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It’s healthy to have safe relationships where you can share and be vulnerable. This is especially true when going through painful and traumatic experiences. However, when the line between sharing and trauma dumping blurs, your relationships may pay the price.
Experiencing trauma isn’t uncommon. Nearly 60% of men and 50% of women have faced trauma. Leaning on your support system and being open about your struggles and pain with safe people is part of healing. These coping strategies aren’t the same as trauma dumping.
What Is Trauma Dumping?
Trauma dumping involves oversharing painful emotions, thoughts or experiences without considering how it will affect the listener. There is nothing wrong with discussing your trauma. It’s harmful if you never share your painful or scary experiences and their impact. The key with trauma dumping is that the individual shares without the other person’s consent or in an inappropriate situation. Some individuals do this intentionally to keep attention on them, but many do so unconsciously.
Trauma Dumping vs. Venting
The line between trauma dumping and venting may seem blurry, but the two are different. When someone vents, they’re typically getting something off their chest. They might share a stressful situation at work or in their personal life and then move on. The relationship is also reciprocal, so both parties share.
Trauma dumping is one-sided and leaves the listener feeling overwhelmed or emotionally exhausted. The individual unloads their traumatic experiences matter-of-factly at inappropriate times. They may also repeatedly share the same story or graphic details, often to gain a specific response or treatment from the other person or to make themselves feel better.
Signs You Are Trauma Dumping
You may be trauma dumping if you find yourself:
- Disclosing trauma with acquaintances, coworkers or people you don’t know much about
- Telling others about the graphic details of your trauma or posting about them on social media
- Sharing your trauma online without a trigger warning cautioning readers or viewers
- Deciding to share with those you view as a “captive audience”
- Bringing up your trauma during small-talk or lighthearted conversation
- Frequently sharing the same traumatic story or details
How to Tell Your Story Without Trauma Dumping
You don’t need to remain silent about your trauma to avoid trauma dumping. Many survivors feel shame or pressure to stay quiet, which hinders healing. When you share your trauma, be mindful of your environment, the details you disclose and how sharing will impact the listener(s). Here are some tangible ways to share your trauma without dumping on the people in your life.
- Before sharing, pause and consider if you’re sharing in an appropriate environment. For example, work is typically not an ideal place to disclose your trauma history.
- Before you share, ask the listener if they have the emotional space to hear about a painful experience.
- Be mindful of how discussing the details of your trauma will affect the other person.
- Avoid bringing up your trauma in casual conversations.
- If you post about any aspect of your trauma on social media, include a trigger warning at the beginning of the post.
- Attend individual or group therapy. This gives you a safe space to intentionally process trauma and your related emotions, thoughts and experiences.
- Join specific social media groups for survivors. This provides you a space to share with others who consent to hear other survivors’ experiences.
How Does Trauma Dumping Affect the People Around You?
Trauma dumping crosses other people’s emotional boundaries. They didn’t consent to hear about the other person’s trauma. It likely caught them off guard and may leave them feeling:
Social Media and Trauma Dumping
Social media and trauma have a complicated relationship. At its best, it can:
- Connect survivors
- Provide a platform for individuals to tell their stories
- Support community advocacy
- Spread awareness, resources and education
Unfortunately, it can also be a place filled with trauma dumping. The ease of posting information online creates spaces where individuals can overshare with large audiences without considering the impact. Viewers are exposed to traumatic stories and graphic details before they have a chance to decide whether or not they want to know those things. This can be triggering for other trauma survivors and distressing for non-survivors.
A recent trend on TikTok involves sharing what seems to be a happy story that then suddenly cuts to a traumatic ending with no warning. Taking part in trauma dumping trends online can lead to oversharing. This may be to gain sympathy or followers or one-up other users.
How To Respond to Trauma Dumping
It can feel emotionally draining when someone dumps trauma on you. If you recognize a pattern of this behavior, it’s important to take steps to care for your mental health. This may look like setting boundaries, interrupting the person oversharing and practicing self-care.
Try to converse with the individual when you are both calm instead of mid-trauma dump. You can use statements like:
- I’m glad you felt safe sharing with me the other day. I want to make sure you get what you need. I think a therapist would be better equipped than me to support you.
- I want to support you well, so can you ask before you share painful experiences with me? That way, I can ensure I’m in a good place to help you.
- I care about you, but hearing about (insert trauma) triggers my history. I’m not able to listen and be supportive.
You often don’t foresee trauma dumping, so prepare ways to interrupt the individual.
- I’m glad you feel safe telling me this, but I’m not in a place to listen and be supportive right now.
- Thank you for trusting me with this, but I cannot give it my full attention right now. Can we talk about this later?
- That was really (scary/painful) for you, and thank you for trusting me. This is triggering for me, though, so I don’t think I’m the best person to share this with.
After getting away from the situation, do something to help ground yourself and recover. Try a deep breathing exercise, go for a walk or shake out your extremities (arms, hands, legs).
If you or a loved one are seeking support due to past trauma, help is available. The Nobu app offers free mindfulness and breathing activities and guided video lessons. For an additional fee, you can connect with a licensed therapist for more help. Download it today in the Google Play store or Apple Store.
Take Control Of Your Mental Health
- National Center for PTSD. “How Common is PTSD in Adults?” 2014, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Accessed September 1, 2022.