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Two couples on the grill

barbecue fire

Dealing with others, enriching as it is, often comes along with a few difficulties. Whoever they may be—a superior at work, a colleague, a member of our family, or a mere acquaintance—others rarely behave exactly like we would want them to, quite the opposite. A colleague stole the credit for my work again, a friend of mine hurt my feelings, my mother-in-law criticized my cooking again,… the list could go on. In such moments, it is only natural to feel the need to share our troubles with someone we feel close to and to seek their support. But here’s the catch: this legitimate need to confide in someone can very easily turn into the desire to speak ill of others. And, whether we are conscious of it or not, it often does. Then, all of a sudden, rather than sharing our difficulties, we start sharing what we think about others, including, if it can make us feel better, all the bad things we think about them…

The following video excerpt from a French TV series provides a good illustration of the issue. Two couples—the Boulays (younger, more liberal) and the Lepics (older, more conservative)—are in the middle of the preparations for their kids’ common birthday party. They are very polite in their direct interactions (they barely know each other’s), but their differences are starting to show and the atmosphere is getting tense. See for yourself.

We can see how fast the shift can happen: an annoying event (“she criticized my dressing”, “he thinks I don’t know how to prepare a barbecue”, “she didn’t lift a finger to help me with the quiches”); the need to share the event with their spouse (“he’s starting to get on my nerves”, “I’m not getting much help”); the spouse who adds in (“I can tell you she’s no better!”, “it doesn’t really surprise me, her husband doesn’t even know how to prepare a barbecue!”); and the negative comments that make their way in (“they have an age complex”, “They’re assisted, like children!”).

This series of (barely caricatural) dialogues will certainly ring a bell. The shift towards backbiting is typical of conversations between close friends and loved ones. The person we are talking to (spouse, family member, friend…) already knows us by heart and loves us despite all our faults (big or small). No need thus to censure ourselves to keep up appearances. We feel as if we were on some sort of “diplomatic island”, where nothing we would say could be held against us. This relationship of mutual trust and support among close friends and loved ones, and most importantly within a couple, is of course necessary and precious: we have to be able to say everything and be sincere toward each other. But this does not mean that being on this “island” endows us with absolute immunity when it comes to the rights of others. There has to be, somewhere, some limits. The question is how to identify them.

The delicate issue of conversations about others with our loved ones is mentioned several times in the Breaking free from backbiting – First steps toward “good words” lab on OstadElahi inPractice . The purpose of this post is for everyone to share their own experience, with a view to making progress in the analysis of the issue and identifying key elements to better understand it.

What do you think?

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1. In general, can you clearly differentiate between backbiting and confiding your relational difficulties to a loved one?

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2. In general, can you clearly differentiate between backbiting and merely sharing your opinion about someone with a loved one?

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3. Think about the last conversations about other people you have had with your spouse or a loved one: when would you say saying something negative about someone to a loved one becomes backbiting? What are you criteria? Do you have examples you can share that show how difficult the diagnostic is?

Share you thoughts in the comments section!


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43 comments

  1. Paty Oct 04, 2015 2:29 am 1

    I am always concerned about all creatures life ,animals and people.
    I always have lots of posts about helping animals on my social media.This morning one of my friends criticized me by telling me that while there are wars everywhere how can you be worry for cats.I became so angry and that she can not judge me like this.So I felt a need to talk to someone. I started to talk with my sister but soon the conversation turned to backbiting.I understood I am crossing the borders and I am speaking ill of someone but I could not stop immediately because I could not decide which part is backbiting which one is not. .I general I cannot always understand how I can talk to someone about things that annoy me without backbiting.

    1. MH Oct 04, 2015 2:30 pm 1.1

      I understand what you mean! Sometimes, as we are angry against some loved one, we criticized their bad behaviour… but we cannot stand it if others begin backbiting!

    2. zohreh mansouri Oct 04, 2015 2:36 pm 1.2

      I find it very difficult, when you are angry or upset with someone, not to backbite. Best way for me is to control and not say anything to anyone if i can! beacause iam 100% sure that it cannot be a simple talk. Because it hit my imperious self, i do anything to prove the opposite and to get more sympathy from my friends or loved ones.

