So, When Does Venting Turn Into “Trauma Dumping”?
When does venting turn into something we call “trauma dumping”?
At what point does our venting turn into something more toxic to those around us? I think most of us could agree that life just gets really hard sometimes and comes with many challenges. Sometimes these challenges leave us wanting extra attention or support from the people around us. A lot of us are fortunate enough to have a support system we can turn to when facing life’s challenges. We might pick up the phone to call a friend, or come home to vent to our partner. It can be a special thing when we have someone we feel safe enough with to express our feelings to! But at what point does our venting turn into trauma dumping and begin to cause harm to others around us? Trauma Counseling in Philadelphia, PA could be a great way to begin exploring this…
But for now, let’s start with talking more about what exactly trauma dumping is.
What is trauma dumping and why do we do it?
Trauma dumping is when someone has the tendency to share serious information or traumatic details without the other person’s permission or invitation. Trauma dumping is typically done at inappropriate times and can often stir up negative feelings from the receiving-side. When someone is on the receiving side of some else’s trauma dumping, it can be uncomfortable or scary. It can be fear-inducing because they likely don’t have the capacity to take in this information if it’s done at an inappropriate time, or they might just not know how to appropriately respond if they lack experience with trauma or mental health. This is common to feel this way on the receiving-side too because most people haven’t been trained on how to properly deal with trauma or mental health if this isn’t something you professionally work with! This is another reason why Trauma Counseling in Philadelphia, PA could best assist in exploring how to handle these trauma dumping moments and how to appropriately respond or set boundaries.
So, why does someone do something like trauma dumping? Well, for folx on the trauma dumping-side of this interaction… It can be a way for someone to try to cope with the overwhelming feelings or memories they hold from their trauma. Sometimes we call this “flooding,” flooding is when intrusive thoughts or traumatic memories occur cognitively and unexpectedly, and sometimes flooding can quite literally spill over into negatively impacting your everyday functioning. The most confusing part about trauma dumping for someone on the dumping-side of this, is that they often don’t feel relief from turning to others about their traumatic experiences. That relief doesn’t occur probably because the receiving-end is unsure how to react, and then the person actively trauma dumping feels the need to continue dumping in effort to find that relief. You see how this can become a vicious-cycle of seeking relief, feeling uncomfortable, not feeling relieved, and trying all over again in an inappropriate way? Trauma dumping behavior is characterized by casually dropping specific details about trauma that can trigger or flood the listener, often without warning or consent. This can leave people, on both sides, feeling unseen, frustrated, irritated, angry, or even scared, especially if the other person doesn’t feel equipped to respond. There is a line between venting and dumping, and the latter can leave relationships feeling one-sided, exhausting, or draining. It can also cause people on the receiving-end to want to avoid those who do trauma dumping, and in turn leaving those who have a tendency to trauma dump feel very lonely or isolated in their suffering.
So, when does venting turn into trauma dumping? How do I recognize this blurry line?
Venting typically stays superficial, light, and is done with a close friend, family member, or partner. When venting, a person might be seeking relief from someone else in hopes for them to be a good active listener, provide them with validation, or create space for recent inconveniences or stressors to be shared. But trauma dumping can sometimes be with anyone, even strangers, and feel unsolicited or unprepared when sharing details of heavy emotions or memories in an unsuspecting way. Trauma dumping often takes up so much space that it leaves the interaction feeling unequal or gives the receiving-end very little space to feel safe in venting about what is going on in their life currently. The dumping-side of this interaction is often presented to be causal, while it doesn’t feel that way to the receiving-end. And this often is an interaction that can feel intrusive and non-consensual, the receiving side might feel stuck or lost on how to provide this person with what they need especially since this usually happens at inappropriate times with little warning the conversation was headed in this direction. Trauma dumping is a more toxic version of venting that is often better responded to when in the containment that professional, trauma counseling, can provide.
How to identify if you are often being trauma dumped on and how to address this problem…
First, it might be helpful to understand the possible origin of this behavior and find compassion for folx who have a tendency to trauma dump… Can we begin to tap into our empathy when addressing this issue? Many people who struggle with trauma dumping on others do this as a coping skill or a way of trying to form a connection to others. Some folx might develop this tendency from growing up in a family with a similar pattern of trauma dumping on them too, they’ve been socialized to not realize they have a right to boundaries, or privacy, and make the assumption that trauma dumping is a typical form of communication. Or it might be the opposite issue for others! Some people maybe grew up feeling very dismissed, unseen, or unsure how to have their feelings acknowledged unless they did something to gain attention, and now they find themselves trauma dumping on a regular basis to do the same with others surrounding them because they’re unsure how else to ask for help.
After tapping into your empathy and finding compassion for the human experience, we can begin to set safe and effective boundaries with someone who is trauma dumping. Some important reminders about effective boundary setting are as follows: 1) your boundary is only about YOU and YOUR actions, because we cannot control other people’s behavior, and 2) not everyone is going to understand our boundaries or react positively to them, and this does not mean your boundaries are “bad” or “wrong.”
Here are some things you might try to say to others, while still wanting to be supportive and compassionate, when being trauma dumped on:
“Wow, I can sense just how overwhelming that must be to have experienced this! I commend you for being vulnerable about this and feeling safe enough to share this with me. Who else do you have to talk to about this or where else can you go for support when I’m not available?”
“No wonder you needed to vent! That is alot for one person to experience and carry around day-to-day. Because I care about you and want this to receive the proper care and attention it deserves, I’m wondering if you’ve ever considered trying individual trauma counseling with a professional? I hear The Center for Growth in Philadelphia, PA is fantastic with this sort of thing.”
“Wow, you are so strong and resilient to have been through all this! I’m so glad these are things you have a desire to talk about. Sometimes I’m really unsure what to say or do when you share your experience with me, I’m wondering what is the best way to support you?”
“I’m so sorry to cut this conversation short, when I picked up the phone I thought you were just calling to briefly catch up. I notice this happens sometimes, and I never want to make you feel unheard. Do you think next time you want to talk about something emotionally heavy you could ask if I’m in a place (or have the capacity) to hear you first? That way we can make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
“That is a lot to be going through, I can totally understand why you must be feeling so stressed, emotional, or overwhelmed (insert emotion that you heard them express here). When I was going through a similar time, it really helped me to seek professional help. I worry that just talking with me about this isn’t giving you the care you deserve! Do you want me to send you a few names of counselors I’d recommend?”
These are only a few examples and variations of what could be said in those moments where trauma-dumping is recognized, and you might be feeling unsure how to begin to set a boundary or redirect this into appropriate support. Put your own spin on it so it feels more authentic to you and commend yourself for putting your boundaries in place! It isn’t easy to set boundaries with those who may be suffering, but we can set boundaries from a place of care and compassion when needed. If more support is needed for either someone struggling to set boundaries when being trauma dumped on, or being the one recognizing their own tendencies to trauma dump on others….