The Four Kinds of Emotional Vampires, and How to Survive Them

Some of your family, friends, and co-workers will make you feel positive and elevate your mood. Others will suck optimism and serenity right out of you. 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.

The subtler species inflict damage by making smaller digs which can 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 emotionally off-center by prodding areas of shaky self-worth. To protect your sensitivity, it’s important to name and combat these vampires.

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, sniped at, or slimed.

Types of Emotional Vampires

Vampire #1: The Narcissist
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 your emotions: Keep your expectations realistic. These are emotionally limited people. Try not to fall in love with one or expect them to be selfless or to love without strings attached. Never make your self-worth dependent on them or confide your deepest feelings to someone who won’t cherish 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, use the above strategies to achieved desired results.

Vampire #2: The Victim
These vampires grate on you with their “poor me" attitude and are allergic to taking responsibility for their actions. 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 your emotions: 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. Then I’d be thrilled to brainstorm with you.” With a coworker, listen briefly, and sympathize by saying, “I’ll think good thoughts for things to work out.” Then say, “I hope you understand, but I’m on deadline and must go back 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.

Vampire #3: The Controller
These people obsessively try to control you and dictate what 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 your emotions: The secret to success is to never try to 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 or sweat the small stuff. Focus on high-priority issues rather than on putting the cap on the toothpaste.

Vampire #4: The Splitter or Borderline Personality
Splitters see things as either good or bad and have love/hate relationships. One minute, they idealize you; the next, you’re the enemy if you upset them. They have a sixth sense for knowing how to pit people against each another and will retaliate if they feel you have wronged them. They are people who are fundamentally damaged—inwardly, they feel as if they don’t exist and become alive when they get angry. They’ll keep you on an emotional rollercoaster and you may walk on eggshells to avoid their anger.

How to protect your emotions: Stay calm. Don’t react when your buttons get pushed. Splitters feed off anger. They respond best to structure and limit setting. If they go into a rage, tell them, “I’m leaving until you get calmer. Then we can talk.” Refuse to take sides when they try to turn you against someone else. With family members, it’s best to show a united front and not let a splitter’s venomous opinions poison your relationships.

Find out about upcoming programs with Judith Orloff at Kripalu.

Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s New York Times best-seller Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life (Three Rivers Press, 2011).

Judith Orloff, MD, is a psychiatrist, intuitive healer, and author of the national best-seller The Power of Surrender: Let Go and Energize Your Relationships, Success, and Well-Being.

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