A gossip betrays a confidence,
but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.
I’ve been in this place. This place where so many of us have been brought as unwilling participants. The place where we were asked to be open, be honest, to trust, and to tell the truth. So, we did. We spoke honestly and openly, believing that we were sharing in a safe place where confidence was kept; believing our thoughts, experiences, hurts, and emotions – our secrets – would be cared for and carefully considered.
But then, through the grapevine, I heard my words repeated back to me out of the mouth of a third party. And in that instance, I came to two very painful conclusions: a friend of trust was now a friend of betrayal; and the relationship/community that was believed to be safe, in actuality was unsafe. I had been, for lack of a better term, Judased.
Telling your story is healthy, sharing similar experiences can bring unity and freedom, and empathizing with other’s feelings builds community. But sharing secrets without the mutual understanding of what discretion is and is not, can be harmful. Because keeping secrets are marked by a habit of discretion. As my sweet friend Kristina says:
Discretion is not only about knowing what to say and what not to say but when to speak and when not to speak.
There are many reasons why the secret keeper might break trust and tell another’s secret. It could be the secret keeper did not like what was said or felt threatened by another person’s perspective. It could be the secret keeper saw an opportunity to obtain power with the secret or might have been hurt by what was shared. But, regardless of the reason, none justify breaking confidence.
The reality is, 50% of the time in any disagreement, conflict, and difference of opinion, one person is going to be wrong, or both people are going to be wrong. Being in the wrong, mistaken, unaware, or of difference of opinion is part of life and does not give permission for someone to share your secrets. Some of our best growth comes from moving through these differences, the unknowns, misunderstandings, and wrongdoings together, and into awareness, understanding, acceptance and right living. And in a safe environment, this is what growth through disagreements, conflict, and differing perspectives should lead to – awareness, understanding, and when needed, a change of behavior. Not gossip.
But when confidence is broken, when safety is not valued, and trust is betrayed, few things are more bruising. And that disagreement, wrong decision, or misunderstanding with the secret keeper is no longer just that. Now, there is the added and unnecessary dimension of betrayal, because a third party is brought in to this confidence.
By definition, gossip is “chatty talk.” It is “revealing personal or sensational facts about others”. In psychology, an unrepentant gossiper is considered an unsafe or a toxic person.
So, why do we gossip? Why do we tell other’s secrets?
I believe gossip is prevalent, particularly in communities that are supposed to be safe, because we do not consider what we are sharing with others as gossip; we do not recognize or choose to recognize that we are breaking
You probably know what I am speaking of. We have all done it.
And for the one who shared her secret with the secret keeper, regardless if she was in the right or wrong, she is the one left broken in the shadows of betrayal.
Here is the thing about a gossip – the behavior of gossip says more about the gossiper, than the person being gossiped about.
If we want to cultivate safe communities and environments where secrets are kept in and gossip is kept out, we must carry other’s secrets with care and concern as if they were our own. Because:
Safe spaces do not happen by chance, they happen by choice,
Safe people do not happen by chance, they happen by choice.
I have to choose daily to make the decision to be a safe person. It does not come naturally. It comes naturally for no one. As a woman, I love to talk and connect with others. But where I have to be careful is in trying to identify with others, through secrets others have entrusted to me.
There are two kinds of people in this world –
safe and unsafe.
A safe (healthy) person does not use other’s secrets to self-elevate, cause harm, manipulate or control, or for retribution. When a safe person hurts someone, she says she is sorry and is remorseful for the hurt created. She will also change her actions so as not to cause harm again. A healthy person considers and cares for the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of others, regardless of their personal opinions and feelings. A safe person is a secret keeper.
An unsafe (toxic) person uses your secrets to self-elevate, cause harm, manipulate or control, or for retribution. An unsafe person does not consider or care for another’s feelings, thoughts, and experiences, beyond her own. This person triangulates. As Cloud and Townsend put it, “if you have entrusted part of yourself to another, and then heard about it through a third party, you have been triangulated.” And triangulation is gossip. Rarely is the “gossip” entirely true or bipartisan. An unsafe person tells your secrets.
It is important for us to know that when someone breaks confidence, it is not our fault. The unsafe person might try to play it off as being your fault, for this is a common trait of an unsafe person, but it is not your fault. Keeping your secrets is solely based on trust, not your behavior.
If we want to cultivate safe and vulnerable environments, we must recognize what a safe person is, so that we can identify what a safe person is not.
A safe person, even in disagreement, will value your privacy and respect your feelings, because a safe relationship is not determined by being in agreement, having control, or obtaining the power.
A safe person understands that disagreement is not the equivalent of dislike or disunity.
A safe person does not need to, or desire to, hold power, be right, or cause discord with your secrets.
A safe person loves and accepts you just as you are, regardless of understanding agreement.
A safe environment does not encourage breaking the confidence of anyone.
What I have learned through experience and reading, is that an unsafe person is not capable of handling my emotions, experiences or thoughts. And, this is not something I can change. Although much of the hurt comes from the betrayal, the pain can be prolonged in trying to help the secret keeper understand you, your perspective, or what he/she did wrong. I have come to realize that it is best just to walk away because an unsafe person is unable to comprehend that situation until they get to a place of health. If they ever come to a place of health.
When our secrets are made known, we might believe it is our fault, or even be told by the unsafe person that we are to blame, we are the problem, we are the one in the wrong. But I am here to encourage you in that, you are not the problem, it is not your fault, and you are not to blame.
I have also learned that just because that person is unsafe for you, that does not necessarily mean they are unsafe for others.
I am not a therapist or a qualified psychologist, I am just another woman who longs and strives for a safe community, where I feel safe as well as others within my reach.
I share this so that:
We can identify safe and unsafe people and communities.
We understand what secrets are and how we are to handle them and be a safe person.
We know we are not responsible for others breaking confidence.
We can cultivate safe communities, environments (including our home) and relationships.
What the Lord is teaching me, is that I need to show mercy and not
God has chosen you and made you his holy people. He loves you. So you should always clothe yourselves with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other, and forgive each other.
If someone does wrong to you, forgive that person because the Lord forgave you.
Even more than all this, clothe yourself in love.
Love is what holds you all together in perfect unity.
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is the Father who is full of mercy and all comfort. He comforts us every time we have trouble, so when others have trouble, we can comfort them with the same comfort God gives us.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Don’t judge others, or you will be judged. You will be judged in the same way that you judge others, and the amount you give to others will be given to you.
My hope is that this helps all of us cultivate safe relationships, environments, and communities.
For more on cultivating safe environments and relationships, I would start with these books. These are my personal suggestions and in no way have I received any endorsements.