Jane is a sociable person. She likes connecting with others and meeting new people, so everyone knows her. The feeling of establishing a positive sense of rapport excites her. The time she spends with people revitalizes her, and helps her recover from the stress of her daily life.
Sometimes, however, Jane loses her connections. Either they grow distant and fade away, or the rapport turns sour. Jane wishes this didn’t happen to her so often, and when it does happen, it hurts her. She thinks she knows what the problem is: her habit of gossiping.
Jane actually resents this habit, but she can’t seem to shake it. She doesn’t mean to do it, and sometimes she manages to resist it, but other times, she even finds herself criticizing people she likes and wants to connect with. On the rare occasions she’s been confronted about it, she’s found herself completely paralyzed.
Jane has many superficial connections, but what Jane really wants is a deep relationship with a friend she can trust and support over the long term. Despite this, she can’t seem to establish this level of trust, no matter who she turns to. Jane feels lonely.
Jane’s first priority should be to understand the source of her habit. Everybody is inherently susceptible to learning certain negative habits based on their personality traits. Even so, this susceptibility won’t be a problem unless a person faces certain vulnerabilities that trigger it. This is to say, Jane can still overcome her habit if she overcomes her personal insecurities.
Sometimes, this is more effective than targeting the habit itself. The habit is the symptom, rather than the problem. Jane’s tendency to gossip is a short-term compensation for her insecurities. Criticizing others is an attempt by the critic to lower the status of the person they criticize, so that their status may be higher in relative terms.
Jane is also seeking to distract others, as well as herself, from her own vulnerabilities. In their criticisms, people tend to focus on the qualities that are most important to them, especially if they themselves are deficient in those same qualities. This is projection, and a source of behaviour that people tend to describe as hypocritical.
It is for this short-term relief that Jane compulsively continues to gossip. There is the risk that Jane’s cycle will perpetuate itself, as people who fall into this trap are forced to ask themselves whether they really are so judgemental and hypocritical. Not only that, but as Jane spreads gossip, word about her makes its way around behind her back, until people no longer trust her not to treat them the same way she treats others.
In the long term, people become unwilling to place the trust in her necessary to develop the deeper connections she is seeking. People who are especially desperate and insecure will enter a state of denial, which protects them. People like Jane, however, are fortunate enough in their ability to acknowledge their behaviour to themselves. She knows her behaviour is unsustainable.
Jane needs to acknowledge her habit as a coping mechanism, rather than a personality trait. This will help her to outgrow it, and then to reject it. In order to outgrow it, she needs to overcome the insecurities that trigger it. She needs to become convinced that she has potential to become a new, self-actualized version of herself, and that real change is possible and necessary.
She can come to understand her own values better by considering what she criticizes in others; these criticisms may be a window into her own insecurities. We feel insecure when we hold characteristics or behave in ways that run contrary to our ideals. If Jane identifies her ideals and comes to terms with her insecurities, she will know better what kind of person she’d like to become.
BREAKING THE HABIT
To complement this shift in perspective, Jane of course has to make her new vision of herself into a reality by suppressing her habit. These two processes will feed off each other; as she restrains herself from criticizing others, she’ll start to see herself as a person who is above gossiping, and as she sees herself as a person who is above gossiping, she’ll have enough security in herself that she no longer feels the urge. She also needs to discard any sense of herself as a divisive person who causes controversy. If others still see her as this person, she should ignore their judgement as a relic of the person she used to be. Their minds will change.
Jane will always have the same personality characteristics that led her to become a gossip. However, she should consider that her tendency to gossip represents the fact that she is interested in people and their lives. The fact that her criticism takes the indirect form of gossip, rather than the direct form of confrontation and argument, suggests that she is an agreeable person. Agreeable people seek to please people. They try to understand people.
She can flip those characteristics to make them manifest on their positive side, rather than their negative, by becoming an excellent listener for others. She can also spread concern, rather than criticism, for others who may be struggling, and develop a sense of community in her social circle. She might, quite naturally, assume a quasi-leadership role in her social group, organizing events and stimulating opportunities for the more shy, less confident members. When she actualizes herself as the person she really was all along, not only will her loneliness be lifted, but she will find a new sense of purpose.