Trauma Dumping: What It Is, How To Stop Doing It, How To Handle It

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Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to get the help you need instead of trauma dumping onto others. Simply click here to connect with one via BetterHelp.com.

“Talk about it!”

“Talk about your mental illness!”

“Talk about your trauma!”

“Don’t just bottle it up inside. Talk it out!”

“But wait, not like that…”

Every message put into the world has some intended audience behind it. But, of course, we can’t always know what audience that message is intended for.

Talk about it! It’s a common message in mental health to get suicidal people to open up about what they’re going through to someone who could help them get the help they need. Or it may have served as a catalyst to get that person to seek help themselves.

Like any message that sounds good, that overall message was lost in the general use of the phrase. A better message would be “talk to someone that can actually help you.” But that isn’t quite as catchy, is it?

And in that communication, we come to a term called “trauma dumping.”

What is trauma dumping?

In simplest terms, trauma dumping is unloading your trauma at inappropriate times on people that may not be expecting or prepared for it.

Two people who don’t know each other well may be involved in a conversation, and one person just offers something like, “Yeah. I’m kind of messed up today because of being sexually abused by my parents.”

A friend may reach out and say, “Hello. How are you doing?” And the response they get is something like, “Terrible. I can’t stop thinking about killing myself.”

Trauma dumping occurs at inappropriate times with the wrong people to share it with.

The reality is that not everyone wants to hear about it or is emotionally equipped to deal with that kind of heavy subject matter.

Trauma dumping is different from venting, or what some people may call emotional dumping. Venting is done with much lighter subjects. Emotional dumping is appropriate if you have a bad day at work or you’re annoyed that the restaurant messed up your order again. That’s not going into heavy subjects like how terrible your parents were to you, sexual assault, or whatever other trauma may be lurking.

People don’t always trauma dump on purpose. Some people do it out of anxiety. Others do it because they believe that sharing something personal will help them bond with who they are talking to. They may not have the social skills to understand an appropriate amount of information to share.

The rest of this article is going to be split into two audiences. The first audience is people with trauma who want to avoid trauma dumping. The second is for people who have someone in their life who is guilty of trauma dumping.

How do I stop trauma dumping on my friends and loved ones?

There’s an appropriate time and place to talk about your trauma. In most cases, that will be in support groups or with a therapist who can help you process the trauma.

One problem with trauma dumping is that it may not be helping you. Some people ruminate instead of processing their emotions. Rumination is when a person is constantly dwelling on some negative circumstances or experiences in their life. They aren’t actually processing it or moving forward from it. They just keep swimming in those waters and never get out of them.

Your friends and family are not equipped to help you get out of the water. They can listen, but that’s about it. Furthermore, trauma is something far too sensitive to trust to people who aren’t trained to deal with it. You may end up off-loading your trauma onto your loved one, who may then be negatively affected by it, leading to stress, anxiety, or depression.

There are a few different ways you can approach this.

The first is simply asking for consent before talking to the person about it. You can say something like, “Hey, I really need to vent about a trauma/problem I’m having. Are you okay with that?” And if they say no, well, then you have your answer. By asking for consent, you ensure that your friend is in a good enough mental space to share that space with you. They will appreciate you showing respect and consideration for their mental health.

You can also predetermine what things are appropriate to share in social situations. Those include things like your job, hobbies, local interests like sports, or just general interests. Save the heavier stuff until you’ve had a chance to actually build a relationship. That way, you have subject matter to easily step into when you start talking to someone.

Sometimes you may just need a little additional support while wrestling with the challenges that come from dealing with trauma. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just keep it in moderation.

There is this misguided notion that you may see in mental health communities that if your friend is not there for you through this kind of stuff, then they aren’t really your friend, and you should discard them. This is stupid. And it’s stupid because you have no idea what that person is carrying themselves.

For example, if you’re suicidal and your friend lost a loved one to suicide, they probably aren’t going to be able to handle that because your trauma can re-traumatize them. 

Furthermore, they may be fully aware that they are terrible at dealing with those heavier situations and don’t want to worsen the situation. Hell, maybe they’re not someone who feels like they have that kind of deep relationship with you to share something that personal. Maybe they are just a casual friend that you just have fun with sometimes.

Isolating is a big problem for mental illness. Don’t throw away friends because they don’t know what to do with your trauma or mental illness. This is absolutely terrible advice that will leave you isolated and alone.

Suppose you really need to talk about it. In that case, your best bet is a counselor familiar with trauma or a support group for your trauma. All kinds of support groups exist where you can find better understanding with people who have gone through similar things as you.

A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.

While you may try to work through this yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can address. And if it is affecting your mental well-being, relationships, or life in general, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.

Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.

Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.

How do I handle someone trauma dumping onto me?

If someone is trauma dumping onto you, then you’ll have to set some boundaries with them to keep the relationship healthy. For example, you can say something like, “I really don’t have the emotional bandwidth to talk about this with you. Can I help you find a counselor or a support group where you can get some meaningful support?”

Assuming the person respects your relationship and boundaries, it should pretty much end there.

Suppose it doesn’t end there, or the person tries to guilt you into listening. In that case, you just reiterate your boundary and step away from the conversation. Unhealthy people will push and push because they are more interested in dumping on you than respecting the boundaries of the relationship.

This is a healthy boundary to have. It’s necessary to keep your own mental health in a good place and not step on your own trauma that you might have. It doesn’t make you a bad person, so don’t let anyone guilt you into accepting an emotional load that you can’t handle.

Trauma dumping itself is not healthy or productive. There are better ways to handle the heaviness and difficulty of trauma. And really, it just boils down to finding a good counselor that can provide therapy aimed at resolving trauma. Just talking or venting is not a good replacement for the therapeutic process.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is trauma dumping a form of abuse?

No, it would be a step too far to say that trauma dumping is a form of abuse. For one, the person doing it isn’t always aware that what they are doing oversteps various boundaries or social norms. Abuse is a word that is thrown around too much these days, and often without merit. Trauma dumping is one of those times when the word ‘abuse’ doesn’t quite fit the behavior.

What causes trauma dumping?

The person who engages in trauma dumping will likely have a hard time processing their emotions related to the trauma and struggle to filter their thoughts when speaking. They do not see that the level of sharing involved is beyond what is suitable for the given situation. This person may use trauma dumping as a means to soothe their overactive mind, because they feel that sharing personal information will help forge a stronger connection with someone else, or unconsciously to push someone away.

Is oversharing a trauma response?

It can be, yes. The fact that one feels the need to overshare information with someone can be a sign that the trauma or issue being shared is unresolved in that person.  

Still not sure how to avoid trauma dumping onto your friends, family, colleagues, or anyone else? Speak to a therapist today who can be your outlet for that trauma instead. Simply click here to connect with one of the experienced therapists on BetterHelp.com.

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