- All over social media, people are “trauma dumping” in DMs, comment sections, and videos.
- Tags related to “trauma dump” and “trauma dumping” on TikTok have over 20 million views.
- But experts warn there are risks to this trend, both for the “dumpers” and the “dumpees.”
TikToker Ashley Kimchi frequently posts about her father, who she describes as her “best friend.” In June, a TikTok about their relationship went viral. In it, she joked about the two having “separation anxiety” when they weren’t together. In the comments section, hundreds of users shared details of their own relationship with their fathers, some of which were difficult to read. “Ooh that’s cute,” one comment reads. “Sad that my dad died.”
“Wish that I had a dad,” commented another user. “Your dad speaks to you?” a third commenter asked, while a fourth lamented on how they managed to end up on “healthy-dad-relationship TikTok.”
Other commenters recounted stories of abuse, abandonment, and bereavement.
While such forward, emotional responses might seem out of place in other venues, on TikTok, they’re a normal part of the ecosystem, so much so that the practice has a name — “trauma dumping.”
While trauma dumping isn’t a psychological term, it has become an established phrase online over the past few years, referring to the sharing of a traumatic experience “without asking permission” for the receiver’s “capacity to hear or interact with that type of information,” according to adolescent psychotherapist and YouTuber Mallory Grimste.
On Twitter, one of the earliest recorded uses of the term “trauma dumping” was in January 2018 by YouTuber and podcaster Ruben Angel. They didn’t explicitly say what their experience had been, but tweeted, “Just because I am a survivor advocate and write about rape culture regularly does not give you permission to trauma dump on me.”
Recently, the dialogue about trauma dumping has reignited around TikTok, where users freely talk about their traumatic experiences on video and in comments. While trauma dumping may act as a cathartic release for some users, and online spaces can feel like a safe place to do so, experts warn it can also have detrimental effects for both the “dumper” and the “dumpee.”
Being on the receiving end of trauma dumping can compound people’s existing trauma
Disability rights activist and journalist Rachel Charlton-Daily, who works to raise awareness of domestic violence by speaking and writing about their own experiences, told Insider she frequently gets “jarring” DMs from people sharing “really graphic” traumatic events without warning.
“It can be really triggering for me as trauma is obviously something I’ve experienced and worked hard to live with,” she said.
Unsolicited trauma dumping can lead to the recipient experiencing “secondary trauma,” leaving them further traumatized by the details of what has been shared, according to trauma therapist Shannon Thomas.
Dr. Charles Figley, a psychology professor who specializes in trauma research, said in his book “Compassion Fatigue: Coping With Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder In Those Who Treat The Traumatized” that secondary trauma can lead to “a syndrome of symptoms nearly identical to PTSD” including flashbacks, disturbed sleep patterns, withdrawal from everyday activities, sudden outbursts of anger, and memory repression.
Yasmine Summan, a music journalist and social media consultant with over 100,000 followers on TikTok, usually posts content about their South Asian heritage, non-binary identity, and battle with depression. But Summan told Insider that due to trauma dumping on the app, they’ve felt the need to scale back on certain types of content like fashion videos and makeup tutorials.
This is because, according to Summan, things became “really unhealthy,” with commenters comparing themselves to Summan, insulting their own appearances, and saying that they felt suicidal because of how they looked.
“I just never knew how to reply to that,” Summan added. “I’ve been there and I absolutely feel for them, I know that pain. Usually, I can manage it, but when people start to say they want to kill themselves and they’re depressed because they don’t look like me… it feels excessive.”
Some TikTokers are reclaiming the term to share their experiences
Some TikTokers use the term “trauma dumping” to refer to using their own platform to share their personal experiences.
Trauma dumping in this sense has become hugely popular on TikTok — cumulatively, the tags #traumadump and #traumadumping have over 20 million views.
The videos under these tags usually involve TikTokers sharing deeply personal stories about their lives, including descriptions of abuse, assault, or mental health crises. It’s even spawned its own trends, such as people cheering and clapping in response to a traumatic experience, using the “put a finger down” format to share the experiences that apply to them, and lip-syncing to viral songs to recount traumatic childhood experiences.
This type of venting can be very helpful to young people who have grown up on social media, Summan told Insider. “It’s the few ways they know how to express their emotions, through apps where their parents or people from school can’t see and judge them.”
But Summan thinks that there are potential pitfalls. They told Insider that the lack of content warnings on users’ trauma dump videos means some viewers are caught off-guard. “What I think is failing at the moment is people aren’t warning their audiences of what they’re getting into,” they said.
A recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) investigation into TikTok’s viewer algorithm found that over time, the content on a user’s For You Page becomes “less mainstream, less vetted by moderators, and sometimes more disturbing.”
The bot accounts the WSJ set up as part of their investigation quickly fell into a “rabbit hole” of trauma-related content with themes such as depression, suicidal ideation, and eating disorders.
Trauma dumping can have negative consequences for the people doing it too
According to Thomas, trauma dumping is the result of social media skewing ideas of personal boundaries. “The distance of digital life creates a false sense of safety and it leads to a lack of healthy boundaries,” she told Insider.
“When a generation is raised with access to digital content, the lines between online and real-world identity are blurred. No longer is there an internal warning system indicating the person is over-sharing.”
While some people find trauma dumping beneficial, for Thomas, the negatives far outweigh any potential benefits.
“Trauma dumping creates an open door for a survivor to be further harmed if their experience is met with a harsh or critical response from others online,” she said.
There is also the potential for trauma dumping to become “addictive” to the creator, Maia Petrucha, a mental health activist with over 100,000 TikTok followers, told Insider.
“I understand why some people use TikTok as a diary,” Petrucha, who posts comedic accounts about her life living with
, said in a statement.
“You don’t see the people receiving your story, so it’s like you’re talking to yourself until you see the comments that say ‘I’m so sorry you have to go through that or ‘OMG I’m the same way!’ and that can get addicting. People may end up treating it like therapy.”
There’s also a risk that creators end up defined by their trauma alone.
Petrucha said, “On the one hand, you want people to know the real you. That’s irresistible. On the other hand, if all they’re seeing is your trauma, are they seeing the real you?”