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I Helped Spread a Rumor. What Should I Do?

Yesterday my friend told me something about a girl in my class and I told a sophomore I know, but then today I found out it was a rumor and it's not true. Now I feel guilty because it's spreading around the school. Is there anything I can do to stop it?
- Brooke*

Guilt is a normal emotion that signals us when we've done something that's against our values. Your guilt about what happened is motivating you to want to set things right.

We all make mistakes. But, handled the right way, they can be great learning experiences. The best way to deal with this situation (and your feelings of guilt) is to take responsibility and apologize for your mistake, do your best to repair the damage, and promise yourself to do better next time. After that, you can forgive yourself and let the guilt feelings go.

Here's what to do:

Start by going to the person you passed the rumor on to. Let him or her know the information you shared is false.

Next, approach the person you gossiped about. Let her know what's going on. For example, you might say something like this: "Jessie, I owe you an apology. Yesterday I heard that you cheated on Cory and I thought it was true, and I actually told Blake what I heard. But then I found out it wasn't true. I feel really bad that I believed it and that I spread what turned out to be a rumor about you. Even if it had been true, I still shouldn't have spread it. I realize now that I should have thought about it more. I wouldn't want anyone spreading negative stuff about me. I want you to know I already told Blake that what I said was not true. But I wanted you to hear about it directly from me. I'm really sorry. I hope you can forgive me. I learned something. In the future, I'll think twice before I repeat something I hear about anyone."

Give her time to reflect on what you said and deal with her feelings. Maybe you could do something nice for her as an apology or ask her what she'd like you to do to make things right. After a day or so, approach her in a friendly way and ask if she can forgive you.

Be prepared for her to say how hurt or mad she was about what happened. She might be angry when you approach her or she may seem fine but then get mad after she has time to reflect on what happened. You might have to listen, accept what she has to say, and let her express her feelings before she is ready to forgive and move past the issue. Most likely, though, she'll respect that you had the courage and integrity to talk to her about it — even if she never says so to you.

Use the mistake as a learning experience. You've learned not just how rumors can hurt, but how they can make you feel about yourself. The way we talk about people (even when they're not present) matters.

Congratulations on wanting to set things right. It takes a strong, self-confident person to act as you are doing.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: April 2012

*Names have been changed to protect user privacy.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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