Thursday’s Thoughts: Grab the Popcorn or the Kleenex? What to Do When Your Reputation is Being Hurt by Rumors or Lies

Words are powerful. They can stick with us long after they are spoken. They can hurt long after they are said. Rumors and lies can be some of the worst as many times they hold no truth or have little bits of truth sprinkled in with untruths. Whether true or not they can spread like wildfire, explode and continue on long after. They can damage a person’s reputation and their way of life.

And if you think it ends after high school like Mean Girls, it doesn’t.

It can continue on long into adulthood. It can start as a simple war between neighbors, friends having a falling out, or some miscommunication between coworkers.

I can remember the first time someone approached me right around the time I made the decision to get divorced. That person relayed to me several years of grievances they had had towards me and made some heavy accusations about my intentions of friendship with them and their spouse. I was floored. Never once had they communicated anything towards me in the years we had known them. I was so worked up about it that I spent weeks going through all of our texts, going over conversations in my head and then making copies of all of our conversations and texts over the years so I could show this person my side and that what was being perceived wasn’t the reality. In my head I went through every conversation on every trip we took with them, every couples date we went on with them, and every project we ever worked on together. The stress became so intense I did not think that I would get through it. Around this time too everything with my soon to be ex was coming out too–the financial, the relationships, etc. It was a very heavy burden to bear. Sometimes it was extremely overwhelming to the point I didn’t think I would ever get through it. And it greatly damaged my reputation.

During that time though, I learned a lot. Because for the next several years I would go through hell. I don’t even know how to describe it, but hell is a pretty close and accurate description. I came to the conclusion that I would really would like to stay out of hell and get some angel wings instead so I made sure that I talked to the guy upstairs a lot so I learned something through all of this. There are several lessons that I learned.

When you are plagued by rumors or lies, the burden of proof is on you. This was one of the first lessons my lawyer taught me. When someone is accusing you of something, it is up to YOU to provide the proof that what they are saying is false. Anyone can say anything but if you have records, notes, aka the black and white undisputable proof…it then quickly invalidates someones bogus claims. This often saved me in the courtroom when outrageous lies were made by my ex. My lawyer would let my ex and his lawyer talk, and then plunk down the original document in front of the judge and show that my ex had altered the document and was trying to lie to the judge. I called that my “grab the popcorn” moment. Grab the popcorn, sit back and watch what happens.

Other times, you may be the only one that carries the proof, and you might just have to be okay with that. In the case of our friends, I copied everything, offered the copies up but the person never wanted to see them. Several people offered up the truth to this person including my soon to be ex but unfortunately they didn’t want to see it. They had to see their reality. In their head, my intentions for friendship were impure and had been for years. And if looking solely from her side, I might totally side with her and agree. But if that person had seen the actual truth–the record of all the conversations between everyone involved–the conversations I was having between them and my then husband it showed the opposite of her reality. The actual truth was a much different picture and the situation would’ve felt more resolved on both ends.

Instead, I had to be okay with their reality. Their desire to end the friendship, their boundaries and their desire to not see the actual truth. What else can you do when someone refuses to see something from all sides? It was a bitter pill to swallow but a lesson that taught me a lot. While the outcome wasn’t the ending hoped for, at the end of the day it was probably the best. This person felt vindicated and feels their reality was the truth and that was important to them to feel that. So I’ll let them win the battle. Because I can sit back quietly and know that I’ve won the war.

War comes at a high cost though for everyone involved. And it isn’t taken lightly. This was definetely one of those “grab the kleenex” moments. Many times. Because for many, many, many months and now into years I’ve had to sit quietly holding the truth and reassure myself that I am not what this person says I am. I am not what people may believe that I am because of what this person falsely says I am. Many times I’ve had to sit silently and let my mind eat at me. I’ve had to tell myself over and over in addition to everything else that has happened the past few years that you I can make it through this, I am strong and I can do hard things. But I’m not going to lie… the continued glares or having to hear things be said about you by this person do eat at you day after day after day in slow tiny bites. ‘Grab the kleenex’ lies and rumors are among some of the worst and they are deep and they hurt very badly for a very, very long time.

I wish I had better suggestions for getting through the latter situation, but the only piece of advice that’s worked is to hold onto your truth. Let them hold onto their reality but you hold onto the truth. Tuck it away and take it out during those moments that your mind toys with you. Allow yourself your moment to show yourself the truth and be reminded of it. Then remind yourself that they are doing what they are doing to continue to validate their reality.

Another important thing to do is to continue to live your values and beliefs. Through all of the things I’ve gone through, my values and beliefs haven’t changed. That was one of the hardest things to keep reminding myself. Continue living an honest life and living how you’ve always lived.

I believe (and others might disagree) but when you are dealing with some incredibly hard stuff, it’s NOT the time to go looking for what you believe and trying to find yourself through superficial means. I have seen a lot of divorced friends go out and become something they never were when they were married–they go out partying like they are in college again, start dressing different and start hobbies that they never pursued when married. While all well and good to do, when you are in the midst of a crisis, take the time to heal from the CRISIS–and not through adopting superficial things that won’t bring you lasting healing. Continue to live by your values and beliefs as you always have and those around you will see that. Often times adopting all these superficial things in a crisis does nothing but bolster what other people are hearing about you. You are you and always have been. Live that way and others will see it too and people around you will start to question the person spreading the negativity.

Anger can be a crippling thing as it holds you back and keeps you from moving forward. Control your anger and you will have a much more open mind and move onto the road to forgiveness. You may need some professional help in order to move through the anger depending on how severe the situation and the extent of the lies and rumors. Other techniques like mindfulness, deep breathing, exercise and talking it through with someone close to you can help you move through the anger. Anger is difficult and one of the hardest things to get over but it does narrow your ability to see the larger picture and work towards resolution of the problem and how you will respond if you continue to hold onto it.

The biggest goal we are moving towards is forgiveness. I’ve never really had a hard time with forgiveness but there have definetely been times it has taken longer than other times or been harder. Remember that forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. It doesn’t mean you can’t be guarded or cautious with that person. And it doesn’t mean that you have to have a relationship again with that person. But if you do choose to have a relationship again with that person, remember that trust takes action and time to rebuild. “Research supports the idea that when you forgive someone, the person who benefits most is you. Forgiveness can help you move on, improve your health and well-being, and generally lighten your step.” (Seppala, 2016)

In closing, one of the key driving sociological factors behind gossip, lies and rumors is that person’s own “motivation primarily for ego and status needs. Whether one gossips to appear entertaining and clever, to establish and exhibit social connections, or to satisfy anger and envy in each case one makes an effort to improve one’s image in one’s own eyes and in the eyes of others.” (Holland, 1996) Having proof to back up erroneous claims, continuing to live your beliefs and values, controlling anger, and working towards forgiveness are all steps you can take to combat lies and rumors and continue to live your life in the face of these situations.

Have you been subject to something like this before? How did you handle it? What advice would you give?

References:

Holland, M. (1996). What’s Wrong with Telling the Truth? An Analysis of Gossip. American Philosophical Quarterly33(2), 197–209.

Seppala, E. (2016, December 5). 8 Things to Do If You’re the Target of Hurtful Gossip. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/feeling-it/201612/8-things-do-if-youre-the-target-hurtful-gossip.

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