Most of us have heard the term “emotional vampire,” but what does this really mean?
Myth and folklore teach us that vampires were creatures who needed to sustain their own lives by literally sucking or draining the life out of others.
If we were to explore this in a psychotherapeutic context, an “emotional vampire” might, therefore, be a term used to describe someone who emotionally sustains his- or herself through the energy they receive/take from others.
Clinically speaking, “emotional vampires” are those who lack the internalized, developmental ego strength to hold and maintain their own psychological boundaries and who disrespect and cross the psychological boundaries of others.
So what does an “emotional vampire” look like?
While there is no one single profile of an “emotional vampire”, it may look like someone who constantly needs admiration or ego-boosting compliments from others in order to feel a strong sense of themselves;
Or it could look like someone who needs to constantly criticize and put down those around them to make themselves feel superior and therefore guard against their own shame;
Maybe it looks like the person who leaves you feeling drained, deflated, or maybe even hurt after spending time with them;
Or it could look like someone who requires constant reassurance to soothe their anxiety because they lack the skills and capacity to do this for themselves;
Further still, this could look like a friend, coworker, or family-member who almost always seems to have a big crisis in her life and has no space for you but expects you to always be there for her and her tumult.
However this looks, this doesn’t necessarily mean that “emotional vampires” are bad people, nor does this mean that they’re even conscious of what they’re doing!
An “emotional vampire”, in my opinion as a psychotherapist, is likely someone who is trying to get a core emotional need of theirs met, but who has maladaptive ways of trying to do this (as so many of us do if we don’t have functional, healthy models of relating while growing up).
And what’s also true is that spending time around an “emotional vampire” can be really tiring and frustrating!
So what can you do if someone in your life feels like an “emotional vampire?”
First and foremost, I encourage you to practice self-awareness while you spend time with people.
Notice how you feel after spending time with people and if you felt like your boundaries were subtly or overtly respected or disrespected by them.
With awareness, you will then have greater choice about what you want to do with any “emotional vampires” who you determine may be in your life.
And then, when it comes to dealing with any “emotional vampires” in your life, your choices are finite and revolve around better setting your own personal boundaries.
For example, for some, this may look like not spending as much time (or any) with that person who feels like an emotional vampire.
For others, it may be trying to have a conversation with that person and telling them how they impact you and that you’re not going to tolerate or participate in that behavior anymore with the hope that this might bring about change in the relationship.
Or perhaps you may choose to still be in contact with that person and not say anything to them, but/and then your task will be to tolerate the feelings that come up in you when you spend time with this person.
If in reading these suggestions it even feels hard for you to imagine setting boundaries with someone or not tolerating their “draining” behavior, then I would encourage you to do whatever personal growth work you need to do — be it therapy, attending Codependents Anonymous meetings or reading CODA literature, or talking with someone you love and trust and admire relationally — so that you reach a point where you feel capable of setting the boundaries you need and want to feel good in your relationships.
And if you need a reminder about what boundaries are, I encourage you to check out this post of mine on boundaries – it can really help you clarify the different areas where you may feel your own boundaries are being crossed and need to be strengthened.
Now I’d love to hear from you in the comments below: What’s one way you’ve supported yourself from having “emotional vampires” in your own life? Leave a message in the comments below so our community of blog readers can benefit from your wisdom.
If you would like additional support with emotional vampires and you live in California or Florida, please feel free to reach out to me directly to explore therapy together. You can also book a complimentary consult call to explore therapy with one of my fantastic clinicians at my trauma-informed therapy center, Evergreen Counseling.
Or if you live outside of these states, please consider enrolling in the waitlist for the Relational Trauma Recovery School – or my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries, designed to support you in healing your adverse early beginnings and create a beautiful adulthood for yourself, no matter where you started out in life.
And until next time, please take very good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.