5 Ways to Handle Slander

If you have been an influencer for any given period of time, you have likely had someone publically attack your character based upon something you did or based upon a perception of something you did.  This is tough. Making a judgment about the health of a behavior is one thing. People challenging the legitimacy of our methods is one thing. We need this kind of feedback, especially within the context of trusting relationships.  As influencers and leaders, we also need the humility to hear and receive this kind of feedback. But character assassination is quite a different thing, and we see it all the time in our political arenas, on social media, in the workplace, in marriage conflict, in just about every area of life.  

Slander, defined, is making a false public statement, mostly with the intent to damage a person’s reputation, and it has several facets.  First, slander is rooted in the soil of bitterness and flourishes in an environment where integrity is absent. Second, slander typically follows the fundamental attribution error.  This is a social psychology term describing the phenomenon whereby people see you do something they dislike and attribute it to your “poor” character rather than to extenuating circumstances.  Third, slander is never really about the person being slandered. It reveals more about the nature of the slanderer, but it wounds the victim in the process. Fourth, being slandered can become an opportunity for your growth as a person.  Wait...what? Yes...there is hope!

So how do we effectively handle slander when it happens AND grow through it?

Step 01: Validate our Feelings After the Slander Occurs

First, we must validate our feelings after the slander occurs.  Anger is a normal response. In fact, there is nothing wrong with anger.  The emotion of anger is a sign that a boundary line has been crossed and/or a value has been violated.  Slander certainly does both. Ignoring your emotions increases the likelihood that you will act out of them, which doesn’t typically work out well.  We must take responsibility for our emotions and regulate them through activities like deep-breathing (https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-relief-breathing-techniques#1) or the use of an experience record which helps us process unwanted experiences in healthy ways (Click Here for a guide).  

Step 02: Validate Your Emotions and Regulate Them

Second, after we validate our emotions and regulate them, we must anchor in our mission, vision, values, and identity.  Knowing your “why” and “who” you are is so important. In the midst of chaos, especially the emotional chaos triggered by slander, we must anchor in what we know is true regarding who we are, what our values are, and what our mission in life is.  Otherwise, we will be tossed around like a small boat in the middle of an ocean storm. Let me give you an example. In my years as a pastor and psychologist, I have had people say things about me that were not true. Earlier on, I did not handle it well.  As I’ve grown spiritually and emotionally, I remind myself that I guide people into hope, wellness, and life (i.e., mission); that I live from a place of love, integrity, respect, responsibility, thankfulness, hospitality, and wonder (i.e., values); and that I ultimately want to see the person who slandered me be healthy, whole, and engaged (i.e., vision).  Keeping these things in mind anchors me and helps me take the next step. By the way, if you are reading this and are thinking, “I don’t know what any of these things are in my life,” consider going through our Rhythms video series. Several of the modules address these things.      

Step 03: Forgive the Person Who Slandered Us

Third, we must forgive the person who slandered us.  Yes...I said forgive. Forgiveness sets us free from bitterness and releases us into the freedom we need to make healthy decisions with a clear mind.  Forgiveness releases us from the restriction that negative emotions place on our behavioral options by increasing positive emotions (over time), thereby broadening our perspective so we can build from a place of health.  If you struggle with forgiveness.  I’ve written an exercise that highlights what forgiveness is, what it’s not, and how to actually do it. Read the Forgiveness Blog

Step 04: Exercise Humility

Fourth, we must exercise humility, listen with an open heart through the slanderous way the person is communicating, and ask, “Can I learn anything from what the person is saying?”  Yes...this is difficult, but having the humility to ask this question protects us from self-preservation and opens us up to possible growth and learning.

Finally, pray for the person.  Praying for people who hurt us reminds us that people are not our enemies.  Now, praying for the person does not excuse the person’s behavior. You are praying that God opens their eyes, heals their hearts, and helps them grow as people.  Praying for the people who slander us adds another layer of healing and helps us focus on our “why,” rather than our pain.

I trust this was helpful.  As a leader, if you find that you are having a difficult time processing an experience in which you were slandered, seek help.  Call us at The Well Clinic, call another local therapist, talk to a pastor, even seek legal help if you need it, etc. But, whatever you do, purpose to work through these five steps and be free to continue leading from a place of health and mission.

Here’s to hope, wellness, and life!