I’m struggling with the nuance between needing to process about a friend, gossiping and simply relaying necessary information. What’s the difference? Do you have any “in the moment” strategies for fighting the urge to share other people’s stories?
I had a friend discharge a lot of stress on me a few weeks back, including some sensitive information about her son. I am finding it difficult to hold this information in the vault with my two closest friends. Actually, if I’m being honest…I’ve already told them.
Why is this so hard for me? I hold this line all the time where my clients are concerned. I want to be a better role model for my daughter, but I don’t know how else to respond or how to pivot in the conversation in the moment.
– Keeper of the Secrets
This is such an honest and important question. I can relate, too—I used to struggle with this myself. For some reason (I suspect age) it’s getting a bit easier. I hope I can be helpful by sharing a bit more about how I’ve learned to process my own urge to gossip.
Two things up front: first, lots of women struggle with this, and with good reason. In girlhood, we learned that secret telling was a gateway to social status and friends. Sharing secrets was often a matter of social survival, because what you knew could help you avoid conflict, or have one to clear your name. It’s a habit many of us acquired as part of our socialization as girls, so it will naturally take reflection, time and effort to modify our behavior.
Second, it’s important to note that you’re already practicing strict confidentiality with your clients. That takes a lot of energy and intention—it’s a “calorie burner,” as I call it. You can’t discount the toll that can take in terms of creating fatigue when it comes to holding the secrets of your friends.
The first thing I suggest you consider is what I have tried to do myself in this space, which is to ask myself the kind of friend I want others to see me as.
To practice this, reflect on how it feels when you watch a friend violate someone else’s confidentiality. Does it ever make you question whether that friend is trustworthy?
Have you ever suddenly realized that maybe you shouldn’t trust this friend with your secrets because you now see they aren’t reliable? Now ask yourself: When I share others’ secrets, am I sending this same message?
(By the way, if you find yourself thinking about your secret-telling friend, “Well, she wouldn’t tell my secrets. She just does that to other people she’s not as close with,” I have some bad news. This is almost never true.)
Second, spend some time reflecting on why you share this information. I hear that you feel you’re unburdening yourself from the stress someone else kicked your way, but are there any other benefits coming to you here?
For me, a lot of my gossiping was about wanting to be closer to people—to have them see me as more valuable or interesting because of what I knew. With reflection, I have come to believe that I am more attractive to myself when I am someone who can be trusted with confidences. Giving away other people’s information may have won me a short-term rush of connection, but it came at the expense of my integrity.
I don’t always get it right, but reflecting on the choice has helped me make different decisions in the moment. It all comes down to making a choice about the kind of person and friend we want to be.
I hope this helps.