- When we share an overly personal story that involves a traumatic experience we’ve endured, it’s called trauma dumping.
- Even though the experience may be something we’ve processed and accepted, others may not be open or ready to absorb such intensely personal information.
- Trauma dumping can also become a way for someone to avoid processing a painful memory of an event in their past and is emotionally harmful.
- To deal with someone else’s trauma dumping on you, find a lowkey time and setting to communicate boundaries.
- To avoid trauma dumping, factor in the conversation tone and setting, and find interest or support groups on social media to use as outlets.
- Remember that sharing graphic, traumatic, or upsetting experiences with a therapist or counselor is often safest and most beneficial for everyone.
Just picture this: You’re in the middle of a fantastic first date. After a great evening at dinner, you’ve both found yourselves lost in conversation, discovering more about each other, and enjoying the evening as time flies by. Diving deeper, you feel brave enough to share a close personal experience that somehow feels relevant.
Suddenly, your date falls silent, and their eyebrows furrow. The conversation lulls to a few awkward exchanges as you split the bill. Your face burns with embarrassment as you head home, feeling invalidated for having shared your trauma.
Now pause. In this imaginary scenario, you’ve overshared—you’ve engaged in trauma dumping; divulging disturbing, graphic, or upsetting experiences with others. Trauma dumping can become a habit, a deeply ingrained pattern of avoidant behavior—to avoid pushing your pain onto others, it’s best to understand how trauma dumping occurs, and why.
What Is Considered Trauma Dumping?
Trauma dumping is built around avoidance; pushing the emotional weight of one’s trauma onto others to alleviate the anxiety associated with painful memories. Trauma dumping signs may involve:
- Repeatedly sharing personal experiences that contain shocking, disturbing, or grisly subject matter that makes the listener uncomfortable.
- Conversations that leave the listener without the ability to respond or share their perspective—communication becomes a one-way street.
- A lonely or emotionally unfulfilled person who desperately wants to communicate the pain they’ve experienced but is missing the appropriate outlets.
The dynamics above separate “venting” from trauma dumping. Venting is a one-and-done, “call me when you need to get it off your chest” sort of thing. The person who’s venting knows that they’ll need to work on the issue themselves—but it still feels good to just share what’s going on with someone else.
Trauma Dumping Is Emotionally Draining
Trauma dumping can involve graphic or potentially upsetting information—so this may stimulate emotions within the listener initially. But as trauma dumping turns into a continual habit that someone is forced to endure, the process can actually become emotionally draining instead.
Not only is trauma dumping emotionally inconsiderate of other people, but it’s also emotionally stunting for the over-sharer. This means that everyone involved is losing in some regard.
How Do I Know If I’m Trauma Dumping?
People with a tendency to trauma dump may not even realize what they’re doing. If you’re worried about being an unsuspecting trauma dumper, consider whether you make a habit of:
- Interjecting mentions of past trauma into surface-level conversations that are unrelated to the subject at hand
- Choosing to share difficult subject matter with people you know will feel obligated to listen to you
- Preventing listeners from responding to an intense experience, story, or anecdote that you’ve shared with them
- Ignoring verbal and non-verbal cues that listeners are uncomfortable with the subject matter you’re telling them
Even if you’ve worked through a personal trauma that no longer troubles you, remember that those you share your experience with are literally processing it for the first time. It may be upsetting, overwhelming, or just really awkward.
Is Trauma Dumping Toxic?
Trauma dumping is toxic, but it’s not usually purposefully so. Once this communication pattern becomes a repeated dynamic within a relationship, the connection can become strained for one or both people.
Due to the disregard (even if intentional) for the listener’s boundaries or emotions, trauma dumping is harmful. Without the consent of the listener, it’s sort of like taking time and energy from the listener—a form of emotional vampirism.
Want to talk to a trauma therapist?
Start working with one of our top-rated providers. We have availability now and accept most major insurances.
Why Don’t Some People Notice When They’re Trauma Dumping?
Trauma dumping occurs because there’s a mental overflow caused by a collection of thoughts, usually a memory (or a collection of memories) attached to an unsettling experience. Those who trauma dump are sometimes unaware that they’re overlooking crucial aspects of their experience or situation, be it past, present, or future (fear of future trauma, perhaps).
This might even include perspectives or details that could help them resolve the pain caused by what they’ve endured. It’s also possible that they aren’t ready yet to completely confront these details.
