Trauma dumping is defined as unloading traumatic experiences on others without warning or invitation. It’s often done to seek validation, attention, or sympathy.
While some initial relief may come from dumping your trauma onto someone else, the habit actually does more harm than good. It can damage relationships and lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. Being aware of the effects of trauma dumping is important, whether you’re guilty of the trauma dump, or think you might be getting dumped on.
Keep reading to understand the trauma dumping meaning and to learn some trauma dumping examples. If someone you care about trauma dumps, you’ll learn how to help them.
A trauma dump is an act of unloading trauma onto others.
It can be done by constantly talking about a traumatic experience or by deliberately reliving it through reenactment. Trauma dumping can have negative consequences for the individual doing the dumping and for anyone on the receiving end.
“Trauma dumping is the unfiltered sharing of strong emotions or upsetting experiences without permission from the listener.”
– Talkspace therapist Dr. Olga Molina, D.S.W., LCSW
When someone experiences any of the many types of trauma, they often feel overwhelmed and seek relief by sharing their story. Unfortunately, this can backfire. The listener may feel burdened by having to hear about the trauma, and they may even start to avoid the person continually bringing up traumatic events.
It’s important to remember that everyone deals with trauma differently. There’s no right or wrong way to process trauma.
Is trauma dumping the same thing as venting?
When discussing traumatic experiences, we need to understand the difference between dumping and venting. Both involve sharing difficult experiences with others, but they serve different purposes.
Dumping is when we unload trauma onto someone else without regard for their emotional state or well-being. We might do this because we’re overwhelmed by our experience and need relief, or we may think the other person can fix us.
Venting, on the other hand, is a way of releasing some of the pent-up emotions associated with trauma in a safe and controlled manner. When we vent to another person, we’re mindful of their boundaries and only share as much as they can handle hearing. This allows us to process our emotions in a healthy way while still maintaining control.
Trauma dumping can be incredibly overwhelming and an emotionally draining experience — both for the person doing the trauma unloading and for the person receiving it.
How do you know if you’re trauma dumping? Here are some trauma dumping examples to look out for:
You feel like you need to get everything off your chest immediately
Holding in negative feelings about a traumatic event can be extremely difficult. When this happens, you might feel desperate to unload all your emotions onto someone else as soon as possible.
This can lead to impulsively seeking out anyone who’ll listen, regardless of whether or not they’re equipped to deal with your emotional outpouring.
You start talking without taking a breath
Once you finally start talking about what happened, it can be hard to stop. The words may feel like they’re tumbling out as though there’s no tomorrow. This nonstop stream-of-consciousness style of communication can leave both parties feeling exhausted. It can be particularly taxing for the person on the receiving end who didn’t have the opportunity to mentally or emotionally prepare for what they were about to hear.
You become extremely attached to one person
In many cases, trauma dumpers fixate on one person they view as their “savior.” They’ll cling desperately to this person and pour their heart out at every opportunity, even if it’s been made clear that this level of intimacy is unacceptable. This could be due to abandonment trauma experienced at a young age.
Your behavior starts impacting others negatively
Though traumatic events can negatively impact life, make sure your reactions don’t unintentionally hurt those around you. Unfortunately, this isn’t always easy — particularly when you’re already struggling with intense emotions related to your trauma.
You’re not actually getting any relief from trauma dumping
If you’ve been trauma dumping for a while, and it doesn’t seem to provide the release you need, it could be a sign you should seek professional help. Dumping your emotions onto someone else though, — even if they’re sympathetic and willing to listen — isn’t always an adequate substitute for professional counseling or therapy.
Trauma dumping can lead to feeling re-traumatized or further traumatized. There are a few reasons why people might engage in trauma dumping.
For some, it might be a way of seeking validation or attention. Others may feel that they need to unload the burden of their experience onto someone else. Still, others may not know how else to cope with their feelings surrounding the event.
Social media and trauma dumping
If you’re using social media to share your experiences with the world to gain validation or sympathy, you might be trauma dumping. We often think of social media as a way to stay connected with friends and family — but for some people, it can be anything but positive.
“Trauma dumping is often seen in social media and can be a form of manipulating friends. Trauma dumping can also happen in person, via text message, or through phone calls.”
– Talkspace therapist Dr. Olga Molina, D.S.W., LCSW
Research shows a link between social media and mental health conditions — especially if you’re prone to “trauma dumping.” Remember that there’s nothing wrong with seeking support from others after experiencing something traumatizing. However, it can do more harm than good if you’re constantly reliving the details of your trauma on social media.
How you deal with trauma dumping will depend on if you’re doing the trauma retelling or you’re the one listening to the trauma.
On the receiving end
It can be difficult enough to manage your own mental health, but what about when you’re on the receiving end of someone else’s trauma?
Here are some tips on how to best help a loved one during this challenging time:
Be there: This may seem obvious, but sometimes, just being present and available can make a difference. Tell them you’re there for them and that they can come to you with anything they need.
Listen without judgment: It’s important that your loved one feels safe enough to open up fully without worrying they’ll be judged or misunderstood. Take the time to listen and try not to offer any quick solutions or advice unless you’re asked for it directly. Focus on validation by summarizing what was said so they know you’re hearing them.
Set boundaries: That being said, it’s important you look out for yourself and set boundaries. If a certain topic is triggering for you, validate your loved one’s feelings, but let them know that you do not feel comfortable discussing further with them. Follow up by letting them know you would be happy to help connect them with a professional who can help in a much greater capacity.
Offer practical help: If your loved one is struggling with everyday tasks like cooking or cleaning, see if there’s anything you can do to help. You might offer to pick up around the house or take care of the shopping so they can focus emotionally on taking care of themself.
Encourage self-care: Helping a traumatized loved one practice healthy coping mechanisms such as exercise, relaxation techniques, journaling for mental health, or talk therapy can be a crucial component in their recovery journey. It is equally as important you care for yourself, as well. You cannot fully help someone else if you, yourself, are in need of help, too.
Seek professional help together: Talking things through with a trained therapist can provide invaluable insight and guidance that would otherwise be unavailable.
Being on the receiving end of someone else’s trauma can be difficult, but there are ways you can support your loved one. Being present and actively listening, without judgment, can make a huge difference.
As the trauma dumper
When it comes to trauma dumping, we generally think more about the person on the receiving end — but what about the person doing the dumping?
If you find yourself in a relationship where you trauma dump on others (or you feel tempted to do so), make an effort to stop, for your sake and theirs.
Take some time for self-reflection
Try identifying why you’re turning to this type of behavior to cope
Consider trauma therapy so you can make the necessary changes to prevent the pattern from continuing
If you’re struggling with trauma, seeking help from a mental health professional is essential, especially if you’re dumping your trauma onto others. Trauma dumping can damage existing relationships and make it difficult to form new, healthy ones.
When not dealt with, trauma can lead to anxiety, depression, and other physical and mental health conditions. If you need someone to talk to, consider reaching out to a therapist or counselor who can help you deal with your trauma more positively and effectively.
If you’re looking for help, consider seeking out online therapy. Talkspace is an online therapy platform that’s a great option if you don’t have the time or ability to see a therapist in person. Online therapy can provide the guidance you need to work through your trauma in a safe and confidential setting from the comfort of your home.
Reach out to Talkspace today to learn more about how to deal with trauma.
Social Media and Mental Health. HelpGuide.org. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/social-media-and-mental-health.htm. Accessed November 23, 2022.
Trauma and violence. SAMHSA. https://www.samhsa.gov/trauma-violence. Accessed November 23, 2022.
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