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Wondering about Gossip in Westland

  • Posted on June 19, 2016 at 6:44 pm

Dear Christine,

How do I differentiate between gossip and learning about someone’s life past?  I love spending time with people and listening to their stories.  But how do you know what is real and what is just a story? 

Wondering in Wayne

Dear Wondering,

Generally speaking, gossip is defined as information that is being given from one person about another who is not present.  Information someone tells you about their past is always their own perspective, judgment and skew of world and family events that is unique to that person.  It their own history,  often including information about their experience and bias about political figures, religious figures and historical figures.  These may include people they are related to:  parents, sons, daughters, grandparents, etc.  Their take may be tinged by information that may not be confirmed as true.  Hence, gossip can be equivalent to tattling or spreading rumors.

So, if someone tells you “my father beat me when I was a child,” is hearsay, unless you have corroborating evidence that supports this.  The speaker believes it, but may or may not have evidence confirming this proposition.  It is true, according to the teller’s experience, but it might not stand up in a court of law.  Gossip is usually about other people and is usually not confirmed.  Gossip has a bad name for a good reason.  People often gossip about someone who has just left the room, where others talk in private about the person who is not there to provide defense.

The bottom line, when you are talking to someone you don’t know at all, is that they are telling you about themselves to portray themselves in a certain light:  a victim, a perpetrator, a survivor, a strong person, etc.  And you have no other evidence to the contrary.  In psychotherapy, I believe what people tell me, as they have confidentiality and I have no means and no desire to figure out the means to verify the facts of whatever perceptions and memories they confide in me.  The legal facts might be different, but I am working with someone about their feelings about relationships that I cannot and will not verify.  I am there to witness their experience and assist them in changing whatever they perceive as a need in themselves.

Consequently, as a psychologist treating a client, I am never a witness for a divorce and custody case.  If I have only talked to one parent, I do not have a balanced view of that marriage.  I only have one person’s experience, perspective, feelings and memories to go on.  I cannot legally judge the other parent by what the first parent tells me in psychotherapy. In order to give testimony in these custody cases, I have to not be the treating psychologist, but the assessing psychologist.  This professional is completely neutral  with the parents before assessing both parents and recommending one parent for custody.

As a treating psychologist, I can certainly be swayed by one parent’s claims and experiences. But if I interview the other parent, I often hear a completely different experience that makes me wonder if they really are married and living under the same roof!

Your job, as a friend, is to be there for your friends and family.  Listen with concern and interest.  Be aware that everyone has a bias and we tell our life stories from that perspective, even if we are trying to be completely neutral.  Journalists try to report the news in an unbiased fashion, but there are plenty of examples of one various outlets promoting a conservative or liberal viewpoint.

So, be supportive.  Be a friend who listens non-judgmentally.  But also be aware that everyone has their own prejudices and inclinations, no matter how hard we try to be neutral.  Your friend, in telling her life story, reports on her experience of other people you also know.  Try to keep all that you hear in balance with what you already know of those other people.  Remember that people have very different relationships than you  have with either one of them.  In fact, even though both of them may portray different stories about the same events, they may both be correct in their perspectives and narratives!  Even if they are diametrically opposed.

So, listen to and accept the experiences friends and family with an ear toward their personal truth, and another ear toward the bigger picture.  There are many more perspectives than we can access!
Christine Cantrell, PhD


Truth-Teller in Trenton

  • Posted on May 1, 2016 at 7:03 pm

Dear Christine,  

I don’t understand why people lie. It’s always been one of my biggest pet peeves and maybe I’m too firm on this but I generally find the offense unforgivable.  To me the truth always works better so I don’t get it.  Now, I’m in a place where I’m hoping I can forgive but I’m so torn.

My boyfriend who I’ve been dating for 8 months has just gotten caught in a big lie.  He got fired two weeks ago for not passing a drug test at work.  Yes he smokes marijuana a little and I don’t care about that.  I never realized they drug tested at his work or I might have advised him to stop his habit but the lie is that he didn’t tell me he got fired.  He even pretended to go to work after he was let go.  I only found out because he told his mom who accidentally told me because she assumed I knew.

It might not be an outright lie, maybe more of an omission but I’m really struggling with what to do.  The dishonesty is something I find hard to get past. Can I ever trust him?  Thanks,

Signed Truth-teller in Trenton

Dear Truth-Teller,

Yes, that’s a big lie of omission, to hide the fact that he was fired from work for failing a drug test.  I’m guessing he hid that from you because he knew you don’t like lying.  However, he’s not making very mature choices and they aren’t very good for his career or his relationship with you.

You need to think for yourself about what you need to have, what you must have and what you cannot have, to make a relationship work.  Make a list of those non-negotiables and communicate them with your boyfriend.  Both of you telling the truth, avoiding lies of omission, might be at the top of your list.  Being employed might be another.  There’s no right or wrongs here.  It all depends on what you need to feel emotionally secure in an intimate and committed relationship.

Dating is the time to get to know each other and find out if you share enough values, goals, needs and communication and trust to build a relationship that has staying power.  Falling in love is the easy part, but if you don’t communicate your non-negotiables to the person you fall in love with, you end up getting involved with someone who will break your heart.

Ask your boyfriend to make a list of what he needs in a relationship too.  What are his non-negotiables?  Does he feel you set the bar too high and he cannot possibly meet your relationship non negotiables?

Lying doesn’t build trust and the only way to repair trust is openness and communication, as much as you both need.   Consider couple’s therapy to have a neutral third party help you both discuss your needs, feelings and the fallout of this lie.

Good luck, and feel free to write again and let me know how you two are doing.
Christine C Cantrell, PhD