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Understanding Emotional Dumping and Healthy Venting

Emotional Dumping, also known as Trauma Dumping or Toxic Venting, is the act of unconsciously expressing feelings without the awareness and consideration of the other person’s emotional state.

Emotional Dumping is not "just sharing our problems", it can be viewed as "venting" but the two do differ. The former involves pouring out emotion without checking whether the other person is in a healthy place to listen. With Emotional Dumping, there are no boundaries and there is little consideration for the other person's comfort. This is rarely the intention as the person dumping is often overwhelmed with what they're feeling. The lack of intent or awareness does not reduce the effect on the recipient.

Signs that someone may be Emotionally Dumping on you

You dread interacting with them.

You need to unwind after you talk to a particular person.

You need to vent to others about your interaction.

You frequently ignore their calls or texts.

You find yourself having to talk through their challenges with others.

You feel exhausted, sad or anxious after the interaction.

You minimise your issues because you don't want to give them ammunition to talk about themselves.

You make up excuses to spend less time together.

You experience physical symptoms of anxiety such as stomach aches or headaches, before or after interacting. This may happen when you think about having to interact or a memory from before.

You can't stop thinking about the interactions. 

It's important to ask yourself:

Do I feel recharged or drained after conversations?

Do the people in my life often start venting without asking how I'm doing, or if I'm available to listen?

Do I often feel like my time isn't considered and there isn't an equal exchange? 

While venting can be helpful, Emotional Dumping can violate boundaries, create resentment and cause us to be stuck in cycles without awareness.  For many people on the receiving end, Emotional Dumping is a form of connection that can leave us feeling drained, unseen, or resentful.

One of the most common ways Emotional Dumping is learned

We may emotionally dump on others if we didn't have the opportunity to witness and learn the important skill of emotional regulation. We may have been conditioned to emotional dump, during childhood, by parent figures who struggled to regulate their emotional states.

Those of us who emotionally dump may have been the target of dumping or inappropriate, boundaryless oversharing by our caregivers. This may have conditioned us to believe or act in a way that suggests that emotional dumping is ok. This teaches us to think that we can connect with other people on a "deeper level" through emotional dumping. We can't.

If we casually or blindly overstep boundaries, people may begin to resent us and start to pull away. We may then blame them for not "being there for us when we need them." This is the harsh truth of the painful and confusing cycle of Emotional Dumping.

Emotional Dumping is common because most of us are unconscious of the reality that we engage in it. Some relationships revolve around mutual dumping. This temporarily feels good as it can bring a sense of connection and closeness. It can also feel bad as you may become drained or resentful. It can be painful because our own emotions may not be considered. .

Emotional Dumping can be very addictive. It can (temporarily) feel like connection. It can mimick intimacy or closeness if we learned this way of connecting from our earliest attachments. 

The desire to emotionally dump can be alluring, it gives a sense of "feeling better" although it often does not help long term. If anything it can create more problems, resentment, and can heighten our stress response.

I'm an Empath and experience a lot of Emotional Dumping 

An empath is a person who can take on the emotional states of others. Emotional Dumping can be a lot to cope with especially if you're an empath. People may seek you out and divulge all of their issues to you. It's important to protect your emotional body. 

Your emotional body serves as a compass letting you know what it can handle and what it can't. When you start feeling drained and exhausted it's time to implement healthy boundaries. 

While being there for others can be helpful, Emotional Dumping can be taxing on personal relationships. You need support too. You deserve rest and consideration as well.

What if I am Emotional Dumping on others?

Some of us may have learned to emotionally dump from childhood. It was as a guise for closeness but was also paired with pain because feelings were not considered. So, it's possible that we may repeat those patterns and not know how to consider other's emotional states.

Emotional Dumping looks like:

Repeating or reliving an event within a conversation over and over again.

Not allowing space for mutual exchanges.

It happens in cycles even if situations change or shift. 

If you think you have or currently are Emotionally Dumping on anyone, ask yourself:

Do you regularly offload to friends or family without asking "are you in a space to listen?"

Has this become a coping skill that allows you to avoid sitting with or processing your emotions?

Once you become aware of Emotional Dumping, you can begin to set boundaries around this behaviour.

How to honour someone else’s Emotional State

To become aware of your tendency to emotionally dump and before engaging in sharing your emotions, check with the other person. Find out if they're ready, willing or able to hold space for you first. This may include asking the following:

"I'd love to share what's going on with me, are you in a space to listen?"

"I know you have a lot going on, I wanted to check-in, how are you feeling?"

"I'm struggling with this breakup, is it ok if I share about something that just happened?"

"Work has become so stressful, it's affecting me, do you think I can talk this out with you for around 20 minutes?"

Healthy Venting is:

Limited within a time frame does not continue in cycles.

Honours personal responsibility and integrity.

Allows for honest feedback where necessary, at times it is not.

Honours and has awareness of the other person's emotional state.

A myth about healthy venting is that it always has to lead to a solution. That isn't necessarily the case. You can ask a family member or friend to listen, let them know that you don't want to discuss solutions or get advice at that time. However, when the conversation is one-sided, lacks accountability and is inconsiderate, of the other person's time and emotional state, it becomes Emotional Dumping. 

True emotional connection allows for shared emotional experiences, listening, honest feedback (where necessary) and clear communication.

It's great to have a safe space to vent, but it's important to ask the other person if they're in a place to listen. Balance is key, we must also try observing and sitting with our own emotions without consistently rushing to vent.

Let's be mindful of our behaviours and communication patterns with friends, family and colleagues so we can shift away from Emotional Dumping and model healthy venting. We can get support to learn how to emotionally regulate and practice healthier ways to communicate. Therapy is a great place to start. A trained listener can hold space for you and provide you with support tools. You deserve to be seen an heard.

If you’re experiencing Emotional Dumping or have in the past, we are here for you. Perhaps you have an Emotional Dumping issue and need to work on making changes, OCS can help. Our Online and Telephone Therapists can provide you with personalised Counselling via Instant Messenger, Skype or WhatsApp Calling, Email and Telephone