Empaths & mental health,Empathy in parenting

How trauma-dumping is keeping you from having real conversations & making genuine connections

It’s just making you go ‘round and ‘round in circles without ever healing.

I recently watched Heidi Priebe’s video on emotional dumping versus emotional sharing, and found myself nodding in agreement — and occasionally cringing — as I recognised familiar behaviour patterns, both in myself and in those around me. 

Her insightful breakdown of this concept served as a stark reminder of how crucial it is learn how to authentically communicate

Recognising my own patterns.

Heidi’s video resonated with me because I have been guilty of emotional dumping. It’s easy to slip into this behaviour without even realising it, especially when anxiety or fear is driving the need for validation. 

Heidi’s emphasis on the role of your childhood in shaping your communication habits struck a chord with me. As a child, we look to our parents for cues on how to react to different situations. Humans are innately social creatures, and this is how we figure out how we should see the world.

How your parents responded to you when you were young, becomes your internalisation of what a given experience is and how you should respond to it. 

. . . an easy example of this is when you are learning to walk and you take your first couple of steps, then fall down. The first thing children tend to do is look at their parents and go, ‘Is my mom clapping and happy for me because I tried? Or is she distressed and freaked out because I fell down?’”

 — Heidi Priebe, Emotional Dumping: What It Is And How To Stop

When kids have a fall that might startle them, but doesn’t hurt them badly, they look to their parents. If the parents don’t freak out, but offer comfort and support instead, the child learns that it’s okay to fall and will try again.

And we continue to do this throughout our entire lives; we learn from social references and take cues from how other people respond to a situation we’re in to figure out how we should feel about it. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s a natural way of navigating social environments.

As a child, you don’t know how to make sense of your own experiences and emotions, so you look to your parents to provide meaning and context. But by the time you become an adult, you’re supposed to have developed your own framework for assessment. As you grow up, you’re supposed to have learned how to recognise, validate and process your own emotions. That way, you’ll be able to make sense of your own experiences and find your own feelings and opinions on things.

But the world is full of adult babies, who outsource their own emotional processing at the cost of the people around them. When you haven’t learned how to do this, you still look to other people to help make sense of what’s happening to you and how you’re feeling internally. And how you do this, how you go around demanding from the people around you to do the emotional processing for you, is by emotionally dumping on them.

The problem is that a lot of people don’t know the difference between emotional dumping and emotional sharing.

And often people will think they’re emotionally sharing when they’re actually emotionally dumping.

Knowing the distinction is important when you want to do the inner work to heal, because the difference between emotional dumping and emotional sharing is the difference in the connections you make in life.

When you’re emotionally dumping, you’re actively maintaining the kind of connections that keep you stuck in patterns of rumination and reliving/rehashing your trauma and unhealthy patterns. You never really resolve your core issues and are unable to heal. Being in this state can also leave you feeling extremely frustrated and like life is really unfair, no matter how “hard” you try. (Don’t get me wrong, it is unfair, but that doesn’t negate your personal agency.)

The type of connections that allow you to get to the root of the issue, and help you resolve it from the core, only become available to you when you stop emotional dumping and switch to emotional sharing instead.

In her video, Heidi Priebe describes when she came across the term:

“I first heard the term emotionally dumping when I was going through this period of looking for a lot of online support groups for attachment healing work, and there was one group I came across that had the rule ‘no emotional dumping’ and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s interesting. What does that term mean?’ 

And it turned out what that term means is, if you are seeking support in this specific group, what you’re not to do is call someone up and just tell them all about the situation without at all referencing your own experience, or what you’re feeling, or how this relates to your healing and recovery work.

And I would contrast this to other groups where it seemed like all anyone was doing was ranting about other people and staying really fixated on the details of their scenarios without ever really referencing what was going on for them, and I became hyper aware of what emotional dumping looks like.”

She goes on to explain that she noticed a difference in how this affected the members in these groups. The group where people weren’t allowed to emotionally dump was the place where people actually started to heal and feel better. 

Shifting towards emotional sharing.

Heidi’s distinction between emotional dumping and emotional sharing demonstrates the importance of shifting towards the latter. I realised that true growth and resolution of personal issues come from acknowledging my own emotions and learning to communicate them effectively. 

Emotional sharing, as Heidi points out, is inherently riskier. It requires vulnerability and the willingness to confront uncomfortable feelings. However, it also offers the promise of genuine connection and the opportunity for constructive feedback

As long as you’re only speaking of things outside of yourself, you’re not offering anything for the other person to grab on to. If someone said or did something to you, your listener can’t deny that it happened. But by focusing on externalities, the listener also can’t offer you support or advice, because they have no reference point as to how you feel about it or what it means to you.

Especially, if you want help with figuring out how you feel or what something means to you, it’s vital that you sit with your own emotions first to determine what they are and then share how you feel or how you experienced it. That way the other person can help you by acting as a sounding board and offer genuine support that will help you move forward.

This all starts by taking ownership of your own emotions. 

Emotional dumping often involves presenting a laundry list of facts (what someone else did that made you upset) and expecting others to validate your feelings. But often if you want your friend to be angry at something your partner did — “Can you believe what they just said to me?!” — it’s usually because you’re angry at your partner yourself, but aren’t admitting it.

Emotional sharing requires self-reflection, a deep dive into your emotional states, and the courage to express them directly. By focusing on your feelings and not just the facts of a situation, you create a more authentic connection with others. 

When you share your emotions rather than expecting others to deduce them from your narrative of what other people said or did to you, you’re better equipped to receive valuable feedback and insights. It allows for the conversation to focus on your emotional experience, rather than dwell on the drama. When you do this, you’ll notice a significant improvement in the depth and quality of your relationships.

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