Loose lips

Loose lips

Take responsibility for hurtful GOSSIP

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 10/03/2013

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Dear Patti,
I feel really ashamed of myself and don’t know what to do. The kids at school are talking about my cousin, Hannah, and it’s my fault. We’re both in eighth grade, real close and best friends. We haven’t been spending as much time together lately because Hannah is athletic and hangs out with the boys on her basketball team and I’m friends with a group of girls that aren’t that close to Hannah.  

Hannah trusted me with some very private information about her and a boy. I don’t know why I did it, but I was with these girls and it slipped out. I didn’t expect them to tell everybody, but they did. I didn’t want anyone to know what I did so I lied and told Hannah, my aunt and my parents that I never said anything. I think my aunt and parents believe me, but Hannah doesn’t since I’m the only person she told. I gossip sometimes but never about Hannah, until now. 

She usually acts sporty and confident at school, but she has been acting quiet and nervous. It’s all my fault. I wish I could undo it. I could tell the truth to my mom, but not my dad. He always puts family first and he’d be shocked and really disappointed that I’d gossip about my own cousin.

— Hailey

Dear Hailey,
I understand, honey, you’re in a lot of pain and truly sorry for betraying Hannah. It hurts both of you deeply that you treated her the way you did after she exclusively trusted you to keep her confidence. Sometimes we make mistakes in life and we really regret them. Part of growing up, though, is learning empathy and understanding how your actions and words make others feel. Spreading gossip may seem harmless at the time, but, as you’ve come to realize, it may negatively affect someone’s life. Reclaim your dignity by choosing to stop gossiping from this point forward. Like everyone — but especially at your age — you’re learning life lessons; as long as you learn from this incident and are willing to change your destructive behavior, it’s time to own up to this misstep and forgive yourself.  

Let’s consider psychological possibilities as to why you were gossiping about Hannah. Did you think that sharing her secrets would impress the other girls and make you seem more interesting or intriguing? Were you craving their attention or seeking their acceptance? Could you be angry or annoyed with Hannah and using gossip as a way to “get back” at her? Do you have trouble confronting her or others directly? Are you jealous of your cousin and using gossip to devalue her? Are there low self-esteem issues that cause you to put others down as a way to build yourself up? Do you gossip about others in order to feel good about yourself? Do you have a habit of speaking before you think? Do you lack an internal filter which may result in divulging information about others whether you intend to or not? Is it possible you were spreading information about Hannah because you were concerned or fearful or frustrated because she was behaving badly? Studies have shown that heart rates increase when people witness someone acting irresponsibly but slow down when they’re able to tell someone.
While it may seem impossibly difficult to talk to anyone about this, maybe you could start by telling your mom. Sometimes not having anyone to talk to can make you feel even more isolated, alone and self-critical. If you decide to talk to your dad, open up to him. Express how sorry and remorseful you are. There was probably a time in his own life when he made a regretful mistake. You might want to ask for his guidance in how he handled it. 

If you admit the truth to Hannah, acknowledge the devastating damage you caused. Even though you can never take it back or fix it, let her know you take full responsibility and have learned your lesson. Be straightforward and honest. Explain that you understand your gossip has compromised your relationship with her and that there are consequences to your action. Allow Hannah to respond back, unload if necessary and react in her own way. Just listen to her. Give her space if she needs it. Let her know you’re willing to support and stand by her and focus on helping her heal. 

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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