5 Sneaky Ways Gossip Can Ruin Your Life

When you type “gossip is bad quotes” into your search bar, get ready to be flooded with phrases and sayings that go on and on about how gossip is for fools, stops in the ears of the wise, and brings out the worst in all of us. You may even see the classic “sticks and stones” adage, reminding us that words can do just as much damage as physical harm. On the other hand, if you turn to Netflix, almost every show from Riverdale to Never Have I Ever boasts plot lines that hinge on gossip making or breaking a character’s reputation. They’re even rebooting Gossip Girl, which is a show that, for all its lovely charm, essentially glorifies the practice of spreading rumors and private information. So, what are we supposed to think? Is gossip really that bad, or is it a useful tool? Should we engage in it, or shouldn’t we? Is it every man for himself out there, or should we be more mindful of how we use our words in both public and private settings?

What to Know About Dealing with Gossip?

It Depends on What You Mean by Gossip

The answer to whether or not you should worry about gossip really depends on what kind of gossip you’re talking about. While gossip has the stigma of being bad or mean, some definitions include any instance of talking about a person who is not currently present. That would mean you’re gossiping when you say “she’s at work” when someone asks where your friend is. But that’s just a simple exchange of information, and for that reason, there are arguments that say, “not all gossip is bad.” Some types of gossip are considered to be neutral, or even positive, when the information exchanged is a) true, b) kind, and c) necessary. But true, kind, and necessary are not the words that come immediately to mind when we think about gossip, are they? 

The Slippery Slope of Gossip

Assuming that, for the purposes of this article, our version of gossip is not the nice kind, there are plenty of sources out there that make it clear how harmful it can be. Whether you’re after the thrill of a juicy piece of news because you’re bored or you’re sharing that pic you promised you’d delete, engaging in gossip can be dangerous. Both the victim/subject of the gossip and the person(s) spreading it stands to suffer, even as the internet has found ways to make us feel less likely to get caught.

Downsides to Gossip That Might Surprise You

1. Gossip is actually bad for your health. How? Those involved in gossiping, either as the victim or the aggressor, are at a higher risk of anxiety, depression, and exhaustion. Parties on both sides of the gossip have increased chances of dealing with clinical depression, PTSD, panic attacks, guilt, and even self-harm.

2. Gossiping can wreck your self-image. It’s a matter of integrity. Would you trust someone who talks badly about you and your friends behind your backs? Probably not, and while you may have convinced yourself that it’s different when you do it, you can’t hide from your own actions forever. Deep down you know that spreading private or negative information about people makes you untrustworthy too. Sooner or later, guilt and doubt will creep in, and you’ll wonder whether you can even trust yourself. Is this who you want to be?

3. Gossip creates both false division and false connection. Gossip can be entertaining, and because of that it’s often something we turn to when we’re chatting with our friends. It’s a form of social bonding to sit around and share stories about others, but when those stories are hurtful and met with ridicule, what kind of bonding are you really doing? Gossip creates an “Us vs. Them” mentality, pitting you and the other gossipers against the person you’re talking about. This feels great in the moment, because you have someone on your team. In the end, though, how deep does your friendship really go if it’s based on ridiculing others? How quickly could the tables turn, leaving you on the other side of “Us vs. Them”? Would it be fair to you? Is it, then, fair to the person you’re using to find a connection with friends? Does either the “us” or the “them” in this scenario really exist, or did sharing the gossip just create that idea?

4. Gossiping gives you a false sense of power. It feels cool to know a secret. It sets you apart from the people who don’t have what you have. It makes you feel special. Then, sharing that secret is like telling everyone just how “in the know” you are. It’s thrilling! There’s just one problem: it was never your secret. Sharing it may have gotten your attention, but it didn't give you power. All it did was disempower the person who should’ve had the right to decide whether or not to share the information you spread. On top of that, it showed all your friends that you can’t be trusted. Was that piece of gossip worth the loss of your reputation?

5. Gossiping can be an addiction. Yes! In a world where addictions run rampant, from alcohol to digital, gossiping has joined the list of things research shows we can be addicted to. We all gossip from time to time. It’s in our nature, and none of us are perfect. If, however, you find yourself gossiping constantly, from the moment you wake up and check Facebook to the last text you send your BFF at night, you may have an addiction that requires treatment.

True, Kind, Necessary

I’ll close with a story. When I was in the 8th grade, I was cast in the chorus of the middle school play as a townsperson in Tom Sawyer. It wasn’t a big deal because we were all cast as townspeople… if you auditioned, you got in! But I was proud, and fancied myself an aspiring actress, so I took it very seriously. When a pal of mine was assigned a single line of dialogue during a group scene, I was jealous and began critiquing her work to my closest friend. One day I shared my criticism just a little too loudly, and this pal overheard that I thought I could deliver the line better than she could. She was so upset that our director noticed, and we were given a stern lecture on talking behind each other’s backs. Miss Holly looked me dead in the eye and told me I needed to ask three questions before I spoke from then on: Is what I’m about to say true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? I never got in trouble as a kid, so this incident had a huge impact, and as I’ve grown up, I come back to it over and over again.

I find myself asking these questions every day now, but not just of my own words. When I notice that familiar thrill of entertainment at hearing a juicy piece of news, I’m automatically suspicious. Is this second-hand story true, kind, or necessary? It makes me want to stop and take a breath. We live in a world swimming with lies, rumors, and cruelty, so it’s crucial to cling to what’s true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and excellent, rather than join in the fray even when gossiping seems like the easiest way to feel better.

 If you’re struggling with an addiction to gossiping, or if you’ve been the victim of gossip, you’re not alone. Reach out to TheHopeLine today, and we’ll connect you with resources that can help you heal from the guilt and shame of gossip.

The danger of gossip is that it steals another person's reputation. When you gossip, you are helping to destroy someone's reputation. Click here for more on the dangers of gossip.

-Cara Beth

Cara Beth Graebner
Cara Beth Graebner is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago, Illinois. With a degree in creative writing from the College of Charleston and a Master of Fine Arts in Playwriting from Western Michigan University, she's been living by her pen for many years. She loves the way words come together to bring light into dark places, which is the goal of every piece she writes for TheHopeLine and other clients. When she's not writing, she's probably snuggling her 2-year-old pup, reading a book, or gardening.
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