Dear friends: how to know the difference between venting versus 'trauma dumping'.

Everyone has sh*t going on right now. There's no doubt about it.

Of course, our woes all exist on a spectrum - some are small in the grand scheme of things but leave us feeling incredibly irritated and burnt out. Others are significant life hurdles.

When in the midst of a challenge, many find comfort and clarity in speaking with a friend. It's a strategy recommended by the experts themselves, who say that bottling up emotions rather than talking about them does more harm than good.

But there's a catch. When venting about a problem in our life evolves into a full-on trauma dump, that's when it can really impact our friendships.

Watch: What is self-care mental health literacy? Post continues below.

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Can you explain: what is a trauma dump?

Trauma dumping is when a person has the urge to share their traumatic experiences all in one big hit to another person. Often, that person is a friend, but sometimes they can even be someone they don't know awfully well.

The person off-loads their traumatic thoughts, feelings and experiences, talking only about themselves and not leaving any space for the other person to do the same. It is also an issue when the person on the receiving end isn't equipped mentally or emotionally to handle the information. 


Perhaps you can relate. Many of us have a friend who wants to catch up - only for us to meet and then spend hours listening solely to their problems, irritants and stresses without reprieve. 

Maybe they even constantly mention past trauma in casual conversations, sharing the same story repeatedly with graphic details. It can be a lot to take on. 

So what is the difference between trauma dumping versus a good ol' vent?

We're so glad you asked!

Not all trauma-sharing interactions are trauma dumping. When we are vulnerable and open about our issues with friends, it can help foster an even deeper and supportive mutual friendship. But when we trauma dump... we run the risk of driving a friend away.

Nahum Kozak is the co-founder of Lighthouse Relationships and is a senior psychologist.

He tells Mamamia that venting is a natural and often therapeutic way to share emotions with a friend.

"It can relieve stress: Expressing your feelings to alleviate emotional tension and reduce stress. Venting can also help you gain perspective, seeking insights and different viewpoints on your situation. It also fosters closer connections by letting others into your inner world, and feels validating," he explains.

On the other hand, trauma dumping is less constructive and potentially harmful. 

"It can involve overwhelming a friend with way too much distressing content, often without considering their boundaries or wellbeing. This can lead to emotional exhaustion and burnout. Plus, it can set up a lonely vicious cycle for some people - the cycle between over-sharing, then pulling away and isolating, then feeling lonely and going back to over-sharing."


How the experts handle trauma dumps.

Carly Dober is a psychologist and the Director at the Australian Association of Psychologists Incorporated. For more than 12 years she's been working in the mental health space. 

"As a psychologist, trauma dumping can be a very understandable presentation from someone who hasn't had the opportunity to talk to someone about their pain and experiences," she tells Mamamia.

"Therapy is collaborative, meaning that while clients absolutely share information to their psychologist in session, the 50 minutes is not an opportunity for someone to talk at us the entire time. Each session is unique and dependent on their treatment plan."

With this in mind, therapy is a very appropriate setting to manage these sorts of feelings, rather than singularly relying on one friend to take it all on.

"The average person mightn't have the time or energy, plus they might have their own background of difficult experiences," says Carly. 

"If in this position, you could consider what helpful feedback you might be able to give the person. Sometimes saying something like: 'I am so sorry that happened to you. I don't know how that must have impacted you and listening to that makes me feel really sad and shocked. Are you currently getting support for this? It might be helpful to talk about this with a qualified mental health professional'."

If the person continues to over-share, and it is impacting you, try being more direct and setting some boundaries. 


Unsure if you're a venter or trauma dumper? Ask yourself these 3 questions.

Reflecting on your communication style within your friendships can be a valuable exercise, says Nahum.

1. Talk Time Balance: Think about the time you and your friend each spend talking during your conversations. Is it approximately an even amount of time, or do you find yourself dominating the conversation with your concerns?

2. Turn-Taking in Questions: Evaluate whether there's even turn-taking in asking about each other's lives. Are you equally curious and interested in your friend's experiences as they are in yours?

3. Just Ask Them: Consider being gentle and yet direct; ask your friend 'Do I over-share a little too much sometimes?' If they say 'yes'; don't become defensive and explain why you share so much. Gently thank them for their honesty. Tell them you appreciate that they feel safe and okay to answer you. Feel free to ask for their help in keeping this in mind - maybe you can agree on a humorous code word that either one of you can use if needed - no harm, no foul. 

Ultimately, conversations in friendships have light and shade. 

On some occasions, it will be a heavier catch-up than others depending on external circumstances. But by keeping in mind the impact a big trauma dump can have on a friend - we'll certainly all be better for it. 

Feature Image: TikTok.

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