Relationships

What is Trauma Dumping and How Do You Stop Oversharing of Traumas

Learn about trauma dumping, its definition, examples, harmful effects, reasons behind it, and how to prevent or stop it. Understand the importance of setting boundaries, practicing self-care, and seeking therapy to manage trauma effectively.

By Alan Deibel, LPCP

Updated on Jun 06, 2024

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Picture this: you’re with a friend in a cafe and telling them about your awful week. Soon, your terrible week becomes a cascade of reasons you’re currently unhappy. Before you know it, you’re reeling off some of the most traumatic things that have happened to you. If a camera were to pan to your friend’s face, they might be slowly, sympathetically nodding but not able to get a word in edgewise.

This is called trauma dumping. 

Trauma dumping, also called emotional dumping, is more serious—and inappropriate—than venting, which serves as a way to get negative emotions out to find mild relief and discover a solution. Trauma dumping can make listeners silent because they just don’t know what to do or say—they may even feel overwhelmed and glum by your overshare.

So, what is a good trauma dumping definition, why do people trauma dump if it’s not OK, and is there a way to stop others—or yourself—from doing it?

What is Trauma Dumping?

Trauma dumping is when a person overshares details of their traumatic experiences at inappropriate times, or in a context or setting where it doesn’t make sense.

It’s tough to define, as the behavior itself isn’t the issue, but rather what the function of the behavior is. For example, someone may overshare their trauma with someone they just met because they want the person’s sympathy.

This same behavior in a therapeutic setting in which the behavior is prompted wouldn’t pose an issue.

And it’s not just strangers that can get trauma dumped on; friends, family members, coworkers, and acquaintances can also bear the brunt.

One of the key things to know, as Melissa Galica, a Grow Therapy licensed professional counselor (LPC), points out, is that trauma dumping is usually done without consent from the listener, where issues with boundaries arise.

Examples of Trauma Dumping

Along with the lack of consent, another red flag of trauma dumping is if the person receiving it has no chance to talk or share their emotions.

The person on the receiving end of the sharer’s thoughts and emotions might feel overwhelmed and helpless because they don’t know how best to respond, or they may not even be given the chance to respond.

Here is a specific example of trauma dumping:

Let’s say you met someone for the first time and you’re casually talking about plans with your significant other.

If the other person then launches into a story about their significant other and focuses on how poorly they treat them, thus taking over the conversation, this could be an example of trauma dumping.

The oversharing of vivid, graphic details and the sending of traumatic images are also considered trauma dumping.

It’s not always easy to know when someone’s trauma dumping on you, but a few signs to look out for might be:

Trauma dumping isn’t just done in person—it’s rife on social media sites such as TikTok, too.

People tend to post about their traumatic experiences for all to see and hear, whether it’s about their childhood trauma or interpersonal relationship trauma. And sometimes, people post without a trigger warning, inviting the whole audience into their trauma.

Why Do People Trauma Dump?

According to our Grow Therapy providers, people trauma dump because they:

Other factors that might come into play are high stress levels and social isolation—both can increase the likelihood of trauma dumping, especially among those who haven’t developed effective coping skills or are attention-seekers.

Also, if a person trauma dumps onto an unsuspecting party, it may be because they don’t want to process negative emotions.

Dealing with negative emotions can take work, whereas offloading onto the nearest person might seem easier to someone who’s experienced trauma.

It may be that a person who trauma dumps is experiencing distress related to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and stressful home or work environments.

Why is Trauma Dumping Harmful?

Trauma dumping can disrupt trust and intimacy in a relationship.

Typically, intimacy is built like a “dance.” One person takes a step—aka shares a detail—and the other person reciprocates. The topic typically starts on the surface and works its way down to deeper subjects as trust is generated.

When someone trauma dumps, this creates an imbalance in the relationship. Using the dancing analogy, it’s akin to stepping on the other person’s toes so they don’t know which step to take next.

Trauma dumping can lead to secondary trauma or even re-traumatization for the listener.

What is “secondary trauma”?

Secondary trauma is when a person experiences psychological and/or physiological responses from hearing about other people’s traumatizing events. Symptoms of secondary trauma can include feeling fearful or irritable, hypertension, thoughts of being helpless, difficulty sleeping, and intrusive images of the traumatic event.

You’re not responsible for someone else’s trauma; that’s what professionals are for. Set boundaries with those who like to trauma dump on you, redirect the conversation, or limit your contact to preserve your peace.

- Melissa Galica LPC

What is “re-traumatization”?

Re-traumatization is when someone experiences traumatic stress reactions to a new event that feel as intense as they were when the original traumatic event happened.

In terms of trauma dumping, if a person is trauma dumping onto someone who—unbeknownst to the trauma dumper—has experienced the same distressing thing and, upon hearing the trauma dumper’s account, has feelings of intense stress, this would be an example of re-traumatization for the person on the receiving end of the trauma dump.

