The other day my husband was teasing me about being a “complaini-pants” – and he’s right. If I notice an injustice, he’ll be the first to hear about it This got me thinking about gossip and judgement, and my impulse to always react. I am much reformed from my middle school days when gossip was a favourite pastime. Nowadays talking smack is much more likely to bring on bouts of guilt than a girly bonding session. I try to avoid it. Instead, I’m more likely to complain about a messy neighbor, inconsiderate stranger, upsetting news story or, on occasion, a friend that has behaved hurtfully. Far from soothing, sharing my judgements with others usually gets me even more riled up, and sometimes them too.
If gossip is our frenemy, the question is: Why do we do it?
The Surprisingly Fascinating History of Gossip
Anthropologists believe that gossip may have evolved as a way for our ancestors to navigate their social environments and gain important information for survival. It could have helped maintain social cohesion, prevent conflict, make decisions about whom to trust and pass down cultural knowledge. Like who is a good hunter, which families are hoarding food, and where the best berries could be found. Pretty cool, eh?
Gossip continued to be viewed positively until the the early modern period in Europe, where women were often seen as morally inferior and prone to idle chatter. Thus, women who engaged in gossip were seen as a threat to social order and morality. They were often accused of spreading lies and malicious rumors. Society believed that gossiping women were more likely to be involved in witchcraft or other morally suspect activities, rather than the sharing of useful information. Worse, accusations of witchcraft often relied on rumors and hearsay rather than concrete evidence. Today, gossip is still seen as an inherently bad and female trait, despite the fact that men engage in gossip just as frequently as women do.
The Powerful Relationship Between Gossip, Judgement & Your Shadow
If history has taught us one thing it’s that gossip can be good (helps you survive – yay!), or, more commonly today, harmful (it hurts you and others – boo). Under closer inspection, good gossip it simply the helpful sharing of useful information. Great. No problem there. It’s the harmful gossip that we need to explore.
Negative gossip, or the voicing of our judgements, may feel soothing in the moment, but any ego inflation we derive from putting other people down tends to be short lived. Aside from adding fuel to the fire as we air out our frustrations, we aren’t actually doing anything to solve our problems or address the triggers.
Negative gossip and judgement occur as an expression of our shadow or inner child being activated. Our “shadow” refers to the parts of ourselves that we suppress or deny. They are often associated with negative emotions or traits that we do not want to acknowledge. For example, being messy is often considered as lazy and wearing revealing clothing as trashy. Our “inner child” is the part of us that still feels things like we did when we were younger.
When we engage in gossip or judgment of others, it it generally because something about a person or experience has triggered an unresolved issue within ourselves. For example, we may feel jealous of someone’s success and express that jealousy by speaking negatively about them. Or we may be projecting our own insecurities or fears onto others, criticizing them for traits or behaviors that we are uncomfortable with in ourselves, although we may subconsciously desire them. In this sense, gossip and judgment are a way of deflecting attention from our own issues and insecurities, and focusing instead on the faults and shortcomings of others.
From Gossip to Guide
We don’t have to fall into old patterns. When negative gossip and judgment are brewing, we can pop on our investigator hat and use the feelings that come up as clues to understand what is going on beneath the surface. Most of the time, we aren’t actually reacting to the events unfolding in front of us, but to something in our subconscious. Think of road rage. The reaction is almost always way out of proportion to whatever happened. In fact, it had nothing to do with it.
Staying on the theme of driving, I love to complain about shitty parking jobs. You know, the kind that block a second parking spot in an already crowded parking lot. Or even an empty lot, whatever… It’s the principle! But guess what? The poor parking job so doesn’t matter. The true story underlying my brief flash of anger is a mix of “My needs don’t matter” and “I don’t get to be carefree because I need to be a considerate perfectionist to be loveable.” Holy shit, who knew that one poorly parked Tesla could bring up all that!
So back to our investigator selves. The point is to use our negative reactions to uncover the true stories underlying our judgements. Go deep, ask yourself questions. Practice getting to the root of your shadows. You can learn more about how to do this in my articles: Your Stories About Yourself Are Shaping Your Life and Rewriting Old Stories That Hold You Back.
Once we’ve unearthed the origins of our judgements, we can work on changing our old beliefs and replacing them with ones that serve us better, and in turn make us a lot happier. Plus, by recognizing and acknowledging our shadow and inner child, we also become more self-aware and less likely to engage in gossip and judgment of others. This can lead to greater empathy, compassion, and understanding for ourselves and for those around us.
Journal Prompts for Exploring Judgement & Gossip
Keep a list in your phone or a journal of any gossip, judgement or triggers that you experience in your day-to-day. Then when you have some downtime, take them through these prompts, writing down anything that comes up. Over time, you will probably start to see some patterns emerge.
- Are you placing blame, being defensive, judgmental, or triggered or making fun of someone else?
- Is it difficult to see this person or situation neutrally without an emotional reaction?
- Are you afraid something will be taken away from you by this person or situation?
- Does this experience have anything in common with people or situations you’ve dealt with in the past? What about energetically?
- When in your childhood or youth did someone or something make you feel this same way?
- Do you associate this experience with something negative? When did you learn that this was bad?
- Is your interpretation of this situation a fact? Or is it just a story you’re telling yourself? What alternative interpretations could exist?
- When you share this experience, are you getting a need met? Such as being seen, heard, accepted or soothed by others? Why is that? Is there another way you could accomplish this?
I hope this post has given you permission to view your tendency to gossip and judge in a new light. Rather than feeling ashamed of these negative thoughts, consider thanking them for helping you identify the root of your discomfort. By recognizing these behaviors as clues, you now have a starting point for doing the necessary inner work to heal your shadow. The benefits of this process include a life filled with greater acceptance, love, grace, and happiness.