Co-worker, friend becomes outlet for others’ trauma

Published 8:11 am Thursday, April 4, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

DEAR ABBY: It seems I am a human landfill into which people dump their trauma. I’m not sure how this happened. It started three years ago, when an estranged friend called me and talked for more than an hour about what had led to him getting fired from his job. I was touched that he had reached out, and I expected us to resume our friendship, but he wasn’t interested in much more communication. 

Later, a work acquaintance invited me to lunch and began unloading the awful trauma she had endured 40 years ago. It was a one-way conversation, with not even enough pause for me to politely reaffirm what was being said. We never spoke after that because I left the company. 

Now, a new co-worker I haven’t made any personal connection with calls me a few times a week to “trauma dump.” I try to change the subject, but her stories of abuse and peril never stop. In fact, I can put her on speaker phone while I loudly go about my business at home, and she’ll continue talking. When she finally has had enough, she then abruptly ends the call. 

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

I finally decided I’m done answering her calls. What can I do to ensure I am no longer seen as the trauma landfill? – DONE WITH IT IN PENNSYLVANIA


DEAR DONE: This keeps happening because you are a caring, empathetic and polite person who has the patience to allow these people to dump on you. The next time it starts to happen, say this: “This must have been terrible, but I am NOT EQUIPPED to advise you about it. This is something that should be addressed by talking to a therapist” (or, in the case of the former co-worker who called you, HR). After that, be less available.


DEAR ABBY: Last year, a dear friend was attacked by dogs and killed. My family enjoys hiking on public trails. Lately, however, our walks have not been enjoyable. I become nervous and very upset whenever I encounter dogs off-leash. I usually end up expressing my fear and asking the owner to put their dogs on a leash. 

My 16-year-old daughter is not comfortable when I do this. Her view is that the owners have trained their dogs well enough to be off leash. I disagree. I tell her that animals are unpredictable, and I am speaking out because my friend was killed by dogs. Please help us understand the best way to handle this situation which ends up in conflict. — WALKING SCARED IN WISCONSIN


DEAR WALKING: Your daughter’s view is naive. Although the majority of dog owners are responsible and socialize and train their pets, not all of them do so, and the result can be tragic. Your friend’s death is an example. 

When your daughter decides to hike, she should always have someone with her, and carry pepper spray or gel to ward off a (possible) attack not only by canines but also humans. (Sorry, that’s a reality these days.) As for you, you might be better off emotionally if, for the time being, you get your cardio exercise on a treadmill in a gym or at home.


Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.


Good advice for everyone — teens to seniors — is in “The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It.” To order, send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $8 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)