The Yomiuri ShimbunDear Troubleshooter:
I’m a woman in my 20s. I feel depressed because my grandmother in her 80s and my aunt in her 60s bad-mouth people in our neighborhood and our relatives every day.
When a neighbor comes to our house, they seem like they’re getting along just fine. But no sooner has the visitor left than they start speaking ill of them. When relatives come to the house, my grandmother and my aunt go to other rooms or even outside, pretending they have some business to attend to. They act like this not because they have been treated badly by these people in the past, but for such childish reasons as the visitors talk too loudly or the confectionery they brought as a gift was too plain.
When watching TV, my grandmother frequently says things like “They’re just a bunch of morons” or “The food looks so unappetizing!” and then starts laughing with my aunt. I usually try to think, “Aging is aging, and there is nothing I can do about it.” But hearing them, I can’t help feeling sad, even though it isn’t me who is being belittled.
I’m trying as much as possible not to be in the same room as them. But lately I can’t help harboring such unpleasant thoughts as hoping they die soon.
R, Aomori Prefecture
Dear Ms. R:
There are people who recklessly speak ill of others, aren’t there? And they are usually pretty disliked by those around them.
The reason is simple: People tend to think, “They must be criticizing me in my absence too.” Unless they’re hoping to be hated by others, it is odd indeed why they would dare to do something that people abhor.
I’m afraid your grandmother and your aunt might both be this type of person. You must be wondering if you should tell them, “People hate you” or “You should stop bad-mouthing people.” But if you did, you would surely be swallowed up in flames — although I trust that they’re not suggesting you “drop dead” behind your back.
My conclusion is that you have no other choice but to let sleeping dogs lie. That’s because people like this can say nasty things lightheartedly and without reserve only when they’re sure their words aren’t being heard by people they criticize.
That is to say, they’re timid people who can speak their minds only when they know they won’t be held to account for their remarks. As proof of that, they can’t express their views in front of others and instead slip away, don’t they?
Their words do not go beyond that. Do you still feel like you have to deal with them squarely?
Soichiro Nomura, psychiatrist