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.” They do more than drain your physical energy. The malignant ones can make you believe you’re unworthy and unlovable. Others inflict damage with smaller digs to make you feel bad about yourself. For instance, “Dear, I see you’ve put on a few pounds” or “You’re overly sensitive!” Suddenly they’ve thrown you off-center by prodding areas of shaky self-worth.
To protect your energy it’s important to combat draining people. The following strategies from my book “Emotional Freedom” will help you identify and combat emotional vampires from an empowered place.
Signs That You’ve Encountered an Emotional Vampire
- Your eyelids are heavy — you’re ready for a nap
- Your mood takes a nosedive
- You want to binge on carbs or comfort foods
- You feel anxious, depressed or negative
- You feel put down
Types of Emotional Vampires
Their motto is “Me first.” Everything is all about them. They have a grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement, hog attention and crave admiration. They’re dangerous because they lack empathy and have a limited capacity for unconditional love. If you don’t do things their way, they become punishing, withholding or cold.
How to Protect Yourself: Keep your expectations realistic. These are emotionally limited people. Try not to fall in love with one or expect them to be selfless or love without strings attached. Never make your self-worth dependent on them or confide your deepest feelings to them. To successfully communicate, the hard truth is that you must show how something will be to their benefit. Though it’s better not to have to contend with this tedious ego stroking, if the relationship is unavoidable this approach works.
These vampires grate on you with their “poor-me” attitude. The world is always against them, the reason for their unhappiness. When you offer a solution to their problems they always say, “Yes, but…” You might end up screening your calls or purposely avoid them. As a friend, you may want to help but their tales of woe overwhelm you.
How to Protect Yourself: Set kind but firm limits. Listen briefly and tell a friend or relative, “I love you but I can only listen for a few minutes unless you want to discuss solutions.” With a coworker sympathize by saying, “I’ll keep having good thoughts for things to work out.” Then say, “I hope you understand, but I’m on deadline and must return to work.” Then use “this isn’t a good time” body language such as crossing your arms and breaking eye contact to help set these healthy limits.
These people obsessively try to control you and dictate how you’re supposed to be and feel. They have an opinion about everything. They’ll control you by invalidating your emotions if they don’t fit into their rulebook. They often start sentences with “You know what you need?” and then proceed to tell you. You end up feeling dominated, demeaned or put down.
How to Protect Yourself: The secret to success is never try and control a controller. Be healthily assertive, but don’t tell them what to do. You can say, “I value your advice but really need to work through this myself.” Be confident but don’t play the victim.
The Constant Talker
These people aren’t interested in your feelings. They are only concerned with themselves. You wait for an opening to get a word in edgewise but it never comes. Or these people might physically move in so close they’re practically breathing on you. You edge backwards, but they step closer.