What Is Trauma Dumping & How Can It Harm Your Relationships?

Venting vs. dumping 101

male female friend having serious conversation

Sometimes there’s nothing better than sitting down with a friend to have a nice, long gossip session. You share that terrible date you went on last week and they give you the scoop of what went down at their office on Thursday. It’s a happy, healthy interaction that you consider a vital part of your friendship. However, when does sharing become oversharing? If you think you might be guilty of trauma dumping, it’s time to address the behavior and fix it immediately. Otherwise, you could end up ruining the relationship altogether.

1. What is trauma dumping?

two women talking on city street

We’ve all vented to our friends about a person or situation that angered, upset, or hurt us. It’s cathartic to let out your frustrations and sadness and can provide a sense of relief. However, trauma dumping takes this behavior to a whole new toxic level by taking the listener’s choice out of the equation.

“Trauma dumping is the act of unloading intense emotions, thoughts, and experiences related to traumatic events on someone without their consent,” Dr. Hayley Nelson, Ph.D., tells Bolde. “It is often done without consideration for the listener’s emotions, boundaries, or capacity to handle the information.”

2. People don’t always want to hear it.

man and woman having convo on couch

While you might think it’s a good thing to get frustrations off your chest, that’s not the case if you’re doing it against the other person’s will. Your friends love and support you, of course. However, they shouldn’t be forced to be bombarded with everything you’re going or have been through. In fact, doing so will harm your relationship or potentially even ruin it irreparably.

3. There’s no benefit to doing it.

two men having a conversation at cafe

“There is no clear benefit to trauma dumping, as it is often done without considering the well-being of the listener. On the other hand, the negatives include the potential harm to the listener, the breakdown of trust in the relationship, and the perpetuation of negative coping strategies,” Dr. Nelson notes.

4. It could cause a lot of harm.

two friends talking at home

For instance, in recounting a terrible experience you had, you may inadvertently trigger the person listening to you. If what you went through was especially traumatic, they may become depressed or anxious and feel helpless upon hearing your story. They may feel like you’re in a one-sided relationship and that they’re only in your life to be dumped on. Even if that’s not how you feel, it might be how your listener feels.

5. A lot of people don’t realize they’re trauma dumping.

two friends chatting at outdoor cafe

The funny thing is that a lot of people who are guilty of trauma dumping don’t even realize they’re doing it. They don’t intentionally set out to do anything more than spill their guts/share something they’ve been through. It’s a natural instinct, especially when talking to those we’re closest to in life. However, that doesn’t make it okay. This is particularly true when it surpasses normal venting and becomes overwhelming, intense, and something the listener really doesn’t want to (or need) to hear. But, why does it happen?

6. It’s a coping mechanism, but probably not an effective one.

friends chatting over coffee at a park

“People might resort to trauma dumping to cope with overwhelming emotions, to feel heard and validated, or as a way to avoid facing the trauma on their own. It can also be a result of a lack of healthy coping skills and a desire for immediate relief from distress,” Dr. Nelson says.

7. A therapist might be more helpful.

two friends having a chat outside

The trauma dumper might realize they’re probably better off speaking to a therapist. They might even realize that the person they’re telling these things to really doesn’t want to (or need to) hear them. However, it’s easier for them to avoid doing real processing work and instead get the immediate gratification of using a friend or other loved one as a dumping ground for their issues.

8. Venting is okay — trauma dumping isn’t.

friends drinking wine and venting

Venting can be a healthy way to express emotions and share experiences with friends. They want to hear the gossip, you want to offload, and it’s a reciprocal relationship. You share disaster stories, which helps you bond, and you end the conversation feeling so much lighter. That’s a normal part of healthy relationships with friends and family members.

That being said, there’s a major difference between trauma dumping and venting: impact. “Venting is a healthy way to share negative emotions, but with trauma dumping, you overshare in a way that makes the other person feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable. Unlike venting, trauma dumping is done in an unsolicited way where someone dumps traumatic thoughts and feelings onto an unsuspecting person,” Dr. Holly Schiff, Psy.D., tells Bolde.

9. How to address the behaviors that lead to trauma dumping

man chatting with woman outside

If you notice that you’re guilty of trauma dumping, it’s really important to address the behavior and stop it completely. After all, you don’t want to burden the people you love unfairly. They care about you and want the best for you, but there’s a limit to how much they owe you when it comes to dealing with your mental and emotional troubles.

“To address behaviors that lead to trauma dumping, it is important to engage in self-reflection and seek out therapy or counseling to develop healthy coping skills and learn better ways of managing difficult emotions,” Dr. Nelson suggests. “In addition, it is important to educate oneself on consent and boundaries, and to work on improving communication skills to avoid hurting others.”

Jennifer Still is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience. The managing editor of Bolde, she has bylines in Vanity Fair, Business Insider, The New York Times, Glamour, Bon Appetit, and many more. You can follow her on Twitter @jenniferlstill