      1. Y May 31, 2016 7:07 am 1.2.1

        You know, that’s a good point that you bring up regarding sympathy. Perhaps the reason I complain so much to my close friends about other people is to get sympathy from them subconsciously. I hadn’t even thought about that and I’m so glad you did!

  2. hamid Oct 04, 2015 12:24 pm 2

    I sometimes complain about those I am angry with because of their behavior or because they don’t give me what is my right.which sometimes lead to Backbiting.complaints which don’t have any Fruit, but they lead me to Backbiting.

  3. Peter Oct 04, 2015 1:15 pm 3

    When someone does something bad to me, it makes an emotional pressure on my mind.
    when others ask me to comment about him, I try to say “We are not FRIENDS”- I mean I emphasize on a word so that my emotional pressure stops and on the other hand, I do not backbite him. Or, I may say “Wee aRe Really DIFFEREEENT”.

    * I capitalized some words to show how I may articulate them

    1. MJ Oct 04, 2015 4:30 pm 3.1

      Interesting one! Thanks for sharing

  4. LJ Oct 04, 2015 3:04 pm 4

    Every time I share my frustrations about a situation with another, whether agood friend, relative, spouse, etc. it is probably considered backbiting..sometimes I need to talk about a situation, a rights issue, an ethical dilemma, etc. etc…..How and when is that not backbiting?

    1. Paul Jun 26, 2016 11:24 am 4.1

      I think one method may be to not talk with any loved one about my issue for a couple of days and see how my emotional state may change.

  5. Friend Oct 04, 2015 3:15 pm 5

    I rarely start such a conversation as I say to myself this is the difference between people. He/she simply doesn’t think like me. I repeat to myself that nobody is perfect and he/she doesn’t mean to hurt.
    It doesn’t work all the time but it does in many cases.

  6. Jimmy Oct 04, 2015 3:26 pm 6

    Very true scenario! However, what about drawing general comparisons. For example, let’s say someone at my work behaves in a manner that tramples on the rights of others and you want to share with your spouse, as a general matter, what should not occur in the workplace. Here, no names are mentioned but the situation is worth learning from. This seems okay! … But is it?? We congnitively create many loop holes to avoid taking personal responsibility for backbiting. What’s the right intention?

  7. MJ Oct 04, 2015 4:13 pm 7

    One criteria, I think, is if you can’t say it in front of the person you are talking about, it is backbiting.

    1. SG Oct 05, 2015 5:54 am 7.1

      Great point MJ. I would also add another criterion: Put yourself in that person’s position. Can you accept yourself what you are saying about that person? (Golden Rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”)

    2. friend Oct 28, 2015 4:03 pm 7.2

      I agree with you. But at some point, when a person really hurts my feelings or says something to me or asks me to do something and it is not doable, if i don’t talk about it to someone, I explode. I have two kids. Both are sick, and they really need my help, and I also have to work. Between my time at work and taking care of my kids, I barely have time to do other things. I have a mother who is depressed and I try my best for her. I bring her to my house as much as I can. Then my brother who he has less things to do, asks me, or orders me, to take mom to such and such doctor, where she really doesn’t need to go. She gets good attention and support. Then, when I say, hey my kids are sick, and I am working a job on top of that, I really cannot do it, he start to criticizing me, and it turns into a fight. How do you think I can calm myself down if I don’t talk about it to someone? And I know I never want anything to go wrong with my brother.

  8. Naz Oct 04, 2015 5:15 pm 8

    I recently had a conversation about someone whose behaiviour toward others and toward us bothers me and my husband. It has become a habit between us talking about her (backbiting). Sometimes i realize that it is backbiting but sometimes it just comes out of my mouth. So whenever i watch what i say, i try to stop it immidiately and change the subject, other times no, and it goes on and on..
    So after reading this wonderful article it somehow clarifies for me that although we can talk about our issues, it shouldn’t turn into backbiting! like when our close friend started to show some attitudes that affected our family, me and my husband talked about it and started to limit our time with her! That actually helped everyone. But talking about it whenever we see her, making a joke out of her, reviewing what she said and did, is not acceptable and is backbiting!
    So it is interesting that although we can get some help and opinions from our loved ones, we should be very careful and limit our words. Our intent should be positive not backbiting.

