July 25, 2022

When Venting Turns Toxic: What Is Trauma Dumping?

Sometimes, oversharing can cause more harm than good

Two people talking while sitting on a couch.

So, you’ve had a bad day. Your first instinct is probably to call a friend or turn to your coworker in the next cubicle for a quick venting session. While venting can be a natural part of working through our negative emotions, does it become toxic at a certain point?

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It turns out, it can. And that’s when venting becomes trauma dumping — the act of oversharing your emotions in a way that becomes harmful to the other person.

Psychologist Kia-Rai Prewitt, PhD, explains what trauma dumping is and how to address it in yourself and others.

What is trauma dumping?

Trauma dumping refers to the oversharing of difficult emotions and thoughts with others,” Dr. Prewitt explains. “It is not a clinical term used by mental health providers, but people who engage in ‘trauma dumping’ often share traumatic events or stressful situations with others during inappropriate times.”

If someone is trauma dumping, it’s likely they’re experiencing distress related to:

Examples of trauma dumping

So, how do you recognize trauma dumping? The biggest red flag is if the dumpee (the person getting trauma dumped on) has no chance to talk or share their emotions.

“The person on the receiving end of these thoughts and emotions often feels overwhelmed and helpless because they aren’t sure how to respond or may not be given an opportunity to respond,” explains Dr. Prewitt.

According to Dr. Prewitt, some specific examples of trauma dumping include:

  • A coworker sharing specific details of a difficult divorce while at a casual lunch with colleagues.
  • A friend sharing details of a toxic relationship, without allowing the other person to talk about their day.

Venting vs. trauma dumping

But wait, isn’t sharing our emotions a good thing? It absolutely can be. But there are some key differences between venting and trauma dumping.

“Venting is often a way to share your frustrations with someone you trust to reduce stress,” Dr. Prewitt notes. “Oftentimes, there is validation and mutual venting by the other person. Sometimes, venting helps people move on from the situation or problem-solve.”

Here are some clear differences to spot in yourself and others when it comes to venting and trauma dumping:

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Healthy venting
Sharing your frustrations with someone.
Trauma dumping
Oversharing at inappropriate times.
Having mutual venting with the other person.
Trauma dumping
Not allowing the other person to share their hardships.
Taking accountability for mistakes related to the problem at hand.
Trauma dumping
Not taking accountability for mistakes related to the problem at hand.
Open to finding solutions to the problem.
Trauma dumping
Unwilling to find a solution to the problem.
Only talking about one topic at a time.
Trauma dumping
Jumping from topic to topic too quickly.
Putting a time limit on the venting session.
Trauma dumping
Talking about too many issues for too long.

Can trauma dumping affect relationships?

There can be times when trauma dumping becomes more than just uncomfortable. In fact, it could actually push people away.

The harm in trauma dumping is that it often crosses the listener’s boundaries. It can also negatively impact their mental health by increasing their anxiety and stress levels,” says Dr. Prewitt.

Because of this, Dr. Prewitt points out that someone who trauma dumps is putting their relationships at risk. In some cases, it could come off as manipulative if the listener believes the relationship is one-sided.

How to know if you’re a trauma dumper

If you feel like you may be the dumper rather than the dumpee, there are a couple of ways you can become more self-aware. The first step is paying attention to how you’re communicating with your friends and co-workers.

Some questions you can ask yourself after sharing some difficult trauma with a person:

  • Did they get a chance to share their own feelings?
  • Does this person feel comfortable sharing their traumas with me?
  • Am I sharing these difficult feelings at an appropriate time?
  • Did I ask the person if they felt overwhelmed by what I was talking about?
  • Are there certain topics I should share with a therapist instead?

How to stop trauma dumping

So, you’ve discovered you may have been trauma dumping. If you’ve taken the step of recognizing it, you’re already on your way to getting better.

The solution is not to close off completely, either. You may want to find a professional therapist who’ll provide a safe space for you to talk about any mental hardships you may be experiencing.

“I would also recommend taking an inventory of your relationships and whether you feel unfulfilled, depressed or anxious,” Dr. Prewitt says.

Next, take the time to think about the relationships in your life and how you can set certain boundaries. Maybe this means only talking about certain topics with those you trust the most or the people who have the capacity to help. If there are certain friends you think you’ve dumped trauma on, it may be a good idea to address it with them and check in about how they’re feeling.

“If you have noticed that friends or family members may have withdrawn from you because of trauma dumping, this can be an opportunity to take responsibility for your actions by improving your mental health, apologizing to those who have been impacted and working toward setting healthy boundaries in your relationships,” Dr. Prewitt says.

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How to address trauma dumping with someone else

What if you feel impacted by someone else’s trauma dumping? It can be hard to handle this, as you don’t want to invalidate someone’s feelings.

​If you recognize trauma dumping in someone else, it’s best to talk to them directly about your concerns,” advises Dr. Prewitt.

This will depend on the person and what your relationship is with them. Maybe they’re someone who listens to your hardships, but some of the things they discuss become just too triggering for you. Or maybe the relationship is more one-sided and you feel like you’re not able to properly share your feelings with this person in the same way they can with you.

For example, you might say the following to a loved one who’s trauma dumping on you:

  • Whenever you speak to me about your concerns, I often feel overwhelmed because I’m not sure how to help. Have you thought about speaking to a professional about your stressors?

If you’re feeling dismissed or like your relationship is one-sided with someone, you can approach the topic by saying:

  • I notice that when we speak, I don’t get a chance to share anything about my day.
  • I often feel dismissed or unheard.
  • I would prefer it if I had a chance to talk about my stressors in addition to yours.

Not all trauma dumping looks identical because it can stem from a variety of reasons. And in some cases, it can cause a strain on relationships. If you’ve noticed trauma dumping in yourself, there’s still a way to get better and learn more healthy venting practices. If you’re struggling with a trauma dumper in your life, try to be honest about your own feelings and what you want to get out of your relationship.

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