How to Stop Trauma Dumping

Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC
1/16/2024

Most people have, or will, experience some kind of trauma. What we think of as trauma varies person to person.

How someone copes with trauma is also going to be different than how another person does. There is no doubt that acknowledging your trauma and discussing it can have a wildly positive impact in helping you heal. But how you go about this process matters.  

What Does It Mean to Trauma Dump?

Have you ever felt like someone shared way too much information with you out of nowhere? Or, perhaps you’ve caught yourself sharing too much information with someone you don’t know well or at an inappropriate time. This is called trauma dumping.

Trauma dumping is when someone offloads their stressful thoughts, negative feelings, or traumatic experiences onto someone else without warning and consent. It’s unsolicited, and usually unexpected. It is often one sided and can occur at an inappropriate time or with an inappropriate person. 

Trauma dumping can also occur online through people posting details on social media or to the overall general public. The barrier between public and private often gets blurred online. Social media makes us feel closer to more people than we have before. It makes some people more brazen in what they share, and expands their view of “privacy.” 

a man with his his head in his hand trauma dumping to a friend

Venting vs Trauma Dumping 

Another line that is easily blurred is the line between venting and trauma dumping. 

Venting is very normal and necessary. It helps people relieve pent up emotions from small stressors or annoyances they have. Venting is typically quick and occurs just a few times before a person is able to let it go and move on. People usually vent to close friends, partners or family members—people they trust and have a deep connection with. 

Trauma dumping, on the other hand, usually involves discussing the same stories or traumatic events over and over again, often in detail and for a much longer period of time. 

Trauma dumping can occur between people in close circles, or between those that are not close whatsoever. It generally involves trauma being interjected unsuspectedly into casual conversations and sharing graphic details about the experience. It can be jarring and doesn’t benefit the person doing the dumping nor the person hearing it.

venting is typically quick and occurs a few times before a perosn is able to let go and move on. trauma dumping usually involves iscussing the same stories or traumatic events over and over again.

Why Do We Trauma Dump?

Trauma dumping is often a sign of someone who has not properly dealt with their trauma, is not using healthy coping mechanisms, or they are not taking care of themselves emotionally

It is possible for anyone to be guilty of trauma dumping, or be on the receiving end of it. Sometimes trauma dumping can be unconscious while other times it is done intentionally to get sympathy or validation from someone else. 

Validation

People can use trauma dumping as a way of getting attention or preferential treatment from the receiver of the information. Often, the trauma dumper will choose someone who is more inclined to listen or feel obligated to.

Emotional Release

Other times, it could be unconscious anxiety and frustration coming out in the form of dumping it on another person to release that energy. For some people, it is their natural response to trauma that presents itself at the wrong time to inappropriate people or in the wrong environment.

They Don’t Know How to Begin Healing

Trauma dumping can also be a sign that someone is ready to share and work through a traumatic experience that they may have previously been suppressing. This is a good thing when redirected to the appropriate channels, people, and at the right time and setting. 

The Negative Effects of Trauma Dumping

Trauma dumping can have negative effects on both the person offloading and the person being dumped on. 

For the Person Trauma Dumping

Trauma dumping may provide temporary relief to the person doing the oversharing, but that relief does not last. Other times, trauma dumping may make people feel worse than before. Talking about trauma to someone who may not be able to take it on at that moment will not get someone the outcome they are looking for.

Because the listener isn’t prepared or qualified to help someone with trauma, the person doing the trauma dumping can leave the conversation feeling: 

  • Dismissed
  • Disconnected
  • Lonely
  • Embarrassed
  • Depressed
  • Anxious

Additionally, trauma dumping can damage relationships. It can make the listener feel drained, sad, and frustrated. Dumping trauma on someone can make them feel emotionally exhausted—even taken advantage of. 

Trauma dumping, though unintentionally, burdens someone else with your problems without their permission or any awareness of their mental and emotional state. Trauma dumping on someone can retraumatize them if they have experienced the same or similar kind of trauma.

the person doing the trauma dumping can leave the conversation feeling: dismissed, disconnected, lonely, embarrassed, depressed, anxious

For The Listener

Offloading serious information and memories without warning, permission, or invitation can make the listener feel overwhelmed. Generally, trauma dumping involves heavy topics that a person may need to emotionally prepare to listen to. But the listener isn’t given that option.

