We've all been victims of emotional vampires. They're the people who make us feel depressed, angry, defensive, or depleted after we've been with them. They're all around us, and wear many disguises.
They could be a clingy relative, a bully coworker, or a bossy neighbor, for example. You'll know when you come in contact with an emotional vampire, because instead of feeling positive, energized, and happy after you've spent time together, you feel wiped out. These people are not healthy to be around.
Victims of emotional vampires sometimes develop unhealthy behaviors and symptoms, such as overeating, isolating, mood swings, or feeling fatigued, when they've been in prolonged contact with these energy drainers. Sometimes, we can't avoid them.
That's why I've developed self-defense strategies to fend them off. Here are five types of emotional vampires you're likely to encounter, and some tips for defending yourself against them before they stress you out and sap your energy.
1. The Controller
This vampire has an opinion about everything, and thinks he knows what's best for you. You have to brace yourself when the overbearing relative, for example, comes for dinner, because he dominates the meal with lectures on every current issue, parenting decision, and lifestyle choice — and which side is right or wrong.
Self-defense tips: Don't get caught up in bickering over the small stuff. If your father says he hates that you've gone back to work instead of being a stay-at-home mom, for instance, speak up and be confident. Tell him you and your partner have spent a lot of time discussing this very personal decision, and then agree to disagree.
You can also state your preference to spend dinner time without discussing any hot-button topics. Ask everyone at the table to share a favorite moment of the past week instead.
2. The Narcissist
This vampire is grandiose, self-important, attention hogging, and hungry for admiration. Maybe you met this woman online and were wowed by her magnetic personality. She's so charming and intelligent that you didn't notice, at first, her tendency to interrupt when you're talking about yourself, and to rarely ask follow-up questions or inquire about how you feel.
Self-defense tips: She may be a fun person to know, but give up the idea that she's going to be a caring, selfless, supportive friend or partner. Perhaps you both enjoy trying new restaurants. In that case, decide you'll be "monthly foodie friends," and forget the romantic entanglement. Enjoy her good qualities, but keep your expectations realistic. Because her motto is "me-first," getting angry or stating your needs won't phase her.
3. The Criticizer
This vampire feels qualified to judge you and belittle you. Perhaps it's a supervisor at work who gets his ego boosted by telling you that you "have a lot to learn" with a shake of his head, or by insisting on having to double-check every email you send and micro-manage every task, because "the business can't afford screw-ups."
Self-defense tips: Don't take what he says personally. Address a misplaced criticism directly, by saying something like, "I do well with constructive criticism that's specific to the task I'm doing."
Don't get defensive; express appreciation for what's useful. If you're genuinely benefiting from his experience and know-how, give him a compliment: "That tip really helped me. Thanks." This type of person is often just looking for kindness and acknowledgment.
4. The Victim
This vampire thinks the world is against her. Maybe she's been your friend forever, so you grit your teeth and bear it when she calls every other day to complain about her inconsiderate neighbor, rising gas prices, or her loneliness. Sometimes you feel that she's really just asking you to rescue her.
Self-defense tips: Don't be her therapist, matchmaker, or financial consultant. And don't tell her to "buck up." All phones have caller ID — use this feature. Limit your phone calls to once a week.
When she complains about the dearth of eligible singles or the weather, just breathe and say something like, "It must be hard to feel that way," and then let her know that you've got other things to attend to. Don't get involved in being a sounding board for her self-pity.
5. The Splitter
This vampire may treat you like his best friend one day, and then mercilessly attack you the next day when he feels wronged. Maybe the two of you co-chair a committee together, and it's hard because you need his cooperation and leadership skills to motivate the other members.
But instead of working with you, the littlest thing will tick him off. Then you have to deal with a threatening rageaholic who revels in keeping you and others on an emotional rollercoaster. He has everyone on the committee silent and cowering.
Self-defense tips: Set good boundaries and be solution-oriented. For example, you might say, "Today let's stick to the agenda, and challenge the members to come up with action steps for each item."
When skirmishes happen, refuse to take sides. Sooner or later, he'll burn out because people will stop listening to him. When he's raging at you, avoid eye contact. Visualize a protective shield around you that enables his insults and venom to bounce off. That way you won't feel diminished and put down. If possible, walk away.
Adapted with permission from Emotional Freedom