How to Spot an ‘Emotional Vampire’ (and Know If You Are One)

How to Spot an ‘Emotional Vampire’ (and Know If You Are One)
Photo: Atomazul, Shutterstock

You don’t have to know what an “emotional vampire” is to know what it is, really. What do vampires do? They suck blood out of people. So, what can we reasonably assume emotional vampires do? That’s right: They suck energy out of people. Recognising if you’re surrounded by these vibe-killing leeches — or are one yourself — is a little harder than deducing what they are, though. Here’s how to recognise emotional and social vampires and be sure you aren’t one.

How to identify an emotional vampires

You’ll know you’ve been around an emotional vampire when you get home and breathe a sigh of relief to be away from them — and can still feel their metaphorical fangs. And they can be anywhere: You might come across them in your own family, among your friend group, or at work.

“Emotional vampires are called such because they suck the emotional energy out of most everyone in their life,” explained Dr. Marni Feuerman, a psychotherapist in Boca Raton, Fla., and author of Ghosted and Breadcrumbed: Stop Falling for Unavailable Men and Get Smart About Healthy Relationships. “These people are often described as ‘exhausting’ or ‘overwhelming’ as they require constant validation and attention. They frequently seem to have a serious crisis, litany of complaints, and ‘why is life unfair to me’ attitude. The relationship is not reciprocal.”

You may also run into emotional or social vampires in your dating life, too.

“I want you to think of the person in your life who energizes you, who makes you feel happy, who makes you feel confident,” said Logan Ury, director of relationship science for Hinge. “That’s your penthouse person. They bring you up. Now I want you to think of someone who makes you feel small, depressed, de-energised. That’s your basement person. They bring you down. Another word for the basement person is a ‘social vampire’ — someone who sucks the life out of you. When you’re on a date, ask yourself, ‘Is this a penthouse person or a basement person?’ That question will help you pay attention to what really matters, and worry less about the things that don’t.”

In short, you’ll notice if you’re dealing with someone who sucks out your emotional energy — as long as you’re paying attention to the signs.

How do you know if you’re the emotional vampire?

Recognising emotional vampires in your life takes a bit of practice and insight, but that’s nothing compared to what is required to figure out if you are the one draining your friends and colleagues of their energy.

“From the perspective of the emotional vampire, they feel that others don’t get them, life is unfair, others don’t provide enough help, time, and attention to them,” Feuerman said. “They also find themselves fighting a lot with their friends and family or suddenly getting dropped by them without an apparent explanation. The best way for an emotional vampire to recognise this is to look back over the years on past and current close relationships and discern if this seems to be a long-standing pattern or common theme throughout their lives.”

“One of the major components of being an energy vampire is having poor boundaries and relying on your interactions with others to feel OK about yourself,” added Brooke Sprowl, clinical director and founder of My LA Therapy and author of the forthcoming book, Why You Should Date Emotionally Unavailable Men. “[That] can be very draining and can turn people off.”

Ask yourself: Do you have poor boundaries? Are you relying on your interactions with others to self-soothe, rather than relying on them for mutually beneficial connection?

What to do about emotional vampirism

If you’re the emotional vampire here, take steps to be more cognisant of your interactions with others — talk less, listen more, and make sure your interactions and conversations are more balanced. Actively work to engage more with your co-workers and friends about their lives. And when you do turn the topic to yourself, be open to feedback.

If you’re dealing with someone who’s sucking up your energy, first, understand this isn’t something you simply have to — or should — just deal with. It can be detrimental for you to let this go on.

“An emotional vampire requires so much focus, attention, and emotional energy that there won’t be any left for you,” Feuerman said. “In fact, they seem to thrive off of the emotional reactions of others to their life narrative. Their sense of self-worth is low. The clincher is the lack of self awareness of how they come across to others in their circle.”

That “there won’t be any left for you” is a major concern. You deserve to be happy, fulfilled, and healthy, so if someone is sucking that out of you, it has to end. Feuerman recommended three steps you can take that gradually move toward cutting the person off: Lower your expectations, keep things superficial, and finally, limit contact.

First and foremost, though, communicate. State clearly that the person is draining you of your energy and you’d like the relationship to be more reciprocal. If they don’t make changes, lower your expectations. From there, Feuerman said, you can hold onto the relationship, but you also have the power to stop any conversation from going too deep. Superficial routes of chit-chat are less emotionally demanding. Ultimately, even limiting contact will require some communication on your part, if you do it responsibly.

“You can set limits on the complaining by saying, ‘I hear what you’re saying. Do you want to talk about solutions now?,’” Feuerman said. “You should also have your exit strategies planned in advance for times you may feel cornered. You can also say, ‘I’m sorry that’s happening to you’ when they go on about their latest drama. No need to offer help, advice, or suggestions.”

No longer engaging with the behaviour that is sapping your energy may show them that they need to make a change.

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