Is Gossip Good For Your Mental Health?
By Kacie Mitterando, LMSW
Is gossip good or bad? Good news… most things are normally not all good or all bad. So, for those who thrive in the break room gossip circle on lunch and the others who silently judge the ones (or themselves) who do so, there may be a balance here that helps all of us come to a better place mentally.
Here’s a conflicting statistic:
In a study of over 1,500 employed adults, when asked to name their biggest pet peeves at work, over 60% of the answers cited gossip as the number one. On the other hand, experts in the field of relationships estimated that up to 80% of our conversations involve talking about other people (1).
These two examples show that while we all talk about others frequently, it upsets us to be involved, or around, what we consider gossip. Gossip can be broken down into three different categories – positive gossip, neutral gossip and negative gossip. Positive gossip may involve flattering comments towards someone else’s appearance or attitude, whereas neutral gossip is often observations about someone that is not positive or negative. On the other hand, negative gossip often entails malicious statements that could, or could not be, true (2).
Ways gossip can be good:
Bonding - Sometimes gossip can be a form of connecting with those around you and as a result, can even release “feel-good” hormones like serotonin. As social creatures our brains are actually wired towards gossip, as in prehistoric times, gossip could help us understand who’s trustworthy and who might help us survive.
Empathy - Sharing experiences of hurt by another with someone close to you can help lessen the difficult emotions you may be experiencing and reduce the burden of shame. It also can help to inform someone of a dangerous person, or environment they could potentially become a part of.
Problem Solving - By discussing a tough situation a friend is in with concern about this friend, you and another might brainstorm a way to offer guidance, or support your friend who’s in a bad situation. Additionally, sharing struggles within a social, or work setting, with someone close to you might offer a new perspective you needed to accomplish the upcoming workweek.
When does this talk become unhealthy?
Group Mentality - Gossiping can lead to a “group-like mentality.” This mentality can become problematic when a group starts making decisions or stating things due to the pressure of the group, rather than honoring one’s true opinions or behaviors. This mentality can also cause a “them” vs. “us” dynamic, excluding those around you.
Judgment - When gossiping surrounds the judgment of those around you, judgment can begin to seep into other areas of your life. In fact, the more we scrutinize others, the more we begin to scrutinize ourselves as well.
Defense Mechanism - When we gossip, we lay the foundation for others to be inferior to us. By doing so, we often project our own shortcomings onto others or, we temporarily mask how we’re feeling about ourselves. As a result, we might feel better for a bit, however, this often ignores the real problem at hand.
Gossip can be a form of resistance to violence or it can be a behavior that hurts those around us. With that said, it’s not an easy habit to change. If you want to be more aware of the way you’re gossiping and how it might be impacting you and those around you, take a look at some of the questions to ask yourself when you find yourself gossiping below:
Is this information truthful?
What is this doing for me right now?
Why am I talking about this?
How do I feel having this conversation? Do I feel safe or less safe?
5 Benefits of Gossip (Even Negative Gossip). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/one-true-thing/201506/5-benefits-gossip-even-negative-gossip
The Truth About Gossip. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/social-instincts/201905/the-truth-about-gossip
The Toxicity of Gossip. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/working-through-shame/201907/the-toxicity-gossip