How to Recognize and Escape Emotional Vampires (It’s Easier than You Think)
Barely 60 seconds after meeting someone, you’re probably able to decide whether you like to spend more time with that person. Maybe it’s because you liked the first impression he gave off. Perhaps there was something about the way he looked, or in how he sounded. Maybe you even liked hearing the things he said. Or maybe, for some reason you cannot pinpoint at that exact moment, he was just so likable and you find yourself drawn to him.
Now take that into contrast with a person you’ve known for a very long time… and wish you never crossed paths with. It isn’t that they are intentionally mean to you, or are downright evil, but there’s just something about them that rubs you in a negative way. You feel that, the moment they enter the room and share an enclosed space with you, the air seems to become too heavy, and it gets harder to breathe. It’s like they are sucking out all the air, you are suffocating, and you cannot wait to put as much distance as you possibly could between you and him.
You start lamenting how, when you woke up that morning, you were bright and cheerful, and actually looking forward to the day. But now, you feel anxious, with the positive mood that morning gone. You are going on with your tasks for the day but you feel dissatisfied, and every small criticism from other people starts to sound like insults.
You know what you are feeling is unreasonable, but what can you do? You can’t help the way you feel, and somehow you know that it is connected with that person, and his mere presence.
Congratulations… or not. You just had an encounter with an emotional vampire.
WHO IS THE EMOTIONAL VAMPIRE?
The name alone may instantly give you images of someone with sharp fangs, glinting eyes and a menacing smile. They come at you during unguarded moments, pounce on you when you least expect it, and clamp their teeth on your neck before starting to suck your blood – and the life – out of you.
Fortunately, the emotional vampire does not do things in that gruesome manner. As for the effects and implication, however, that is debatable.
Albert Bernstein, PhD, was responsible for the term “emotional vampire” as a descriptive phrase for people who drain other people dry. In his book “Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry”, he described them as people that are “extremely critical, controlling, narcissistic, or generally very negative and manipulative”.
These types of people get their name from the bloodsucking analogy made earlier: they tend to drain the energy – particularly the emotional energy – of practically everyone around them. They then feed off of that energy or those emotions, either to make themselves feel better, or to have something else to add to their long list of worries. For them, it does not matter whether the emotions of others that they are feeding on are positive or negative. They do not discriminate.
The sad part is that most of these types of people are not even aware of what they are doing to others. Sure, there may be those who are conscious of it, but most of the time, emotional vampires are unaware, because they are so focused on themselves.
Some of the characteristics or manifestations often seen in emotional vampires include the following:
- They have very low self-esteem. That’s why they talk about themselves too much or, for others, why they look at themselves as downtrodden victims. They drive people to walk on eggshells around them, to watch their words and be careful with what they do or say, for fear that they might offend the vampire further.
- They need constant attention from others. This mostly stems from having low self-esteem. They need other people to notice them in order to get assurance that they are relevant. It is how they seek validation, but to the point of being excessive that they look for constant affirmation. It is always about “me” and “I”, as if the world revolves around them. This is where other people find them exhausting to be around. They go about getting attention in various ways, too. Some resort to playing up the “I’m awesome so look at me” card, or they do the “woe is me” act. Basically anything to get the attention of other people. In most cases, they won’t even care whether they are getting positive or negative attention; the only thing that matters is that they are noticed.
- They are always having a major crisis. This is why they couldn’t care less about other people, because they feel that they are the ones with the biggest burdens and the gravest problems. No one else could possibly have bigger things to worry about than them, and your issues are trivial compared to theirs. They even manage to find problems in good things that are happening to them. Deliver good news, and they are bound to pick at it and look for a downside.
- They believe that they are not at fault for the things that are happening to them. They take on the attitude of “the universe is conspiring against me and I didn’t even do anything”. For these vampires, they did nothing wrong. In fact, the problems they are facing did not arise from anything they’ve done. If there is anyone to be blamed, it would be the other people around him.
Those are just a few of the characteristics you will find in an emotional vampire. When we get to identifying the types of emotional vampires, we will learn more about them.