  9. Farfar Oct 04, 2015 5:17 pm 9

    I have become more and more aware of where the fine line is , how delicately it turns into backbiting. I now catch myself more often and confess that I am speaking From bitter emotions and I take a break to correct myself and say something positive about the person. It has helped me see and cherish the good in people and embrace it. Ultimately, feeling free of the burden negativity leaves on my mental state and soul.

  10. Nikki Oct 04, 2015 6:00 pm 10

    I know for sure if some comments make me upset or angry it is because I am being sensitive. And the reason I am being sensitive is because I take it personally and that is because of my ego. Otherwise, I can take that information with an open mind and explore why it is hitting me so hard. Because of all the lessons that I have learned, I know I should be quiet and do some self-search to find my peace within myself.
    Finding peace whinin myself and in my mind is not an easy process but by focusing on why these things happen and searching the answer within me, gradually I feel better and reconnect with myself and my soul and it allows me to discover my ego better.

  11. Homayoun Oct 04, 2015 6:48 pm 11

    We have a close friend whose wife we don’t necessarily have much in common with. The husband is a great person; but the wife likes to gossip, puts down other people, is not responsive, and has high expectations of everyone.
    So when my wife and I are talking about this family, we are controlling ourselves to make sure that our conversation does not turn into backbiting. For example, the wife recently asked us to attend an event, even though we had no interest in this event, we did it out of respect for her; but she did not attend a single art event on my wife’s art. My wife was upset and wanted to speak ill of her and I tried to stop her by explaining that we can’t judge anyone as she might have been sick or busy with kids, ect. And ultimately we close the conversation about her, that is how she is and can’t change her and we can’t go down to her level. It is very hard to tell if we stopped ourselves in time or went too far and started backbiting.

  12. Ln Oct 04, 2015 7:55 pm 12

    Anytime I try to talk about something, like a complaint about a situation, it turns into backbiting. Now I have learned that whatever happens to me it’s either something that I deserve or it is a lesson for me and I should accept it and look within myself and correct myself. So now when something happens to me, I try to be quiet and don’t complain and don’t talk about it with others, even my loved ones, as it turns into backbiting and then I feel ashamed of what I have done.

    1. SE Oct 04, 2015 11:45 pm 12.1

      I feel the same way, and I think this is the correct approach. Anything else is backbiting!!!

  13. Jpg Oct 04, 2015 8:22 pm 13

    Actually i am in such a situation right now. There is this one family member we are all worried about and we keep talking it through everytime. I think this might be one criteria, repeating the topic although it doesnt change anything..

  14. JWY Oct 04, 2015 10:25 pm 14

    My ultimate intention is to avoid backbiting and judging others at all costs!, even though at times I may get angry and frustrated with people who don’t respect my rights by crossing boundaries, when I confide and share my experience with a loved one or someone I trust and am comfortable with in order to to seek their opinion about those who have mistreated me and the way I have reacted to them, I try to refrain from backbiting and judging that person.

    My intention in sharing the experience and seeking an opinion is to gage the ethical aspects and value of the scenario to ultimately understand if (I) myself have acted in a just and ethical way; keeping my own actions and behavior in check, despite the way I may have been treated. I do this to make sure while defending my own rights, I have not infringed upon the other persons rights; in order to maintain a clean conscience and benefit from peace of mind.

    I have recently moved to another country with cultural and behavioral differences and constantly come across behavioral scenarios to learn from. One can only hope and act for the best by keeping pure intentions. It’s a very thin fine line! But what unites us, is our humanity and level of tolerance towards one another.

