Emotional vampires

“There are really so many people trying to get control over you on a daily basis and steal your soul in some way, take a part of you.” — Gerard Way, American musician and comic book writer

“There are really so many people trying to get control over you on a daily basis and steal your soul in some way, take a part of you.” — Gerard Way, American musician and comic book writer

You might believe that vampires are fictitious characters that only exist in novels and movies.

There are people in the world, however, who thrive off of sucking the energy from others. Judith Orloff, psychiatrist and New York Times best-selling author of Emotional Freedom, calls these people emotional vampires. Says Orloff, “Vampires do more than drain your physical energy. The super-malignant ones can make you believe you’re an unworthy, unlovable wretch who doesn’t deserve better.” Orloff has isolated three distinct personality or vampire types: the narcissist, the victim and the controller. An “It’s all about me” mentality defines this vampire. The easiest narcissist to recognize is the unlikeable egotist that no one enjoys being around. However, narcissists can also be charming, inviting and seemingly caring until you don’t go along with their program. Then they quickly become withholding, cold and punishing. True narcissists lack empathy. In other words, they couldn’t care less about your feelings, rendering them incapable of unconditional love. To make matters worse, once you become involved with a narcissist, it’s extremely difficult to detach.

Says Orloff, when dealing with a narcissist, it is absolutely necessary to lower your expectations. To ever think you could enjoy an intimate relationship with this person or expect him or her to truly care about your feelings is foolhardy. Don’t make your self-worth dependent upon a narcissist, and if you must deal with one — perhaps your boss is a narcissist and you want to keep your job — frame things with how they will serve him or her. For example, “I think it will benefit the company if I take my holidays in September.”

An interesting observation: it may take years for a narcissist to shift behaviours and attitudes even when he or she sincerely wishes to change. The second type of emotional vampire is the victim. The world is against victim vampires. It’s always “Woe is me.” Victims refuse to take responsibility for their actions and the fall-out, and will blame others for problems they encounter. They are the unfortunate souls who always feel sorry for themselves and demand to be rescued. You can recognize them by the tendency they have to respond to every good suggestion you make with, “Yes, but . . . .”

In dealing with the victim, your strategy should be to set kind but firm limits and boundaries. Says Orloff, when the victim calls to vent, respond with, “I love you. You’re my friend, but I can only talk to you for three minutes unless you want to get into solutions.” Don’t respond with, “I’m sick and tired of your complaining so stop it!” Also, be prepared to repeat yourself, as the victim is rarely a good and responsive listener. The third vampire personality type is the controller. Controllers say, “It’s my way or the highway.” You’ll recognize them by the tendency they have to say “if only” as in, “You could be so beautiful/handsome/successful if only you would . . . .” Controllers always knows what’s best for you and will dictate who you should be and how you should feel. They have an opinion on everything!

They will often invalidate your emotions and can be tremendously domineering. You will certainly feel “put down” when in the presence of a controller.

At his or her core, the controller feels out of control and will often be a perfectionist, clean freak or a workaholic and possess highly developed coping and deflecting skills to justify his or her behaviour.

When dealing with this vampire, Orloff warns, “Never try to control a controller.” Refuse to be a victim. Controllers have a knack for sensing when you are emotionally vulnerable and are quick to target insecurities. If you’re very clear about who you are and refuse to play the role of the victim, a controller will often lose interest in you. Set limits and boundaries and stick to them – express yourself in a kind, but firm tone. And most importantly, don’t take anything personally, especially when you know the words or actions are meant to be personal.

Most emotional vampires are not consciously aware of what they’re doing. The vampire mentality is often a strategy or coping mechanism developed during early childhood. It is a habit originating with early programming and a sign of poor or undeveloped self-esteem. Starting today, take an inventory of the emotional vampires in your life. Here are some signs to recognize when they’re around. You will often feel emotionally drained and want to take a nap. You feel put down. Your mood takes a nosedive and you may crave carbs or comfort food. You might feel pressured, put upon, squelched or suddenly nervous and agitated. Says Orloff, “When encountering emotional vampires, see what you can learn. It’s your choice. You can simply feel tortured, resentful or impotent. Or, as I try to do, ask yourself, ‘How can this interaction help me grow?’” Orloff notes that it’s vital to be honest and to recognize the people who give you energy and the people who take it away. She also warns not to start with your mother or mother-in-law.

You won’t need to carry a wooden stake or a cross to deal with these vampires. Awareness and a well-considered strategy often prove to be the most effective weapons.

Murray Fuhrer is a local self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.