness of what is fueling your desire to gossip, you can start to take a look at the triggers (for help with the Manage Your Mind Model get your free copy here of “5 Simple Steps To Reduce Overwhelm Today”).
Maybe you gossip more with one person or group of people than another or maybe you feel the need to gossip about one person in particular. With the awareness of the feeling that creates the desire to gossip you can begin to choose how you would like to feel instead.
By understanding the net negative effects on your life by using your RAS filtering system to show you more negativity, you can begin to take a look at the dynamics of your relationships and choose to remove gossip as a tool for connection. You may want to also consider changing the dynamics of or walking away from relationships where the connection comes solely from gossiping.
In order to show up to be the best version of yourself in all areas of your life you may want to take a look at how gossip plays a role and start finding more positive things to focus your brain’s attention on. The next time you are tempted to share something negative about someone, find one positive thing about them to share instead. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel and the ripple net positive effect it will have for you.
- The reason we gossip is because sharing the drama of someone else’s life can give us an escape from ours
- Your brain is motivated to seek pleasure in any form and gossip gives it that momentary pleasure
- You have a filter in your brain that is basically like an executive assistant allowing you to focus on what you have decided is important
- When gossip has become a habit, your brain is looking for more things in the world that are negative because that’s the filter you’ve told it is important to you
- With the awareness of the feeling that creates the desire to gossip you can begin to choose how you would like to feel instead
If you’d like some help exploring the effects of gossip in your life, please feel free to schedule a free mini session or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get to work together.