Friends can bring a lot of joy into your life. You go on adventures together, confide in one another, and comfort each other when you feel sad. Friends are there to make you feel good and make your life more fun. But what happens when a friend betrays your trust, like spreading rumors about you.
Madison Romney, a friendship coach and creator of @flourishingfriend, explains why spreading rumors and gossiping are some of the most detrimental destroyers of friendships. "They abruptly crack an elemental foundation of friendship: trust. Trust in a friendship can take years to build—through countless micro-moments of honesty, authenticity, and respect—and seconds to collapse. That's part of the reason why discovering a friend is spreading lies about you can be so painful."
So what do you do when you find out a friend has been spreading rumors about you? We connected with a few experts to find out and give wisdom on the matter.
What to do if someone spreads a rumor about you:
1. Take some time to breathe.
While it's incredibly frustrating to find out that a friend has been spreading untrue things about you, it's important to stay calm. Don't immediately react to the situation, and don't retaliate against your friend. It's easy to lose control during the initial shock, but doing so will only make matters worse.
After hearing the rumor, Divya Robin, a mental health therapist, creator, and owner of @mindmatterswithdiv, advises you to take a step back from the situation and evaluate what emotions you're feeling. "I would tell you to recognize what emotions are coming up and name them. Is it hurt, disappointment, anger, rejection, or sadness?"
But how long exactly should you wait? Romney says it's best to wait 24 hours before taking action. "Take time to sit with and move through your emotions: go for a walk, meditate, talk to a confidant, take a nap. Our culture encourages us to ignore, suppress, and even avoid negative emotions but it is precisely sitting with a negative emotion and intentionally moving through it (vs. letting it fester) that teaches us the most about ourselves and guides what we do next."
2. Talk to your friend.
After your initial emotions die down, it's time to speak with your friend about the issue. Don't beat around the bush. Tell your friend exactly how you feel and how the rumor-spreading has affected you personally. "Be clear about why you're meeting and how you're feeling," says Romney. "For example, 'I heard that_____was being said about me. I feel_____ knowing that you were a part of sharing it. I want to better understand why_____.'"
Romney also gives examples of some questions to ask your friend during the conversation. "Did you think_____was true? Why did you share_____with others before confirming with me? How did you think I would feel when I found out_____?"
Along with this, Robin says it's best to avoid certain types of language when speaking with your friend. "Avoid using blame language such as 'You did_____,' or it's 'Your fault that_____' and shift to 'I felt_____' and 'When I heard_____I felt_____.'"
3. Try not to let the situation get you down.
Throughout the ordeal, you might feel embarrassed, ashamed, and even humiliated about the rumors that your friend is spreading. You might feel exposed like everyone knows your deepest, darkest secrets. You might feel like everyone is talking about you.
However, it's important not to let the situation get to you. Don't isolate yourself from others or hide from everyone. It's important to stay connected with other people during the entire situation. "Let people who feel safe and care about you support you," says Robin. "Staying in contact with other people is super important so that you remember that you are not alone!"
4. Remember: the rumor isn't a reflection of you.
"Most of the time, gossip says more about the gossiper than the gossipe. An easy (and hollow) way to feel good about yourself, is speaking poorly of others," Romney explains. "Yes, sometimes there are kernels of truth to rumors but the effort and intention to break confidence is a reflection of your friend, not you."
Robin also says to trust and believe in yourself. "Stay confident in what your truth is and know that's the most important thing. Remind yourself that you can't control what other people say or think about you—but you can control your own thoughts, actions, and what you believe about yourself."
5. Think about the conversation and the friendship.
After speaking with your friend, you might have a lot to consider. Romney says to reflect on the friendship by asking yourself some questions. "Instead of making a quick decision after the confrontation, ask yourself: How did my friend respond to me? (i.e. compassion, anger, defensiveness, regret, etc.) How did it make me feel? (i.e. seen, understood, annoyed, confused etc.) Do I trust my friend to keep their word and honor our friendship in the future? Why or why not? What boundaries might I need to set with this friend (i.e. expectation-setting, no longer sharing sensitive information, investing less time in the friendship, etc.)? Who could I reach out to process these emotions and decisions with? (i.e. spouse, parent, another friend, coach)?"
Answering these questions will help give you more clarity on what to do next in the situation.
6. End the friendship.
A true friend should care about how their actions affect you. If you find that your friend shows indifference about the situation or continues to spread rumors about you even after you've spoken to them about it, it might be time to cut the cord. Robin suggests that you could even just take a break from the friendship for a while. "Be willing to take a step back from the relationship if it's hurting your mental health—staying in a toxic pattern isn't good for your mental health," she explains. "It may not be a 'forever' step back but for the time being until the friendship can be good for you mentally again."
How do you know when to preserve the friendship or when to call it quits?
Romney says that, ultimately, it's up to you. "In the end, your friend may or may not be what you need them to be," she explains. "Only you can control how you show up in the friendship. Only you can decide if your depth of love, care, and respect is being reciprocated. Only you can determine if you're willing to offer forgiveness, need to set a new boundary, or if it's time to walk away."