  15. Dude Oct 04, 2015 10:36 pm 15

    Usually when I feel wronged I have this immediate need to tell a close friend or family member so that they can confirm that I have been wronged and give me sympathy. Which I think to a certain extent is OK, but ultimately this should lead me to delving within and trying to figure out why this situation happened to me and what I can learn from it. Unfortunately instead it leads to me stepping on someone else’s rights and talking about all the faults they have and how they need to work on themselves and fix themselves. One of the reasons for this is because it’s easier to point out other people’s flaws then to delve within and work on my own. So I believe anytime our conversations veer away from “what can I take away from this” to ” what he needs to fix about about himself ” then we are backbiting. In general I know I’m backbiting when I feel like I’m sharing unnecessary information about another person, but it gives me a “good” feeling when saying such things about them.

  16. Azadeh Oct 04, 2015 11:28 pm 16

    Please someone give me an example of just sharing feelings with a loved one and meanwhile complaining about someone, that it is not a form of backbiting.
    Those in the movie, were engaged in backbiting IMO. The problem is , when is it NOT?

    Before I start the “Breaking free from backbiting” lab, I assumed almost everything that I say in the back of someone as backbiting. Now, I learned that sometimes it can be just sharing your problems with your loved one. That’s why it’s hard for me to differentiate.

    Thank you, I hope I can get rid of this problem.

    1. Friend Oct 13, 2015 3:57 am 16.1

      I have experienced sometimes talking to my spouse about others’ behaviour against us. As soon as it turns into judging others and seeing the reasons for what happened laying outside of ourselves (in their weaknesses), it is the start of backbiting. We try to keep the conversation to what has happened and not further. Besides that, if both sides of the conversation participate in complaining about “One occasion or person or …”, it will most likely turn into backbiting very easily.

  17. hp Oct 04, 2015 11:34 pm 17

    Unbelievable how these posts are always timed so well with events that happen in real life.

    I actually experienced a situation like this just last night, as I was at dinner with a close friend of mine. We started discussing relationships and I shared the issues I was facing with my my partner.
    I started off by sharing the areas of conflict and very slowly, without noticing, drifted into judging her characteristics and traits in general. It’s a slippery slope – once you start, it’s hard to take a step back and see what is actually happening. That deceiving and short-lived feeling of elevation that comes along with speaking behind people’s backs will not let go.

    It is incredibly hard to think or speak about issues without being judgmental or to speak ill of others. In my case, before starting this topic, I should have clearly set boundries to make sure I objectively only speak about the areas of conflict and not fall into the trap of judging and comparing her characteristics against mine. It’s a *small twist*, but that difference in mindset BEFORE I initiate a thought or a topic of conversation matters a lot.

  18. Naghme Oct 06, 2015 10:53 pm 18

    While practicing I’ve found that backbiting is a destructive action and creates disharmony. In fact, it’s so habitual that sometimes we don’t realize we’ve done it until afterwards.
    What lies behind this tendency to put others down? A friend of mine used to say, “You get together with a friend and talk about the faults of a person and the misdeeds of that one. Then you go on to discuss others’ mistakes and negative qualities. In the end, the two of you feel good because you’ve agreed you’re the two best people in the world.”
    When I look within, I have to acknowledge she was right. Fueled by insecurity, we mistakenly think that if others are wrong, bad, or fault-ridden, then in comparison we must be right, good, and capable. Does the strategy of putting others down to build up our own self-esteem work? Hardly.
    Another situation in which we speak ill of others is when we’re angry with them. Here we may talk about their faults for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s to win other people over to our side.
    It’s a weak attempt to convince ourselves we’re okay when we haven’t spent the time honestly evaluating our own motivations and actions.
    At other times, we may talk about others’ faults because we’re jealous of them. We want to be respected and appreciated as much as they are.
    Sometimes we “psychoanalyze” others, using some half-baked knowledge of pop psychology to put someone down. Comments such as “She’s borderline” or “She’s paranoid” make it sound as if we have authoritative insight into someone’s internal workings, when in reality we disdain their faults because our ego was affronted. Casually psychoanalyzing others can be especially harmful, for it may unfairly cause a third party to be biased or suspicious.
    What are the results of backbiting ? First, we become known as a 2faced budy. Others won’t want to confide in us because they’re afraid we’ll tell others, adding our own judgments to make them look bad. I am cautious of people who chronically complain about others. I figure that if they speak that way about one person, they will probably speak that way about me.
    By speaking ill of others, we create the cause for others to speak ill of us. This may occur in this life if the person we have criticized puts us down, or it may happen in future lives when we find ourselves unjustly blamed. When we are the recipients of others’ harsh speech, we need to recall that this is a result of our own actions: we created the cause; now the result comes. We put negativity in the universe and in our own mind stream; now it is coming back to us. There’s no sense being angry and blaming anyone else if we were the ones who created the principal cause of our problem.