Emotional vampirism counts as one of the many toxic behaviors that people may encounter and have to live with on a regular basis. Their toxicity ranges from harmless to moderately harmful to downright damaging. At best, you will only feel a little bad about yourself, probably wishing you didn’t have that second slice of pizza earlier so your barely noticeable post-lunch tummy bump wouldn’t have drawn the eye of your co-worker and led her to declaring aloud that “you’ve gained weight, you must be pregnant!”
At worst, her comment will make you look at yourself in the mirror for a long time, hating that your arms are big, your tummy is flabby, your thighs are fat and your hips look humongous. Then you’ll start thinking that those may be the reasons why you don’t have a lot of friends, and you’ll never be worthy of them, so why even bother?
Unfortunately, you are bound to find these emotional vampires almost everywhere and anywhere. In other cases, some people may even fail to recognize these personalities, and constant exposure to them may eventually lead to them turning into one. That’s osmosis at work, right there.
Therefore, it is very important to learn more about emotional vampires in order to be able to recognize them right away and, of course, stay away from them. Staying away from these emotional vampires is one way to take care of yourself – not just your physical health but also your sensitivity, your sensibility, your sense of self-worth, and, yes, your sanity. You must learn to protect your emotions, and set up a shield against the negativity that these vampires are bound to volley at you.
THE TYPES OF EMOTIONAL VAMPIRES… AND HOW TO ESCAPE THEM
As if it isn’t enough that there are a lot of emotional vampires out there, they even had to come in more than one or two types. The downside is that this means you may be exposed to multiple forms of vampirism. The upside is that, by knowing what these types are and their characteristics, it will be easier for you to recognize them, and take steps to escape, or even avoid them altogether.
The best form of escape is, without a doubt, completely avoiding associating with them. Completely cut any ties with them and not have anything to do with them. In fact, the moment you spot them, you should run in the other direction.
However, that may not be very realistic in most cases, considering the nature of human relations. So if we cannot completely cut them off from our lives, we at least have to cope, and the goal of our escape plan is to protect ourselves and put up the right shields against their draining powers.
Bernstein identified five types of emotional vampires, while psychiatrist and author Judith Orloff named four types in her book “Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life”.
1. The Antisocial
“I don’t care about anyone else, as long as I’m having fun!”
Contrary to what the word means, the Antisocial actually loves parties. In fact, they like to do anything that will allow them to have fun and excitement. What makes them antisocial, according to Bernstein, is how they do not care about norms or acceptable social rules. They set their own rules, even if they border on reckless, destructive and dangerous. Anything to save them from boredom.
These emotional vampires like to live their lives on the edge, challenging the rules and even breaking some in the process. When daredevils set their mind on something, they tend to overdo things and do whatever they can in order to draw you in with them. If you are not careful, you’ll cave in.
The Antisocial is also not averse to lying, cheating, and stealing just to experience the thrill that he seeks. He may even resort to intimidation and put so much pressure on people around them, until they fall in line with his demands and desires.
- He show signs of rebelliousness and recklessness, even to the extent of flouting rules and breaking laws.
- He may give you an offer you cannot refuse. Truth is, if the offer is too good to be true, it probably is. This is clearly a manipulative move, and one that you should be very careful about.
- Know who you are dealing with. Making hasty decisions is something you should avoid. You should know the personalities you are dealing with so you won’t be easily drawn in by their manipulations.
- Know who you are, and your limits. Do not let anyone force you into doing something that you not confident about, or something that you know you are not capable of. This undue pressure is what will break you and, worse, may turn you into one of them.
2. The Histrionic
“I had the colds last night, and it was the worst night of my life!”
The Histrionic Vampire is also referred to as the Drama Queen, who is predisposed to theatrics and exaggerations. His reactions are often over-the-top, and he can blow things out of proportion. A simple flu will be likened to a life-and-death situation. Bickering about the weather becomes a potential reason for a married couple to get a divorce.
