On What We Say In “Private”

One of my biggest personal battles I fought for the first 25’ish years of my life was gossiping. I started early because it was something I learned early, that talking bad about other people behind their backs a) made me feel better about myself and b) made me feel included into the crowd where the gossiping was happening. It was my BIG SIN every time I went to confession until I was old enough to have more illicit behaviors included in the List Of Reasons I Need Forgiving.

I didn’t actually intentionally try to quit gossiping, to be honest. It’s not like I went on some personal quest to be a better person. It’s that all of my shit caught up with me and I had a few instances (once all of my friends rightfully ditched me) where I was privy to the way people were talking about me behind my back and I was like, “Damn. That hurts really bad.”

Okay, so let’s draw the connection now to my recent foray into improving my self-talk. It turns out, talking shitty about yourself in the privacy of your own head hurts just as bad as finding out someone else was talking shitty about you behind your back. This got me thinking about how maybe we should all really think about what we’re saying ALL the time. Whether it’s to ourselves or in our private friend group. Maybe the negative energy we are directing into the universe in specific hurtful ways always has an impact.

It’s not like I never talk bad about anyone now, I very much do when I’m in the comfort of peer groups I trust or with close family. But I’ve been wondering if I need to make sure I’m being productive in how I vent. Like, instead of ranting, “THIS PERSON IS TERRIBLE BECAUSE THEY DID THIS THING!” Maybe it’s more productive to start a conversation with people I trust that says, “Why can’t I stop this from bothering so much when this person does this thing?” Or maybe ask people who love me, “I can not stop thinking about how this person did this thing that hurts me…should I get them out of my life?”

That’s where my head has been lately, because I think as I try to eliminate negative self-talk I’m realizing that there are all sorts of negative talk that don’t really have a purpose in improving my life. Sometimes I’m just talking shit to talk shit and do I really want to put that energy out into the universe?

This is where my head was when the news broke about the secret Facebook group where present and past border patrol agents talked shit about – well – everyone from migrants to legislators. And listen, a lot of it was vile and terrible and not like anything I’ve ever said no matter how angry I was or how secure I felt in who I was ranting to. And the worst of it was worse than anything I’ve even seen in any groups I’m a part of.

BUT! (Here’s where I bring it all together…I PROMISE.) A lot of my personal journey reflecting on the type of energy I’m putting in the universe has involved the way I think and talk about politics in the years since the 2016 presidential campaign. I really have tried my best to talk policy and issue and not PEOPLE. BUT – I’m in a lot of groups, both with peers and just random Facebook groups, where people post a lot of mean memes or comments about certain members of opposing political parties. Now…like I said…nothing as vile as the most vile of things in that group that has been the focus of the news. BUT, plenty of things that are just mean for the sake of being mean and cruel.

I have unfollowed people and left groups when it seems to become one of those “safe places” for that type of posting because to me? That is not a productive use of negative energy and that shit TRAVELS. In the Propublica story it literally traveled, but in general in nurtures the same energy in everyone who reads it and we stop discussing policy and issues and we find ourselves ranting hatred about people which doesn’t actually help anyone.

And I’m learning (as my long and rambling post here is trying to prove) that it REALLY doesn’t help myself.

Listen, I don’t like to use the word “hate” but when I let myself, it is always directed at the same public figure my liberal friends direct their hatred. But that energy pushed me into a terrible downward mental health spiral starting before he was even elected and it was ugly and painful and dark. And laughing at mean memes mocking his appearance and having hate-filled rants with friends and allowing myself to lean into my rage at every turn just pushed me further and further down. And a lot of this stuff was happening in “private” situations because I don’t rant and rage in public as I’d be disowned by many in my state and my bloodline and in my husband’s bloodline.

And yet…I got to thinking after the story broke…if any of those rants in those safe groups had been made public? All of those relationships would have been ruined. I don’t work, I wouldn’t have been fired, but I would have not been invited anywhere for holidays or weddings or anywhere ever again. So…what harm was that energy doing in my life outside those groups? And the truth is, I had already stopped allowing myself that “rant” time and I had stopped participating in those groups where hate was talked just to “vent” in various – sometimes cruel – ways. And I think when I stopped allowing myself that “rant” time and started being more productive with how I talked about politics – even in my “private” groups and relationships – I was able to foster better conversation with people who I don’t necessarily agree with 100% of the time.

I think those private groups we all have, whether book club friends we see in person or those private Facebook groups only a few of us know about, give us fertile ground to harvest negative energy and…FOR ME…it felt like a good release. But then I think that negative energy followed me outside of those private groups. Just like our negative self-talk follows us every time we think about our body. And even if you don’t carry around that negative energy like I do, maybe you rant and then you feel cleansed and can be happy and joyful later, that energy is still out there and I think it’s important we all at least reflect a little on the ways that energy can be absorbed by others.

I feel like some days I’m fighting off the darkness from the current events with every ounce of strength I can get. I often feel hopeless and lost. And I can’t stop paying attention, that doesn’t do the world any good. But I can try to harness those feelings in productive ways, maybe have good conversations about action items or ask questions about exposure and the best way to get news (podcasts for me, the visual representation of these stories is too much) to keep me informed while also protecting my mental health. And take time to consider that maybe even glancing at those “funny” mean memes is doing more damage than I realize.

This rambling analysis is all to help me gear up as this election season pushes on because I a) I want to be more effective in how I discuss politics and b) I don’t want to descend into darkness like I did before.