Episode 39, Understanding the Aftermath of Trash Talk
In This Episode:
Let’s begin this episode with a clear understanding of what I mean when I mention “trash talk”.
My definition of “trash talk” is when someone intentionally attempts to degrade someone by speaking poorly of them a manner that involves defamation, malintent, and purposeful degradation of another. This is also known as poor mouthing, vilifying (this is a stronger version of trash talking) and bad mouthing.
Things can slip out of our mouths in a blink of an eye. When it is truly trash talking is when it’s done by more than one comment. I’ve heard it used in the world of sports and politics and I think it also applies in the world of parenting.
In my experience, trash talking is most present in situations of divorce, but it can also be present in family members’ relationships, friendships gone poorly, other relationships with members of an organization or company, with teachers or administration at school – it can be present in so many places. It’s unhealthy and can cause lots of devastation. The bottom line is that it isn’t healthy for the person doing the trash talking, as well as their target, those watching (especially if it’s our children that are learning how to treat others in this world), and for our communities and ultimately our world as a whole. It’s just not respectful. There are healthier ways to convey dissatisfaction with another’s person’s action.
When a person uses trash talking as their default, it says a lot about them and their character. The quote “HURT PEOPLE, HURT PEOPLE” can apply here as well. Because people that aim to hurt people, really aren’t’ in a healthy space themselves. It’s a sign that they are in need of social skills, communication skills, or perhaps just healing from their own wounds if this type of behavior was done to them and they feel entitled to do it to others.
Where I’ve seen the most damage with this is in families of divorce and separation. It can leave children with wounds that are difficult to heal. Feelings of betrayal and confusion for the kids are not uncommon and can be very painful. I read a book, Divorce Poison, by William Morrow, a while back that really talked about these types of situation. Often children identify as ½ of one parent and ½ of another. When one of their parents is trash talked by the other, or by a family member, it hurts. It can feel like a personal attack. It can feel like “if my mom/dad is _____, then I must be”. This is painful for anyone, especially children because it can strike them in such an intimate part of their life. Just think, “What message am I sending my child when I speak like this?”. They don’t benefit from thinking or knowing how defective their other parent is, or whoever the trash-talk is targeted at.
If you have been the victim of trash – talk, you may know the feelings of betrayal, anger, and helplessness that this can bring. So, how do you respond when someone’s trash talking you? Do you just let it happen? Do you “fight” back? Do you let it bother you? Well, unfortunately there’s no cookie cutter response. It depends... don’t you love that answer? There is always benefit to choosing kindness and respect, with wisdom, even when people are not reciprocating it to you. Taking the opportunity to return the trash talking behavior just puts you at their level. And, if your kids are watching it really normalizes this type of behavior and teaches them that trash talking is acceptable. So always run it through the respect, wisdom, and kindness filter. It is helpful though to discuss with your child, and in some cases document what’s happening, if it gets to out of hand. Know when to seek professional assistance though, whether it is a therapist to help you heal from it and what led to that point and / or an attorney if it involves parent alienation. Putting positive energy into the situation can be so very helpful. Seeking support from a therapist can help you heal from this and help you with some coping and calming skills.
It’s important to mention that this podcast is not therapy, nor is it a substitute for therapy. It is also not legal advice. It is merely information meant for self –care and educational purposes only.
I view trash-talking as a betrayal. It can feel like a betrayal. Actually, it is a betrayal. Betrayals leave us with our guard up, to guard against letting it happen again. Some people refer to this as “jaded” or “burned”. I offer a type of therapy at my private practice called Gottman Method Couples Therapy that helps people heal relationships, even relationships that have endured betrayals. I help people heal from betrayals that involve infidelity, finances, trash talking and more. It’s not easy, but it can be done. “An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure” definitely applies here. The healing process involves regaining TRUST.
Carl Jung spoke to this I believe when he said “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”