Emotional dumping is when you verbally offload the intense rage or fear you feel onto someone you think should care and fix it NOW. For example, if you’ve been the target of workplace bullying, you might express your outrage onto HR or senior managers, expecting them to do something immediately but become even more upset when they react in an oppositional way.
As a therapist, I regularly encounter this phenomenon, often from otherwise intelligent and articulate women who feel OK about seeking help and solace from others (men usually find it more difficult).
A recent example was from a woman who sent a verbal dump to my inbox in the form of one extremely long paragraph (there was no relief from the onslaught), presumably to get me to offer her something she needed. She clearly had no regard for how I might receive the message; she didn’t address me personally, nor did she request anything specific. Such a message is difficult to read because it demands rather than invites your attention and makes you feel put upon and shouted at. An impatient person will stop at the first line and delete.
I didn’t reply, because I couldn’t. I had no idea why she sent me the message, nor what she wanted, except perhaps to prove a point that I had no interest in.
It is essential that people who have been bullied in the workplace understand why the emotional dump can backfire on them because it takes away what little power they already have. Let me explain:
When feeling intense rage or fear, your body holds enormous tension and your focus narrows down to the immediate threat, which means that you can no longer see clearly and you have lost perspective. This sets up an emotional force field that precedes your actual, physical presence and anyone who steps into it will become contaminated by your fear and rage. No one wants to feel these things, so they make themselves scarce.
People who emotionally dump tend to change their mind about their direction on the whim of each strong emotion that comes up. That makes them come across as weak and needy, which can then make them powerless at work. People follow power and status, not weakness, so nothing will be satisfactorily resolved from this position.
Not only that, most organisations don’t really care about you, they care about their bottom line. Its leaders will often do what’s quick, effective and requires minimum effort. Irritation is a common response when a manager’s precious attention is being taken up by an emotional rant that demands instant soothing.
Additionally, if you give way to your impulse of emotional dumping, you tend to share way too much information. That means your game plan is revealed and anyone can take advantage of it. Yes, it will be the emotional equivalent of wading through a garbage bin in order to find a lost gold ring for the person dealing with you, but the prize will be worth it if it means getting rid of you and establishing legal safeguards.
Therefore, you must cease your emotional dumping immediately. That doesn’t mean that your feelings should be suppressed because they aren’t valid or that you don’t have a strong case. Instead, here are five ways to start claiming back your power:
Express your feelings instead of reacting to them. First, it’s essential that you have a daily self-reflective practice that allows you to work through your feelings; I describe an effective method in this article. Then find a therapist who can help you work through intense feelings; a good one is worth every penny. She knows how to be compassionate as well as maintain good boundaries so as not to absorb your negative feelings. You can also bounce ideas off friends, just make sure you are mindful of your impact on them and don’t wear their ears out.
When back at work, don’t explain, don’t complain. Be a verbal miser. Don’t give away information and certainly don’t put anything in writing that could entrap and incriminate you.
Take the time to step back and see a larger perspective. This requires you to be cool, which means relaxed. From that higher place, what outcome do you want to achieve? It could take you a long time to work that out, but allow it. Impatience is not your friend.
Observe and gather information (often indiscriminately shared) so that you can use it in service to your higher purpose. Find out where the cracks are so that you can open them even further to let in the light of truth. There’s nothing more threatening to a bully-prone organisation than the truth. If you have that on your side, then you have the power of moral authority and there’s nothing stronger than that.
When you reach out to someone to help you, be very clear about what you want and make a direct request. Acknowledge your impact on the other person. Be friendly, calm and polite and you will almost always receive a favourable response.
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that and sensible advice goes out the window when you’re in the grip of intense emotion. For more information on how to deal with workplace bullying effectively, download my report or meet me on my Banish Bullying At Work Facebook page.