What is an Emotional Vampire?
Many of my clients are members of the Canadian Armed Forces and one of them shared with me a well-known saying in the military which I love:
Two percent of people take up ninety percent of your time.
I believe she was referring to “emotional vampires”- a small minority of people who take up a lot of time and energy for those dealing with them on a daily basis.
I’m guessing that you are reading this because you have some emotional vampires in your life and want help navigating them. And based on how often this topic comes up in therapy sessions, I thought it might be useful to have a primer on how to deal with emotional vampires (now referred to as EVs throughout the rest of this article).
To test the waters for this piece, I did a Google search for “emotional vampires” and couldn’t believe the plethora of information on this topic! From these results, I will assume that it’s not just you and me who are struggling with this phenomenon, searching desperately for tools to deal with these sorts of people.
Here are my top three faves on the topic:
The 5 Kinds of Emotional Vampires You Could Encounter
Emotional Vampires: How To Handle Negative People Who Drain The Life From You
How to Recognize and Respond to Energy Vampires at Home, Work, and More
My fave women’s health guru, Christiane Northrup, MD wrote an entire book on the subject:
Dodging Energy Vampires: An Empath’s Guide to Evading Relationships That Drain You and Restoring Your Health and Power
Esther’s Definition of an Emotional Vampire
I’ll give you my own simple but straightforward definition of an EV:
A PERSON WHO SUCKS THE LIFE FORCE RIGHT OUT OF YOU.
My dear friend and writer Maryanne Pope wrote an incredible piece called More Captive Than Client which I think exemplifies perfectly how you feel after you’ve been in the company of an EV (in this case, a loquacious esthetician):
I was having a bikini wax and pedicure the other day and the esthetician WOULD NOT STOP TALKING. Three and a half hours later, I slithered out- I was beyond exhausted from our encounter.
Her article is about boundary-setting which is a very important tool to use when you find an EV coming to suck the life force out of you. I strongly urge you to read the whole article.
Her stories are about EVs in the form of service providers: estheticians and hairstylists. She has some great tips for boundary-setting with these folks if they are also EVs:
- Tell them ahead of time that you have to leave at a certain time.
- Tell them you are not much of a talker.
- Tell them you would prefer to just be quiet and enjoy (as much as possible) this bit of downtime.
- Look at your phone while receiving the treatment.
- Read a book while receiving the treatment.
How to Set Boundaries with Emotional Vampires
Here are some of my writings on how to set boundaries if yours are weak or non-existent- factors which put you at risk of being energy-sucked:
Boundaries 101- How to Draw Your Own Line in the Sand
Brilliant Boundaries- Creating and Instituting “Personal Policies”
Ask Esther…Setting Boundaries
Gainers and Drainers: Choose Your Company Carefully
Because I like to simplify things, I lump all humans into two basic categories:
Category 1: Gainers
Category 2: Drainers
Seek Out Gainers and Keep Them Close
Gainers are the people you want to surround yourself with and nourish those relationships like the precious gems that they are.
Who are gainers?
PEOPLE WHO ENERGIZE YOU. AFTER YOU SAY GOODBYE, YOU FEEL UPLIFTED, HOPEFUL AND RENEWED.
Who are the drainers?
AFTER LEAVING THEIR COMPANY, YOU FEEL COMPLETELY DRAINED AND EXHAUSTED. THIS PHYSICAL COLLAPSING IS OFTEN PAIRED WITH A BLEAK VIEW OF THE WORLD AND LOSS OF FAITH IN HUMANKIND PLUS A HEFTY DOSE OF ANGER AND RESENTMENT.
It’s Not You- It’s Them
In the name of simplicity once again, I find that in my work as a therapist, most of what people struggle with has to do with the company they choose to keep. A common example from my practise is when people tell me that when they are with a certain person, they ‘feel crazy’. Then they look at me with panic in their eyes and exclaim, “Esther, do you think I’m crazy?”
My answer is this: “I don’t think you per se, are crazy but you are definitely suffering from a bad case of what I like to call, ‘crazy by association'”.
In short- EVs can make you feel crazy but that doesn’t mean you are crazy. I do my very best not to hang out for long with anyone who makes me feel that way. And this has been a difficult journey consisting of many pitfalls and close calls- most likely because I am a therapist and am used to sitting listening to people.
I am now in tune enough with my own body to sense an EV right away- as soon as I feel like I want to slither under a table, off a chair, or I have a fantasy of disappearing into a puff of smoke, I know it’s time to take action and get the hell out of there.
That’s when I take a deep breath and practise an amazing trick my mum taught me years ago which works for her:
Slap your thighs loudly, stand up and exclaim “And there you go!” and leave the person sitting there. Don’t knock it until you try it…I’ve used this many a time when in a group situation to get me away from an EV and I then go and sit next to a non-EV and can enjoy myself for the rest of the gathering.
I think this trick works because it breaks you out of your ‘trance of misery’ and unfreezes you so that you can then mobilize yourself in order to take solid action and make an escape.
Note: this trick does not work in every situation- I find it most suitable when you are in a group setting, not one-on-one.
When you are being ‘hostaged’ by one person and you are the only other person nearby, I suggest that you come up with a quick escape plan and save yourself extra drainage. A famous trick for dating applies here:
Make a plan to meet the person in a public place with other people around like a busy coffee shop. Decide before-hand how much time you will spend with them (I suggest no more than an hour) and tell them you have an appointment near the end of that time or that you’re meeting a friend or family member. That way you can protect yourself if they happen to be an EV or just plain boring.
I’ll end with a quote which I think sums up this whole article:
The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best. -Epictetus
Now go and hang out with one of the ‘gainers’ in your life and enjoy the sweetness and energy boost that follows…
Maryanne Pope says
Great article, Esther! I love the thigh-slap trick and have used it in the past…works like a charm! Trickier to do on the phone or in a one-on-one conversation but I am learning to get rather creative when I need to extricate myself from a
draining conversation. Nothing like an hour-long bikini wax ? to teach one how important it is to speak up and say “Enough talking!”
I am now reading all the articles you linked to in this blog…there is some excellent content!
So glad you found my “More Captive Than Client” article of use.