    1. Maryam Oct 29, 2015 10:35 pm 18.1

      Thank you!

  19. NM Oct 07, 2015 12:53 pm 19

    I tend to backbite the most when someone hurts my feelings. It becomes hard for me to see through the fog when I am emotionally upset. Criteria would be bringing up someone’s negative qualities or qualities I don’t care for and putting them down. For instance, I recently had surgery and a co- worker of mine went and announced it at work to a group of strangers behind my back. I became so upset I couldn’t stop crying. I went on the defense and started bashing the girl to my family and friends. I called her two-faced and fake etc. I know exactly what I am doing in the moment but still can’t seem to get control of my imperious self.

  20. Sm Oct 08, 2015 2:19 pm 20

    I think we all have a greater tendency to backbite when we are angry or upset with someone! My challenge is more at work place: the managers are not fair, or a coworker took my sale! A simple complaint to a friend ends up with backbiting because nobody is happy with her and we all feed each other with more backbiting! I am trying so hard to resist saying even one word because it will end up with backbiting. I also think any complaint once it comes out of our mouth ends up being putting down someone! There is no positive venting about a situation in my opinion. May God help us all!

  21. Linda Oct 08, 2015 4:23 pm 21

    I thought it’s okay to vent/gossip/share information between husband and wife? They can shed light on the areas you don’t see and keep it real. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

    1. kbld Oct 12, 2015 2:32 pm 21.1

      @Linda
      I quite agree with you, especially on the “keep it real” part: to speak openly to share our life.
      I think this post wants to have us paying attention to what kind of reaction the spouse should have. Not a judgmental reaction, but something spiritually positive. I think it urges us to adopt a spiritual point of view even between husband and wife. There is also what mini says: every thought is not necessarily positive, even if it is shared within couple.
      I think it is true that /saying/ all kinds of things between husband and wife is OK, it is even a good and healthy thing. Those who are used to sharing everything with their partner know that. But every thought behind what we are saying is not necessarily OK. Let’s use the couple to push each other toward what is good and not just increase the negative feelings of one another. I think it is the message of this post.

  22. mini Oct 11, 2015 2:12 pm 22

    After taking “Backbiting” lab of OstadElahi-inpractice.com and reading the “Tips and Tricks”, I came to conclusion that I should refrain from complaining; I much as I can:

    “Ostad Elahi recommends never holding grudges against others and never complaining about anyone. In his view, complaining is generally not a good thing. (Based on Ostad Elahi, Words of Truth (unpublished translation), saying 304) ”

    There were times that I really wanted to talk/complain about someone’s behavior to my close family members but I forced myself not to do so, mostly because I didn’t want to get a “negative” mark on that day! It was very hard and in the beginning I had a bad feeling inside, as if something like a balloon was growing in me and it was about to burst any minute. I asked for God’s help and reviewed a few of Ostad’s sayings about “not judging people” and “trying to focus on our own weak points”. A few days passed and surprisingly my inner state changed and I didn’t feel the urge to talk about those people anymore. The feeling that I had at that time was great! As if I was free; free from backbiting. I hope God always helps us to fight against the urge to complain, because without his help it’s impossible.

  23. Nellie Oct 11, 2015 6:51 pm 23

    Most of the time I can recognize backbiting through my intentions. When I share information with my husband if my intention is to show my husband a bad side of someone or I want him to support me even if Iam wrong and the other person is right, the conversation turns to backbiting and I feel awful after. But when I truly want his opinion on something and I don’t have a hidden agenda, the conversation outcome usually is positive and afterwards I feel good.

