Trauma Dumping: What It Does, And How To Protect Yourself

Trauma dumping is on the rise. More people are becoming affected by it, but remaining silent for fear of being judged as uncaring or heartless.

What is Trauma Dumping?

  • Trauma dumping is the act of excessively sharing one’s traumatic experiences with others in a one-sided, intense manner.
  • It often involves repeatedly recounting the same story, divulging graphic details, and constantly referencing past trauma in casual conversations.
  • It can be emotionally overwhelming for the listener and may lead to secondary trauma and social withdrawal.

The Rise of Trauma Dumping

In the last few years, trauma dumping has increased. I think this is partly because of a lot of self-help books and website articles urging us to share our feelings with others.

It started as the “Talk to someone” movement that asked trauma survivors to share their stories with someone: a good thing, undoubtedly.

People started unloading their painful experiences onto anyone available.

Then somewhere down the line, it became a social responsibility to let a trauma survivor pour out their cup on us.

Trauma Dumping

The real problem was this:

The trauma survivors often shared their harrowing experiences without getting consent or considering the listener’s ability to cope.

Two questions I always had about this:

  1. Why can’t the listener be asked first if they want to listen?
  2. Why should they be tagged insensitive when they decline?

After all, the person the trauma-dumped person may have a headful of their own issues. Just like anyone of us.

They may not want more traumatic experiences dumped on them, as it may impact them in some terrible ways.

Impact of Trauma Dumping On The Listener

Most of us are not trained to handle trauma dumps very well. Without proper training, such conversations can result in ‘witness trauma’ and ’emotional distress’ for the listener.

Some issues that make “trauma dumping” a concern are:

  • The listener may not know how to empathize without absorbing some secondary trauma. They may receive the message and go through a range of negative emotions without wanting to.
  • Secondhand trauma can cause undetected stress, overwhelm, anxiousness, or even apprehension.
  • They may go into the “freeze” response, a part of our brain’s natural threat response system of “fight-flight-freeze,” and then go about their lives in this freeze.
  • The person may distance themselves from the trauma-sharer, thereby bruising, or even breaking, the relationship.

Why Some People Trauma Dump

Trauma sharers often seek validation, support, or a sense of connection — all in good faith. However, the intensity and one-sidedness of the sharing can have the opposite effect — pushing people away.

Trauma-dumping people often gravitate towards:

how to protect yourself from trauma dumping-5

How To Respond To Trauma Dumping?

Trauma is measured by how a particular person was impacted, not by the actual severity of the event.

Each sharer’s story is special, and perhaps the only right way to listen to their trauma is with non-judgmental empathy.

Here are ideas on how you might handle trauma dumping in a caring yet boundaried way:

Set Limits On The Conversation

  • It’s good practice to ask the trauma-sharer how long they might take. Then tell them you cannot give more than 5 or 10 minutes to listen.
  • Don’t encourage them to re-describe their traumatic experience. Stop them if they are doing it. Tell them it may not help their healing process.
  • Some people cannot help but repeatedly share their experiences. Cut them off and tell them, “You have already shared it before. Could we talk about something else?”

Show Empathy Without Trying To Fix

  • Most trauma sharers expect empathy and validation for their feelings. Show them you are there for them by maintaining eye contact and a kind smile, without judgment.
  • Provide an emotionally safe and non-judgmental space to express themselves. Give comfort, help, and kindness. But don’t suggest solutions.
  • It’s not your job to fix them or their past. So, avoid giving unsolicited advice or trying to solve their problems.
  • Recognize your limits of empathy and excuse yourself before they overburden you with their grief. And engage in some self-care activities to re-find your mental peace.

Set Boundaries & Prioritize Your Well-being

  • You owe your mental well-being a commitment. Set clear boundaries with the trauma-sharer to respect that pact.
  • Reflect on your own discomfort when someone shares their trauma. Sometimes, some of your old, unresolved traumas can get triggered. Know when you’re getting overwhelmed or frustrated.
  • If the conversation becomes too heavy or awkward, gently let them know. Change the topic or take leave of them.
  • If someone close to you is continually sharing their trauma, gently ask them not to. “I would rather not listen to your experience. It affects my personal life. Can you respect that?”

Encourage Professional Help with Sensitivity

  • Finally, encourage them to seek professional help from a therapist, counselor, or support group, if their trauma seems severe or ongoing.
  • However, be careful when suggesting help. Especially, be mindful of how you phrase it. Avoid making the person feel dismissed or invalidated—they may have finally found the courage to speak up after years of silence.

Final Words

My take on this:

Unless the listener has explicitly granted permission, they should be spared un-judged. Even when they are a professional counselor at a friend’s party (not in their office), they should not be someone to be trauma-dumped upon.

Emotional expression is undoubtedly good, but sharing without burdening the empathizer is not.

If you feel overwhelmed or unsafe after listening to someone’s trauma, reach out to a mental health professional.

√ Also Read: Trauma Bond Addiction: Why Victims Return To Their Abusers

√ Please spread the word if you found this helpful.

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When it comes to mental well-being, you don't have to do it alone. Going to therapy to feel better is a positive choice. Therapists can help you work through your trauma triggers and emotional patterns.