top of page

Trauma Dumping: What It Is and How to Overcome It

✎ Written by: Denisa Cerna ✓ Fact-checked by: Kaija Sander, Ph.D.


You can feel the words on the tip of your tongue, ready to burst out. Your thoughts are circling again, the gravity of your emotions pulling you back into the past.


And then… you trauma dump.


Trauma dumping, a type of oversharing wherein you repeatedly voice the details of a traumatic event and cannot seem to contain yourself, is incredibly challenging to deal with. It’s completely understandable that you want to share your story – in fact, opening up to others is a normal and healthy way of dealing with difficult emotions. However, trauma dumping can put an unfair emotional burden on the person listening to your story if you don’t ask for consent first.


If you’ve found yourself engaging in trauma dumping, remember you shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed by any means. You are dealing with a very difficult situation on both a psychological and a physiological level, something that is explained in-depth later on in this article.


Together, we’ll tackle what trauma dumping is, why it happens, and what you can do to stop it.


More specifically, we’ll take a look at:

What Is Trauma Dumping?


While not a clinical term, trauma dumping can be used to describe the act of oversharing the details (often graphic) of a traumatic event that has happened to you.


The key aspect that defines trauma dumping is consent. For instance, repeatedly sharing the story of a traumatic experience with your therapist is not considered trauma dumping because your therapist has already given consent to hear your story and help you heal from the trauma.


Family and friends, however, are a different story entirely. Sharing a traumatic story with them without their agreeing to hear it could potentially have a negative impact on their own well-being and create a one-sided dynamic in relationships wherein one person does not have enough space to express their own opinion.


As a result, some view trauma dumping as a toxic kind of communication. Clinical hypnotherapist and certified life coach Marie Fraser explains this is because “sharing deeply personal information can be very uncomfortable for the listener and leave them unsure how to respond. It can also trigger their own trauma, without allowing them space to navigate it.”


However, it’s important to keep in mind that trauma dumping is often linked to highly stressful situations, which creates an emotional hurricane that is hard to deal with. You are facing it in the best way you know how.


So as not to unintentionally trigger another person’s trauma in the process, it’s important to understand more about why trauma dumping happens and what you can do to stop it.


Why Trauma Dumping Happens


On a psychological level


Trauma dumping can occur as a result of many psychological motives, such as the desire to share your story but going into too much detail due to emotional overwhelm, as well as the urge to receive acknowledgment of your pain or find short-term relief. This may even happen during inappropriate times or with a person you don’t know well enough.


One of the key aspects is that the “dumper” is not open to any advice or solutions offered by the “dumpee”, and the “dumpee” does not have enough space to express their own emotions or opinions, rendering the conversation one-sided.


When you’re opening up to someone, always take a step back and ask yourself: Am I ready to accept advice? Am I giving the other person the space to express their own opinion? Am I seeking validation, or an authentic connection with the person I’m speaking with?


On a physiological level


Traumatic events can physically change the brain. Three areas that can be affected are:

  • The amygdala which is responsible for emotional responses and decision-making

  • The hippocampus which is responsible for learning and memory

  • The prefrontal cortex which is responsible for cognitive control functions, reasoning, and social behavior

Since the amygdala and the hippocampus are part of the limbic system, they play a crucial role when it comes to responding to danger.


While the amygdala is in charge of detecting whether an event is dangerous to begin with, the hippocampus contextualizes it in relation to memories and past experiences. As a result, your sympathetic nervous system gets activated and you enter the fight-flight-freeze state.


In some cases, this heightened sensitivity to threats does not go away after the danger has passed, resulting in PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).


Research shows that when you suffer from PTSD, your reactions to certain situations differ from those of people who have not encountered trauma. Let’s say you’re facing a high-stress situation and have to make a difficult decision. The amygdala may perceive the scenario as a threat, causing increased levels of cortisol and decreasing your ability to think clearly.


Of course, your triggers and reactions depend on your individual circumstances.The stress and impaired reasoning that come as a result of PTSD may lead to worsened self-awareness, which means you may overshare without considering what you’re doing – i.e. trauma dump.


