As good friends and helpful family members, we tend to listen and attune to others’ misery. We want to support them navigate through their rough times and we want to show them that we care. However, such a task is not always easy.
Oftentimes, after we scroll through long text messages or sit through long phone calls, we feel more exhausted than usual with very little energy to ourselves. We notice then that we become the receiving end of the other person’s Emotional Dumping.
Emotional Dumping is the act of unconsciously sharing our feelings or complaints without an awareness of the other person’s feelings, emotional state, or needs. It is the immediate venting to someone without asking them if they are in the emotional space to listen.
The connection evolves around the person who complains- “Dumper”- emotional state, leaving the person who listens -“Dumpee”- energy drained and in a constant state of emotional exhaustion.
Emotional Dumping is very common and can be very addictive since it creates a temporary sense of connection to the “Dumpee”. The “Dumper” feels good, listened to, and is enjoying a false sense of connection to the “Dumpee”.
Whilst for many of us, our childhood evolved around Emotional Dumping. It created a sense of closeness and granted us the status of the BFF we thrived for. Yet as we age, we become more conscious and can begin to see this pattern within ourselves and/or in others around us.
True emotional connection allows an experience of shared emotions, honest feedback, and creates a space to find solutions through a two-sided communication, which the act of Emotional Dumping lacks.
Emotional Dumping is different from healthy venting. A person who engages in healthy venting is open to taking responsibility for whatever they’re venting about. They own up to their own mistakes and are open to hearing constructive feedback or advice. They are also respectful of others’ boundaries and mindful of their time when they call or text.
In contrast, someone who engages in Emotional Dumping has no accountability; they constantly play the victim, they are not open to finding a solution or to constructive feedback, and they do repeat the same issue over and over. Also, they don’t respect others’ time or boundaries, texting or calling them incessantly.
Therefore, it is very important to protect yourself by setting boundaries around Emotional Dumping.
In a kind way, you could let someone know that you sometimes feel overwhelmed by their expectation that you must be ready to receive their emotional state at any given moment, or that you feel like there is no space for you within the relationship.
You may say something like: “I understand you are hurt right now and I want to be there for you, I am just not in the space to listen right now.” Or “Now is not a good time for me, can we talk about this later?”
On the other hand, you may find out that you are the one quick to turn to loved ones to overshare or unload on them, and may not think to check in with them first.
Try writing your experience down and have a conversation with yourself first. You may need to check with a friend first before sharing it with them. Ask if they have time and the capacity to listen to you for a limited amount of time. Structure your sharing and stick to the main points. Be open to what they have to say. Also, you may seek professional help. Therapists are trained to listen to you, help you process feelings, and will not resent you for unloading.
Lastly, if you happen to have been emotionally dumping your burden on your friends or loved ones, thank them for listening to you and let them know that you would be willing to listen to them as well.
Counsellor & Collaborative Family Practitioner