Combating Emotional Vampires

Relationships are always an energy exchange. To continue feeling our best, we must ask ourselves: Who gives us energy? Who saps it? It’s important to be surrounded by supportive, heart-centered people who make us feel safe and secure. It’s equally important to pinpoint the emotional vampires, who, whether they intend to or not, leech our energy.

To protect your sensitivity, it’s imperative to name and combat these emotional vampires. They’re everywhere: co-workers, neighbors, family, and even friends. Through my work in energy psychiatry, I’ve treated a revolving door of patients who’ve been hit hard by drainers — a mental health epidemic that conventional medicine doesn’t recognize. I’m horrified by how many of these “emotionally walking wounded” (ordinarily perceptive, intelligent individuals) have become resigned to chronic anxiety or depression.

Why the blind spot? Most of us haven’t been educated about draining people or how we can emancipate ourselves from their clutches – requisite social skills for anyone who desires freedom. Emotional draining is a touchy subject. We don’t know how to tactfully address our needs without alienating others. The result is that we become tongue-tied or destructively passive. We ignore the warning from our gut that screams, “Beware!” Or, quaking in our boots, we’re so afraid of the faux pas of appearing “impolite” that we become martyrs in lieu of being respectfully assertive. We don’t speak out because we don’t want to be seen as “difficult” or uncaring.

Vampires do more than drain our physical energy. The super-malignant ones can make you believe you’re an unworthy, unlovable wretch who doesn’t deserve any better. The subtler species inflict damage that’s more of a slow burn. Smaller digs here and there can make you feel badly about yourself, such as, “Dear, I see you’ve put on a few pounds,” or “It’s not lady-like to interrupt.” In a flash, they’ve zapped you by prodding areas of shaky self-worth.

This is my credo for vampires: Their antics are unacceptable, and you must develop a successful plan for coping with them. I deeply believe in the merciful message of the Lord’s Prayer to “forgive people their trespasses,” but I’m also a proponent of preventing the unconscious or mean-spirited from trespassing against us. Taking a stand against draining people is a form of self-care and canny communication that you must practice to give your freedom its own legs!

What turns someone into an emotional vampire? First, a psychological reason: Children often reflexively mimic their parents’ most unflattering traits. A self-absorbed father can turn you into a self-absorbed son. Early modeling has impact. Studies of Holocaust survivors reveal that many became abusive parents themselves.

The second explanation involves subtle energy. I’ve observed that childhood trauma — mistreatment, loss, parental alcoholism, illness — can weaken a person’s energy. This energy leakage may condition those with such early wounds to draw on the vitality of others to compensate; this isn’t something most of us are even aware of. Nevertheless, the effects can be extreme. Visualize an octopus-like tendril extending from its energy field and glomming onto yours. Your intuition may register this as sadness, anger, fatigue, or a cloying, squirrelly feeling. The degree of mood change or physical reaction may vary. A vampire’s effects can stun like a sonic blast or make you slowly wilt. But it’s the rare drainer that sets out to purposely enervate you. The majority act unconsciously, oblivious to being an emotional drain.

emotional vampires imageLet me tell you the secret of how an energy vampire operates — so you can outsmart one.

A vampire goes in for the kill by stirring up your emotions. Pushing your buttons throws you off-center, which renders you easier to drain. Of all the emotional types, empaths are often the most devastated. However, certain emotional states increase everyone’s vulnerability. I myself am most susceptible to emotional vampires when I feel desperate, tired, or disempowered. Here are some other ways you can feel most at risk:

– Low self-esteem
– Depression
– A victim mentality
– Fear of asserting yourself
– Addiction to people-pleasing

When encountering emotional vampires, see what you can learn, too. It’s your choice. You can simply feel tortured, resentful, and impotent. Or, as I try to do, ask yourself, “How can this interchange help me grow?” Every nanosecond of life – good, bad, or indifferent — is a chance to become more emotionally free and enlarge your heart. If you’re to have any hope of breaking war-mongering patterns, you must play a part. As freedom fighters, strive to view vampires as opportunities to enlist your highest self and not become a sucker for negativity. Then you’ll leave smelling like a rose, even with major league Draculas.

Exercise 1: Determine If You Have an Emotional Vampire in Your Life

Anyone who has ever shared an office, car pool, or attended a family dinner with a vampire can attest to experiencing some common emotional side effects. Even after a brief contact, you feel worse; they feel better. To find out if you’ve been bled, watch for these signs.

– Your eyelids get heavy; you’re ready for a nap
– You feel put down, or like the rug was pulled out from under you
– Your mood takes a nose-dive
– You have an urge to binge on carbs or comfort food
– You feel sniped at or agitated

In addition, sometimes intuitive flashes and dreams can raise a red flag. For example, following a dinner I attended where the guests had something negative to say about everything, I experience a dream in which I was bombarded by a storm of leeches. Similarly, after a critical friend skewered one of my patients, she felt as if she’d fallen to the bottom of a well. Another patient dreamed that a pigeon pooped on her head — splat, there it was: her reaction to a nasty altercation with her apartment’s superintendent. Whether you’re awake or asleep, note any telling imagery that conveys emotion. This will help you identify a vampire.

Take an inventory of the people in your life who are potential drainers. List all your key family members, friends, and co-workers in a column; run down the list to see if any of them have an adverse affect on you when you’re in their company (or even simply on the phone with them).

Exercise 2: Take Time to Be With a Positive Person

Plan at least one complete afternoon with people who give off positive energy. Notice how this beneficially affects your physical and emotional well-being.

Be well!

(The following is an excerpt from the “Combating Emotional Vampires” online course by Dr. Judith Orloff.)