June 25, 2024

Avoiding the Urge to Trauma Dump

Imagine this: a casual conversation takes a sudden left turn into a deep, emotional revelation - you've just experienced trauma dumping.

trauma dump

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Susana Spiegel

Recovery Writer and Advocate

Last Update on June 25, 2024

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Understanding Trauma Dumping

Trauma dumping is a recurring behavior where you suddenly share upsetting details of your past pains with just about anyone, especially in inappropriate settings. It can be hard to realize that you’re engaging in this way, but it’s important to recognize this behavior so that you can learn how to stop. When you relive these experiences, it is often emotionally overwhelming and stressful for those listening, and it can even be triggering or anxiety-inducing, which can have a hugely negative impact on your relationships.1 Processing unresolved trauma, learning coping skills, and understanding emotional boundaries with a therapist can help you stop this cycle.

Why Trauma Dumping is an Issue

  • Stresses Relationships: Constantly and abruptly sharing your struggles can change the way that people view you and feel about you over time. It can lead to people feeling that you are overly-negative or uncomfortable to be around.
  • Damages Others’ Mental Health: Because most people aren’t equipped to help you process unresolved trauma, it can cause people to experience feelings of helplessness or anxiety. It might also trigger upsetting thoughts and feelings of their own unresolved trauma.
  • Prevents Communication: Overburdening the people around you can lead to people not feeling comfortable communicating with you. They might avoid talking or hanging out with you because they’re worried that uncomfortable/ triggering topics will be brought up.

Signs of Emotional Overwhelm From Unresolved Issues

You might often feel an intense need to vent and suddenly share your frustrations and traumas with others, regardless of how it could make them feel. You might do this often and maybe to the same person every time. While venting is a way to release your own pent-up emotions, it leaves others feeling drained and unsure of how to help.

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Trauma Dumping & Boundaries

What are Emotional Boundaries?

Emotional boundaries are the limits people set to protect their emotional well-being and enforce healthy communication and relationships. Emotional boundaries can help you maintain a comfortable balance between sharing your feelings and respecting others’ emotional space. People who overshare without considering how it affects others have little to no emotional boundaries. Learning how to mentally set these boundaries for yourself can help you to stop and be more aware of how others might feel.

What Does a Lack of Emotional Boundaries Look Like?

  • Oversharing in Inappropriate Settings:
    If you don’t have emotional boundaries, you might find yourself sharing details of past traumatic experiences in situations where it isn’t appropriate, like while working on a group project in school. Oversharing can make others uncomfortable and unsure of how they should respond. It also might make people feel pressured to help you, even though they aren’t qualified to. It’s okay to talk with your friends about your trauma, but you should ask if they’re comfortable talking about it first.
  • Oversharing with Acquaintances:  Not having emotional boundaries can lead you to overshare with people you aren’t close with or maybe even people you just met! While talking about your trauma with someone else is an important part of processing it, oversharing is an unhealthy way of doing so. It can create awkward situations and stop you from developing new relationships. Talking with a therapist about your trauma is one healthy way to process and learn to cope with it.
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Signs of Unresolved Trauma

Having unresolved trauma significantly affects your behaviors and your emotional/ mental health. You might overshare to cope with your unresolved trauma. Although this behavior allows you to release some of your emotional/ mental pain temporarily, it also overwhelms those around you and can push them away. It doesn’t allow you to effectively process your trauma. Trauma dumping is a cycle that prevents you from finding more effective, healthier coping strategies.

  • Compulsive Talking About Traumatic Events:
    You might find yourself compulsively talking about your traumatic experiences in casual everyday conversations. You might be thinking about your trauma often and don’t want to keep what you’ve experienced to yourself. This might be your brain’s attempt to process your trauma because you haven’t learned effective ways to cope. 
  • Difficulty Moving Past the Trauma:  Having unresolved trauma makes it harder for you to heal and move on from your traumatizing experiences. You might feel stuck in a cycle of emotional overwhelm, constantly revisiting the traumatic events in your mind and conversations. This repeated focus is not an effective coping skill. Reaching out to a mental health professional can help you learn effective ways to process and move past your trauma.
  • Using Others as Emotional Outlets: When you have unresolved trauma, you might use others as emotional outlets. Repeatedly trauma dumping to others can create an imbalance in your relationships, as they can get overwhelmed if they feel like they are responsible for helping you deal with your own trauma.

Quick Tip

Practice Mindful Sharing

Before sharing your trauma with someone, take a moment to consider if the time, place, and person are appropriate. Practicing mindful sharing helps you maintain your emotional boundaries and prevent overwhelming others.

 

Impact on Relationships

Trauma dumping can have significant psychological effects on both you and those around you. For you, trauma dumping might be a way to temporarily release uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, but it isn’t an effective way to truly process and move past it your trauma. For the people around you, listening to you trauma dump can can cause them anxiety or emotional fatigue, because they are not able to support you in the way you need. Talking to a mental health professional about your trauma, instead of leaning on those around you for support, can take away the stress in your relationships that is caused by trauma dumping.

