Trauma dumping: what is it, why is it bad, and how to get friends to stop trauma dumping?
What is trauma dumping, why do some people do it, and what can you do to stop friends (and ourselves) from oversharing difficult thoughts and emotions at inappropriate times? We answer your top trauma dumping questions and share more about how you can set healthy boundaries with friends who overshare
We’ve all experienced friendships where one person overshares. I know I’ve been guilty of it more than once in the past. Knowing where the boundaries lie between sharing your worries with friends and overburdening them with your troubles can be tough. For those experiencing trauma dumping first-hand from a friend, it can feel impossible to know when or even if you should speak out. After all, aren’t we all supposed to be encouraging each other to reach out when we’re worried or overwhelmed?
But friendship is supposed to be a two-way street. And no matter how much we care for our friends and family, we aren’t there to act as their personal therapists. So, what can we do when oversharing becomes overwhelming, and frequent trauma dumps start to take their toll on our mental health and emotional wellbeing?
What is trauma dumping?
The phrase trauma dumping (also called emotional dumping) is used to refer to when someone overshares typically difficult thoughts, emotions, stressful situations or traumatic experiences. This could happen frequently or at irregular intervals (though there is often a consistent pattern), and most often happens at a time that is considered inappropriate. For example, sharing intimate details of a bad breakup with a work colleague or oversharing details of a traumatic medical experience on social media without providing warnings or considering who may be reading and how it may affect them.
Over time, trauma dumping (whether with friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances or even on social media) can start to take its toll and negatively affect everyone involved. For some, this can lead to compassion fatigue, stress, burnout, and may even feel like experiencing second-hand trauma.
What’s the difference between trauma dumping and venting?
While on the surface, venting and trauma dumping can sound a little similar, they have significant differences. When you open up to someone to vent about something that is bothering you, it’s typical to wait for an opportune time. You may wait until they ask how you are, ensure that the conversation is balanced and you’re asking about how they are feeling too.
Venting typically happens in a way that is respectful of the listener’s time, feelings, and personal situation. You wouldn’t necessarily vent to a friend who’s clearly overwhelmed and needing to share themselves, you’d wait for a more appropriate time. Someone who is venting may also be open to receiving feedback, comments, or possible solutions to help with their situation.
Someone who is trauma dumping typically won’t set or listen to boundaries around the other person’s time, feelings, or needs, instead focusing on releasing their own issues and concerns. They may do this over and over again over a period of time, start without warning, ignoring signs that the other person is not actively taking part in the conversation (or not realise that they are having a one-sided conversation). They may also be closed off to any feedback or solutions, wanting to focus on or dwell on the negatives. It's not unusual for someone to be unaware that they are trauma dumping.
How do you know if you or a friend are trauma dumping?
If you find yourself or someone you know repeatedly sharing the same story, graphic details, or experience over and over again (in a short space of time or over a period of time) it can be a sign of trauma dumping.
Constantly bringing up mentions of past or ongoing trauma into casual conversations (e.g. in the breakroom at work, when discussing weekend plans with a friend, over a casual cuppa with a relative, or with someone you are only casually acquainted with) without warning or when it isn’t relevant to the conversation at hand can also be a clear sign. Posting detailed experiences unprompted on social media to a general audience (instead of directly to a specific friend in private) can also be a sign of oversharing.
Why is trauma dumping bad and is it toxic?
When we overshare without thinking about how it may affect someone else, it can negatively impact how someone sees us, creating a negative impression. Over time, others may not want to be around the person who is trauma dumping, as they may feel it is taking a toll on their own emotional or mental health and wellbeing. While rarely done maliciously, trauma dumping is essentially an unhelpful, unhealthy coping mechanism that often doesn’t help either the dump-er or dump-ee.
Trauma dumping can feel like we are reaching out for help or trying to process our experiences, meaning we may be unaware that what we are doing or saying may be triggering or harmful to other people. That’s why it’s important to make sure that the people we open up to and share with are happy to listen.
Offering mutual emotional support can be a way to ensure that you aren’t dumping your worries and negative experiences on one person, and are instead both communicating together to listen and offer help and support.
How do you stop a friend from trauma dumping?
Even the most mentally resilient people can struggle when a friend keeps trauma dumping. You may feel unprepared, overwhelmed, or just unsure how you should react. It’s ok and completely healthy to prioritise your own mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Speak up. Interrupting your friend while they are dumping can be a good way to try and stop this unhelpful behaviour. By letting them know, clearly and openly, that you do not have the mental capacity or emotional bandwidth to have this kind of big, heavy conversation right now, you can provide a good reminder that their sharing of a tough topic can (and is) having an impact on others. If you feel comfortable, you could suggest having the conversation at a later time when you feel more prepared.
Set limits. If you’re worried about stopping your friend from sharing, setting a time limit for your conversation can also be helpful. For example, you could say you only have ten minutes then you need to leave. This can help you to avoid feeling overwhelmed without fully cutting them off, but may not be helpful in the long run.
Breathe. If your friend continues to trauma dump, practising calming breathing techniques can help you to feel recentred and calmer in the moment. It can also be helpful to remove yourself from the situation or conversation if you feel like things are having a negative effect on you.
Set boundaries. Setting clear boundaries with emotionally draining friends, family, or loved ones can be an act of self-care and self-protection. Boundaries can also help to preserve friendships and other relationships before we reach a point where they feel strained or damaged beyond repair. Healthy boundaries are there to protect us and our relationships, as well as to help them flourish.
How do I stop trauma dumping?
If you’re worried that you have been trauma dumping, there are different ways you can try to stop and move towards developing healthier ways of sharing your experiences and feelings. Talking about trauma isn’t a bad thing - many people feel the need to talk things over with someone or share their experiences. Talking about traumatic experiences, stressful situations, and being overwhelmed can be a healthy part of the healing journey and can help you find new, healthy ways of coping.
It is worth asking yourself:
- Is my sharing impacting others? If so, how?
- Why am I sharing this experience, with this person, at this time? Is my choice to share based on trust, does this person appear ready/willing to listen?
- Are we both getting the chance to share, speak, and respond? Or am I leaving few/no gaps for others to speak when I am sharing?
- Does the other person seem comfortable? Have I already shared this with them more than once in the past?
If you think it may be time to change how you share your experiences with others, it’s worth considering:
- How you communicate. Before opening up, ask if now is a good time to share, or if they mind if you share. This can create the opportunity for friends or loved ones to push back if they are feeling overwhelmed or already have a lot going on right now.
- Are you being mindful of your feelings? Sometimes, we trauma dump as a way to mask or ignore other emotions that are really bothering us. Consider how you feel when you get the urge to share. Are there any specific emotions or triggers you can spot? Recognising these can be the first step towards challenging them and changing unhelpful behaviours.
- Setting boundaries. Ensuring that any boundaries that have been set are clear and respected can be a huge help in protecting yourself and others. Find out more about how you can establish healthy relationship boundaries.
- Working with an expert. Speaking with a therapist, counsellor, or psychotherapist can help you to manage unprocessed trauma. Therapy for trauma can provide a safe, judgement-free space where you can talk through and share your experiences and emotions with an experienced professional. Certain types of therapy may be more highly recommended depending on the type of trauma you have experienced.
Ready to find out more to speak with a professional? Connect with experienced, qualified counsellors, therapists, and psychotherapists using Counselling Directory.