  24. mahnaz Oct 12, 2015 7:12 pm 24

    I agree with nellie. thank you

  25. Zee Oct 12, 2015 7:51 pm 25

    I have three ways of justifying myself when I talk behind someone’s back. I usually call it “analyzing” his or her character, in order to understand the person better and to deal with them in a correct way. My second justification is: “well I will tell the person what I think about them”, but I never do. My last self-deceiving way to do it is: as I am saying bad things about the person, I immediately say “well she also has a lot of qualities, she is kind, considerate and so on…” These are three ways of making something wrong seem right on my part.

  26. HSH Oct 13, 2015 12:57 pm 26

    First of all thanks for such great topics that make us think about some important matters in our daily life. I can accept not to say anything that would be backbiting, but if this was happening in a couple that was really living in peace and properly and loved each other, it could be just evaluating other people (which can be helpful for them), but of course under the condition that IT WOULD NOT BE JUST FOR FUN OR SOMEHOW SCORNING PEOPLE!

  27. AMY Oct 16, 2015 7:18 pm 27

    In my estimation, I myself ,in most cases can clearly differentiate between these two. when I am backbiting, because of my strong imperious self, I have a sort of excitement. I am happy to talk with someone else. But in sharing ideas, I just explain something, no bad intention.

  28. Vanessa Oct 19, 2015 6:58 am 28

    Is it still considered backbiting if the person we are confiding in does not know the individual we are talking about? For example, let’s say I want to talk to my co-worker about my brother’s actions that made me very upset. This co-worker does not know my brother and will likely never meet him. I am confident in her as a friend, perhaps for suggestions on how to deal with my situation, or maybe just to get some tension off my chest. What do you all think? Is this backbiting? Where do we draw the line between backbiting and have normal human friendships where we can discuss matters for advice?

    1. adissam Jan 08, 2016 11:49 pm 28.1

      In the lab “Breaking free from backbiting”, the difference between backbiting to tarnish a person’s image and the emotional need is developed.
      I’d say it depends on the intention.
      In general, I don’t talk about my own family issues with people.

  29. NN Oct 20, 2015 12:30 am 29

    My criteria for distinction would be:
    Does my spouse/loved one know the person?
    Do I speak about how much I suffered and why, or do I focus on the “perpetrator” and on his/her fault in depth?
    Do I also see a fault in myself, do I see why this is happening to me? Is it a fair analysis?
    Do I judge the person the behavior in a negative way?
    Do I extend the comment to other faults and the general weakness/meanness of the person?
    Could I say what I say in front of the person?
    I realized that speaking about a difficult situation, for example related to a difficult family member, can turn into a lengthy “analysis” of the psyche of a person: he/she needs attention, has a complex etc. This provides a kind of psychological relief any may even help to deal with a situation, but it sometimes does not feel right. Maybe the emphasis should be on the intention of why we are saying something. Do we want to help ourselves/the other, or do we want to take revenge and reduce the person because of a hurt ego?
    Obviously dissecting the behaviour of others is part of “seeing the faults of others” instead of seeing one’s own faults, which are at the origin of the problem we are facing.

  30. SusanB Oct 20, 2015 2:53 pm 30

    The criteria I use to distinguish between backbiting and a necessary discussion is basically that…is it necessary? Do I need advice, does my husband need to know something which may affect him? if neither of these two apply then I presume it to be backbiting. However, the criteria is often difficult to accept as when I am upset by someone I feel the need to off load by talking about it. I have signed up to OstadElahi inPractice and am trying the ‘pause before speaking’ strategy. When possible I find just a few moments of reflection sometimes helps…but when I am really upset, I feel like I need duct tape across my mouth!!! Still, I tell myself not to give up and try to analyse why I am so upset rather than getting carried away with MY right….its a long road but at least I am on it.

  31. pamela Jan 05, 2016 6:33 am 31

    I think when I sincerely need some advice from a family member on how to resolve an issue that someone’s behavior has created, that is most likely not backbiting. However, when I take jabs at people because of my own pride or other faults, it tends to be more along the lines of backbiting.

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