Trauma dumping is a recent term used to describe the act of unloading overwhelming emotions or traumatic experiences onto another person, often without warning. It is a common problem, especially among those who have had traumatic experiences and are struggling to cope with their feelings. It can happen between family members, friends, coworkers, partners, and on social media.
Having open and honest dialogue with your friends and family is integral to any healthy friendship or relationship. But is there a different side to it?
Let’s dive into the basics of trauma dumping and some steps you can take to be mindful in those moments when you need a shoulder to lean on.
Trauma Dumping 101
The foundation of reciprocal relationships generally involves feeling safe around someone and knowing they have your back.
The importance of giving someone the space to express themselves without interruption is huge for the survival of healthy relationships. There is nothing wrong with sharing your struggles with the people closest to you, whether for inspiration, reassurance, or simply to vent.
Trauma dumping, however, can sometimes be damaging to the person being dumped on, as they may not be prepared to handle the intensity of the emotions or may not have the resources to help the dumper. It can also damage the dumper, leading to further avoidance of processing trauma and potentially causing more intense reactions in the future.
The term ‘trauma dumping’ was first coined by psychotherapist and trauma specialist Janina Fisher in her book Healing The Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors. Fisher defined trauma dumping as ‘the act of “dumping” or shifting the responsibility for managing the traumatic experience onto another person.’ She argued that when this happens, it can be damaging to both the dumper and the person they dump their trauma onto.
Why Does Trauma Dumping Happen?
People in the midst of a traumatic experience may be overwhelmed by their emotions and may not have the resources or coping skills to manage them healthily. In these moments, they may turn to another person and use them as a ‘dumping ground’ for their emotions. This can take the form of telling the person all the details of the trauma or speaking in a stream of consciousness, or it can be more subtle, such as expecting the person to ‘fix’ the trauma or expecting them to be available as an emotional ‘crutch.’
People who trauma dump usually feel alone and want to feel heard and validated. The problem is that they may end up isolating themselves further if they dump on people without awareness. As a result, they are further isolated. They yearn for connection but sadly may not achieve it.
How to Gauge Yourself When You Need Support
To avoid trauma dumping, it is essential to be aware of your emotions and be mindful of when you may feel overwhelmed. It is also important to have a plan for managing intense emotions in a healthy way.
The listener may not have been allowed to opt out of trauma dumping. Additionally, when trauma dumpers fail to take reasonable steps to avoid triggering situations, those on the receiving end may feel overwhelmed and frustrated.
Sharing your trauma story without considering its impact on the listener can sometimes damage relationships. However, in those excruciating moments of being triggered, you may not realize that your usual support person may not be in the right mental state to accept your venting or to provide you with support.
Are you a trauma dumper? See if any of these signs apply to you.
Signs of Trauma Dumping
The following are possible signs of trauma dumping:
- Sharing graphic details about a traumatic situation or repeating the same stories
- Constantly peppering casual conversations with references to past trauma
- Sharing your story with people you don’t know very well
- Selecting listeners who may feel more obligated to do so
- Posting detailed accounts of trauma on social media, such as in blog comments or private groups designed for a completely different topic
- Oversharing traumatic or difficult experiences with others in a repeated or unsolicited way
- Sharing disturbing details about events that are way out of the norm for other people
Being mindful of when you might be trauma dumping can help you learn healthy ways to cope with trauma and maintain meaningful relationships. Sharing deeply unsettling information with people over and over and expecting them to respond with the same level of compassion and concern may not be practical or healthy. This can cause people to distance themselves as a result of feeling the following:
- The details of your stories are sudden and unsettling.
- Feeling unsure how to respond to your stories, especially if they’ve offered practical and reasonable advice in the past around a recurring situation (i.e., repetitively sharing about an unfaithful partner or spouse but not taking any actionable steps to resolve the situation in your favor)
- Feeling frustrated by what seems like your inability to realize that your trauma stories are affecting their mental well-being.
Tips for telling your story without dumping your trauma
You don’t need to keep your trauma hidden to avoid trauma dumping. It is common for survivors to feel shame or pressure to keep quiet, which hinders healing. Sharing your trauma requires you to consider your environment, the details you share, and how the listener(s) may be affected. The following are some ways you can discuss your trauma with the people who matter to you without dumping on them.
- Consider whether the environment in which you’re sharing is appropriate before sharing. For example, it is typically not a sound idea to disclose trauma history at work.
- If you want to share a painful experience, ask the listener if they have the emotional space for it.
- It is important to consider how revealing details of your trauma may affect the other person. They may have things going on in their lives that they’re working through.
- It is best to avoid bringing up your trauma in casual conversations.
- Whenever you post about any aspect of your trauma on social media, include a trigger warning.
- Participate in individual or group therapy. Doing so will allow you to process trauma and the emotions, thoughts, and experiences associated with it in a safe space.
- Be mindful that when leaving multiple paragraphs about your situation on blogs and social media platforms, the administrators may not know how to respond. It’s not necessarily that they don’t care, they may simply not know where to begin.
- Join survivor-specific social media groups. You can share your experiences with others who have consented to listen to other survivors’ stories. You should be cautious, however, since groups designed for support can be helpful, but can sometimes exacerbate your trauma symptoms due to a phenomenon called vicarious traumatization. Consider unjoining a group if you find yourself constantly triggered.
If your situation involves domestic violence, it’s a good idea to visit your local domestic violence center and see if they can help you. For the record, narcissistic and emotional abuse often qualify as domestic violence, though it depends on where you live. At the very least, make contact with them and speak to one of the staff about your situation.
In conclusion, being open about your struggles and pain with safe people is essential to healing. Feeling supported, validated, and secure around the people you care for can go a long way in gaining back your self-esteem and sense of safety.
The people you love want to be there for you and to see you get better. These tips can help you get the support you need without affecting your most important relationships.
Everyone has the innate capacity to heal themselves. But it’s likely you will need external support to heal the traumas that get in the way of your ability to tune into this gift.
I cover the applications and theories in all of these areas in my narcissistic abuse recovery program, which has been voted a favorite by professionals in the psychological community. Therapists refer their own clients to this program.
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