Are You Friends With a Trauma Dumper?

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There’s a fine line between confiding in a friend and using them as a receptacle for your pain and stress. The latter is what we call trauma dumping, and as much as it might feel like venting, this habit may actually be harmful to the person you’re talking to. As a coping mechanism, trauma dumping is also not particularly sustainable or helpful – it more than likely won’t give you the support you actually need.

So how do you recognise trauma dumping, and what do you do if it’s happening to you? Trauma dumping has never been rare, but it might be especially noticeable now, when so many people are dealing with stress, anxiety, burnout, or depression (or all of the above). We tapped licensed psychologist Courtney Cornick, PhD, to share a few warning signs of trauma dumping and some ways you can prevent yourself from doing it – or stop it from happening to you.

What Is Trauma Dumping, and How Do I Recognise It?

Trauma dumping is “unloading your personal trauma experiences on another person without their consent or preparation,” Dr. Cornick tells POPSUGAR. While it’s healthy to share your thoughts, feelings, and frustrations with someone who is equipped to deal with them, “there is a difference between venting to a friend and dumping your trauma,” Dr. Cornick says: “Trauma dumping becomes a problem when the recipient cannot emotionally handle the content of the information or respond appropriately.” What you’re sharing with them might be hurtful or triggering in some way, which is what makes this habit problematic – you’re pushing your pain onto someone else, which could hurt them while still leaving your problems unsolved.

It can be a challenge to tell the difference between venting and trauma dumping, Dr. Cornick notes. “Typically, trauma dumping is one-sided, and the other person usually isn’t engaged in the conversation,” she says. If you think trauma dumping might be happening to you, examine the way you feel during and after the conversation. “People often feel emotionally uncomfortable during the conversation and leave the interaction feeling anxious, drained, stressed, and/or helpless,” Dr. Cornick says.

How to Stop Trauma Dumping

If trauma dumping is happening to you:

  • Start the conversation with compassion. “Usually when someone is trauma dumping, they are likely doing so as a way to garner support,” Dr. Cornick says. You might feel frustrated with their actions, but know that they’re probably coming from a place of anxiety, stress, and powerlessness.
  • Set boundaries. No matter the other person’s intentions, it’s important to set boundaries when it comes to trauma dumping in order to protect your own mental health. Dr. Cornick suggests saying something like, “It sounds like you’ve been through a lot, and this situation must have been very challenging for you, but I may not be the best person to help you with this.”

If you think you might be trauma dumping on others:

  • Try a new approach to express your feelings. Instead of dumping your trauma on a friend or family member, look into a support group or therapy, Dr. Cornick says. You could also try journaling as a way to vent your emotions. Remember, it’s not a bad thing to feel like this – you just want to find a different way to handle it.
  • Ask a friend before you share intense emotions. If you do still want to talk with a friend about what you’re going through, make sure you first get their consent to do so, Dr. Cornick says: “Select an appropriate time and space that allows for a bidirectional conversation, and respect your friends’ boundaries by stopping the conversation if they become uncomfortable.”

It’s important to find a space to process your trauma – one that helps you without harming others, even inadvertently. Know that working with a mental health professional is always an option and that it’s “the healthiest avenue to express yourself in a way that is supportive and constructive,” Dr. Cornick says.

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