He demonstrates a skill of turning a trivial incident into a life-changing moment. He definitely has a talent for making things bigger than they truly are. For him, everything is a show, and he is ready to put on one anytime, anywhere.
Since the Histrionic is basically acting, it also implies a hunger for attention and approval from his audience. Until he can get that approval he seeks, he will continue putting on the show and performing. This basically results in an interaction that is scripted, and he is the scriptwriter, with you an unwilling co-star and audience member at the same time.
- He displays exaggerated reactions that border on the ridiculous, and he expects you to go along with it.
- Keep calm and do not let his histrionics get to you or affect you. Do some breathing exercises. Count silently in your head to regain your mental equilibrium.
- Know your priorities, and stick to them. This is one way to set limits. Remind him of these priorities and how you are planning to stick to them instead of joining in his dramatics.
3. The Narcissist
“The world revolves around me.” “Everything is all about me.” “I ALWAYS go first.”
This “me first” mentality implies a sense of entitlement and self-importance on a grand scale. Self-love is good, but this is taking it to the extremes, because it results to the person lacking empathy. The Narcissist wants the spotlight to be trained on him the whole time, and he hungers for the admiration of other people because, from his point of view, he more than deserve it. Heis entitled to it.
This lack of empathy also points to an inability on the Narcissist’s part to give unconditional love. This makes sense, since all the love that he has to give has already been reserved for himself, and there is no room for anyone else.
The Narcissist has a tendency to become cold and extremely reserved when things don’t go his way. And he certainly won’t hesitate to dole out punishment to anyone who does not fall in with his plans.
- He wants your whole attention to himself. When he’s talking, you should be listening, rapt. You should not be doing anything else – checking your messages, glancing around at other people, or even check the time. He may take offense. During breaks in conversation, he would look at you expectantly, waiting for you to give him a compliment or praise him, or any sign that you admire him.
- He talks about himself too much, and it’s all bragging about his achievements and accomplishments, even those that took place a long time ago. An hour-long conversation may pass with the whole discussion all about him. Don’t be surprised if you can’t get a word in, and even if you are able to, he’ll find a way to return to the subject of how awesome he is.
- He wants to be in control of everything when you are with him. It’s bad enough that he wants the entire focus of the conversation to be on him, but he also would like to dictate the terms of how your time together will be spent, and he will expect you to simply go along with whatever he says. After all, he is perfect, and nothing he says could possibly be less than correct.
- Do not get too attached. Recognize and accept early on that these people are likely to never give you selfless or unconditional love. This awareness should enable you to maintain enough distance so that, when things go downhill, you won’t be too crushed.
- Do not confide your deepest thoughts and feelings to him. You see, the Narcissist won’t care. He may even be annoyed that you are taking up precious time sharing confidences when there is something about himself that he wants to tell you about. You just might feel disappointed, having wasted your breath.
- Stroke his ego once in a while. This is inevitable, especially if you want to avoid conflicts or confrontations. It’s not an escape route, but it’s a coping mechanism.
4. The Obsessive-Compulsive
“Do it right, or else…”
Did you notice how much of a pressure it is to be around people who are perfectionists and workaholics? They love to set ultimatums and deadlines, and push you so hard you are afraid you will break.
The Obsessive-Compulsive, or the OC, is credited for being meticulous in whatever he does. However, the problem is how narrow his perspective is. He tends to focus on what is in front of him, and he ignores everything else. This self-absorption can be quite draining to those in close proximity.
He is competent, diligent and a hard worker, and he does deliver great results. The problem is that he expects everyone else to be the same, so when they fail to do that, he does not hesitate to punish them.
- He becomes too much of a control freak, wanting every i dotted and every t
- He shows signs of overworking and suddenly expects everyone to keep pace with him. Again, this is because he sees nothing and no one else, and no standards other than his own.
- Do your part, and do it well. Perform to the best of your ability, but do not pressure yourself too much. You may want to live up to the OC’s expectations, but if you know that he is an OC in the first place, then you will also realize that he may not appreciate your hard work, since he actually expects so much more.
