We all have those people in our lives who cannot stop whining and those who hear them out patiently even when the emotional dumping becomes too much. Now, I’m all for being a good friend and listener, lending a shoulder to cry on when needed and so on.
But when does it go from good, healthy venting to straight-up toxic emotional dumping? How do you tell the difference, and are there signs to watch out for? Most importantly, how do we set boundaries and guard against letting emotional dumping drain us completely? How do we do this without losing friendships and other important relationships?
That’s a lot of questions, and since they’re all valid, we decided to make our way to an expert. Clinical psychologist Devaleena Ghosh (M.Res, Manchester University), founder of Kornash: The Lifestyle Management School, who specializes in couples counseling and family therapy, gives us an insight into venting vs emotional dumping, and how to set boundaries when you’ve reached your tipping point.
So, whether you’re an emotional dumper or dumpee, read on to find out how to stick to your limits and get to a healthier space when you need to vent, or listen to a vent.
What Is Emotional Dumping?
Toxic emotional dumping, Devaleena explains, is when you’re letting your emotions and feelings flow out in a deluge without considering how it might make your listener feel. “You’re not doing this as a form of self-care, and you certainly don’t care about the person you’re dumping on.
“Like trauma dumping, emotional dumping in relationships turns toxic when you’re completely unaware of the emotional impact your ranting has on the other person. This is toxic and inconsiderate since you’re probably doing it simply to be nasty and malicious,” she adds.
An example of emotional dumping would be someone who’s had a fight with a colleague or a family member and immediately feels as though they have been wronged. They won’t talk to the person they’ve argued with; instead, they’ll find a third person to dump on.
5 Signs Of Emotional Dumping
Signs of emotional dumping are manifold and may not always be obvious, so it’s important to be aware whether you’re doing the dumping yourself or lending an ear to someone else. If you’re not making and maintaining emotional dumping boundaries, you could be well on your way to a deeply toxic relationship. And who needs that! So, here are some signs of toxic emotional dumping to watch out for:
1. Your communication is full of bitterness
Devaleena explains, “One of the signs of emotional dumping is abject bitterness. You have nothing positive to say about anyone or anything, you’re convinced that the world is dark and conspiring against you all the time. What’s more, you don’t hesitate to voice your bitterness loudly.”
Bitterness eats away at the brightest of personalities and the best of relationships. And, emotional dumping is definitely a symptom of bitterness. If you find yourself constantly being bitter about other people’s happiness or success, and then dumping that bitterness on someone else, rest assured this is toxic emotional dumping.
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2. You keep repeating yourself
It’s always the same thing with you. Every conversation you have goes round in circles and comes back to the same thing. You’re not trying to move on or make things better or even accept help. Every time you open your mouth, it’s the same vicious cycle of emotional dumping, almost bordering on verbal abuse in relationships.
Imagine a pipeline has burst and the water is fetid and dark and gushing. That’s what toxic emotional dumping feels like to those who are at the other end of your rants. There’s nothing healthy or productive about it – it’s just you going on and on, exhausting everyone.
3. You constantly blame others
Oh boy, do emotional dumpers like the blame game! Whether you’ve had a bad breakup or are having relationship trust issues or simply a tough day at work, it’s never ever your fault. A major example of emotional dumping is that it’s always someone else who is to blame for whatever misery you’re facing.
So, if you know someone who is convinced that they are perfect while the world around them is consistently terrible, and who never stops talking about it, you know you’ve got an emotional dumping expert in your midst. Best to run in the opposite direction as fast as you can!
4. You play the victim
“Poor me. Poor little me. The world is so very unfair and no matter what I do, nothing goes my way.” Sound familiar? Maybe it’s someone you know, or maybe it’s you. One of the signs of emotional dumping is to constantly play the victim card, as though you’ve been wronged in every situation that didn’t go your way.
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We’ve all fallen prey to the ‘poor me’ syndrome at some point or another. But toxic emotional dumping takes it to a whole new level. An emotional dumper will always be the victim and will refuse to take responsibility or accountability for whatever has happened to them.
5. You do not want a solution
Solution? Productive conversation? Where’s the fun in that? When you think of emotional dumping vs emotional sharing, know that the latter involves actually sharing thoughts and feelings and looking for a way to make the situation better. Emotional dumping, though, doesn’t want a solution, it only wants an outlet to spew its toxicity through. There’s no mindfulness in relationships, or of oneself.
One of the examples of emotional dumping is that emotional dumpers don’t care about being healthy in their communication and actually coming to an endpoint where they can proactively do something about whatever is bothering them, they just want to do their dumping wherever they find a willing (or even unwilling!) ear.
What Is Venting?
