Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Is it right to confront blabbing relatives who betray a trust?
Q: I recently received some exciting, but private, news that I shared with my family members. Unfortunately, threatening to share sensitive information with others is a weapon some members of my family have used in conflicts. When I told each group, I explicitly stated my desire to tell the others personally.
I recently found out that, despite my clear communication of my own expectations, one part of my family told the other.
I'm upset they didn't respect what I had asked, but don't want to make this into a bigger deal than it is. Unfortunately, this has made me lose trust in some members of my family. Should I confront the "leakers"?
Carolyn: Confront them, don't confront them, whatever you need to sleep well at night.
But do recognize this: When you make expectations clear to people who use sensitive information as a weapon, you're essentially arming the nuke.
If you want to retain control of your news, then either don't tell the leakers anything, or tell them all at once.
Radical third choice: Stop caring who says what to whom. It's ultimate liberation from those who leverage gossip.
However, for you to get there, you're going to have to take a long emotional journey, since you, too, leverage information by controlling its release. You're upset if it doesn't come out just the way you envision it.
Perfecting your release method is a temporary solution. Making peace with the fact that you lose control of news the moment someone else knows it — that's the only permanent solution there is.
Anonymous: This hits a nerve with me since I'm also a person who shares information how I want to share it, and I expect others to keep things private if I ask them to. I honor that when people ask the same of me.
Why do you think a desire to keep things private is such a marked negative thing? And why do you consistently link it to controlling behavior?
Carolyn: Because it's linked to controlling behavior. It's one thing to ask occasionally — and realistically — for discretion. However, it's another to want the last word on anything said about you. What is said about any of us is beyond our control.
Telling a spouse not to discuss with friends anything about your marriage, for example, is an attempt to control how you appear to others. How is that not controlling?
Or, determining an order in which people are told, or making big scenes of revealing news — that might not be sinister, but it is akin to playing director of your own little life-movie. Plus, getting invested in its happening as planned tends to involve micromanaging what people can and can't say. How is that not controlling?
And a need to guard information tightly, I've seen over the years, often stems from a general discomfort with letting things take their own course. Certainly there are some temperaments that will never shape-shift into que sera, sera. However, if you look at any warning list of controlling behaviors, you're going to see a theme of discomfort with leaving things to others, which is really distrusting anyone not oneself.
Maybe you're on the benign end of the continuum, but a continuum it is.