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Trauma Dumping: A New Form of Manipulation

(Image Source: HubPages)

*Disclaimer: This article mentions domestic violence. Read at your own discretion.*

It seems like nowadays there are so many different forms of manipulation it’s almost hard to keep up. Tactics range from love bombing — when someone showers you with affection only to belittle you later — to gaslighting when someone makes you question if your experiences are legitimate. Romantic partners aren’t the only ones to be wary of when it comes to manipulation tactics. Friends and family are just as capable of weaponizing them. Some abusers may not understand that what they are doing is manipulative, while others will use these tactics to gain a sense of power and control.


Gaslighting can make you question your sense of reality and lose confidence in yourself.

Gaslighting can make you question your sense of reality and lose confidence in yourself. (Image Source: Linkedin)


Trauma dumping is another form of abuse that can go unnoticed as the manipulator makes you empathize with them by bringing up past trauma they have experienced. Trauma dumping is different from sharing and confiding your traumatic experiences with someone and is instead used to gain attention and leverage. 

For example, if someone performs an action that they know is wrong, like cheating on a spouse, and are later confronted by it, the manipulator will try to reverse the blame on themselves by making their partner feel bad for them instead, even though they are in the wrong. To make their partner feel bad for confronting them on cheating, they might falsely compare their spouse to their past abusive partner. They might bring up past trauma and relate it to their spouse by saying things like “you are acting like [insert name of person who hurt them in the past].” Trauma dumpers may also start to become emotional in an attempt to make you feel bad for them. These tactics are used to further cement themselves as the victim. Oftentimes trauma dumpers have a hard time admitting their own faults, so they turn the blame onto someone else and take a victim stance.


Trauma Dumping: A New Form of Manipulation

Manipulation can be hard to notice at first, especially if you trusted the person (Image Source: HubPages)


Manipulation can lead to poor mental health including low self-esteem and isolation from other relationships in your life. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 77% of women aged 18-24 and 76% of women aged 25-30 experienced abuse “by the same offender.” This is important to note because it can be hard to know whether you are being manipulated, especially if it is someone you have a close relationship with. Most people like to believe the best in people.

Psychiatrist Stephen B. Karpman founded a concept called “the drama triangle,” outlined in his book A Game Free Life, which “suggests that whenever people play a psychological game they are stepping into one of three roles; victim, persecutor, or rescuer.” There are many researchers and writers who have written about Karpman’s drama triangle including author and podcaster Case Kenny, psychotherapist Teresa Lewis or author Mark Widdowson, among others.

The persecutor is someone who puts others down or belittles them when in conflict with someone. They may say things like “This is all your fault!” or “I did nothing wrong, you are the one to blame!” Karpman also states that persecutors “criticize, blame, set strict limits, can be angry and generally unpleasant.” The persecutor believes that they are better than everyone else and they are never at fault. The person the persecutor is in conflict with will often feel belittled or will fight back with the same aggression causing a heated argument.


The persecutor can never realize their own actions or take responsibility

The persecutor can never realize their own actions or take responsibility. (Image Source: The Quotable Coach)


The rescuer is the second person mentioned in Karpman’s drama triangle. The rescuer takes a “savior” stance and, similar to the persecutor, often believes that they are better than the person who is facing conflict with them. Interestingly, the rescuer neglects their own needs but will also use this as a manipulation tactic as they will guilt trip you by reminding you of all the things they did for you even if you did not ask them for help. If a rescuer has done something nice for you in the past, chances are they will constantly bring up what they personally sacrificed in order to make themselves look like a better person. Remember that if someone is truly your friend, they will do something from the goodness of their heart and will not have to constantly remind you of the things they have done for you or make you feel bad for their decisions.


The rescuer will use doing you favours as a manipulation tactic as they frequently bring them up to guilt trip you

The rescuer attempts to make you feel bad for something they claim to have done with good intentions. (Image Source: Angela Austria)


Lastly, there would not be a drama triangle without the victim. The victim is someone who has “a mentality of ‘poor me’ but transcends that by blaming others (becoming the persecutor) or escaping their own victimhood by ‘helping’ others (becoming the rescuer). All three of these roles usually include a lack of self-awareness and low self-esteem.” Know that the three roles mentioned in the drama triangle only relate to those who handle conflict in unhealthy ways. However, it is important to reflect on these roles and take them into consideration when asking yourself if you can relate to any of them. 


The drama triangle includes a victim, a rescuer, and a persecutor

Karpman’s drama triangle includes a victim, a rescuer and a persecutor. (Image Source: Leadership Tribe)


The victim refers to someone who uses their trauma as a means to make an excuse for wrongdoings. The victim in this case is someone who uses unfortunate circumstances to gain sympathy or attention from others. The victim in this case is someone who has been using the same “poor me” tactics over and over again across many months or years to guilt or blame others. 

This is important to note because victim blaming is something that is prevalent in society as well, but should not be confused with trauma dumping and being a drama triangle victim. By definition, victim blaming is “defined as someone saying, implying, or treating a person who has experienced harmful or abusive behaviour (such as a survivor of sexual violence) like it was a result of something they did or said, instead of placing the responsibility where it belongs: on the person who harmed them.”

If someone is sexually assaulted, for example, people often ask questions like “What was she wearing?” or “How much did she drink?” thus placing blame on the victim when it was not their fault at all for what happened to them. Many survivors of sexual assault do not come forward or speak about what happened to them because they are scared they will not be believed or they will be blamed. Statistics state that 97% of sexual assault survivors in Canada do not come forward perhaps for these reasons. Victim blaming can also be more subtle by merely stating that one should be more careful or question why one did not see their outcome coming.

There is nothing wrong with sharing your trauma with someone. In fact, it can be healthy to talk about it with someone you trust. Sometimes if you lay out all of your traumatic experiences on someone it can cause that person to become triggered if they have experienced something similar or it might overwhelm them. It can be helpful to test the waters and start out small by telling them that there is something you want to confide in them about and gauge whether they are open to it. Sometimes if your trauma is still unprocessed it can be hard to explain what happened and might trigger you even more. Even though it can be hard, especially at the beginning, try not to bring up the same trauma constantly to this person as this can be overwhelming. Journaling or speaking to a therapist is often beneficial as it allows you to process your thoughts and emotions.


There is nothing wrong with talking about your trauma. In fact, it can be beneficial.

There is nothing wrong with talking about your trauma. In fact, it can be beneficial. (Image Source: Lindsay Braman)


In contrast, if you know someone who is a trauma dumper, whether they are having a hard time processing their feelings or are using this as a manipulation tactic, there are some things you should do. Trust your gut and be honest. If you believe that someone is trying to guilt trip you, you are probably right. It is important to let the person know about boundaries that you have and avoid being guilted. If someone makes you feel ashamed about your boundaries or disregards your feelings, know that this person does not have your best interests at heart. Do not let the person you’re conversing with persecute you or attempt to play the rescuer or victim card in order to argue with you. Stay true to yourself, be confident and assertive.

In conclusion, be reflective. Can you identify with either the persecutor, the rescuer or the victim in the drama triangle? Can you think of anyone you know who takes on these roles? How do you talk about trauma that you may have witnessed with others? Do you let it define everything you do or talk about? Do you use your trauma as a means to disregard your actions? Oftentimes people do not think about or know their own flaws, so it is important to take time and be reflective. With that being said, do not let others blame you for circumstances that have happened to you. Trauma dumping can be subtle, but it can also be very obvious. It is up to you how you choose to handle it.



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