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When Oversharing Turns into Trauma Dumping, and How to Stop

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Key Takeaways

  • There’s a difference between venting and trauma dumping.
  • Oversharing traumatic or difficult experiences on others in a repeated or unsolicited way can push them away.
  • Recognizing that you might be a trauma dumper can help you learn healthy ways to cope with trauma and maintain relationships.

Sharing our stress, anxiety, and worries with others can help process difficult feelings. And, no doubt, the pandemic has brought on a lot of reasons to vent. 

But when does venting turn into trauma dumping—oversharing of traumatic experiences

“Some people may feel the need to share about traumatic experiences to a friend, family member, coworker, or acquaintance, but may not always fully grasp the severity or intensity of what they are about to share,” Brittany Becker, LMHC, director at The Dorm, tells Verywell. 

This is especially true if the person oversharing has not identified specific areas of their life as being a traumatic experience. 

When a person experiences a traumatic event or ongoing trauma, Becker says they might compartmentalize or create distance from the events in order to protect themselves and function in their day-to-day life. 

“This can become confusing to [listen to] as they may speak about [trauma] as matter of fact or in the same manner of everyday surface level venting, when in actuality the words they are stating are actually very opposite from tone or affect that they may be presenting the information in,” Becker says. 

Brittany Becker, LMHC

Some people may feel the need to share about traumatic experiences to a friend, family member, coworker, or acquaintance, but may not always fully grasp the severity or intensity of what they are about to share.

— Brittany Becker, LMHC

The fine line between venting and trauma dumping comes down to this, says Gina Moffa, LCSW, psychotherapist: with trauma dumping, the purpose is to solicit sympathy and feedback. 

“It's simply making your painful experiences, and devastating emotional setbacks the point to your conversations, wherein you do not have the ability to self-reflect or bring responsibility or accountability to your side of the story,” Moffa tells Verywell. 

However, in venting, most of the time, she says people are aware they are expressing pent up emotions, and that their venting is a one-time thing. 

“[They are] not soliciting sympathy, as much as simply the need to ‘get this off their chest,’” says Moffa. 

Social Media Breeds Trauma Dumping

Writing about your feelings on social media can feel easier than talking about them in person sometimes. 

“It's much safer to share your pain on a platform, behind a screen. With more and more people on social media, it has become a safer place to share personal stories and information more readily,” says Moffa. 

Plus, Becker says the ability for social media to reach many people makes it likely you will get validating responses, differing opinions that allow you to reframe your thinking, and a test audience to see how people react to your story before sharing it with those closest to you. 

Gina Moffa, LCSW

It's much safer to share your pain on a platform, behind a screen. With more and more people on social media, it has become a safer place to share personal stories and information more readily.

— Gina Moffa, LCSW

“Also, I can’t help but to think that the shared trauma of the pandemic globally and the mandate to be home and be on your computer, much more opened up more platforms to talk and a greater need to reach out via online platforms,” she says. 

Why Trauma Dumping Can Push People Away

While sharing traumatic experiences can be helpful, if you trauma dump incessantly to garner attention or sympathy, Moffa says people may become immune to it. 

“We have to be careful that we are not sharing deeply personal information, while looking for people to respond over and over again with the same level of sympathy and concern,” she says. 

Doing so can push people away and encourage them to distance themselves because they may feel the following, notes Becker. 

  • Uncomfortable with hearing details about the trauma
  • Unsure how to respond appropriately to the traumatic experience
  • Resentment and frustration toward you for not realizing your trauma could affect their life 

Moffa says those who trauma dump are usually people who feel alone and want to feel heard and validated, “but who also wind up isolating themselves further because they dump on people without…awareness, which in turn, creates more of a chasm for them. Connection is therefore, unfortunately, never reached, although it's what they yearn for most.” 

Signs You Might be a Trauma Dumper and How to Stop

If you’re pushing people away and not sure if it’s due to trauma dumping, Becker says consider the following signs: 

  • You “vent” about the same feelings and triggers repetitively and do not reframe, learn to cope more effectively to a trigger, or move forward.
  • You don’t allow others to give their opinions or point of view about your experience.
  • You find yourself in one-way relationships, in which you vent to people, but hardly or never hear from them about their life.
  • You don’t ask others about their lives or make room for them to ask you for advice. 

Once you realize you are trauma dumping and understand the consequences it has on your relationships and your own wellness, Becker says identify a list of people who you can reach out to when you need to discuss your trauma. Before contacting them, ask yourself what your motivations and goals are for discussing the trauma with them. Then consider starting your conversation with statements like: 

  • “I’ve experienced something that is really hard for me to process and may be hard for you to hear, are you in a place to talk about something like this with me at the moment?”
  • “Hey, can you help me out by letting me know if I ever step over a line between venting or trauma dumping, in case I ever go somewhere in our conversation that we haven’t discussed?" 

Additionally, Becker recommends learning about the different types of support for trauma such as EMDR, and seeking out individual or group therapy held by a trained mental health professional. 

She says practicing mindfulness and activities that engage the five senses can also help process trauma. 

Moffa suggests journaling or letter-writing, “which allows your brain to process the story you’re telling yourself in a potentially new way.”

How to Set Boundaries

If you’re the one getting dumped on, Becker suggests validating the person’s feelings and showing empathy, but telling them you do not feel comfortable being in the conversation. 

“[Then offer] to help them secure the more helpful person or professional to talk to about this,” she says. 

Moffa agrees, stressing that friends and online communities are not substitutes for professional help, which a person who trauma dumps may need. 

“They need someone to gently guide them through their narrative and help them find a place where they can safely self-reflect, therefore, garnering more of a sense of empowerment over their life, and story,” she says.

What This Means For You

While venting to friends, family and social media followers can feel helpful, sometimes oversharing your trauma can turn people away. Understanding what trauma dumping is and why you do it can help you maintain relationships and find the help you need.

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