Why Am I So Damn Bitchy?

Illustrated by Maya Brasnovic
I like to think I'm a good person. At least, I try to be one – I like to see people feel included, I like helping others, and I don't want anyone to be hurt by things I do or say. But sometimes I really question whether deep down, I'm actually that good — or am I kind of a bitch?
My whole life, I've oscillated between being the kind of person I want to be, and this dirty, icky alter ego who isn't happy for anyone and revels in other people's misfortune. Not like, all misfortune. But certainly in those moments where someone super successful or 'blessed' falls off their pedestal and I feel like less of a failure.
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I hate being that dirty, icky person. But I have to be honest and say that I'm right there in the depths of it from time to time.
I wish I could say that I never acted like a bitch or revelled in negativity, but it wouldn't be true. I still catch myself internally rubbing my hands in glee when I hear that someone successful, someone I'm jealous of, has fallen from grace in some way. I'll find myself indulging in bouts of shit-talking, where I'm ripping into everyone from influencers to ex-boyfriend's new girlfriends in group chats. Yes, it's all in private – I've never gone so low as to want someone to feel humiliated or hurt on my account. But does it even matter? Am I just the biggest fake in the world?
I asked Lysn psychologist Nancy Sokarno what was behind this kind of behaviour. "Misery loves company," she said, adding that we often revel in the downfall of others as a way to cope with our own securities, failures or perceived inadequacies. "Humans are complicated creatures and sometimes we think that seeing someone else fail can somehow elevate us or remind us that we’re not the only one. Yet ultimately, when we derive pleasure out of others misery it can be because we are feeling insecure or as you stated, dissatisfied with our own lives."

When I was stuck at home, too broke to do a lengthy Euro trip this winter, I'd find myself sending screenshots of what I deemed to be cheesy Instagram posts to friends. When I felt anxious about my relationship, other people's break ups gave me joy.

I look back at the times when my slightly dirty love of gossip veered into bitchy territory. It was always during a period of my life where I was deeply unhappy, usually about a lack of momentum in an area like my career, relationships or lifestyle. When I was stuck at home, too broke to do a lengthy Euro trip this winter, I'd find myself sending screenshots of what I deemed to be cheesy Instagram posts to friends. When I felt anxious about my relationship, other people's breakups gave me joy. Every time I secretly loved that someone else had failed, it was because I was feeling like a failure in that area.
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It would be unrealistic to say I'll never be a bitch again. Humans love to gossip and we're drawn to it — even Sokarno agrees. "Humans are inherently social creatures who have used gossip/venting since the dawn of time to strengthen social bonds, resolve conflicts, form understanding about social norms and figure out who is trustworthy. It’s good for our mental health as it can actually release ‘feel-good’ hormones like serotonin."
The tipping point, she says, is when gossiping will harm someone else. "Sometimes when we gossip, we doing so with the intention to hurt someone, whether that be ruin someone’s reputation, humiliate them, erode any trust people have in them, ‘take away’ some of their abundance, or ‘get ahead’ ourselves."
Sometimes, we don't intend to harm someone, but our actions end up doing it anyway. Think about it — there's a huge difference between having a bitch session to one person about that friend who went back to her ex for the fifteenth time, and telling everyone in your friendship group the secret news that her ex cheated on her. One scenario is relatively harmless as it's a closed circle. The other leaves her in the dark as everyone around her knows intimate details she didn't want shared.
We don't just hurt others when we tip into harmful bitching; we hurt ourselves. "When our minds start to sit comfortably in a place of judgement, we are much more likely to judge ourselves in a negative way," says Sokarno. "It can affect our own self-esteem and cause us to look at ourselves through the same negative lens."
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When our minds start to sit comfortably in a place of judgement, we are much more likely to judge ourselves in a negative way.

Nancy sokarno, psychologist
So even though the reason we're diving head-first into bitch-land is because we feel bad about ourselves, doing so is just going to make us feel worse. It's a sick cycle. So how do we break it? Sokarno's first tip is to be mindful. "Notice when it turns from harmless venting or gossip to toxic gossip — when it starts to cross the line to become hurtful for that other person (and you)," she says.
Then, we need to work on ourselves. Once we recognise the real reason we've being bitchy, the next step is repairing our self-esteem. "Focus on nurturing you own wellbeing and making some changes in your life to make yourself happy," she says. Put the phone down and go for a walk, or take some little steps to lift yourself out of the rut that's bothering you, whether that's setting up some dates if you've felt lonely after a split, or applying for some new jobs.
Another tip that Sokarno suggests, which I've found works for me, is to be vulnerable. Instead of cutting down another person, talk honestly with a trusted friend about the reaction you're having to their success. "Sometimes being vulnerable with others can start another conversation that could be beneficial to you," she says.
At the end of the day, we all screw up and do shitty things we're not proud of. I don't think I'll ever escape my bitchy streak altogether, but I can commit to recognising it — and shifting my focus from negativity about others to reflecting on myself.
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