Trauma dumping happens when someone shares a story of trauma without considering its impact or to control another person.
Most often, trauma dumping doesn’t leave room for the listener to opt out of the conversation.
While trauma dumping can bring a sense of relief or gratification to the sharer, those on the receiving end may feel:
taken advantage of
The line between trauma dumping, reaching out for support, and constructive vulnerability is often blurry, though. If you’re highly self-conscious or socially anxious, worrying about being perceived as a “toxic person” might lead you to under-share your needs and to a lack of connection with others.
On the other hand, oversharing may be a trauma response or a sign that you are ready for or need support.
Trauma dumping isn’t the same as:
educating others or raising awareness of the effects of trauma
seeking support from loved ones
sharing a space of intimacy or vulnerability
Learning how discussing trauma can impact others may help you do it in a way that aids your healing process while minimizing harm to others.
Trauma dumping vs. venting
The concept of trauma dumping refers to oversharing. An example of trauma dumping may involve someone casually referring to an instance of childhood trauma in front of a co-worker, who is negatively impacted by the interaction.
Venting is different from trauma dumping:
While trauma dumping tends to involve the same stories, venting may look more like talking about a bad day once or twice and then letting it go.
The purpose of venting is often to “blow off steam.” Meanwhile, someone might use trauma dumping to get sympathy or preferential treatment from the listener.
Food for thought
All relationships are somewhat transactional: they involve give-and-take. But some suggest the concept of trauma dumping could lead some people to see “toxicity” in spaces meant to seek help, educate, or support.
Labeling all trauma sharing interactions as trauma dumping might promote a culture that reduces human connection to quid pro quo interactions while devaluing both altruism and unconditional care. It may also lead some people to not talk about what hurts them or to not seek the support they need.
While boundaries play an important role in protecting emotional health, could listening to others without expecting anything in return also have its time and place in safe relationships?
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Signs of trauma dumping
These are possible signs of trauma dumping:
sharing the same story repeatedly or sharing graphic details
constantly interjecting mentions of past trauma into casual conversations
not knowing much about the people you share your story with
intentionally choosing people who may feel more obligated to listen
posting detailed accounts of trauma on social media to a general audience
If you live with complex trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), trauma dumping or oversharing could be a natural trauma response and coping mechanism.
Social media and trauma dumping
Trauma dumping is common on social media, but overexposure to stories of abuse or assault may lead others to experience:
retraumatization if they’ve also experienced trauma
According to 2018 research, oversharing on social media may also cross boundaries by breaking down barriers between private and public.
It also suggests social media trauma dumping could cause disconnection and under-sharing in the long run when it becomes a substitute for deeper, one-on-one interactions.
In addition, a 2017 studyTrusted Source covering social media’s impact on teens linked oversharing to experiences of:
Reading accounts of other people’s self-harm and trauma was also triggering for some teens, according to the study.
Is trauma dumping abusive?
Trauma dumping isn’t necessarily abusive, although it can cross the line into emotional abuse when someone uses it on purpose to exert power over you.
Meanwhile, someone sharing trauma without considering how it affects you may feel unpleasant to be around, but they aren’t actively seeking to control or manipulate. They are possibly reaching out for help or trying to process their emotional pain in ways they’re not aware might be harmful or triggering to others.
Do I need to stop sharing about my traumatic experiences?
Talking about trauma isn’t itself a harmful behavior. In fact, it may be necessary. However, context is key when evaluating if sharing about traumatic experiences is conducive to healing and safe for everyone involved.
At first, it could help to reevaluate whether the behavior is truly serving you.
As the first step in this process, you could ask yourself:
How is my sharing impacting others?
Why am I sharing this story? Is it because I have a relationship of mutual trust with this person or because it feels good in the moment?
Have I given the other person a chance to share?
Have I given the other person a chance to opt out of this conversation?
Do they seem comfortable with this topic?
Have they told me how they feel about this topic in the past?
If you decide it’s time to reconfigure how you share about trauma, consider:
Cultivating mindfulness. What emotions or triggers prompt oversharing? Addressing feelings like sadness, anger, or confusion could help reduce the urge to trauma dump if the behavior is masking more unpleasant emotions.
Communicating. You might feel like it’s the perfect opportunity to open up, but asking is the best way to get on the same page. You can try: “No pressure to say yes, but this reminds me of something personal and intense. Do you mind if I share it?”
Clarifying boundaries. Creating and enforcing clear boundaries is a great way to learn about protecting your own emotional health and respecting the boundaries of others.
Trauma-informed therapy. Some forms of therapy can be retraumatizing, but others — like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) — are specifically designed to help people manage unprocessed trauma. Trauma therapy can become a safe and supportive space to share.
The role of therapy
You might hear the following in response to sharing about your traumatic experiences:
“You shouldn’t talk about trauma with people who aren’t qualified to handle it.”
“You should really see a therapist about that.”
While therapists can (and do) provide helpful and necessary support in processing trauma, these responses often come across as dismissive.
Therapy also isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and not everyone has access to it.
Talking with a therapist is different from sharing with a loved one you’ve known for many years. While your best friend probably isn’t trained to provide trauma therapy, the emotional support they can offer (if emotionally available) may also aid the healing process.
This said, you’re also not obligated to listen to someone else’s account of trauma, nor are you responsible for their emotions or past experiences.
The key is confirming mutual consent when talking about topics that might be difficult to handle or triggering for someone else. But reaching out for help and support is a healthy response and part of emotionally secure relationships.
Trauma dumping refers to persistently oversharing traumatic experiences with people who may not be ready or willing to receive this information.
Trauma is a sensitive topic. While some conversations bring intimacy and healing, others may breed more trauma.
It’s not always clear when bringing up trauma is appropriate. But increasing self-knowledge, approaching others with empathy, and practicing mindfulness in your communication can help demystify this matter.
If you feel you need to talk about what happened to you, you may be ready to receive support and guidance. Talking with a mental health professional can help.
du Preez A. (2018). Oversharing in the time of selfies: An aesthetics of disappearance?
Kellas JK, et al. (2014). The benefits and risks of telling and listening to stories of difficulty over time: Experimentally testing the expressive writing paradigm in the context of interpersonal communication between friends.
McHugh BC, et al. (2018). When social media traumatizes teens: The roles of online risk exposure, coping, and post-traumatic stress.
Radovic A, et al. (2016). Depressed adolescents’ positive and negative use of social media.
Raun T. (2017). “Talking about his dead child, again!” Emotional self-management in relation to online mourning.
Simiola V, et al. (2015). Preferences for trauma treatment: A systematic review of the empirical literature.
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