Trauma dumping is almost always one sided, with one person doing all the talking with no attention to the emotional state or well-being of the other person. 

Stop Trauma Dumping

Trauma dumping can negatively impact you and the people you dump on. If you come to the realization that you trauma dump yourself, it is important to learn how to break this habit. 

The first step is recognizing when you are dumping your trauma on someone and correcting it. Once you are aware of your trauma dumping tendencies, you can stop breaching the boundaries of others by oversharing at inappropriate times to inappropriate people and begin using healthier outlets to address your trauma.

Find Alternative Outlets 

Sometimes thoughts, feelings, and memories come rushing back, and you need a way to get them off your chest immediately. Journaling is a great way to do this as it allows you to process difficult feelings and experiences on paper at any time without any inhibitions. Nothing is shared erroneously. 

Trauma dumping can stem from unconscious anxiety and stress. Exercise is a great way to release some of this while taking your mind off your troubles. Physical activity is good for your mental and physical health.  

Mindfulness and meditation are helpful outlets as well. Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help calm the nervous system, change your perspective, and teach you to be mindful of your own thoughts and feelings—as well as those around you.

Find the Right People to Talk to

Having someone to talk to is important, but who you talk to and how you go about it are also important. Discuss your problems and experiences with people from your support system. But make sure to only do so with their consent first. 

Seek the support of a therapist. Therapists and counselors are trained and prepared to listen to your experiences and assist you in navigating the healing process. They are professionals in the mental health field that you can speak freely and openly with.

Another great option is to join a support group. Odds are, you are not the only person to have experienced the traumas that you have. Talking in a room with a group of people who have been through similar experiences can help you feel less alone. You can support others and be supported while you heal and move forward together. 

Individual and group counseling are the best ways to not only process trauma, but to learn how to talk about it. In group counseling, you'll get to discuss your past and emotions with other people who have been through or are going through similar experiences. Learn more about group counseling at Inner Balance and talk to others who understand and are prepared to listen and help.

How to Tell Someone to Stop Trauma Dumping

If you find yourself being the receiver of trauma dumping, you are not obligated to listen and it is okay to bring it to that person’s attention. It is not your responsibility to take on other people’s trauma and stress. If someone is telling you about their problems, don’t pick them up as your own.

It might sound harsh, but remember that your well-being is just as important as anyone else’s.

a close up of a woman wearing a facemask with tears welling up in her eyes

Set Boundaries

Set boundaries with people who tend to trauma dump on you. Place a time limit on the conversation right up front. Whether you say you only have five minutes to talk, 20 minutes to talk, or you don’t currently have the capacity to listen at all, you’re limiting the amount of time for the conversation without abruptly cutting them off.

If someone continues to trauma dump and disregards boundaries you’ve set in place, you can distance yourself from them if necessary.

Be Honest

If someone’s trauma dumping is weighing on you, be honest and direct with them about how it makes you feel. 

Be honest with them about what you can and can’t do for them to help.

If the conversation begins to become too much, try to shift it in another direction. Express whether it is a conversation you can have with them at a later time when you are more mentally and emotionally prepared, or if it is a conversation you would prefer not to have at all. 

Encourage the oversharer to seek professional help from mental health professionals that are better equipped to assist them in processing trauma. Support them in other ways by checking in on progress, or doing coping exercises with them, if possible.

Trauma Counseling at Inner Balance 

We understand that everyone works through trauma and handles stress differently. Talking about it is vital for moving forward, but doing so in ineffective ways or at the cost of the well being of others will not help. 

Avoid trauma dumping and redirect that urge into a healthier, more productive way of processing. Inner Balance Counseling has a team of caring and well-trained therapists ready to listen to all you have to say. We can help you process the pains of the past, relieve the stress of the present, and ensure a healthier future. 

Reach out. Show up. Feel better.

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Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC
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