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Mental Health

Are You Venting Or Trauma Dumping? 3 Experts Explain The Difference

It goes without saying that there's been a lot of bad news lately — meaning that it’s perfectly normal if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, especially in our fast-paced online world where scary headlines are a dime-a-dozen. You’re certainly not alone right now, and chances are you’ve likely already talked to someone about your feelings. 

Whether it’s current events or personal anxieties, venting can be healthy and is a good way to let off some steam. However, venting can also lead into a toxic territory known colloquially as trauma dumping.

While it’s important to express your feelings with loved ones and peers (as humans, we are social creatures!), it’s also crucial to express your feelings in a way that is healthy both for you and the person you’re speaking with. Here’s what trauma dumping is, why it’s damaging, and how you can continue venting in a more productive and healthy manner. 

What is trauma dumping?

Essentially, trauma dumping is the unsolicited sharing of traumatic stories or information. Say, if you’re the one sharing, you would just divulge into your own personal history out of nowhere and catch your friend off guard. Hence, “dumping.” 

A trauma dump dominates the entire conversation and can feel endless.

“A trauma dump goes beyond the normal 15 minutes of venting to your bestie about your boss,” therapist Marlena L. Del Hierro explains to Her Campus. “Not only may a trauma dump dominate the entire conversation, it is on a loop and can feel endless. You may hear the same stories, or versions thereof, repeatedly across time. This is no longer a vent, but a dump.” 

Why is trauma dumping bad?

I get it: Letting it all out can feel really good. But the instant gratification might not be all that worth it in the end. For starters, while trauma dumping can provide some instant relief if you’re the “dumper,” it doesn't necessarily promote deeper healing. In other words, while you might feel better in the moment, you may not feel better in the long run. 

Trauma dumping can also potentially cross boundaries with your friend, since sometimes, your friend might not be in the right headspace to receive distressing information. What if your friend had a bad day at work, or what if they’re maybe going through something mentally? Plus, if you aren’t that close to begin with, trauma isn’t necessarily the best thing to bond over. 

Finally, in the worst cases, trauma dumping can even be emotional manipulation. Even if it isn’t intentional, your friend could feel trapped by your trauma and feel like they have to walk on eggshells around you. 

Is venting even a good idea?

I’m not saying you can’t vent at all. Again, venting has its benefits. For one, it’s always better to let out your emotions than to bottle them up, and venting offers you the clear-headed perspective of someone who isn’t as emotionally entangled in the situation. Plus, if you are venting with the right friend, venting can help build trust within a relationship. 

Venting is the healthy way to express and unload heaviness, while trauma dumping is a one-way conversation.

“[Venting] allows one to verbally process their feelings and thoughts as opposed to holding them in and increasing the chance of reacting rather than responding to the situation that they are venting about,” therapist Allison Nobrega tells Her Campus. 

There’s certainly a fine line between venting and trauma dumping, though. “Venting is the healthy way to express and unload heaviness,” psychologist Melissa Baisi tells Her Campus. “Trauma dumping is a one-way conversation that may even induce secondary trauma to the listener. The person who wishes to vent, needs to approach it with care, as the person that they choose as their listener, may or may not be in a place to take on that role.”

In short, don’t quit venting forever. Not sharing anything with our friends isn’t the solution either. It’s better to open up about your problems than to act like everything is fine. The key difference between venting and trauma dumping is having an understanding of emotional labor, which is essentially the unpaid “labor” we do that comes with taking on the heavy emotional burdens of others. 

How do we keep venting healthy?

When you trauma dump to someone, you take up significant amounts of emotional labor because they likely weren’t prepared for a traumatic anecdote. 

So, if you’re feeling like venting but you don't want to drain your friends, you can always start by asking first if they’re in the right headspace to hear you vent. If they say yes, go right ahead! They’ll likely appreciate that you asked first, and you’ll have a totally willing listener. However, if they say no, you have to respect their boundaries and find another time to vent, or maybe reach out to someone else to talk to. 

Ultimately, though, your friends aren’t mental health professionals. If all you do when you’re around your friends is vent, or if you find that venting only makes you feel worse, then it may be time to see a therapist.

All in all, it’s important to practice emotional intelligence when it comes to every aspect of life, but it’ll certainly come in handy when maintaining your friendships. I’ve talked about this concept from the perspective of a venter, but emotional intelligence is important for you as a listener, too. 

We all want to be good siblings, students, and of course, friends. Surely you want to  be there for your friends, and it’s wonderful to feel like you can be a confidante to someone. But at the end of the day, emotional well-being comes first over comfort, so keep that in mind the next time you feel like sitting down to have a rant.

Viviana Freyer is a National Contributing Writer for Her Campus. She goes to Bryn Mawr College and is set to graduate in 2024. She is pursuing an English and French double major and an Art History minor. Viviana loves Goodreads, Letterboxd, making Spotify playlists, and overanalyzing popular media.
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