A friend comforts a woman who looks upset representing emotional dumping

As an experienced couples counselor and relationship coach, I know that the act of opening up and being emotionally vulnerable is an essential step in creating meaningful, healthy connections with others. But there’s a fine line between sharing our emotions and engaging in something called “emotional dumping.” I wrote this article to explore the delicate boundary between being appropriately open and vulnerable, and emotional dumping on others. You’ll learn what emotional dumping is, what to do if someone is emotionally dumping on you, and how you can start sharing with others in a healthier way.

What Is Emotional Dumping? 

To fully grasp the concept of emotional dumping and its impact on relationships, we should talk about healthy boundaries. Renowned psychotherapist Esther Perel eloquently describes boundaries as the line between “where I end and you begin.” Our boundaries are essential for maintaining a balance between connection and separateness, allowing us to differentiate ourselves from others while fostering strong relationships. In essence, boundaries are about preserving individuality while promoting openness and closeness in our connections.

Healthy boundaries allow us to discern between when it’s best to maintain some distance to safeguard our well-being and that of others, and when to allow vulnerability in the relationship for the sake of connection. This promotes self-respect and mutual respect in a relationship, fostering trust and consistency. When we advocate for our needs, rights, and boundaries while taking responsibility for our own feelings, we create a space for safe emotional openness.

But emotional dumping is not safe emotional openness. It’s sharing without boundaries, often too early in the relationship, and without regard for the other person’s capacity to be a listening ear. Sometimes people emotionally dump (or even “trauma dump”) on others because they’re trying to forge an instant connection. Other times, emotional dumping happens because the person simply doesn’t know what boundaries are appropriate for the relationship. They may also struggle to manage difficult feelings on their own, and so feel the need to share them with others, even when the relationship isn’t in that place yet. 

All of this is usually done with the best intentions and a true desire for healthy closeness. Unfortunately, emotional dumping falls short of creating genuine emotional intimacy and connection. Instead it creates discomfort, leaving the other person feeling, well, dumped on!

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Healthy Venting vs. Emotional Dumping

There’s a difference between emotional dumping and healthy venting, or opening up to someone in an appropriate way. True intimacy is a gradual process that cannot be rushed by divulging everything all at once. Genuinely close connections are built over time through a two-way exchange, whereas emotional dumping is more like a one-person monologue. This creates an imbalanced relationship, leaving the emotional dumpee feeling overwhelmed by the emotional dumper’s baggage, and making the relationship feel one-sided, draining, or even intrusive. 

Just because someone you aren’t super close to shares difficult feelings with you doesn’t mean they’re emotionally dumping. A coworker who you have a good relationship with might vent their frustrations about a project to you, for example, and that can be healthy. But the difference between healthy sharing and emotional dumping is really how it makes the receiver feel. 

Here are some signs that it’s emotional dumping, not healthy venting: 

  • It feels like you’re listening to the same venting session over and over. 
  • One person is sharing their feelings far more often, while the other person’s feelings are neglected or ignored. 
  • The person who’s emotionally dumping doesn’t check in about the other person’s capacity to listen to them. 
  • The relationship feels one-sided with minimal reciprocity or mutual connection. 
  • The person on the receiving end of emotional dumping feels drained and overwhelmed by the emotional dumper’s needs. Over time, they may grow resentful and start distancing themselves from the relationship. 

How to Tell Someone to Stop Emotionally Dumping on You

So, how can you tell someone to stop emotionally dumping on you? 

First, know that it’s often an unconscious behavior. The emotional dumper is usually trying to cope with overwhelming feelings and seek support and connection from others, they just don’t have the tools to do so in a way that feels comfortable and appropriate. They may not be fully aware of how they’re impacting you, so don’t assume their intentions are bad. 

Next, establish healthy boundaries with the emotional dumper and prioritize your own wellbeing. Use assertive communication to set some limits on the kinds of conversations you’re willing to have and when. 

Here are some examples: 

  • “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I’m not in the headspace to talk about this right now. Can we come back to it later?”
  • “I don’t feel as if I was given the opportunity to share what I’ve been going through, do you mind if we come back to [fill in the blank] so I can update you about [fill in the blank?]”

When you set healthy boundaries with others, you’re not being mean to the emotional dumper. In fact, you’re being kind to them and to yourself. Remember, without healthy boundaries, relationships aren’t sustainable. When you set and enforce boundaries, you’re being authentic and giving the other person an opportunity to relate to you in a healthier way. 

If the emotional dumper doesn’t respect your boundaries or seems to push on them intentionally, that is something to pay attention to. You may need to reevaluate whether or not this relationship is one you want to continue. 

How to Stop Emotional Dumping on Others

If you identify a pattern of emotional dumping in yourself, do some self-reflection to understand its origins. Explore when this pattern started and whether it coincides with challenging experiences in your life or a need for new emotional tools. Think about how you manage difficult emotions and how and when you share them. Do you project them onto others or resort to emotional dumping to seek relief from your feelings? 

To shift this pattern, focus on enhancing your own emotion regulation and mindfulness skills. It can also be helpful to practice active listening with others and get in the habit of focusing on their feelings and experiences, at least as often as your own. A good therapist can help you build emotional intelligence skills that will help you manage your feelings and set boundaries with yourself and others.

Support for Strong, Healthy Connections

Emotional vulnerability is a powerful tool for building deep connections, provided it happens alongside healthy boundaries and mutual respect. Emotional dumping, on the other hand, can undermine relationships by creating an imbalanced dynamic that feels overwhelming. 

If you need help negotiating boundaries with others, developing genuine intimacy and closeness, or gaining tools to manage your feelings effectively, therapy can help. And if you would like to do this valuable work with me, I encourage you to schedule a free consultation.


Kara C., M.S., MFTC

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