Q. A lady I know frequently finds fault with friends of ours, and shares confidential information. What type of brain does this?

A. First of all, realize that if she is talking to you about others, she is probably complaining to them about you, as well. There can be different underlying contributors to this type of behavior. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • She has self-esteem issues and is trying to make herself feel better by criticizing others. If she wouldn’t do those things, the implication is that her behavior is better than theirs, and this can momentarily help her to feel better about herself. It’s a short-term fix, however. She has to keep on finding fault with others in order to get that fleeting “I’m better than they are” feeling.
  • She is addicted to gossip and the sense of power she feels when she finds fault with others or shares confidential information. It may give her the sense that she knows more than you do, or is important because she knows “secrets” that others don’t. Again, it’s a temporarily fix.
  • She has acquired the habit of tattling. In childhood you likely knew children who were teacher’s pets and continually tattled on other children. That sense of being “special” is one way of getting attention (even if it is ultimately negative). Adults sometimes continue to exhibit behaviors they learned in childhood even if those behaviors don’t really serve them well in adulthood.
  • She never developed the skill of affirmation. She may have grown up with caregivers who role-modeled “looking for the negative” in their interactions with others. She may not know how to “look for the positive” in her own or in others’ behaviors and may not know what else to say in a conversation.
  • She was criticized and found fault with in childhood. She will tend to treat others the way she was treated unless she makes a more functional choice and learns different behaviors.

You are not powerless in this situation. There are options you may want to consider. Make sure your own communication style is positive and affirming. Endeavor to compliment her whenever possible so you are role-modeling a desirable communication style. If she says negative things about another individual you could say, “I would prefer to talk about something positive,” or “I am uncomfortable criticizing others, especially behind their back.” Or you could just introduce another topic of conversation. Remember that her negativity and criticism of others will impact your brain. If this behavior continues you may need to think about limiting the time you spend with her.