How to Avoid Emotion Dumps

Last week this blog had a series of search engine hits on what to do when other people dump their emotions onto you. I’ve seen this type of behaviour take many forms: extreme anxiety, anger, passive-aggressive comments.

A few thoughts on preventing emotion dumps:

Mark a Line in The Sand. There is definitely something to be said for explicitly setting boundaries. Not everyone responds well to this, of course, but it is a good first step in case the other person hadn’t realized he or she was imposing on you.

There Is a Difference Between Caring About Someone and Fixing Them.  It’s ridiculously easy to slide from feeling compassion for someone else’s troubles to wanting to rush in with the solution. (I know I’ve done it!)

Relationships Are a Two-Way Street. This is not to say that we should give up on those who are going through a difficult time, only that healthy relationships are reciprocal. If you find yourself repeatedly coming to the rescue of or walking on eggshells around someone else there is something seriously wrong with this picture.

No One Is Owed a Season Pass to Your Life. It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve known them or what kind of relationship exists between you – romantic, professional, familial, platonic or something else. No one is ever morally or ethically obligated to continue any harmful relationship.

You Have More Than One Option. There are an infinite number of ways to keep in touch. It’s never a matter of cutting someone completely out of your life vs. allowing them knowledge of and input into every decision you make. Yes, occasionally the healthiest thing to do is to stop associating with that individual entirely but many relationships can continue if you scale back contact and/or set firm boundaries.

What If You’re in The Middle of a Conversation?

Tell the Emperor He’s Still Naked. Do you remember the Hans Christian Anderson story about the emperor who was too embarrassed to admit he didn’t see his “invisible” clothing? Use this idea with care but I have seen some people back off when one person gathers up the courage to call them on inappropriate behaviour.

“No!” Is a Full Sentence. There’s nothing wrong with choosing not to participate in conversations on subject X or accept certain behaviours from those who are part of your life.  Not respecting these boundaries is a huge red flag for a toxic relationship.

Make Bubbles. If someone else is dumping their anxiety, anger or other emotions on you and you cannot avoid the situation try imagining that your body has been encased in an impermeable bubble. You can see and hear what the other person is saying and doing but it’s muffled and will never be sharp enough to pierce your bubble. This might sound cheesy but it works well when I want to avoid becoming too enmeshed in an unhealthy interaction.


Do you agree with my advice? What other advice would you give to someone in this situation?


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4 Responses to How to Avoid Emotion Dumps

  1. I have such a hard time with that “No!” being a full sentence.  I swear sometimes it’s like it’s not even in my vocabulary. 

    As for advice: Is avoidance an acceptable way to avoid being emotionally dumped on?  I use it sometimes.  I also have a tendency now when I feel that need to “fix” the other person’s problem to say to myself, “This is not my problem, they need to fix it themselves”.  I’ve also become quite adept at tuning out negativity.  I hear it, don’t get me wrong.  But I can listen to it and not take it with me.  Sometimes people need to be able to unload and that’s okay.  I can just dump it in the nearest bin and not carry it with me. 🙂

    • I have trouble with “no” sometimes too.

      “Is avoidance an acceptable way to avoid being emotionally dumped on?”


      Tuning it out can work as well, although I’ve had some trouble with people who gradually begin to believe I now agree with them if I don’t at least occasionally call them out on their comments about group or issue X. 

      It really depends on the topic, though. 

  2. Beat them to the dump! 

    If you know it’s coming and you’ve got some dumping of your own to do, you could beat them to the dump.  Cut them off at the pass.  🙂

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