Devaleena says, “Healthy venting is basically a conversation where you’re expressing your feelings without feeling the incessant need to attack your listener. The focus of healthy venting is to get some relief from the underlying frustration rather than to prove that one is right all the time. Thus, healthy venting can be used as a way to communicate whatever is upsetting you without blaming or without attacking the other.”
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In other words, healthy venting is a funnel through which you channel your anger, resentment and other negative feelings but always with the focus that you want to get better and do better, rather than simply ranting on about it.
An example of healthy venting would be if a friend is going through a tough time with their partner and wants to talk through their feelings so they can approach the situation with a clear head. Yes, they will rant and rave, but once it’s out of their system, they actually want to make things better.
5 Signs Of Healthy Venting
As we’ve said, healthy venting is all about being aware that while a good old rant is great to clear out your feelings, it’s only one step toward resolving the issue. Emotional dumping will only get you so far, while healthy venting gives you some sort of purpose to move toward. And it’s well known that having a goal in sight makes us far more prone to positive action. So, to get more specific, here are some signs of healthy venting.
1.You are clear about what you want to communicate
Communication problems can arise in the best of relationships, and certainly during venting, even if it is healthy venting. But in healthy venting vs emotional dumping, the former will mean you have some idea of what you want to say. It’s almost like talk therapy. It’s difficult to be absolutely clear in your mind when venting but you’ll know what you’re upset about and be able to express it healthily without blaming or attacking your listener.
2. You vent to the person concerned
“I’d had a bad day at work – a misunderstanding with my colleague. And, instead of taking it up with him, I went home and dumped on my partner big time,” says Jenny. “It took me a few days to realize that it was completely unproductive and unfair to take out all my anger on someone who had nothing to do with the situation at hand. I mean, it’s great to have a partner who listens, of course, but I wasn’t particularly nice or healthy about the situation.”
Healthy venting is when you know you have a bone to pick with someone, and your emotionally intelligence in relationships is enough to go to the person concerned. Mind you, it’s great to be able to take your troubled mind to a friend or a partner, but ultimately, if you want this resolved, you need to take it up with the right person.
3.You know what you want to convey
Yes, we can hear you grumbling, “How am I supposed to know what I want to say when I’m this frustrated/unhappy/angry?” We hear you. Might we recommend that you take a few hours to gather your thoughts before you set out for your venting session. That way, you still get to say what you want to, but some of the errant thoughts are filtered out.
One difference between emotional dumping and healthy venting is that emotional dumping won’t step back and think about what needs to be said, and what is merely hurtful and part of a blame game. Don’t be that person.
4. You time your conversation right
Devaleena recommends letting the listener know that you have something difficult or unpleasant to talk about and asking what would be a good time to discuss it. Even if it’s a friend you want to unload on a little, it’s good to check in and ask if they’re in the right headspace to hear you out, and if it’s a good time.
“I know we’re always supposed to be there for friends and partners and family, but I really appreciate it when someone asks me if I’m okay to hear out a rant or a venting session. And I feel like a true friend wouldn’t be offended or hurt if I say no and ask them to text me later,” says Anna. “Plus, if I’m fully present, I can practice better listening,” she adds.
5. You are looking for concrete action rather than mindless blurting
Healthy venting knows that venting is a pathway, a means to an end rather than the end itself. Emotional dumping is blind to this fact. Healthy venting understands that once you’ve had your vent, you need to move on to productive, positive action rather than spending even more time ranting.
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It’s easier to keep whining about how unfair the world is and how nothing ever goes your way. But, the question is, what are you doing about it? Healthy venting helps you cool off and quietens the rage sirens in your brain so you can think clearly and figure out what to do next.
Venting Vs Emotional Dumping
So then, what would be the difference when you’re considering venting vs emotional dumping? Firstly, healthy venting has a good share of consideration for the other. Despite your frustrations and feelings, you know that whoever is at the receiving end of your venting needs to be in a clear and positive headspace in order to be actively listening. Healthy venting takes into consideration how the venting might impact the listener.
Like emotional flooding, when you’re in the midst of emotional dumping, on the other hand, you’re not thinking about how emotionally draining it could be for the listener to have to hear your ranting and negativity over and over again. Emotional dumping is inherently self-absorbed and doesn’t consider anyone or anything over and above the need to dump.
When you’re in the mood for a healthy venting session, you also take responsibility for how you might make the listener feel. We tend to take our close friends and loved ones for granted and thus start emotional dumping in relationships with no accountability or responsibility for our own feelings or theirs.
Bear in mind, when you think about emotional dumping vs emotional sharing, they are not the same thing. Sharing is a give-and-take, with all parties concerned having a say. Emotional dumping is completely one-sided, with a strong element of grasping and taking whatever the dumper can get.