Please note: Trauma dumping is not necessarily related to PTSD. Psychologist Nelisha Wickremasinghe, DProf., explains that some people simply over-emote, meaning that they find it difficult to process and filter their emotions without having experienced trauma.


Trauma Dumping: 7 Signs


Do you trauma dump, or do you simply like to vent from time to time? Trauma dumping can be recognized by the following seven signs:

  • Telling the same story repeatedly and describing graphic details

  • Frequently interjecting mentions of past trauma into casual conversations

  • Associating unrelated topics with your trauma

  • Regularly posting deeply personal issues on social media

  • Bringing up the details of your trauma in conversations with people you barely know

  • Not being open to solutions or advice

  • Intentionally choosing to share your story with people who may feel more obligated to listen

If you do trauma dump, remember all the physical and psychological processes described in the previous section. While others go on about their day, you have to deal with all this on a regular basis! This in and of itself means you’re incredibly strong and should be proud of yourself.

The next step is to learn how to stop trauma dumping and approach your trauma in an effective, empathetic way.


How to Stop Trauma Dumping


There are various approaches to unlearning trauma dumping, including different coping methods and learning to self-regulate effectively.

1. Keep in Touch With Your Body

According to psychiatrist and author of The Body Keeps The Score, Bessel van der Kolk, trauma does not only pull you back into the wide-open jaws of the past – it also disconnects you from the present moment.

Mindfulness-based treatments are frequently used to help alleviate the symptoms of PTSD, as well as anxiety and stress. They help you stay grounded in the present and be attentive to potential triggers.

What’s more, practicing mindfulness has been shown to help deal with feelings that can trigger trauma dumping, such as self-blame, guilt, and shame.

Apart from bringing your attention to the present moment when you feel emotionally overwhelmed, there are specific exercises you can give a try. The following body scan meditation, for instance, could help you develop an insight into the connection between your emotions and your body.

  1. Lie down and close your eyes. Focus on your breath for a few moments.

  2. Start “scanning” your body from head to toe. Be aware of any sensations and aim to cover every area of your body.

  3. If you notice any itching or prickling sensations, pay attention to them instead of acting on your impulses. You’ll notice the sensation changes and eventually dissipates.

  4. A full scan can take anywhere between 10-20 minutes. Repeat the exercise as many times as you wish.

A body scan is just one exercise of many. Find out what works for you and practice regularly. The more mindful you are, the less likely you are to trauma dump.

2. Ask Yourself Reflective Questions

When you feel the words making their way to your lips, try running through a mental checklist:

  1. Does the other person seem comfortable with the topic?

  2. Have I asked if it’s okay for me to share the graphic details of my story?

  3. Am I prepared to give them the space to open up, too? Am I seeking an authentic connection rather than a one-way conversation?

  4. Is this an appropriate time and place for me to talk about such a serious topic?

  5. Why do I want to share this story?

  6. Have I already talked about this with this person or group before?

These questions will give rise to self-awareness and redirect your train of thought.

3. Do a Brain Dump

Developed by author and teacher Julia Cameron, Morning Pages – the act of brain dumping – is a daily practice consisting of dumping all your random thoughts on paper in the morning, as soon as you wake up. When repurposed for trauma dumping, it could be an excellent way to clear your mind and find relief without crossing another person’s boundaries.

Brain dumping strengthens the connection you form with yourself. After all, paper can’t talk back, which means you become the person who acknowledges your pain, takes care of your wounds, and lets you move on. This is important because you no longer rely on another person to validate your experience, which can help stop trauma dumping.

Narrative writing is slightly different in its nature, yet equally effective. However, this method could be very triggering, and it’s therefore recommended to consult your mental health professional before you give it a try. The exercise consists of writing about a specific traumatic event repeatedly, and it has been proven to alleviate PTSD symptoms.

Please note: Not everyone benefits from journaling about their traumatic memories, so don’t feel pressured to do this by any means.