- Come clean with him. Come up with a compromise, and negotiate, but make it clear to him that he may have to adjust his standards or expectations a bit. Often, the OC is harmless, and he may simply have a problem when it comes to awareness. There is nothing wrong with trying to coax him into taking notice of his surroundings.
5. The Criticizer
“That’s just wrong…” “Don’t you think that’s a bit…”
He is judgmental; he thinks he is in a position to pass judgment on other people, and he’s unapologetic about it. He thinks he is above reproach, and he is impervious to judgments.
In a way, this is similar to narcissism, since there is a degree of self-love involved. But the difference lies in how the Narcissist is solely focused on himself, with the exclusion of everyone else, while the Criticizer will not hesitate to put down others just to make himself look better.
The Criticizer is generous in handing out his criticisms, often claiming that they are constructive and he’s giving them with good intentions. However, in the process, he will belittle you and even make you feel small and puny, because that is one way to elevate his own status.
- You can easily tell when constructive criticism becomes an insult or a put-down. He starts to point out your flaws and shortcomings and, sometimes, even makes comparisons between the two of you, with him coming out the one with the better deal.
- His words make you feel ashamed and offended at the same time. Most likely, he will be using words that are harsh, they could never be constructive criticism.
- Take what he says with a grain of salt. If you take it personally, you will surely be offended and may even believe him about how small or incompetent you are.
- Take it up with him, especially if you know for a fact that the criticism he doled out is misplaced or has no basis. By addressing it directly, you are letting him know that you won’t take any unnecessary putdowns from him. However, you should do this in a diplomatic manner, so you won’t come across as defensive or raring for a fight.
- If he had given criticism that you accept to be true, acknowledge it, and even show gratitude for it. Give credit where it is due. Besides, by being nice and polite, you are sending a silent message that he should also do the same.
6. The Victim
“The whole world is against me.” “There’s just me against the universe.”
The Victim is unhappy, and he has no qualms showing it to everyone. In fact, they seem to want everyone to know that they are down in the dumps and utterly unhappy.
This “woe is me” attitude becomes even more draining to others when he starts to play victim and blame the world for his unhappiness, or pretty much any and all predicament he is in. He would insist that, if not for this opposition, he would have been happy. To anyone subjected to these “poor me” episodes, this can be quite depressing and, yes, draining.
He also refuses to acknowledge that their pains and problems may have been self-inflicted and self-generated. He is not the one at fault; the world is. For them, there is simply no way that they had a hand in their problems coming about.
It gets worse. The Victim refuses to believe or accept that there is a logical solution to his problems. You may even go out of your way to give him suggestions, but he is likely to find a fault in your suggested solution. The frustrating thing is that, despite turning down or shunning your best efforts, he will expect you to save him, like it is your responsibility to rescue him or solve his problem.
- He wallows in self-pity, and he seems to make sure that everyone witnesses it. Their life is full of drama, and they want you to hear every miserable detail of it. It’s like watching a soap opera, but worse.
- He demonstrates a general distrust for everyone, treating them as if it is their fault that he is suffering. The most telltale sign is bitterness, especially toward those who, in his mind, are doing better than him.
- Set a timer. Well, maybe not literally, but you should, early on in the conversation, make it clear that you can only listen to them for a limited period. Make sure you do it kindly, though, but stick to your resolve to observe the time limit, even if he turns on the waterworks and plays up how miserable his life is. Save yourself by keeping your interactions to a minimum.
- Sympathize, but do not pander to his self-pity. It is enough to tell him that you hope everything will be resolved in the end, but do not offer to solve his problem for him. You are not his therapist, and you are certainly not his guardian or caretaker. Give him a cheer, try to raise his spirits. It might not work but, hey, at least you tried.
7. The Paranoid
“I don’t trust you… or anyone.”
The Paranoid shares several similarities with the Victim, except for the self-pity part. The Paranoid vampire is one that harbors and even nurtures a high degree of distrust for everyone. He thinks that everyone is out to get him, and he has to be wary and on guard the whole time.
