• How to Stay Away from Gossip in Recovery Support Meetings
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    How to Stay Away from Gossip in Recovery Support Meetings

    In any setting, gossip can be divisive and cause trouble. In recovery communities, those who are gossiped about sometimes become wary of the benefits of disclosing their personal issues with the group. This can be disruptive to their recovery process.

    What is Gossip?

    First of all, let’s define gossip for purposes of this article. A good definition is “talking about anyone who is not present to the conversation.” This can include family members, friends or acquaintances, as well as strangers. Talk shows devoted to gossip discuss celebrities who are not included as part of the conversation. While it may be popular for this to happen on radio, television and the internet with seeming impunity, remember that gossip is always still gossip.

    Why is It Harmful?

    No one wants to have others talking about them, whether the talk is good or bad. This is harmful and people can, and do, get hurt by it. Those who do it may not mean to hurt others, but there is no good reason for gossip.

    Participating in gossip is a good way to distract oneself from doing what it is we are supposed to be doing. It keeps us from looking at or working on the issues that we have right in front of us. If we focus on what others are doing, we make less of a need to work on our own issues.

    Therefore, it is a common practice, in our culture, to focus on the lives of others. They may be famous or not depending on the context in which the gossip takes place. It is never appropriate to talk about someone who is not part of the conversation.

    Gossip with Good Intentions

    Gossip is never helpful. Many times, people will talk about someone who is not present in the guise of “helping” them. It is never helpful to a person who is being discussed and not part of the conversation. Opinions about someone else’s life are just that–opinions. It is best to keep opinions about others to yourself unless that person himself or herself is asking for your opinion.

    The same things go for advice. Unless you are directly asked by someone, it is best to keep your advice to yourself. No one wants to be made to feel that they do not know how to handle their own problems and situations. Everyone has their own journey and need to come to their own solutions on their own. If someone asks, it is most often of greatest benefit to question him or her about what they think is the best course and help them voice what is in their hearts.

    When we “help” others by giving advice and opinions, it diminishes their ability to access their own hearts and minds about something they usually know how to handle anyway. It is another form of controlling a person to do what we want them to do. This seldom works to anyone’s benefit.

    How It Affects the Community

    Particularly amongst recovering addicts, gossip can be hurtful because the communities are specifically formed to give and receive support. They are settings where trust should be honored and maintained. People in recovery are there to learn to live within spiritual principles of honesty and integrity, developing trust and relationship with one another. This can be severely damaged by gossip. Even more, it is especially damaging when others share secrets that were entrusted to them by another member not present in the conversation.

    Addicts will come up with dozens of reasons for why they feel justified in sharing someone else’s story but it is never okay. Using this rule of thumb will keep you from having the kinds of trouble that gossip creates.

    What Should You Do?

    It is important to understand the basic rules of guarding someone else’s trust. If you feel like you need advice on how to handle information that someone has shared with you, include them in the conversation.

    There may be times when something that is disclosed by a recovering addict has moral or legal implications that we do not know how to handle. Advise that member that you are going to seek answers to that dilemma. Include them in any and all conversations that take place from that point on. Not to do so may bring on problems that you do not even begin to understand. Never go behind or around the person’s back to seek advice on something they have disclosed to you.

    If someone begins to tell you something that you are uncomfortable with handling, stop them immediately from telling you. Although they may feel that you are an appropriate person to talk to about this, advise them to talk to the person you think is the most appropriate. If you do not know of anyone, help that person seek clergy, therapy, legal assistance or counseling in order to work through the issue.

    Kelly McClanahan has an MSW/ASW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 25 years, she has a CATC-IV credential. She is also a lecturer and workshop provider for meditation, mindfulness and issues arising in long-term recovery. Kelly is currently writing a book about the spiritual principles in 12-Step recovery.


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