4. Seek Professional Mental Health Support

Consider talking to a professional. In therapy, your therapist is giving their consent to hear your story and help you work through your trauma so you can begin to heal.

With a professional’s help, you can make sense of your experiences and slowly work on the way you interact with others, thereby minimizing the chances of trauma dumping in the future.

If your trauma dumping is caused by PTSD, there are various types of therapy you can choose from. For example:

  • Prolonged Exposure (PE), a kind of cognitive behavioral therapy that teaches you to slowly stop avoiding traumatic memories and work with them.

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) aims to change your thought patterns by identifying negative thoughts that may be causing PTSD symptoms, tackling cognitive distortions, and using methods such as Socratic Questioning to incite more thought awareness.

  • Written Exposure Therapy (WET) helps you make sense of your trauma through writing and discussion.

You may also give brain training with neurofeedback a try. This type of brain training can help you reach a state of deep relaxation where traumatic memories can safely resurface and be processed.

Conclusion

Trauma dumping is often caused by emotional overwhelm, which can be tackled by training yourself to regulate your emotions effectively and taking the appropriate steps to heal from the trauma. You can do this by practicing body scan meditations, asking yourself reflective questions, doing a brain dump, and seeking professional mental health support.

And remember, sharing your story can be a deeply healing experience that may strengthen your connection with another person, as long as the timing is appropriate and you have that person’s consent. It’s good to process your trauma in a safe, caring environment, and your close ones will want to be there for you when you do so.

All you have to do is ask.

Myndlift provides professional supervised brain training that can be done right from the comfort of your home. Connect with us to kick start your journey for better brain health and wellbeing from here.


 

About the author:

Denisa Cerna is a non-fiction and fiction writer who's passionate about psychology, mental health, and personal development. She's always on a quest to develop a better insight into the workings of the human mind, be it via reading psychology books or combing through research papers.


About the reviewer:

Kaija Sander is a cognitive neuroscientist and scientific consultant for Myndlift. She holds a BSc in Biomedical Science with a specialization in Neuroscience and Mental Health from Imperial College London and a PhD in Neuroscience from McGill University. Her doctoral research focused on brain connectivity relating to second language learning success. She is passionate about the broader applications of science to have a positive impact on people’s lives.


 


References:


Boyd JE, Lanius RA, McKinnon MC. Mindfulness-based treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder: a review of the treatment literature and neurobiological evidence. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2018 Jan;43(1):7-25. doi: 10.1503/jpn.170021.


Bremner JD. Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2006;8(4):445-61. doi: 10.31887/DCNS.2006.8.4/jbremner.


Cameron, Julia. Morning Pages. The Artist’s Way (2023).


DProf Nelisha Wickremasinghe. Why Some People Dump Their Traumas on Us. Psychology Today (2021).


Fogwe LA, Mesfin FB. Neuroanatomy, Hippocampus. National Center for Biotechnology Information. StatsPearl Publishing.


Gibson J. Mindfulness, Interoception, and the Body: A Contemporary Perspective. Front Psychol. 2019 Sep 13;10:2012. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02012.


Panisch LS, Hai AH. The Effectiveness of Using Neurofeedback in the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Systematic Review. Trauma Violence Abuse. 2020 Jul;21(3):541-550. doi: 10.1177/1524838018781103.


PTSD: National Center for PTSD. Talk Therapy. Ptsd.va.gov.


Sloan DM, Sawyer AT, Lowmaster SE, Wernick J, Marx BP. Efficacy of Narrative Writing as an Intervention for PTSD: Does the Evidence Support Its Use? J Contemp Psychother. 2015 Dec;45(4):215-225. doi: 10.1007/s10879-014-9292-x.

Routledge, Pamela, PhD. How to Stop Trauma Dumping and Protect Your Mental Health. Fielding Graduate University. 2021.


University of Northern Colorado. Neurobiology of trauma. unco.edu.


ความคิดเห็น


The latest brain health news and tips, delivered to your inbox.

bottom of page