- Trauma dumpers just aren’t interested in the feedback or perspectives of others once they’ve shared.
- And also aren’t interested in processing what they’ve gone through.
- In addition, often people who have experienced trauma—especially complex interpersonal trauma—experienced it in a way that completely violated their boundaries.
- This causes boundary confusion, which can make it very difficult for survivors to recognize appropriate boundaries in their future relationships.
When our brain is forced to process a traumatic event, it’s a bit like passing a hot dish to someone without any warning that it’ll burn them. Our brain has to then decide what to do with the trauma, as our five senses are busy absorbing the situation unfolding.
Afterward, one of the easiest things, indeed a survival mechanism, is for our brains to compartmentalize the experience, to crush or compress it into a manageable corner somewhere. And hopefully, as time goes on, we can begin to avoid acknowledging it at all.
As you probably already know, this tactic is not at all sustainable in the long term. But avoidance is still an appealing option and sometimes the only one available during the aftermath of our hardest, scariest, or most shameful moments.
How Do You Deal with Someone Who’s Trauma Dumping?
If the person that’s trauma dumping on you is a friend or family member, it can be tough to recognize what’s going on. In important relationships, we want to be there for the people we care about, but that support isn’t always given in return. And sometimes, we may not be qualified or energized enough to help someone we love process something traumatic.
If any of this sounds familiar, create clear boundaries around those triggering conversations or topics so that they know when they might be overstepping—and so that you don’t say or do something you’ll regret later.
The best way to deal with someone else’s trauma dumping tendencies is to communicate what you’d like them to change. To start:
- Choose a time when they aren’t trauma dumping in order to communicate how you feel.
- When the time is right, you can clearly express your boundaries, and also mention that you care about them and want to support them, but that you aren’t qualified or ready to help them process their trauma.
- Validate their emotions while you explain your new boundaries—they may feel hurt, and this can soften your words.
If the relationship truly matters, it’s worth talking through the issues you’re experiencing. With a little patience and some compassion, you can both survive the awkward or difficult conversations required in order to keep your connection healthy for both of you.
4 Ways to Create Your Own Trauma Dumping Filter
Venting is a healthy way to express your emotions, and it’s far different from trauma dumping—mainly because venting is a healthy way of coping with stress, fear, or anger. We should definitely be sharing urgent, upsetting, pressing, or important information with the people involved or those we trust—and for minors and young children, sharing your trauma with the right adult can be a way to access the resources you need to stay safe.
But for adults, trauma dumping can be both emotionally insensitive and an avoidant habit. For your sake and for the sake of others, it’s a socially-conscious and considerate plan to filter out potential trauma dumping.
You may want to:
- Think of how you would respond if someone shared the same information or story with you. Would you feel pressured to support them emotionally, or to respond in a way you didn’t feel capable of? Would you feel awkward, scared, or perhaps worried about their well-being? Even though you’re just “sharing,” that doesn’t mean the other person wants to receive.
- Consider the setting and time of the conversation you’re a part of. Trauma dumping on your coworker on the elevator ride up to the office, or telling someone an especially graphic or disturbing story on the first date could definitely make them uncomfortable. Unless they specifically ask you to share, or the connection between both of you is appropriately deep enough, don’t share unrequested traumatic experiences.
- Consider posting your content to the appropriate community or interest group within an app or platform’s discussion pages. Platforms like TikTok and Reddit have become a hub for heartfelt conversations about mental health. These platforms have interest and support groups that allow people who have shared similar traumatic experiences to find healing and validation. You may find a community that is willing to be part of a consenting conversation that may have otherwise been considered trauma dumping.
- Talk with a therapist about your experience. Talking to a professional doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you; all it means is that you’re prioritizing your mental health. Reserving the “heavy talk” for a provider can eliminate the risk of trauma dumping on those you care about. A therapist or counselor will display better engagement and comprehension than your friends or family—it’s their job, after all.
And lastly, trauma dumping is a highly subjective process, for both the listener and whoever is sharing. Both individuals may have widely differing opinions about what qualifies as “too much.” Trauma dumping is another reminder that our minds have an amazing capacity for healing, and compartmentalizing traumatic events can be useful—but only to an extent.
Validating your own life experience, and knowing where it’s headed, starts with acknowledging that at some point along the journey, like everyone else, you were hurt. Accepting that it happened, as indescribably difficult as it is, allows the true healing process to finally begin.