Do interactions with one particular coworker leave you feeling drained? If so, you might be dealing with an emotional vampire.
“Emotional vampire is a colloquial term for toxic people who drain us of our energy and leave us feeling emotionally exhausted,” writes Shahida Arabi, author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse, at Thought Catalog. “They have a parasitic quality in that they provoke emotional reactions in others and ‘feed off’ their emotions as well as resources.”
Emotional vampires compromise people’s sense of emotional safety and our ability to engage in self-care. Being around one of these folks can leave you feeling depressed, anxious and confused. Over time, this could hurt your work productivity, ability to focus, even your emotional and physical well-being.
Try these nine ways to cope with an emotional vampire, so you can put that energy into excelling at work.
1. Reclaim your power.
Reframing the way you think about energy-sucking coworkers is your best defense and a critical step to self-care. You give away your power any time you allow other people or circumstances to control the way you think, feel, or behave, writes Amy Morin, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, at Inc.
Mentally strong people don’t give away their power, she says. For example, when you think your coworker ruined your day, you give her the control over how you feel about yourself. But if you reframe your thinking — insisting that only you control how you feel about yourself or what kind of day you’re going to have — you reclaim power over your life.
2. Avoid indulging them.
If the emotional vampire in your workplace is a drama queen or king, avoid asking follow-up questions. Use “I’m not interested” body language. This includes pointing your body away from them, so that you’re not looking them directly in the eye, writes Samantha Vincenty, senior staff writer at OprahMag.com.
But many emotional vampires won’t take the hint. The real narcissists of the bunch will identify your strategy and try to reclaim their power by dominating your time. In this case, begin every conversation with them by saying you have a “hard stop” at a certain time. This preemptive strategy forces them to get to the point. But because they will keep sucking, you must enforce your boundaries and stick to the hard stop you laid out.
Think of your watch as your crucifix, keeping the vampire at bay. Politely glance at your watch and say that you’re working on a big project or you’re on a tight deadline. If you’re worried about coming across as uncaring or rude, you can always add a nicety such as,“But I’m sending good thoughts your way.”
3. Avoid them.
While it’s not always possible to avoid an emotional vampire altogether, this may be your best route. Remember, they feed off your energy. If you don’t allow them access, they can’t feed off you.
When Maggie Lupin, a book reviewer and mental health blogger, recognized her coworker was sapping every ounce of her energy, she started closing her office door intermittently throughout the day so the complainer couldn’t come in. She began meditating during lunch breaks. She also employed the aforementioned strategy of not indulging her coworker — when she did run into her, she stopped offering solutions to her problems and started acting uninterested.
Make a list of what brings you happiness and increases your energy, and keep it nearby to help you focus on what you need, Lupin suggests at Medium. This will help you engage your emotional force field and reinforce your emotional beams, she says.
4. Tell them how they make you feel.
Not all emotional vampires are narcissists with no concern for your feelings. Perhaps your coworker is just going through a tough time and has lost perspective on how much negative energy they’re emitting or how frequently they’re complaining.
Even so, you are at work, and you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your productivity so that this person feels understood. Kindly say that you’re sorry they’re going through a rough time, but that the lengthy and/or negative discussions are making you feel (insert appropriate emotion here.)
Pointing out the negative emotional impact of their actions may be all you need to do to stop the energy sucking.
5. Recognize that you may be an energy sucker, too.
Is it possible that you allow the emotional vampire access to your energy because you feed off his or her energy, too? Maybe you see it simply as gathering inside intel about office politics or changes afoot, but however you frame it, you may be engaged in an energy exchange that is not healthy for you.
Ask yourself if you’re a sensitive person who derives enjoyment from caring for others. If your coworker is relying on you to care for them as a parent would, that’s a clear sign of codependency. Or are you just bad at setting boundaries? Identifying why you seem to get sucked into the emotional vampire’s drama may help you be able to stop it from happening again.
6. Adjust your expectations.
Recognize that you can’t change this person. Even if you are highly attuned to people’s emotions, try “shutting off your emotional valve,” advises Healthline. This doesn’t mean you need to be rude. It means you are simply accepting this person as they are and turning off your natural desire to help them.
Keep your expectations realistic. In other words, you’ve seen time and time again how this person will rattle on about his life but never ask about yours. So don’t expect that they ever will — you may feel that listening to this person’s stories becomes less draining, simply because you have less invested.
Never make your self-worth dependent on them or confide your deepest feelings to them, advises Judith Orloff, M.D., at Psychology Today. Communicating effectively with emotional vampires sometimes means having to show them how something will be to their benefit. If you don’t expect to derive the normal enjoyment you get when speaking with non-vampires, you may be less affected by the interaction with an emotional vampire.
7. Talk to your boss.
If all of these tactics have failed at keeping the emotional vampire at bay, you may consider talking to your boss, whether asking for other coping tactics or for intervention.
Your boss may have some insightful suggestions on how to handle the difficult coworker, since they have to deal with this person, too. Or they may be able to move the person or or your workstation to lessen your interactions.
Your boss may also be able to help you address other problem behaviors among the team. At Harvard Business Review, Abby Curnow-Chavez suggests:
Proactively suggest to your boss that the team hold a meeting to set up team norms and begin to address some of the challenging behaviors and conflicts on the team. This session should not be a ruse for taking the toxic team member to task. It should be a real and authentic interaction, in which team members can gain insight into one another’s perspectives, set clear standards of expected behavior, and increase peer-to-peer accountability.
While you don’t want your boss to think that you cannot interact successfully with a tough coworker, sometimes you may need to ask your boss for help. If your boss is smart, they’ll see your focus and determination to solve the problem as positives, not personality flaws.
8. Detox to recover.
Find ways to get the toxic energy out of your system and to refill your depleted emotional reserves.
Omtimes.com suggests turning to nature. There’s nothing comparable to fresh air, contact with plants and animals or the silence of the countryside to recycle and replenish our energies. And another important source of energy is a good sleep.
Nourish your body and stay physically healthy so you can stay mentally strong enough to stave off the emotional vampire. It’s impossible to stay mentally strong when you’re abusing your body with alcohol, sleep deprivation or junk food, Morin writes.
Mind-body practices such as yoga, pilates, meditation and tai chi can be great ways to detox, but so can kickboxing and other intense cardio workouts.
You may also need to unplug from social media, especially if you’re connected to the toxic coworker on Facebook, Instagram or elsewhere.
9. Talk to others.
While you may think it’s your coworker who needs the help, therapy can allow you to find new ways to cope with emotional vampires. Dr. Judith Orloff, a bestselling self-help author and Los Angeles-based psychiatrist, says that nearly 90% of the patients she sees in her psychiatric practice come in with workplace-related issues.
“They’re at work 10 to 12 hours a day,” she explains. “They’re with their coworkers more than their spouses, and if work is toxic, it will make you toxic.”
The key is to vent to the right people — a support group who will listen and even provide their own insights that may help — while also not becoming an emotional vampire yourself. Keep yourself in check by taking this “Are You an Emotional Vampire” quiz.
— Christine Laue