If People Gossip To You, They Gossip About You


If you think that people won’t share your secrets with others, you are probably mistaken.

I can feel you instantly balking at this statement. The mere thought that your friends or family could betray your trust is confronting. This is a reasonable enough response, the idea that those closest could be talking about you disparagingly, can create an extreme level of cognitive dissonance. It is far easier to assume that if you tell someone something in confidence, it will stay that way.

But then how do secrets get out? If everyone trusts everyone, gossip would not be an issue. In fact, the concept of gossip itself would be meaningless. How many pieces of information about your extended friendship circle, colleagues and family have you heard about second hand? How many times have you been told something about someone that by rights you shouldn’t have? Sooner or later, all secrets are revealed.

It comes in many forms. “I know I shouldn’t share this but…” or “I can trust that you won’t tell anyone…” The question you need to ask yourself is this: “If I am hearing information about someone else, who is hearing information about me?”

The person telling you believes that it is okay to share it with you because they trust that you will be able to keep it a secret. Ironically, they are trusting your ability to keep a secret over their own. This process perpetuates itself over and over again until everyone knows.This concept is similar to that of sexting. As a teacher, it was my job to discuss safe sex practices both in the traditional sense as well as in the online world. I once asked a class to raise their hands if they have seen a picture of somebody that wasn’t meant to be shared. Approximately twenty of the twenty-five students admitted that they had seen multiple different pictures that were sent in private between two parties.

Their faces dropped when I suggested that if they have ever sent such pictures themselves, that there could be someone in another class raising their hand right now and thinking of them.  I pointed out that everyone sending those pictures trusted that the recipient would delete the photo or keep it to themselves.

“But I love him, he would never betray me like that, he is different.” He may be, or you could be wrong about him. Remember, people change all the time and relationships come and go. You may be close now, but think of all those in your past who you were close to but you now no longer speak to. Would you want them to possess a nude picture of you? The same is true of secrets.

Alternatively, the act of sharing the secret itself may not even be (intentionally) hurtful or vindictive. There are even circumstances that sharing the secret could be done out of sincere concern for the individual. It is easy to imagine a situation where you would want to protect someone from potential pain. So you might share with those around them the details of your friend’s recent traumatic experience. By sharing this secret with others, you are attempting to make sure that those topics won’t be mentioned, or the very least that they will be approached delicately.

In this instance by sharing the information, you are taking away your friend’s ability to embrace the topic themselves. You have disempowered them and taken away their ability to own it. Not only have you betrayed a significant level of trust, but you have also caused that topic to be in the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Rather than protecting the person from harm, you have in fact caused it. By sharing their secret, you have inadvertently ensured that everyone is thinking about it. Because of you, they may now be looking at the person differently, attempting to fit this new piece of information into their world view of the person.

The simple fact is this. If you tell somebody something, there is an infinitely greater chance that it will get out than if you keep it to yourself. As the saying goes, if you have told one person you have told eleven. I am not saying to never talk, rather to just be aware. If you couldn’t handle it getting out, keep it to yourself or speak to a professional.

Long before I opened up publicly about my experiences with suicide, assault and mental illness I spoke to a psychologist. This person is detached from the rest of my life and is employed in a professional capacity. Talking with her enabled me to come to terms with a lot of the issues of my past which have subsequently enabled me to share it with the world.

I have many more hidden demons, things that I am not ready to share openly. Perhaps I will one day, but not yet. Whilst it is true that I have told a few choice individuals, I have done so with extreme caution. These are people that have never gossiped to me about others, never sharing with me things that they shouldn’t have.

By keeping other’s secrets, I am certain that they will keep mine.

Zachary Phillips.

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