You've been out of high school for years, and yet, suddenly you find yourself embroiled in a nasty round of adult gossip. How and why did this happen, and more importantly, how can you cope?
This form of bullying, described by psychologists as relational aggression, includes rumor-spreading, exclusion and rejection, and can be difficult to deal with, no matter what age you are.
The agitators, fondly known as chismosas in Hispanic culture, tend to be women with high levels of anxiety, who have difficulty approaching interesting conversational topics. In the Journal of Psychiatry and Psychology, researchers also found a link between low levels of self-esteem and instances of indirect aggression (read: mean-girl behavior) towards others.
Many behavioral specialists believe that chismosas share negative, often personal information about others in a judgmental fashion as a way to improve their own social standing. Think about it — if one can point out what is wrong with someone else, it places them in a position of self-perpetuated superiority.
But all of this flies out the window when you are the one dealing with chismosas who seem determined to break your confidence and drag you down into the trenches. When you are the target of a chismosa, it can feel confusing, painful and isolating. Remember that you aren't alone.
According to a 2014 Workplace Bullying Institute study, it is estimated that at least 21 percent of women experience female-perpetrated under-the-radar harassment at work alone, and 89 percent of those targeted end up losing their job. This doesn't take into account the vast array of alternative scenarios where adult mean-girl behavior can occur, including neighborhood alliances, play groups, church, and extracurricular clubs, to name a few. The possibility of experiencing the wrath of a chismosa in everyday life seems probable, and if you haven't already dealt with this frustration, chances are, you will at some point in your life.
So what should you do if you find yourself in this uncomfortable situation?
One of the first decisions you'll need to make is whether or not you will respond to the gossip-mongering. If the rumors impact you or your family in any meaningful way, it may be a good idea to approach the chismosa directly – but only if it is safe to do so without escalating the situation further.
Be calm and do not allow yourself to resort to name calling, further gossiping or threatening. Aside from setting a powerful example to your children of maturity, problem-solving and stress management, you don't want to set yourself up for further harassment. If a frank discussion about the rumors and how they have impacted you does not seem to be a viable option, you can also chose to ignore the situation and the chismosa – although this can be difficult, especially when your integrity or character has been called into question.
Rising above the rumors is possible, though, if you remember that what and who you are is not what other people think and say, but rather what you believe. The people that love and support you already know enough to see through the gossip.
What if the rumors have reached the ears of people who don't know you well enough to decipher what's true and what isn't?
It may be in your best interest to do a bit of damage control, especially if the rumors interfere with your professional or personal life. Be up front with those who may have been privy to the gossip, briefly explain what happened and then let the subject go. Your conduct will speak volumes for your reputation.
The next decision you'll undoubtedly make is whether to move on or stay stuck in your feelings of frustration and anger. Initially, it can be near-impossible to simply forgive and forget gossip that targets you, especially damaging accusations.
Allow yourself a set time period to feel however you need to feel, whether it is anger, sadness, betrayal, disbelief, or a combination of those emotions. It can be emotionally traumatic to be the target of negative rumors, and it may be difficult to move past the hurt and to feel like you can trust others again. Recovering your sense of well being and trust will ultimately help you in the long run. If you are able to deal with the emotional toll up front, it won't linger and cause you further stress down the road.
Finally, live life to the fullest. There is an old saying that the best revenge is a life well-lived.
This couldn't be truer. Be happy, make plans with friends, enjoy yourself and laugh often. If you can't be toppled by a chiding chismosa, than chances are, she will eventually find a new target — someone who will feed into the cycle of gossip, slander and accusations.
If you find yourself in the clutches of a chismosa, you can make positive decisions that will ultimately define you and will set the example for your own children when and if they find themselves up against a similar situation. Don't let the gossip get you down, and use the experience as a meaningful lesson on how to behave like an adult.