How to stop trauma dumping on others
When it comes to relieving the pressure of painful memories, there’s emotional catharsis, and then there’s trauma dumping. If you haven’t heard the term before, trauma dumping is the process by which someone shares unsolicited negative experiences from their life with someone else in an inappropriate or nonconsensual way.
Trauma dumping comes in many forms. Sometimes it takes the shape of a conversation between two people. Other times it’s done indirectly—like a mother who trauma dumps on her granddaughter by bringing her to the grave of her miscarried child.
In moments like these, it can be hard to pick up on the fact that you are trauma dumping at all. You might simply think you’re letting off steam, having a good life talk or teaching others about the difficult parts of existing.
Trauma dumping, however, is none of these things. It actively hurts the other person involved because it inflicts psychological damage without giving the other party a chance to agree to participate. Without preparation beforehand, telling deeply negative stories about your life can instill anxiety, depression, stress and distrust among those you love most.
If you’re starting to recognize that you’ve emotionally dumped on people you care about, it’s time to learn how to stop trauma dumping.
How to recognize if you’re trauma dumping
Trauma dumping can be hard to spot. Still, there’s some common signs of excessive oversharing. The next time you’re talking about a difficult part of your past with someone, make a mental checklist to see if they’re responding in the following ways:
- They keep shifting the conversation to lighter topics. If you notice the person constantly redirects your exchanges toward everyday conversation topics, it’s a sign they might not be comfortable with the way you speak about your trauma.
- They put time limits on talking about tough stuff. Putting a time limit on talking about hard topics is never a bad idea. However, it’s also a sign that the person you’re talking to is making clear boundaries with you, and doesn’t want you to overshare about your difficulties.
- They’ve had to set boundaries when you’ve talked about life experiences before. Has your friend ever told you they can’t handle the way you talk about your trauma? If you’ve been given clear signs that the way you share details about your life is inappropriate, it’s worth giving that a serious thought—while you might think your friend is the problem, it may be the way you’re talking to them.
- You’ve noticed they get anxious or quiet when you talk about your trauma. Do they clam up when you dive into your trauma? Do they start tapping their leg? Do they become flighty, anxious, depressed, distant or disengaged? All of these are signs you might be trauma dumping.
- You don’t really want their advice. When you talk about your trauma, do you notice that you don’t really care about what the other person has to say about it? If you have no real interest in hearing advice, thoughts or commentary on your trauma, then you’re probably dumping, because you don’t want a solution to your problems—you just want a vessel to receive them.
- They’ve become more distant with time. The worst thing about trauma dumping is that it pushes people away. By constantly exposing your friends to harrowing details or the same negative stories over and over again, you make them less likely to want to spend time with you. If your friends or family are quietly distancing themselves from you, you may be the trauma dumper in your circle.
How to stop trauma dumping
You’ve probably heard about journaling for mental health, anxiety reduction and wellness before. But did you know journaling can be a key resource for negating the worst impacts of trauma dumping?
A journal is sort of like kryptonite for trauma dumping: by writing down all your negative experiences in a journal, you’re able to share your struggles, pain and sadness without dumping it on anyone else. Despite the fact that others might not read it, it still feels good to expel bad experiences from your mind and put them somewhere else—say, for instance, a blank page.
Then there’s two-way journaling. There are programs out there where people journal back and forth with coaches and therapists to unpack difficult experiences and move forward with their lives.
Unlike trauma dumping, talking about your difficult past experiences with trained professionals is a completely safe and acceptable way to heal from trauma—after all, it’s what they’re there for.
Take up a physical hobby
While basic, this tip to avoid trauma dumping might be one of the most potent. That’s because trauma exists in the body just as much as it does in the mind… which means our bodies sometimes cause us to reenter fight or flight mode when thinking about past traumatic experiences.
By taking on a hobby like running, swimming, tennis, volleyball, biking, rollerblading or any other high-intensity cardio sport, you’re giving your body a chance to redirect some of that nervous energy into something productive. You’ll also be releasing endorphins that improve your mood, making you less likely to feel the need to trauma dump on others.
Write about the best possible future
You’ve had some terrible things happen. But that doesn’t mean your future has to be full of them, too. If you’ve still got that journal lying around, take a second to write an entry where only good things happen.
Answer the question: what would it be like if everything I wanted to happen, happened? How would I feel? What kind of life would I live? What things would I see, taste, do, try, explore?
Quit trauma dumping and start living
While trauma dumping can feel cathartic, it often causes the dumper to neglect other peoples’ feelings, boundaries, advice, comfort and safety. It’s a difficult compulsion that puts everyone—yourself included—in a worse space after it occurs.
Fortunately, we’ve got a lot more tips on how to stop trauma dumping that we can’t fit into a single blog. If you’re dealing with trauma and need a release, listen to our latest podcast episode about the topic, or head on over to our site to talk to a coach who can help.
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