This makes him extremely suspicious of everyone, and that wariness has the tendency to be transmitted to other people. If the Paranoid is suspecting you, you may end up being shifty and uncomfortable around him, and this is likely to fuel his suspicions further.
It is difficult to maintain a relationship with the Paranoid, since he will never completely trust you, and vice versa. After all, can you trust someone who doesn’t trust you? The answer is probably “no”.
- He becomes highly observant and he won’t be able to hide how suspicious he is. You may find yourself feeling uncomfortable at how he seems to be watching your every move.
- Conversations with him, even the casual chats, start to sound like inquisitions, and he starts to demand answers from you.
- Be emphatic with the fear and other emotions of that person, and NOT the supposed facts. You might just end up fanning the flames, and this is not a good thing, especially if you are at the center of his paranoia. Keep a certain distance when showing that you sympathize with what he is feeling. Show him that you understand what he’s going through, but you do not fully support or condone it.
- Consider physical avoidance. In fact, if you could keep your conversations and interactions to the barest minimum, then do so. There is no use trying to be honest with that person and trying to make explanations, because he is bound to turn things around on you, and have more suspicions.
- Avoid answering their questions, especially if they have been asked already. This could mean that they are fishing, and you don’t want to be caught by their bait, do you? Excuse yourself politely in these situations, reminding them that you’ve gone over it already. Make sure to avoid getting into situations where he will subject you to a cross-examination. Anything you say will definitely be held against you. When dealing with the Paranoid Vampire, the less you say, the better.
8. The Controller
“Listen to what I think…” “You know what? You should…” “You know what you need?”
No one likes a know-it-all, and one who is aggressive about it, too. The Controller has an overwhelming desire to be the dominant one in any setting. He wants to be the one in control of everything and everyone.
This type of emotional vampire has a strong sense of right and wrong, which should not be a problem. However, he sticks to those parameters and, as a result, is quick to make judgments.
The Controller is very opinionated; he has an opinion for everything, and he will let everyone know what his opinions are. It is his way of showing how he is more knowledgeable than everyone, and how he is above everyone else. He wants to be on top all the time, and if there’s a threat of another person outdoing him, he will try to regain his dominance by asserting his opinions and thoughts.
He becomes particularly annoying when he starts to tell you what to do, especially when it comes to your problems. He has this notion that he knows what is best for you, and you don’t.
- He is unwilling to consider an opinion that is opposite to his own. Everyone’s opinion is wrong, except his.
- He refuses to accept if he is wrong, and he will force his opinion on you. He is willing to discuss a point or issue with you until you tire of it and agree that they are right, and you are wrong.
- He starts giving unsolicited advice about your problems, then bluntly tells you that your approach is wrong. He thinks that your solution is wrong, and his is right.
- If you can help it, do not consult with him. Make sure he does not catch wind of your problems, if possible. It is also a good idea to avoid starting a debate or argument with him over a matter of opinion, since you will only waste your time, breath and effort on something that will not be resolved. The Controller is not likely to change his opinion about something.
- Be assertive. Speak up and let him know that you, too, have your own mind. You appreciate his opinion and his advice, but you are also confident in your chosen solution.
- Agree to disagree. When there seems to be no clear resolution, make a compromise and meet him halfway, offering that you should just agree to disagree.
- Seek intervention. If you are in a group, orchestrate the involvement of other people in the discussion, preferably with a change of topics. This may throw the Controller off his stride and, by the time he gets it back, a group discussion is now in full force, and he’d probably have trouble regaining his earlier “spot”.
9. The Constant Talker
“You know, blah blah blah….”
Your ears must be ringing now because, for the past couple of hours, he has been talking nonstop. This can be frustrating, especially if he talks too much that you cannot even get a word in edgewise. You start thinking, “This isn’t a conversation; this is like a class lecture where the professor refuses to let his students speak!”
The Constant Talker is exactly that: he never stops talking. He seems to love hearing his own voice, without sparing a thought or a care about others. He does not really care what you think. He does not care about your feelings or emotions. You just have to listen to him.