Impact on How People View You

Trauma dumping can determine how people think and feel about you, especially those who don’t know you well. When you bring up your deeply personal and traumatic experiences in conversations with people you don’t know very well, it can cause them to avoid getting to know you further, because they felt uncomfortable with the topics that you brought up. 

People might sense that you lack emotional boundaries and feel that you’re overwhelming to be around. This could lead to you being socially isolated. Others might distance themselves from you in order to avoid being put in situations where they feel pressured to provide emotional support when they aren’t comfortable doing so.

Trauma dumping can often stop you from forming new relationships or strengthening existing ones, because it makes others feel uncomfortable around you.

People trauma dump for various reasons, such as seeking validation, lacking better coping mechanisms, or feeling emotionally overwhelmed with their trauma. It can be a way for them to temporarily release pent-up feelings, but it doesn’t lead to actually processing and healing from trauma.

You might be trauma dumping if you bring up your traumatic experiences at the wrong place and time or to people you aren’t close with. The need to trauma dump can feel urgent and happen repeatedly. If you sharing your trauma often makes people uncomfortable and they avoid conversation because of it, it could be a sign that you trauma dump.

Yes, trauma dumping is often harmful to the listener. People might feel stressed, overwhelmed, and burdened by the details of your trauma. Not knowing how to help the person that is trauma dumping can make people feel anxious and helpless. It’s important to consider how sharing your trauma can affect others.

How to Stop Trauma Dumping

  • Therapy: Talking to a therapist can help you process your trauma in an appropriate environment that is structured and safe. Learning and practicing effective coping mechanisms can stop you from trauma dumping on your friends and family.
  • Journaling: Writing down your thoughts and feelings instead of telling others can be a very helpful way to manage your emotions without overwhelming people. It also gives you the ability to go back and reflect on your experiences privately and process them later on.3
  • Setting Boundaries: Establishing clear emotional boundaries for when you are with others can stop you from trauma dumping. Practicing mindful sharing is a good way to reinforce your emotional boundaries. This means stopping to consider if when, where, and with whom you are about to share your traumatic experiences is appropriate.
  • Engaging in Self-Care: Implementing self-care into your schedule can help you manage your stress and improve your emotional health. Doing something that clears your mind and relieves your anxiety is a great way to spend your time when you are feeling stressed. Journaling, meditating, listening to music, or exercising are just a few examples of self-care activities.
  • Developing Emotional Awareness: Being aware of what triggers you to trauma dump and how you feel when you are triggered can help you recognize when you’re about to trauma dump. Learning to be aware of this allows you to take a moment and choose healthier ways to express your feelings when you are triggered.

Get Support and Heal From Past Trauma

  • Therapy: There are various types of therapy, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and trauma-focused therapy, that can help you learn to process your trauma.
  • Counseling: Counselors are professionals that are equipped to provide you with support and guidance as you work through your emotional and mental challenges.
  • Support Groups: Joining a support group allows you to meet other people who have had similar experiences. Support groups can give you a sense of community and understanding among others.

By taking the steps to get professional help and learning how to use these resources, you’ll be able to manage your trauma in healthier ways instead of trauma dumping and improve your relationships with those around you.

Key Takeaways

Sources

[1] Jordan K., Werber A. “Understanding the Impact of Trauma Disclosure on Relationships.” Journal of Clinical Psychology. DOI: 10.1002/jclp.23078

[2] Smith, R., Thompson, E. “The Burden of Trauma Disclosure: The Impact on Listeners.” Journal of Trauma & Dissociation. DOI: 10.1080/15299732.2019.1668363

[3] Harris, A., Lee, J. “Establishing Emotional Boundaries: A Key to Healthy Relationships.” Journal of Mental Health Counseling. DOI: 10.17744/mehc.39.1.04

[4] Carter, S., Rodriguez, P. “The Effects of Unresolved Trauma on Emotional and Mental Health.” Journal of Anxiety Disorders. DOI: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2017.05.003

[5] Cohen, J.A., Mannarino, A.P. “Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.” Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/15374416.2012.719422 

CLINICALLY REVIEWED

lionel estrada LISAC headshot clinical director scottsdale

Lionel Estrada, LISAC

CLINICAL DIRECTOR

Lionel, a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC) with over 4 years at Cornerstone, specializes in addiction and mental health. Trained in EMDR therapy, he employs a trauma-informed, empathetic approach to address underlying causes of these issues.

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Author & Reviewers

susana spiegel recovery writer and SEO expert
RECOVERY WRITER & ADVOCATE

Susana is a recovery writer and advocate with over 8 years in addiction recovery. She is passionate about sharing accurate and helpful information about mental health, addiction, and recovery. She holds a Bachelor’s in Christian Studies from Grand Canyon University and has over 7 years of working in the addiction field. 

lionel estrada lisac clinical director
CLINICAL DIRECTOR & REVIEWER

Lionel is the Clinical Director of Cornerstone’s Scottsdale treatment facilities. He has had over 4 years at Cornerstone. He is personally in recovery and passionate about helping others overcome substance abuse and mental health challenges; he is trained as an EMDR, adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues.

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