In addition, research shows that trauma dumping doesn’t help the trauma dumper release anything, and without some form of processing, trauma dumping can even make a person’s trauma worse.

How to Prevent Someone Trauma Dumping on You

To prevent someone from trauma dumping on you, “Say no,” emphasizes Galica.

“You’re not responsible for someone else’s trauma; that’s what professionals are for. Set boundaries with those who like to trauma dump on you, redirect the conversation, or limit your contact to preserve your peace.”

However, it’s not always easy to set boundaries with people, especially if they’re friends, family, or loved ones. That’s why it’s important to mix in some compassion when setting boundaries.

Many times, one (compassion) negates the other (healthy boundaries). Many people are fearful that if they set a boundary, they will be seen as unsympathetic or as just another example of the mistreatment they [the trauma dumper] have received.

You can be compassionate and set healthy boundaries.

It may go something like this: “I feel honored that you feel comfortable sharing these intimate details with me, but I don’t feel comfortable with some of the subject matter that we are covering. Could we change the subject for now?”

Here are some other things that you could say to someone who is trauma dumping:

How to Stop Trauma Dumping on Others

Galica advises you to ask yourself some questions if you feel you may be trauma dumping onto other people, including:

If that’s the case, it may be because you have some lingering trauma effects that need resolving. The following self-care tips could help you start healing that trauma so that you don’t continue offloading your traumatic experiences onto others.

Talk to a Therapist

Along with changes you can make to your lifestyle, working with a therapist might also reduce your need to trauma dump.

What should you look for? Find a therapist that specializes in trauma-informed care.

Therapists often operate with healthy boundaries surrounding the topic and conversation of trauma.

By modeling this in a therapeutic setting, a client can gain insight into the function of their own behaviors as well as modify the way they think about and share their trauma.

Galicia agrees: “Treatment can give someone a safe space to process trauma. Therapists are trained to manage how to listen to other people’s trauma and work through using healthy coping outlets like journaling, art, exercise, or support groups.”

A few types of therapy that can help treat trauma are Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Prolonged Exposure (PE), Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART), art therapy, and Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS).

Keep a Journal

Therapeutic journaling can help you manage anxiety, reduce stress, and cope with depression. The way therapeutic journaling can help is three-fold:

Practice Mindfulness or Meditation

Stress can trigger a trauma response, so it’s important to find ways that alleviate feelings of stress. Not only can mindfulness help to restore your mental health, but it may even boost happiness.

Square breathing has also been shown to mitigate stress, reduce anxiety, and promote a sense of relaxation.

Engage in Physical Activity

Grow Therapy conducted its very own study on the state of mental health in America and found that, aside from formal mental health treatment, exercise is the second most recommended intervention for people to improve their mental health, according to therapists.

The mental benefits of exercise are plentiful: it boosts mood, improves self-esteem, provides social support, and relieves stress — all of which can benefit your well-being.

In particular, people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have been found to benefit from aerobic exercise, which can include brisk walking, swimming, running, or cycling.

Do Something Creative

Besides activating positive emotions, taking part in creative pursuits can also increase your resilience and help you express yourself in healthy ways.

Manage Your Trauma with a Therapist

Some things should be left to the professionals, including dealing with a person’s trauma.

It’s important not to offload trauma onto your nearest and dearest or people you don’t know well. While friends, family, and loved ones might be happy to support you in anything you’re going through, they’re not your therapists.

A therapist can help you uncover and heal your trauma and deal with the effects of trauma in manageable ways. You can also develop coping mechanisms so you won’t feel the need to dump trauma on anyone.

Whether you’re navigating depression, anxiety, PTSD, a devastating break-up, or a distressing life event, the therapists at Grow Therapy are here to help you work through your feelings so that you can cope with daily life, experience improved wellness, and enjoy your family and friends in the ways they should be enjoyed.

FAQs

  • Grow Therapy licensed professional counselor Melissa Galica says that trauma dumping is “when someone excessively discloses graphic details about their trauma without consent from the listener.”

  • Venting is intentional, and the expectations of both parties are known. For example, if you said, ‘Hey, I just need to vent about this thing that happened, I don’t need advice, I just need to get it out’, the expectations on both sides are understood and there are boundaries to this conversation. It’s important that the person venting states their intentions and also ensures that the receiving party is up to the task. Trauma dumping doesn’t take that extra step to make sure both parties are consenting to discuss this matter.

  • Licensed professional counselor Melissa Galicia says trauma dumping is a red flag because “it can damage relationships. It can also make some people less likely to open up to others or give others space to speak freely.”

About the author
Alan Deibel, LPCP

Alan Deibel is a licensed clinical professional counselor with over 12 years of experience who specializes in ADHD, addiction, anxiety, trauma, and PTSD.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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