Emotional Dumping: How to Avoid Doing it and How to Gently Address it in Others

It is a great thing when friends or family feel safe enough with us to share their innermost anxieties, fears, disappointments or frustrations, but when it becomes too much we are also allowed to set boundaries so that these conversations are more supportive, equal and productive.

In the show Sex and The City, the main character Carrie is at a dinner with her friends, overwhelming them with her exhausting relationship issues over a plate of fries. One of her friends suggests that she speak to a therapist. Carrie retorts: “I don’t need to speak to someone — I have you guys!” Her friends respond with eye rolls and annoyance and try to redirect the subject.

You likely know someone like this; someone who comes to you with their struggles and burdens you with them without consideration of your current state or emotional experience. Perhaps you find yourself like Carrie — going to friends and family all the time to unload your stresses as if they are your diary or emotional support group and not necessarily allowing them the same sort of time or space to unload on you.

Of course it is important to express to loved ones how you are feeling and what you are going through, but it is also important to have balance so that relationships do not become one-sided or filled with resentment.

If you know someone like Carrie, it can be helpful to address this dynamic. In a kind way, you could let someone know that you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the expectation that you must be ready to receive their emotional state at any given moment, or that you feel like there may not be space for you within the relationship. Some iteration of, “I always want to be supportive. I sometimes feel as though I need to be available and on call even if I might personally be exhausted, overwhelmed, sad, or tired. Is there a way we can check in before conversations like this? I want to be able to listen without being resentful.” It is a great thing when friends or family feel safe enough with us to share their innermost anxieties, fears, disappointments or frustrations, but we are also allowed to set boundaries so that these conversations are more supportive, equal and productive.

Perhaps you resonate with Carrie and find that you are quick to turn to loved ones to overshare or unload on them and may not think to check in with them first. Here are some strategies you can use to try to process these feelings or situations in other, more independent ways.

  • Try writing your experience down. Anything you would want to share with a friend or family member, write it down in a journal or even in your Notes app on your phone. Have that conversation with yourself first.
  • Ask someone first before sharing — something like, “Hey I am overthinking and could really use your perspective on something. Do you have the bandwidth to listen to me for a little bit?”
  • Actually seek out a professional’s help — tell it to your therapist. They are trained to help you process feelings in a way that close friends and family are not, and will not resent you for unloading.

Be sure to also be that pillar of strength for others — make sure you are mindful of others’ experiences and that you offer the same safe, loving and supportive listening space to them.

If you think you have been emotionally dumping, you can remedy it by candidly letting loved ones know you appreciate them listening and that you also want to do that for them.

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