Maybe when you’re talking to a new colleague, you overshare details about a fight with your partner. Perhaps a friend mentions a health struggle, and you interrupt and tell a long story about your mother’s battle with cancer without letting your friend talk. It could be that you post an impulsive rant on Facebook about an argument with one of your coworkers or you post repeatedly about the same personal situations. Maybe someone even says, “I don’t need to hear this,” or “You don’t have to tell me this,” and you continue talking.
In situations like these, you may feel like you’re venting or turning to the other person for support. But you may actually be trauma dumping.
Tyler Jones, MD, chief medical officer at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital, explained more. “Venting and trauma dumping aren’t clinical terms. They are words used to describe social dynamics,” he said. And to a certain extent, whether you’re venting or trauma dumping depends on the listener and how they feel about what you are sharing. But there are some key differences.
Venting: When you’re venting, you share your frustrations with someone you trust to reduce your stress. You’re intentional about what you share and aware that you’re venting. You may say something like, “Can I just vent for five minutes?”
Trauma dumping: With trauma dumping, you overshare difficult or intimate personal information without the other person’s consent or during inappropriate times. You don’t consider how your words impact the listener, and you’re not open to advice or solutions.
People who trauma dump tend to have intense feelings, express emotion excessively and share indiscriminately. In some instances you could have an underlying problem such as borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression that affects your behavior. However, oftentimes that is not the case.
How does trauma dumping harm relationships?
“This way of relating with others can be counterproductive or destructive to relationships,” Dr. Jones said. When you trauma dump, it feels awkward, so other people may limit their interactions with you. Listeners can feel anxious or stressed. When you overshare this way, you may not allow the other person to interject, offer solutions or share their own troubles. “In some cases, people perceive trauma dumping as manipulative—they see it as a way to gain sympathy or avoid critique,” Dr. Jones said.
How can you tell if you are trauma dumping?
Consider the effect of your communication. “Think about how others may receive the information you’re sharing,” Dr. Jones said. “Recognizing the potential impact helps determine if it is the right setting or if the relationship is appropriate for that level of personal detail.”
Pay attention to:
- Why you are sharing.
- Whether you are giving the other person a chance to reciprocate, ask questions, or provide feedback.
How can you transition trauma dumping to venting?
“It is important to transition and not clam up completely,” Dr. Jones said. Sharing your negative experiences and emotions is a good thing—it can help you process them and move forward. However, it’s crucial to consider who you share with.
“Therapy is always an option to help understand and navigate emotional hardships,” Dr. Jones said. “Therapy can help address the triggers of trauma dumping, including the feelings that may be related to the trauma experience itself or the dynamic that’s driving you to share information this way.”
If you find that you are prone to trauma dumping, you can:
- Examine your relationships.
- Identify what triggers your difficult emotions and your desire to overshare.
- Ask yourself why it is important to share this information or what you hope to gain from it.
“You can set personal boundaries and only discuss certain topics with people closest to you, who you trust the most, and who you have asked about sharing this type of information,” Dr. Jones said.
How can you deal with trauma dumping as a listener?
You may notice you feel overwhelmed by the information, have difficulty responding to a one-sided conversation or don’t have the chance to share your own experiences. “In these situations, it is best to let the person know when you feel activated by the information or delivery,” Dr. Jones said. “Plan how you’ll say ‘no’ and address your concerns that the conversation is not helpful for you.” You could also mention that trauma dumping may not be helpful for the other person, either.
The bottom line
Venting is a healthy way to share negative emotions and reduce stress. But with trauma dumping, you overshare in a way that makes the listener feel overwhelmed or ignored. If you feel your conversations lean toward trauma dumping and you’d like to get help from a behavioral health professional, reach out to Banner Health.