Try reading this (plus the link to the 3 part article at the bottom):
Melevsreef.com - What is a Sump?
This may clear up some of your confusion.
Essential, what you want to set up is an active return of water (pump) from the sump to the tank. However, the water return from the tank to the sump is passive. The overflow will only drain the water at the rate the pump is pumping, no more & no less. <This takes care of variation of pump output ..... no pump pumps at exactly the same rate all the time ... the flow rate goes up & down depending many things. That is why you must have a system that can handle the variation ... a simple siphon (or an active pump) won't do.>
The overflow should have a much higher flow capacity than the pump. That way, it can handle the pump flow even when there is some clogging or other problems. In addition, you should have room in the tank to handle all the water the pump can pump up should the overflow fails completely. <Say siphon failure ... although that should be near impossible if your overflow is set correctly.>
In a properly set up fail-safe system (see the articles), you have enough headroom in the tank should the overflow fails. <You also should have enough room in the sump in case your pump or power fails.> Proper setting of the water levels will prevent floods under all circumstances. It is true that the pump will go dry in an over-flow failure. Some people have a water level sensing cut-off switch to protect the pump. There are also thermally switched pumps that will cut off automatically when the water runs dry, preventing damage.
BTW - once you have your overflow/sump set up. You should test your fail-safe settings by:
1. cutting power to the pump with overflow functioning, &
2. deliberately break the siphons in the overflow with the pump on full.