5 Ways To Set Boundaries Against Emotional Dumping
One of the examples of emotional dumping is that someone who’s looking to emotionally dump will never respect your boundaries. So, it’s up to you, at the receiving end, to set healthy relationship boundaries and ensure you’re not emotionally drained. We’ve rounded up some ways you can set boundaries and protect yourself.
1. Be aware of your limits
Self-awareness is a big part of self-love and it’s especially important when you’re at the receiving end of emotional dumping. “Your state of awareness of what is emotionally draining for you is something only you can work on.
“What is toxic to you, what does not go down well – once you outline these to yourself, only then can you set limits and say “I can only take so much. I cannot take on all your feelings, because it will impact my peace of mind”,” says Devaleena. So, be mindful of your own limits when taking on an emotional dumping session, no matter how close you are to them.
2. Learn to be assertive
It’s easy to assume that we always need to be there for our loved ones, that we need to hear them out whenever and wherever they need us. A lot of times, when at the receiving end of emotional dumping, we are passive or oscillate between passive and aggressive.
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To maintain your self-esteem and mental peace, it’s imperative that you become assertive and speak out when you think you’ve had enough. Be clear and honest in your assertiveness – tell them you love them but this isn’t a good time, or that you need to step away from them.
3. Understand that some relationships aren’t worth it
Sad, but true. “Maybe you’re reading too much into your relationship with this emotional dumper. Sometimes, we need to realize that a relationship is not so important that we forget ourselves while accommodating the other,” Devaleena says.
The most important relationship you’ll ever have is the one you have with yourself.
In order to nurture this, you may have to step back from other relationships, take a relationship break, or even end what you thought was a vital friendship. If they were constantly emotionally dumping in relationships, how good a friend were they in the first place?
4. Set a time limit
As we’ve said, an example of emotional dumping is that they have little regard for a listener’s time or headspace and can go on and on with their emotional dumping. A good way to set up emotional dumping boundaries is to set a time limit.
Tell them upfront that you have 20 minutes to hear them out and then you need to attend to other things. A maximum of 30 minutes is a good limit to set. You needn’t be aggressive here but be assertive. Stick to the time limit and then firmly tell them they need to stop or come back at a later time.
Related Reading: 9 Examples Of Emotional Boundaries In Relationships
5. Don’t become their therapist
If you think it’s needed, encourage the emotional dumper to get professional help. But don’t, under any circumstances, become their therapist yourself. They probably have a lot of work to do on their own issues and you don’t need that extra stress.
Tell them that you love them as a friend/partner etc. but that you’re not their therapist and maybe it would be better if they actually went to one. Assert that there’s only so much time and space you can provide them. If they do need professional help, Bonobology’s panel of experienced therapists is there to provide expertise and guidance.
Emotional dumping in relationships can lead to resentment, anger, and eventually, to the listener withdrawing completely or getting out of the relationship altogether. The strongest of friendships and romantic connections are strained when one person is constantly at the receiving end of toxic emotional dumping.
Jade says, “I had a really close friend – we’d known each other since school, and always told each other everything. She always called me her rock, till well into our 20s. And then, she went into a spiral, made some bad decisions and refused to take any responsibility.
“Instead, she would come to me at all hours of the day and dump her problems on me. There was no respect for my time and mind space, and she wasn’t even asking for help. All she wanted was to talk about how terrible her life was. Eventually, I stopped taking her calls or responding to texts. It was a friendship breakup. We’d known each other for over 20 years, but because of all the emotional dumping, it was becoming a toxic relationship.”
Protecting your peace of mind can sometimes be construed as selfishness. After all, we’ve all needed a shoulder to cry on and an ear to hear us out when we’re at our worst. But, we reiterate, no relationship can sustain if it’s one-sided. Whether you’re a perpetrator of emotional dumping, or at the receiving end, we hope this helps with your emotional dumping boundaries.
Yes, emotional dumping can become deeply toxic because there’s no give-and-take in the situation. The emotional dumper is simply going on and on about how miserable they are and how unfair their life is, without actually wanting to do anything about it. And, they’re expecting the listener to be available to them both mentally and physically at all times. This can turn any relationship toxic.
2. How do you respond when someone is venting?
Healthy venting is different from emotional dumping, so it’s important to practice active listening and be completely present for the person who is venting. Don’t judge or offer solutions right away. Hear them out first, let the dust of their emotions settle. Then, gently offer suggestions as to what they could do, keeping in mind that they may or may not take your advice, and that’s okay.
3. How do you set boundaries with emotionally draining friends?
Be assertive and clear. Let emotionally draining friends know that you can perhaps spare a limited amount of time for them, but that you cannot be unconditionally present and available for them at all times. Tell them that you love them but that you have to take care of yourself and your own life as well.
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