- Just listen to him. He never stops talking. There is a difference between being a talkative person and the Constant Talker. The first talks in a harmless manner, being chatty and all. The latter, however, is the type that sucks you dry and really does nothing good for you.
- He starts invading your personal space. While talking, he may get in your face, moving into your personal space, so close that he is practically breathing down your neck, all to ensure that you are listening t every word he says. Even if you physically take a step back, this will not deter him, and he will move in closer, following you.
- Speak up. Interrupt him, if you must, but pair it with an apology to avoid antagonizing him. Make it clear, in no uncertain terms, that you also have something to say, if only he would let you say them. If he refuses, then you may ask to be excused because you have something else to do, or you have a prior appointment.
- Avoid indulging him. Some people make the mistake of pretending to be interested in what the Constant Talker is saying. This only sends them the wrong message, and encourages them to talk even more.
10. The Splitter
“Yesterday was yesterday, today’s another day.”
This type of emotional vampire is sometimes referred to as someone with a bi-polar disorder, and even a borderline personality. Being with him is like being on a rollercoaster ride. He is unpredictable, and you never know what he will do or say next.
One day, he can be your very best friend, acting like he will always have your back. The next day, he makes a complete turnaround and act like your worst enemy, simply because of an offhand comment that you delivered as a joke. The minute he realizes this, he turns back to being your best pal.
This means you will be walking on eggshells around the Splitter, wondering what will trigger another personality change, and when that will take place. You will be put in a position where you should watch everything you say or do, and you will feel like you are the one to always adjust to him and his mood swings.
You will also notice that the Splitter seems to derive pleasure in keeping you wondering what you did wrong. It’s almost like a sadistic streak you will see in a person who enjoys seeing others’ discomfiture and even terror during a rollercoaster ride.
- Drastic changes in behavior are the first signs that he is a Splitter. Sometimes you may even end up wondering what brought on the change in behavior, and he isn’t likely to tell you why because he does not feel obligated to let you know anything other than he hates you.
- He shows a penchant for showing anger and even hatred. You are not likely to see him take the first step for a reconciliation, either.
- Keep your distance, especially when he is raging or antagonistic. It’ll be a waste of your time and effort to engage him in an argument. When he starts going into a rage, excuse yourself and tell him you will only talk to him when he has calmed down.
- Keep calm and practice a poker face. He might attack you verbally and emotionally. Let him. It pays to have a stoic face or a poker face on when he starts attacking you. Show him that you are unaffected, because he will definitely derive greater pleasure in knowing that you are having a hard time because of him.
- Do not allow other people to be dragged into the conflict. Do not take sides, and when the Splitter tries to turn everyone against you, or turn you against everyone, keep a level head and make sure this does not happen. Do not let the Splitter ruin your other, healthier, relationships.
ESCAPING EMOTIONAL VAMPIRES
Now let us try to summarize the best tips on how to escape these emotional vampires or, at least, escape being sucked into them.
- Set boundaries and limits, and convey that to the emotional vampire you are dealing with politely and kindly, but firmly. You have to show them that you refuse to fall prey to their machinations, and they are machinations, whether they are aware of it or not.
- If you decided on a course of action to keep these emotional vampires at bay, then stick to it. Wavering and changing your mind every so often will only make these vampires think that you are weak and, therefore, vulnerable to their attacks.
- Do not give them the opportunity to prey on you. Be strong and rational. You see, emotional vampires prey on those who are weaker than they are, or those with insecurities and low self-esteem. Work on your own personal development, and this will add several layers of “protection” against these energy suckers.
- Learn to control your emotions. Rule over them instead of letting them rule over you. Maintaining a calmness within you is the first step to being able to control your reactions. Often, problems become bigger because of how people react. When they don’t react, or their reactions are controlled, they can also control the direction that the situation is headed. You, too, can control how your interaction with an emotional vampire will go by keeping a handle on your emotions and controlling your reactions.