You do not need to be an expert in vampirism to know that there are people in your work and personal life who can suck the energy out of you. They are experts at pushing your buttons in many shapes or forms. It isn’t that they are intentionally mean to you, or are utterly evil; there is just something about them that rubs you the wrong way. At the very start, some radiant, seductive quality can distract you from the rest. For instance, psychopaths, like vampires, can be charming as hell. You easily laugh, swoon, and otherwise go weak in their presence. Until you realize that s/he robbed you of your power and drained your confidence. If you work with someone who makes you feel awful even when you have absolutely no idea why, you might be up against an emotional vampire: a person whose psych issue is couched so well behind an attractive façade, you assume it must be you who has done wrong. They are like parasites feeding you off mentally, emotionally or energetically. They drain you dry. They are extremely critical, controlling, narcissistic, or generally very negative and manipulative. You might have fallen prey to one or more energy suckers already.
Understanding Emotional Vampires
Often times, emotional vampires are personality disorders dressed up in Halloween costumes. They are not necessarily aware of their behavior’s impact or that they have a problem. What we can see as irrational, moody, angry, or calculating behavior, they simply don’t perceive. Emotional vampires feel empty and miss something. They turn to you to fill them up with validation, recognition, attention, approval, love, acceptance, reassurance etc. Underneath, they often suffer from self-hatred, low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, guilt, or shame, regardless of how confident and assertive they may appear to the outside.
Here are some of the characteristics frequently seen in emotional vampires for you to recognize them early on:
- Low self-esteem.They talk about themselves too much, or they look at themselves as oppressed victims. They drive people to walk on eggshells around them, to watch their words and be careful with what they do or say, for fear that they might offend the vampire further.
- Need for constant attention from others.They need other people to notice them in order to get assurance that they are relevant. In most cases, they won’t even care what kind of attention they get; the only thing that matters is that they are noticed. It is always about “me” and “I”, as if the world revolves around them.
- Always a major crisis.They couldn’t care less about other people, because they feel that they are the ones with the biggest burdens. No one else could possibly have bigger things to worry about than them, and your issues are trivial compared to theirs. They even manage to find problems in good things that are happening to them.
- Not at fault. Their attitude is “the universe is conspiring against me, and I didn’t even do anything”. For these vampires, they did nothing wrong. In fact, the problems they are facing did not arise from anything they’ve done. If there is anyone to be blamed, it would be the other people around him.
Identifying Emotional Vampires
1. The Narcissist – Me first
Everything is all about them. They need and demand constant praise and attention. They have a grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement, crave admiration, and believe that the world revolves around them. They lack empathy, ignore your feelings and interests, and have a limited capacity for unconditional love. This makes sense, because all the love they have to give has already been reserved for themselves, and there is no room for anyone else. If you don’t do things their way, they become punishing, withholding, or cold.
2. The Victim – Poor me
The world is against them, which is the reason for their unhappiness. They are extremely needy, and often have stories of how the world has wronged them. They blame the world for their unhappiness, or pretty much all predicament they are in. When you offer a solution to their problems they say, “Yes, but…”. They wallow in self-pity and misery. You may want to help, but their tales of woe overwhelm you.
3. The Controller – Know-it-all
Controllers have an overwhelming desire to be the dominant one in any setting. He wants to be the one in control of everything and everyone. They obsessively try to control you and dictate how you are supposed to be and feel. Controllers have an opinion about everything, and they will let everyone know what their opinions are. They have a strong sense of right or wrong, and are quick to make judgments. They are rigid, rarely fun or spontaneous, often telling you what is best for you and how you should be living your life. They control you by invalidating your emotions when they don’t fit into their own rule book. You end up feeling dominated, demeaned, or put down.
4. The Constant Talker – Blah, blah, blah …
The Constant Talker never stops talking. They love hearing their own voices. They don’t care what you think or feel. They are only concerned with themselves. You just have to listen to them. This can be frustrating, especially if you cannot even get one word in. They might physically move in so close that they are practically breathing on you. You edge backwards, and they step closer to ensure that you are listening to every word they say.
5. The Drama Queen (or Drama King) – Center of Attention
Drama Queens are predisposed to theatrics and exaggerations. Their reactions are often over-the-top, and they can blow things out of proportion. A simple flu will be likened to a life-and-death situation. They demonstrate a skill of turning a trivial incident into a life-changing moment. They have a talent for making things bigger than they truly are. Until they can get the approval they seek, they will continue putting on the show and performing. When you are around a Drama Queen, you feel like you are walking on egg shells, hiding your true feelings, and riding an emotional roller coaster.
Handling emotional vampires
How can you protect yourself from an emotional vampire’s bite? Here are a few escape strategies:
- Narcissistic Vampires: Do not get too attached. Keep your expectations realistic. These are emotionally limited people. Never make your self-worth dependent on them or confide your deepest feelings to them. They don’t care. This awareness should enable you to maintain enough distance so that, when things go downhill, you won’t be too crushed. To successfully communicate, show how something will be to their benefit. Though it is better not to have to contend with this tedious ego stroking, if the relationship is unavoidable this approach works. It’s not an escape route, but it is a coping mechanism.
- Victim Vampires: Set kind but firm limits. Let them know early on in a conversation that you can only listen to them for a limited time period. Sympathize with a co-worker by saying, “I’ll keep having good thoughts for things to work out. I hope you understand, that I’m on a deadline and must return to work.” Body language that telegraphs “This isn’t a good time,” such as crossing your arms and breaking eye contact, help enforce these healthy limits. Save yourself by keeping your interactions to a minimum. Sympathize, however, do not pander to their self-pity.
- Controller Vampires: The secret to success is to never try to control a controller. If you can help it, do not consult with him. Be assertive and confident, and don’t play the victim. As Controllers are not likely to change their opinions about something, be ready to agree to disagree with them. If you are in a group setting, involve other people and topics in the discussion.
- Constant Talker Vampires: Just listen to them. They never stop talking. They just do not respond to nonverbal cues. Speak up. Interrupt them, if you must, and pair it with an apology to avoid antagonizing them. Avoid indulging them. Some people make the mistake of pretending to be interested in what this vampire is saying. This only sends the wrong message, and encourages them to talk even more.
- Drama Queen Vampires: They cannot draw energy from equanimity. Stay calm and do not let their exaggerated actions affect you. Do some breathing exercises. Count silently in your head to regain your mental equilibrium. This will help you not get caught up in the histrionics. Set kind and firm limits. Know your priorities and stick to them. Remind them of those priorities and your way of action.
Coaching with Inspired Executives not only helps you refine your coping strategies with emotional vampires in your work environment but also identify if you yourself have a tendency to turn into an occasional energy sucker and what you can do to manage that. As always, we are just an email of phone call away.
Lead courageously, Annette.