It is human nature to rely heavily on our social circles when we experience intense, emotional situations — both happy and otherwise. We are, after all, social creatures.
Luckily, the internet has been essential for many of us to stay connected, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. It certainly has helped people build community over shared interests, experiences, and stories across the globe.
However, there are times when we hear more than we want to hear, and without realizing it, we are receiving a dump of emotions that do not belong to us.
What exactly is trauma dumping?
Trauma dumping is exactly as it sounds — the act of bringing up traumatic events in casual conversation. In these situations, the person or people listening (or reading) do not get the opportunity to consent or voice whether or not they want to hear about the details of that trauma.
How many times have we felt forced to hear someone on Instagram or TikTok crudely describe experiences that are triggering?
Trauma dumping can happen in several scenarios.
In-person, it could look like getting together with a group of friends for lunch, during which one friend begins to give very explicit and detailed information about a recent traumatic event without considering the people around them.
Trauma dumping can also happen from strangers, especially on the internet. This could look like scrolling through TikTok and coming across a video of someone detailing a recent trauma that you were not expecting or posting a video or photo of that distressing event.
There is a fine line between venting and trauma dumping, the former of which is healthy and is something that several people do with those close to them. Here is a little bit of insight to help identify trauma dumping and have conversations around it.
Why do people trauma dump?
I’d like to think that most people who trauma dump are not aware that they are actively doing it. Yes, people on the internet may be using very distressing content to elicit a response from mass audiences on purpose, but trauma dumping is not always intentional.
Sharing stories around traumatic events in writing, video, or photographs can be very therapeutic to some folks, and it can certainly help build communities of people with shared experiences.
I’d like to think that folks who trauma dump are looking to build community by sharing their experiences and the injustices or losses they’ve had to endure. And although seeking community and looking to be validated are incredibly important after a trauma, sharing distressing content without considering how it may negatively impact people who have experienced similar traumas is wrong and inconsiderate.
Trauma dumping assumes that the people suddenly engaging with painful details of an experience have the emotional capacity to contain it. This is a toxic assumption that ends up being a neverending cycle.
Who is vulnerable to trauma dumping?
The most susceptible to trauma dumping are arguably people who have experienced similar situations, as they could potentially be triggered.
Youth are also particularly susceptible to trauma dumping. A recent study that surveyed four-hundred teens in the U.S. showed that during the COVID-19 pandemic, they experienced changes in their relationships — highly likely due to isolation — and these observed changes were associated with higher levels of depressive, anxious, and lonely feelings (Rogers, A. A., Ha, T., & Ockey, S. (2021).
Teens are especially susceptible to being taken advantage of, and on top of that, they are experiencing higher mental health issues. This makes them particularly vulnerable to trauma dumping.
What can you do when you experience trauma dumping from someone else?
If you find yourself in a situation where someone close to you is trauma dumping, evaluate your relationship with that person. Doing so will inform how you approach the problem. If you are close to them, consider having a conversation afterward or sending them a private message.
Tell them that you feel deeply about what they’re going through and that you’d like to give them some advice as to how they share their story. Mention that people around them may not have disclosed that they too have experienced similar trauma and that having the subject sprung upon them without knowing in advance could have deeply hurt or triggered them.
If you feel that you do not have the emotional capacity to reach out and have a conversation with that person, try to restrict their content as best you feel comfortable. If you feel like shutting them entirely out, block them. If you would like to keep your relationship with that person, hide their stories or content so that you don’t see it without having to block them. And if you’re in person, come up with an excuse to leave and avoid the situation altogether.
What can you do if someone tells you that you may have been trauma dumping?
Remember that the best person to share your traumas with is a therapist or psychologist. They are trained in giving folks tools to best communicate about their experiences and how to deal with the mental, emotional, and physical tolls that come with having gone through or having witnessed a traumatic event.
For those who are realizing they have been trauma dumping and those who have been on the receiving end, make sure to practice self-care after having conversations around trauma. Make time to meditate or journal to help deal with some of the heavy emotional responses that may have occurred.
What can you do if you’re looking to build community and heal your trauma?
If you’ve found yourself wanting to share details about your trauma with others, the best thing that you can do is say or post a trigger warning before sharing distressing content. Though the necessity or validity of trigger warnings is still open for debate, it is best to err on the side of compassion and let people decide whether or not they have the mental or emotional capacity to engage in that conversation.