Evil Tongue and Elevating our Self-Esteem

Back in the day, I had a “frenemy” who, as it turned out, was pretty hell-bent on taking me down. This person really did what they could to hurt me. I was deeply upset, I was angry, I was all of those things you feel when you find out that someone you thought you liked was venomous and dangerous. I restrained myself from fighting back. I tried to take the high road. But one day I heard that something unfortunate and humiliating had happened to this person. And my reaction was deep relief and…happiness. There went the high road. So, why does it feel so good to hear something bad about someone you don’t like? Or someone you DO like? Or someone you don’t KNOW? I once asked the editor of a tabloid newspaper why all of the stories about a famous British couple had a negative bent. He said that when the headline was positive, the paper didn’t sell. Why is that? What’s wrong with us? I asked some sages to shed a little light.

Here’s to washing our mouths out with soap..

Love, gp


I’m curious about the spiritual concept of “evil tongue” (speaking evil of others) and its pervasiveness in our culture. Why do people become energized when they say or read something negative about someone else? What does it say about where that person is? What are the consequences of perpetuating negativity or feeling schadenfreude?


I have been giving a great deal of thought to why people feel a need to speak badly about others or become energized and excited when they become aware of negativity surrounding another. I have been doing yoga now for several years. My teachers are constantly repeating that in order to elevate one’s self in a yoga pose, one must root down into the ground in order to lift up. I feel this metaphor is applicable to this question.

When a person does not feel good about himself or herself, they will look for ways to elevate their self-esteem, even momentarily. By looking down at others or deriving glee at the misfortune of others, they feel a sense of lifting up of their own self-view. Often, this works even for groups of people, as in cliques or gangs. By being negative about the “outsiders” to the group, a sense of commonality and bravado develops within the group.

Sometimes, this need for putting others down is also generated by fear of people or groups who are different and therefore “threatening.” Some of this need for negativity is probably evolutionary in origin as a way that clans of people bonded together to protect themselves from harmful outside forces. However, in general I believe that the need to speak “evil” or to relish in the problems of others is a fast and cheap way to falsely raise one’s own self esteem. A much more positive and long-lasting esteem booster is to feel positive energy toward others and develop empathy and compassion when one comes upon the suffering of a fellow human. I think if we are truly honest with ourselves, we all know that when we wish others well, whether close relations or strangers we hear about in the media, we get a more glowing and positive feeling than the temporary and superficial rush of wishing negativity or relishing in their suffering.

Over the years I have worked closely with many types of people as a therapist. I have no doubt that good energy put out into the world will always be reflected back in positive ways. We tend to attract what we generate…I am sure that all of us would rather attract lightness and well-being than darkness and negativity.

Dr. Karen Binder-Brynes
is a leading psychologist who has had a private practice in New York City for the past 15 years.