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Experts Reveal Why ‘Trauma Dumping’/’Your Trouble With Friends Is Toxic & How To Avoid It

A problem shared is a problem halved. But if you share too many problems, you run the risk of “trauma dumping,” warns an expert.

The phrase applies to people who feel the need to pass even their smallest problems and frustrations onto others, rather than those who have to talk through real hardships.

Nelisha Wickremasinghe, a psychologist and colleague from the University of Oxford, author of Being with Others: Curses, spells and scintillation, explained that people who engage in “dumping” rely so heavily on friends because they have no other way of process their emotions.

In a conversation with FEMAIL, Nelisha explained how you can avoid becoming a victim of trauma dumping by setting boundaries.

Psychologist and Oxford University colleague Nelisha Wickremasinghe revealed why you should never dump your problems on your friends (stock image)

Psychologist and Oxford University colleague Nelisha Wickremasinghe revealed why you should never dump your problems on your friends (stock image)

Why do people ‘dump’ their trauma?

“People who ‘dump’ traumatic thoughts, feelings, energy on others – who speak and behave with ‘wild vulnerability’ – find it very difficult to properly organize, process and filter their feelings.”

She said the act of trauma dumping can sometimes suggest that the person is experiencing a deeper psychological problem, such as borderline personality or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

However, in everyday life, the expert said that the lines are blurring between what to share with a friend and what should be kept to oneself or discussed with a professional.

“People are getting more and more confused by culturally mixed messages about what and when it’s OK to share,” she said.

“The use of the word ‘trauma’ has also become more ‘elastic’, meaning that some people experience relatively minor challenges in life and describe them as ‘traumatic’.”

When ‘trauma’ is not trauma

Nelisha, pictured, explained that we tend to share too much when we don't know how to process our feelings

Nelisha, pictured, explained that we tend to share too much when we don't know how to process our feelings

Nelisha, pictured, explained that we tend to share too much when we don’t know how to process our feelings

Nelisha said there is a difference between trauma dumping and actual trauma that people can experience after PTSD abuse.

“I think we have to distinguish between the two. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a potentially serious problem in which flashbacks and powerful memories disorganize the mind and ability to interact with others,” she said.

She added that if someone is suffering from PTSD, they need the person they tell to make a serious effort to help them and get help.

She went on to say that people should recognize that discomfort, such as standing in line for gas or missing out on a promotion, is not the same as surviving a rape, witnessing a murder, involvement in a fatal accident or the premature loss of a loved one.

The things people who dump trauma will complain about are more along the lines of feeling mistreated by a demanding boss, partner or friend, being single, fear of getting Covid, being unattractive, outrage when someone is overlooked. seen or unnoticed, paranoid feelings that others talk about or conspire against me, and a general attitude that the world is against me.

Sharing too much has become the norm… but it’s not always a good thing

The author said there is such a thing as too much sharing, and it has become the norm.

Over-emoting is encouraged and has become the norm on social media, talk and reality shows. Plus, there’s now a mountain of self-help guides and messages instructing us to get in touch with our feelings and tell each other about them,” she said.

People turn to trauma dumping because they’re told it’s okay to share how they feel, but not how to process their emotions.

“Yet in many schools and workplaces, emotions and feelings are not properly captured or nurtured, and in some places they are even discouraged,” she said.

“So while we are told that feelings are a good thing, in reality there is little opportunity to practice and learn how to express, understand and process them.”

She explained that trauma dumping was also a result of what she calls the “threat brain,” the “part of our emotion system that is alert and responsive to danger.”

“An overactive threat brain will flood us with powerful feelings and thoughts that, if we don’t calm and contain them, will eventually spill over into everyday life and relationships,” she explains.

“Our threat brain can be activated by both real and imagined threats. That’s why relatively minor problems can feel terrifying to some people — our ability to iterate, fantasize, and ponder makes it so.”

