How Do You Deal with a Family Member Who Is Gossiping About You?

Family tension can take many forms, one of which is when family members gossip about each other; even in relatively happy families, extended family interaction can lead to gossiping among various family members.

While it isn’t the most pleasant scenario to deal with, gossiping is a fairly straightforward problem that can be dealt with in a variety of manners, even if it’s about you.

The best way to deal with family members who gossip about you is to ignore what they say or, if possible, pass it off as a joke. If you rarely see the person, it is best to ignore them. Only in exceptional cases should you try to have a serious conversation.

Why Family Members Gossip

The act of gossiping, or talking about someone when he or she is not present, is much more complex than initial assumptions suggest. For example, gossiping can include positive or neutral descriptions of a person, such as when someone asks someone about someone else prior to meeting them. [1]

This information can be valuable for hiring purposes, dating purposes, or even for team-building exercises. Some evidence suggests that gossiping can actually help with expending negative energy after an incident, where talking about the target and offensive person helps to calm the aggrieved person.

In this capacity, gossiping is viewed as a coping mechanism.

Other theories hint that gossiping is an exercise in improving social cohesion, allowing groups to build greater unity based on their information about one another and their identification of individuals who are not as constructive.

Experiments have shown that groups where individuals were aware of others’ decision-making, and who were then allowed to gossip about this information to other group members, worked more cohesively when the more selfish group members were identified.

That being said, gossiping is most often associated with negative connotations. Gossiping is traditionally used as a means of maintaining some level of a social norm, which can limit negative behavior (stealing, cheating) but can also limit behavior negatively relative to a group standard (such as someone who is high performing).

Evidence regarding gossiping studies showed that gossiping has an initial effect in reducing unwanted behavior in the target of gossiping but over the long term creates resentment towards the gossiper. [2]

Most people, even those with more malicious personalities, are not gossiping to cause undue harm to another person and typically do so to share information or to deter unwanted or undesirable behavior.

Moreover, gossipers can have many motives when gossiping sometimes combining malicious and noble intentions.

Given that families are composed of people, it’s inevitable that family members will gossip about each other, particularly in large, extended families. Sometimes, as previously cited evidence suggests, gossiping can be a good thing (who doesn’t want to be praised in private?).

That being said, gossiping within a family, particularly if it’s about you, can be an indication that the situation has turned toxic and that family relations are souring. [3]

In the event that family gossip has turned towards discussing whatever negative traits are perceived about you, you need to try to resolve the situation.

Evaluate the Frequency of the Gossiping

Although no one likes to be criticized behind their back, there are always bad apples and black sheep in every family who don’t know how to say something nice about someone. In the event that you’re the target of their ire, you have to acknowledge how often you see this person.

If this person is not someone you encounter frequently, such as an aunt, uncle, cousin, or grandparent who lives in a distant city, you may rarely be exposed to this gossip when you are around this relative.

If you don’t like family get-togethers, then whenever this relative is present will offer you a good reason not to go!

What Are They Gossiping About

As noted, gossiping can take many forms. Gossiping can discuss positive information, such as a recent promotion, birthday or how someone appears.

Gossiping can be neutral and simply describe regular activities that someone engages in, such as what items they recently purchased.

Gossiping is often, and very often, negative, though. Negative gossiping can be directed towards negative events that happened that a person is culpable for, such as a criminal or legal issue, a bad job or grade, or some other social failure.

Negative gossiping can also be fabricated or based solely on someone’s perceptions, such as when someone doesn’t approve of the outfit someone is wearing.

When you hear gossip about yourself, you have to listen to what is being said. If the gossiping is negative, then you have to consider whether the information is recounting a negative event, revealing some personality trait that you’d rather keep private, or a fabricated opinion.

If the gossiping pertains to a negative event that happened, you can probably ignore the gossiping. Although gossipers like to hold onto negative details and discuss them as much as possible, gossipers also like to gossip as much as possible!

There’s a high probability that you are not the only person that this family member gossips about, in which case this negative event will probably be forgotten by this person after some time.

If the person continues to remind you of this moment, then you need to address this differently. We’ll get to this scenario in a moment.

If the gossiper is relaying private information that you don’t want to be revealed, then you need to confront this person.

If the gossiper is fabricating information about you, then you have two choices regarding how to deal with the situation: ignore it or make it into a joke.

Most people, particularly if you have a good rapport with the rest of your family, will recognize a fabricated opinion. Moreover, given that gossiping usually negatively impacts relationships over the long term, most family members will distance themselves from a family member that is needlessly perpetuating false information.

So, if you happen to hear gossip about yourself and the information isn’t true, your first step is to ignore it.

Make It into a Joke

If the person continues to fabricate information about you and your family members haven’t voiced any opposition, you can try to turn the gossiping into a joke to illuminate the needlessness of the gossiping.

For example, if someone says something like “I can’t believe he’s wearing those pants. They’re such an ugly color”, your response can be something like:

“I can’t believe I’m wearing these pants, too! I must be color blind. Do you want me to take them off and walk around without pants?”

Making a joke out of the comment helps to distract the attention away from the gossiper, who very well is gossiping to attract attention and to control the situation.

When you attract attention and make light of the comment, most people diminish the role of the gossiper and change the subject, if not take sides with the person who was the target of gossiping.

Confront the Family Member and Ask Them What Their Problem Is

If the negative gossiping continues, particularly if it is regarding a past event that happened, either involving the gossiper or not, and which you would rather forget, you can confront this family member in private and ask them what his or her motive is.

Sometimes, people aren’t aware of how they are coming across or how they affect other people’s emotions, and describing events that they think are worthy of discussing may not be perceived as such by those who can relate to the events.

Ask the Family Member to Stop

If the gossiping continues, and particularly if it is regarding the disclosure of private information, then you should confront this family member directly, ideally with another family member, and ask them to stop.

Certain information doesn’t need to be discussed, particularly if the information is private and was disclosed as such.

Be stern and say for example:

“I really don’t appreciate what you are saying and I would like you to stop”

Such a statement clearly expresses that you do not appreciate being gossiped about.

Don’t Talk to the Family Member Anymore

If all else fails and the gossiping continues, particularly if this family member has a soured opinion when not gossiping or has soured the opinions of your other family members, then your only option may be to avoid interacting with this family member, interacting with the family when this family member is present or interacting with your family in general.

“I don’t appreciate this gossiping and I’m not interacting with you until s/he stops!”

Voicing your concerns to your family by saying something like this clearly conveys your intentions. If your family members value your company, they will probably try to resolve the issue among themselves.

If they don’t, then you should probably avoid interacting with them anyway.

Although gossiping is never fun, especially when it’s negative and about you, gossiping is not the end of the world. If you’re able to successfully resolve someone gossiping about you, you can give them something else to talk about!


References:

[1]: https://time.com/5680457/why-do-people-gossip/

[2]: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00024/full

[3]: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/women-autism-spectrum-disorder/202006/7-signs-family-thats-turned-toxic

Katie

Katie Haynes is a senior author at everyday-courtesy.com with over 15 years of experience in marketing and psychology. As a freelance consultant, she also supports companies and executives in overcoming communication challenges. Katie is a passionate digital nomad working on her first book on the art of communication.

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