What if I told you vampires were real? According to Judith Orloff, a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, they are — but not in the blood-sucking sense.
Emotional vampires are people who drain your emotional energy, whether intentionally or not. "As a physician, I've found that the biggest energy drain on my patients is relationships. Some relationships are positive and mood elevating. Others can suck optimism and serenity right out of you. I call these draining people emotional vampires," Orloff wrote in Psychology Today.
Emotional vampires feed on your willingness to care for them, leaving you feeling drained and unhappy. They can be your colleague, your boss, your friend or a family member — anyone who preys on their proximity to you.
How can you tell someone in your office (or in your home!) is an emotional vampire? Here are some of the telltale signs:
Orloff reports that interactions with emotional vampires can leave you in a particularly foul mood. If you feel anxious, depressed or negative after interacting with someone every single time, it may be time to label them an emotional vampire — especially if they demonstrate any of the below traits.
If your mood takes a dive and you can see physical symptoms of stress, you're likely dealing with a vampire, according to Orloff. If your interactions with this person leave you feeling especially sleepy, you may be dealing with extra external stress. Another sign this person's energy-sapping abilities have taken a toll on you? You find yourself binging or engaging in another trauma response after your interactions.
For the emotional vampire, everyday is a battle. These people always have some kind of wrongdoing against them to report and they tell it with a flair. Everything in their lives is negative — at least when they're talking to you. Secretly, they hope you will feel for them and sink into their clutches, offering attention and emotional validation.
Not only is an emotional vampire always reporting on some drama, they also ensure that you know their drama is more important than yours. Emotional vampires need their lives to be center stage so they can harvest the emotions of those around them. They may try to "one up" your problems in conversation ("Oh, you think that's bad? Listen what happened to me") or "one up" your accomplishments ("Oh, you got a job interview today? Listen to this amazing opportunity that's coming my way") to keep the focus on what they want to talk about.
Codependent relationships are common for emotional vampires. In a codependent relationship, the parties are always orchestrating their actions to get a certain reaction from the other individual (you know, instead of having a normal conversation). For example, it looks like ignoring someone until they call you in fright, or taking specific actions to make someone jealous so they'll put extra effort into a friendship. Emotional vampires are always looking for strong emotional reactions they can feed off, hence the manipulative relationships.
Emotional vampires may intimidate, bully or guilt their victims in order to debase them and make them feel insecure. Internally, emotional vampires are often insecure themselves. So, they don't believe they can "trap" a victim into investing emotional energy in them unless they use dehumanizing tactics to keep their victims insecure, too. Normal people feel like they should work to resolve the problem when someone else is calling them names or making them feel like a bad person. This keeps unwitting, empathetic people in the emotional vampire's clutches.
Emotional vampires often know what they're doing but refuse to take the blame. After all, admitting they're up to no good can send their energy sources running. Instead, they use their charisma to charm their way out of being called out. In fact, they often can find a workaround to blame whatever's wrong on you.
How can you cope with having an emotional vampire in your life? Here are a few quick fixes:
If you recognize someone is an emotional vampire and your relationship with them is detrimental to your well-being, the best thing you can do is establish strong boundaries. Don't go out of your way to spend extra time with them. In order to avoid giving these extra charming people an extra inch when you're caught off guard, set specific rules with yourself. Then, expand on your first set of rules as time goes on, depending on your relationship. For instance, start by telling yourself you won't talk to your emotional vampire coworker after 5 PM, or you won't spend weekends with your emotional vampire friend. Then, as your relationship becomes more distant, say you won't talk to your coworker about personal topics at all, and tell yourself you'll only spend time with your emotional vampire friend in group settings. Come up with an arsenal of excuses to use to stick to your rules, whether it be "I'm too tired" or "I don't feel well."
One of the hardest parts of setting boundaries and sticking with them is the emotional side of distancing yourself. Setting new expectations about your relationship and how you think about them is key to a clean break. Remind yourself that this person, even with all of the amazing things about them, is bad for your health. You can't fix them and you can't lean on them anymore — they'll just want to do the same. Focus on centering the other people in your life who help you be your best, especially when you're feeling sad about the lost relationship.
If life (or your heart) dictates you spend time with the emotional vampire in your life, be sure to guard your energy from them. Emotional vampires are very in-tune with the verbal and non-verbal signs that they've captured your attention — and your energy. They'll use those signs to keep going until they've sunk their teeth in and three hours have passed. Keep your answers short and your body language solid. This helps you both communicate without relaxing into dangerous territory, and it saves the emotional energy it takes to carry on in that emphatic, human way for you.
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