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Venting, oversharing, or straight up trauma dumping — when does confiding in friends turn toxic?


By Sarah Gill
08th May 2022

Unsplash

Venting, oversharing, or straight up trauma dumping — when does confiding in friends turn toxic?

While open and honest dialogue is part and parcel of any healthy friendship, it’s important to nip ‘trauma dumping’ in the bud.

It seems like every other day, there’s a new buzzword causing a stir online, and it can be difficult to keep abreast. Entering the psychology lexicon just last year, the term ‘trauma dumping’ has brought a more frank conversation surrounding self-awareness, self-preservation and boundary setting to the mainstream.

Drawing a clear line between offering a friend a shoulder to cry on and the emotional pile on often associated with so-called trauma dumps, the term might just help you find the words to broach the subject with a friend who takes oversharing to a whole other level.

So, what does it mean?

Broadly defined as an emotionally exhausting one-way conversation that sees one party — the trauma dumper — leave the unprepared, unequipped dumpee feeling either thoroughly wilted, or somewhat triggered.

Taking the shape of a roving stream of consciousness that begins with one worry, and snowballs through a plethora of subsequent issues, a trauma dump tends to gather momentum and eventually bubble over, spilling all residual feelings of turmoil on the recipient.

Usually foisted upon loved ones, close friends, or unsuspecting acquaintances, trauma dumping can be a problematic red flag for many, setting off alarm bells that a connection is taking on a toxic edge.

Your friends are not your therapists

While there is a belief that sharing deep personal trauma and previously unaired emotions will forge stronger friendships, it may very well lead to feelings of frustration, quickly evolving into feelings of being taken for granted.

Of course, it takes courage to share difficult feelings or painful experiences with others, and getting things off our chests in a safe space is a necessity for everyone. The issue at play here is that trauma dumping indicates a lack of consideration for the other person’s emotional bandwidth and mental capacity.

When these offloads become a regular occurance, the person on the receiving end may well start to see the friendship as one of convenience for the other and seek to distance themselves from this energy-zapping presence. Conversation is a two-way street, and being aware of potential worries, problems or traumas the other person or people in the room may be dealing with is fundamental.

Those guilty of trauma dumping rarely seek a solution to their problems, and tend to be unaware of their own abilities to overwhelm and disconcert. When people are forced to shoulder the emotional burden of others, their empathy is pushed to the limit.

Not to be confused with harmless venting

True friendships survive through thick and thin, and giving someone the space to air their feelings without interruption is hugely important. Whether it’s for words of wisdom, reassurance or to simply incite a good lengthy rant between friends, there is absolutely nothing wrong with sharing your worries and heartache with those close to you.

Trauma dumping is in no way a stigmatisation of sharing your woes, but when the negatives cast shadow over any positives, and the focus of an evening shifts in the direction of one person in particular, resentment begins to trickle in. Empaths are known to take on the energies of others, working overtime to make the trauma dumper feel comfortable and comforted. When outside influence burrows into their psyche, it’s time to put some boundaries in place.

How to deal with a trauma dumper

While we all strive to be the best friends we can be, protecting ourselves and our own personal energy should be a top priority. Similarly to entering into your ‘villain era’, putting clear boundaries in place is key to supporting yourself, maintaining friendships and feeling at peace.

Letting your friend know from the jump that you don’t have the emotional capacity to take on the load of their worries at this time is not akin to leaving them in the lurch. Instead, simply carve out a timeframe that you can handle — a ten minute call, a chat over coffee or lunch next week — and give what you can of yourself within the allotted time.

If you find their subject matter triggering, make sure you explain that to them. After all, they’re not purposefully trying to make you uncomfortable. Either point them in the direction of someone more suitable, or offer to help them find another way of processing their emotions.

It’s important that you don’t invalidate their feelings, or cut them off without clear communication. Those guilty of trauma dumping may not realise the impact they’re having. Allowing for a greater sense of self-awareness, and ensuring self-preservation on the part of the listener will ensure that toxicity does not put paid to a healthy friendship.