Why trauma dumping can be harmful to BOTH parties

“Trauma dumping causes problems for everyone involved, as highly charged speech and behavior stimulates a part of our nervous system that floods our bodies with powerful hormones and chemicals to keep us vigilant and alert,” she said.

Nelisha also said it takes time to recover from discussing one’s trauma.

The “detoxification” of this can take some time because of the feelings that arise after the “trauma binge”.

“For example, people often feel guilty and ashamed because they feel they have shared too much and/or embellished and exaggerated the details of their issue.

They may also feel more anxious because the dumping ‘solution’ has not taken away the pain, but has provided it with problem-focused energy that keeps the ‘memory active’. Trauma dumping is like binge drinking, it may feel good at the moment, but the after-effects are permanent and painful.’

And for the person on the receiving end of a trauma dump, it’s also cause for suffering.

‘They want to help, but they can’t, because the goal of trauma dumping is to release emotions and not to solve problems. Or they feel outraged and exhausted by the emotional ‘bombing’ and their inability to escape it,” Nelisha said.

Friendships and partnerships thrive on reciprocity: mutual sharing, giving and taking. Trauma dumping, on the other hand, is one-sided and people are used as objects to project pain onto.

“If this happens, the recipient may experience ‘secondary trauma,’ a type of emotional contagion where negative feelings become contagious.”

Are you likely to be a victim of trauma dumping?

Nelisha also discussed what type of people are most likely to be victims of trauma dumping.

“If you find yourself on the receiving end of someone’s trauma dump, ask yourself, ‘What is it about me that attracts or allows people to use me in this way?'” she said.

Three ways to say no to trauma dumping

· Learn about your threat brain and share with your friend/partner how trauma dumping increases the brain activity of threats and causes anxiety and stress in both of you.

· Let your friend/partner know that activating your threat brain makes the trauma worse and that research shows that slow, regular breathing is better than talking when we’re feeling anxious. Invite your friend to stop talking and breathe – you can do this together.

Do not see this person if you are tired or stressed. If you do see them rehearsing and be prepared to tell you ‘no’.

The tone in which you ask yourself this question is crucial, because it’s not about blaming yourself, but about understanding compassionately that your relationships may not serve you well.

So ask yourself this question kindly and curiously.’

She explained that people who tend to dump their traumas onto others unconsciously look for others to be containers for their unwanted feelings.

“In all of us there is a sixth sense that works through our unconscious, looking for and connecting with people who can see, hear and relate to our unconscious needs, desires and characteristics in different ways,” Nelisha said.

She added that you are more likely to become a target of trauma dumping if you are also a people pleaser.

“A person who dumps trauma is unconsciously looking for people with a stronger need to be liked or to please,” she said.

‘This need arises – often unconsciously – from a fear of being rejected or not being loved. It comes from a belief, learned in early childhood, that we can ensure love and security by being good, compliant and submissive to others,” she added.

And just as the way we react to perceived danger can affect how we dump our problems on others, the way we react to danger also influences how likely we are to react when people dump their problems on you.

“If you’re having a hard time keeping your boyfriend or partner from dumping you, you may have this tendency that stems from the ‘freeze’ part of our flight-flight-freeze repertoire for brain responses,” Nelisha explained.

“While animals literally freeze by staying still, people freeze their own needs and beliefs so that they can fully focus on the other person — which is safest when we experience fear,” she continued.

She said such brain strategies, including fight, flight, and freeze, are rarely used to sustain good relationships and a friend who is trauma dumping cannot help either.

“Discovering that you may be trapped in a ‘freeze’ loop of the brain is your first step in learning how to deal with people who take advantage of you,” she said.

“Ask yourself, ‘What did I do as a child to gain approval, attention, and love from my parents?’ and consider where you fall on the continuum from submissive (eg pleasing people) to dominant (eg competitive and achievement).

‘Then it can help to take small steps towards compassionate assertiveness. This means you have to learn to say no in a non-defensive way,” she added.