Empathy or overload? Coping with trauma dumping
Healthy relationships are all about ‘give and take’. The balance can ebb and flow over time, depending on what we need. Sometimes we need more support, and sometimes we have more capacity to offer support. This might be driven by our current situation, what’s going on with our family, friends, work and personal circumstances. Or it might be driven by our personal history, and what we have been through in the past. Sometime we just need to offload. Stylist Magazine asked me to delve into the idea of 'trauma dumping' in more detail. The phrase 'trauma dumping' sounds a bit painful or one-sided. But it's a reminder to all of us to think about what we need from our friendships, and to consider other people's feelings when we are unloading onto them. Click here to view the original article.
What should you take into account before you 'trauma dump' onto a friend?
Think about the impact that this might have on your friend, and your friendship. If you’ve often supported them, then this might provide an opportunity for them to ‘give back’ and rebalance the friendship. But if it feels like you often find yourself ‘trauma-dumping’ onto this friend, then it might leave them feeling frustrated. It’s also worth considering the content of what you’re hoping to discuss with them. Do they have the resilience that they need in order to help you to cope with things right now?
Ask yourself what it is that you’re really looking for, when you’re considering ’trauma dumping’ onto a friend. Are you looking for validation, for advice, for a listening ear? And how will you feel if they don’t respond in the way that you’re hoping for?
Is there a 'good time' to offload onto a friend?
In a culture of instant messaging and 24/7 availability, we can often feel guilty if we are not able to respond immediately to a friend in need. So I would suggest that you think carefully about how you communicate with a friend if you need to talk about something that has been upsetting for you. It’s likely that you’ll have an idea of what time of day your friend is available. This might mean that you have to sit on your hands if, for example, you know that they are busy at work until later. But it also means that you’re likely to catch them when they have the headspace and emotional energy to support you. It’s also likely that you’ll know what method of communication might be most suitable for a serious conversation with this particular friend. It might be best to arrange a time to chat on the phone or to meet face to face, rather than sending messages. This way you can tune into how they are responding to what you have to say, in real time. You’ll also be able to pick up on cues as to whether this is difficult for them to cope with.
If you're finding it difficult to support a friend in need, think about the boundaries that you might want to have in place:
Tell your friend that you know that they really need support, and so you want to wait until you have the time to offer them what they really need without being distracted.
Encourage them to think about their support network more generally, to consider who they can lean on if you're not available. This might include other friends, family, or helplines or support services.
Help your friend to explore what support they actually need. Maybe they would like to seek professional support, but they are worried about doing so.