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How To Draw Boundaries With A Trauma-Dumping Friend, From An Expert

Not to toot my own horn, but I think that I’m a pretty die-hard, loyal friend from the get-go. Once I’ve clicked with someone and I can see a future of becoming close with them, I put their needs high on my priorities, stopping at nothing to ensure they’re OK. Sure, this may sound like a trait that can only bring positivity — who wouldn’t want a friend who’s always there for them? But as I continue navigating my college experience, meeting new people and making new friends every year, I’ve realized that being such a comforting presence to new friends from the beginning of our friendship also opens up a lot of room for something called trauma dumping.

You’ve probably heard of the term “trauma dumping” from the internet, but if you’re like me, you aren’t exactly sure what it means. And unfortunately, it’s difficult to pinpoint. To be honest, it’s only when I had to sit down and write this article, confronting my past experiences with new friends, that I noticed the sheer amount of times I’ve been on the receiving end of trauma dumping — and I just took it, because I couldn’t pinpoint that something unhealthy was happening.

So, if you’re having trouble navigating trauma dumping within your friendships, or finding it difficult to spot, you’ve come to the right place. To learn more about trauma dumping and how to correctly handle it, I consulted licensed psychologist David Tzall — so we can finally get to the bottom of the blurry lines and confusion surrounding trauma dumping.

So, what even is trauma dumping?

Trauma dumping may seem self-explanatory, but it’s actually hard to define — I know it was for me. The term is thrown around a lot with not too much context, and as with any harmful or toxic behavior, it’s important we make sure we completely understand what it is before letting it define an encounter.

“Trauma dumping is when a person overshares their emotions or emotional hardships with another person,” Tzall tells Her Campus. “This oversharing is harmful to the other person’s own well-being.”

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RODNAE Productions / pexels

But it’s different from over-explaining a story or going on a tangent for a little too long; there are several signs and indicators specific to trauma dumping that you can look out for. Tzall says that in trauma dumping situations, consent is often removed: The person trauma dumping might not even think to ask or even care if their friend is OK to handle deep discussions of their trauma.

“In dumping, you are not looking to problem solve. You are looking to get it out as fast as possible and essentially make it the other person’s problem,” Tzall continues. “The person might not be interested in how their stories will cause the other person to react in potentially negative ways.” So, basically, trauma dumping is like a large oversharing of the scarring or damaging issues they’ve faced, with a large lack of emotional concern for the other person.

There’s a difference between trauma dumping and venting or confiding in a close friend.

In some cases, there can be a fine line between trauma dumping and just venting — especially when it’s happening between two friends — but let me tell you, it’s an important distinction. You might even be hesitant to even label an instance with a friend as trauma dumping, but don’t rule it out just because you know the person a bit better.

Most of the time, trauma dumping happens with relatively new friends, because it’s easier to feel unprepared for sensitive information when you don’t know the person well. “A relationship needs to develop trust and boundaries,” Tzall says. “Sharing too much or too soon before you get to know a person might indicate you trust without a real sense of authenticity.”

Generally, the key difference between trauma dumping and venting is that dumping lacks concern for the thoughts and feelings of the listener, or the dumpee. “It is more of a selfish act, as you are only looking out for yourself with little to no consideration of the other,” Tzall explains. “In dumping, you don’t have regard for the other person hearing the issues. You want the other person to carry your load as it can be too heavy or ‘toxic’ to hold onto it yourself.” I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty uncharacteristic for the average vent session.

Set boundaries to regulate trauma dumping — honesty is the best policy.

Like me, you may think it’s important to dismiss your concerns and be the best possible friend you can be. But in order to actually be a true friend, you must be honest with yourself and with your friend: This behavior isn’t healthy for either of you. It’s not only OK, but recommended, to set boundaries with friends prone to trauma dumping.

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Liza Summer / Pexels

Tzall recommends that, within friendships, dumpees should openly and honestly tell their friend that their approach is harmful. “It is always important to let the other person know what they need and like so the other can correct their behavior. Expecting the dumpee to ask permission is realistic and acceptable.”

But what are you even supposed to say in the first place? How can you ensure to not hurt their feelings? Well, Tzall recommends starting by telling the person you’re feeling uneasy and overwhelmed; then, continuing by telling them that frankly, you can’t continue to support them if they proceed to share information this way. You can even end by outlining some next steps they can take, like talking to a therapist

Be sure to outline how they should be changing their behavior: Perhaps you’d like to be listened to more, or be asked for consent before talking about heavy topics — or maybe you’d rather keep trauma out of the conversations altogether. “Expecting the dumpee to ask permission is realistic and acceptable,” Tzall says. But make sure not to use the exact words “trauma dumping” when confronting your friend, because it may make them defensive.

However, although setting these small boundaries can go a long way, too much trauma dumping may signify deeper issues — and a sign of a toxic relationship. In this case, be honest with yourself and admit when the friendship is beyond repair. “Cutting ties with unhealthy relationships is healthy and necessary,” explains Tzall. “If the other person refuses to respect the boundaries or gets defensive when their behavior is brought up, leaving the relationship may be a reality.”Listen, I know trauma dumping is not an easy issue to navigate, because it’s hard to determine the best — and most moral — course of action. But hopefully, you’re now able to recognize when trauma dumping is happening, stop it in its tracks, and prioritize your happiness. Because as much as friendship is about supporting one another, you should always feel comfortable around your friends — in my books, that’s not too much to ask.

Abby is a National Writer for Her Campus and the Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus at Waterloo. As part of the Wellness team, she covers topics related to mental health and relationships, but also frequently writes about digital trends, career advice, current events, and more. In her articles, she loves solving online debates, connecting with experts, and reflecting on her own experiences. She is also passionate about spreading the word about important cultural issues such as climate change and women’s rights; these are topics she frequently discusses in her articles. Abby began producing digital content at BuzzFeed, where she now has over 300 posts and 60 million overall views. Since then, she has also written for various online publications such as Thought Catalog, Collective World, and Unpacked. In addition to writing, Abby is also a UX and content designer; she most frequently spends her days building innovative, creative digital experiences. She has other professional experiences ranging from marketing to graphic design. When she’s not writing, Abby can be found reading the newest Taylor Jenkins Reid book, watching The Office, or eating pizza. She’s also been a dancer since she was four years old, and has most recently become obsessed with taking spin classes.