'It's usually a lot more toxic': Are you venting or trauma dumping?

'It's usually a lot more toxic': Are you venting or trauma dumping?

Trauma dumping can turn relationships between friends and loved ones sour, but what’s the difference between dumping and a healthy amount of venting?

Trauma dumping is a phrase used to describe when someone unloads their pain onto unsuspecting and unprepared friends, loved ones and even acquaintances to such a degree that it becomes problematic.

‘For example’, Counselling Directory Member Beverley Blackman explains, ‘[trauma dumping can be] sharing something very difficult with someone who is already vulnerable or discussing painful thoughts and feelings based on trauma at a party or in an online space whereby the focus is on something else.

‘It’s usually not premeditated, but is inappropriate, usually unsolicited, can be very hard for others to cope with and contain.’

Sharing stresses and traumas with your nearest and dearest can be a hugely important part of healing and coping, however, there are a few subtle but important differences between venting and trauma dumping.

‘Firstly’, Beverley tells Metro.co.uk, ‘it’s usually a lot more toxic and can be very painful for the listener, who can feel imprisoned by a tidal wave of feelings elicited by the person they are in conversation with (be it online or in-person).

‘Secondly, it’s often unexpected – where the conversation seems to take a twist into something much darker and deeper.

‘Thirdly, it doesn’t really consider the effect on the listener, because the person venting is so caught up in a whirl of feelings and emotions.’

So, when sharing your trauma with others, situational relevance is key, as is remembering that your friends aren’t your therapists.

Beverley says: ‘Trauma dumping is toxic on friendships as it comes from something deep, painful and unresolved in a person’s past.

‘It can be frightening and confusing for a friend to listen to, because – while friends are people who want the best for us – they aren’t trained to listen to something difficult, which might bring old feelings to the surface for them too.

‘They may find it hard to contain your feelings and comfort you and may worry about what the right thing to say is, and they often don’t know what to do for the best.

‘You may find that they become wary of you and avoid you after an episode of trauma dumping.’

As you may or may not have already seen, a TikTok video in which a therapist (who appears to have since deleted her account) referred to a patient ‘trauma dumping’ went viral last week.

It’s far better to take trauma dumping to a professional

The caption read ‘not happening on my watch ever again’ and included the hashtag ‘boundaries’, but isn’t unloading trauma a huge part of therapy in the first place?

Beverley in fact tells us: ‘It’s far better to take trauma dumping to a professional such as a psychotherapist, especially one who has experience in dealing with trauma (you can find these in an advanced search on Counselling Directory).

‘Therapists are non-judgemental and are also trained to protect themselves from a client’s difficult feelings, so they won’t withdraw from you or reject you in the way that a friend might.’

Sure, a mental health professional might decide to steer you towards other ways of expressing your feelings in favour of one that more aligns with how they want to treat you, but the rules of dumping vs venting don’t quite apply when you’re there seeking help from an expert.

‘They can also help you find a way to stop the trauma having such a profound effect on your present and future,’ Beverley says.

‘While they cannot take away the fact that it happened, they can help you resolve the immensely raw feelings around it so that you do not find yourself trauma dumping on friends, and help you “move” it to somewhere in your mind where it is less potent, less toxic, and less of a millstone which can prevent you moving on with your life.’

Need support for your mental health?

You can contact mental health charity Mind on 0300 123 3393 or text them on 86463.

Mind can also be reached by email at [email protected].

To chat about mental health in an open, non-judgmental space, join our Mentally Yours Facebook group.

Follow us on Twitter at @MentallyYrs.

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