Are You Being Drained By An Emotional Vampire? Here’s How to Tell

My husband and I love the show What We Do in the Shadows. One of our favorite characters is Colin Robinson—an energy vampire who feeds by draining humans of their emotional energy instead of their blood. He’s dull, dim, and has a tendency to mansplain. Within minutes of being in his presence, his prey gets sleepy, lethargic, and eventually completely drained.

In episode three of the first season, we are introduced to Evie Russell—an emotional vampire who finds herself in competition with Colin to feed at their shared workplace. Unlike Colin, Evie’s method of draining her prey is to play on people’s guilt, shame, and sorrow. She constantly has a new terrible story of how life just isn’t fair, how mistreated she is, and how pitiful her circumstances are. Her stories range from the mundane to the inconceivable, but every story serves its purpose. People pity her, and she sucks their pity down like a five course meal, leaving her prey drained of all their energy.

Emotional vampires don’t just exist in sitcoms. They are real; and if you’re not careful, they’ll drain you, too.

What is an Emotional Vampire?

Emotional vampires feed off of attention, concern, and pity. Because of this, they tend to exaggerate or embellish any negative circumstances that comes their way. Whether that is a major trauma or a tiny inconvenience, they will make sure the people around them know how utterly destroyed they are over it. They want to make other people responsible for their emotions, feeding off the emotional labor their loved ones are willing to provide them. And, they will constantly drain everything in their prey’s cup and become demanding or entitled when there is nothing left to give.

What Are The Types of Emotional Vampires?

Emotional vampires manifest themselves in many different ways, based on what they think will best suit their needs in the moment. Here is a list of a few of the most common manifestations.

The manipulator

This type of energy vampire will rewrite history or intentionally misrepresent situations to gain attention, sympathy, or control.

The dramatizer

Some energy vampires are constantly stirring up drama that they always seem to be at the center of.

The victim

Victim vampires always have some perceived slight or unfairness that has happened to them, even when most people consider such things to be typical human experiences that everyone goes through.

The criticizer

They feel entitled to everyone’s time, attention, and energy, and will make a big show about how everyone keeps letting them down.

The “main character of the universe”

Some energy vampires simply see themselves as the main character of everyone’s story, insisting on being at the forefront of everyone’s minds and activities. If anyone tries to mention their own interests, experiences, or even sorrows, they will pay quick lip service to whatever was said and then swiftly bring attention back to themselves.

What Do You Do if You Have an Emotional Vampire in Your Life?

Emotional vampires aren’t necessarily bad people (though some certainly can be). Some emotional vampires simply lack emotional intelligence or maturity, or have some unhealed trauma that has them stuck in self-limiting behaviors. You don’t have to despise or look down on emotional vampires in your life, but you do need to know how to protect yourself from them.

The best way to handle emotional vampires is to have strong emotional boundaries. This can be challenging, as emotional vampires will sometimes spin your emotional boundaries as “lack of empathy or concern” for them. When you set firm boundaries with them by refusing to be responsible for their experiences and feelings, they will often resort to shame, manipulation, smear campaigns, and self-victimization to regain control or the upper hand.

Having emotional boundaries means knowing what you are responsible for, and what you are not. You are not responsible for another person’s emotions. Though you may, at times, be responsible for causing harm and need to take accountability for that, you are not responsible for anyone’s feelings but your own. Because emotional vampires feed off of your concern and attention, they will go to great lengths to exaggerate or dramatize their feelings to try to make you take responsibility for them.

If you intend to stay in relationship with the emotional vampire in your life, you may need to reset your expectations. Emotional vampires will never show up as equal contributors to the relationship. They are accustomed to being on the receiving end of one-way streets. That doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of adding value to your life in their own way, so it’s important to be realistic about what you can expect and what you can’t. The emotional vampire will never fill your cup the way you fill theirs.

Sometimes, you may need to walk away. Emotional vampires will sometimes escalate their behaviors when they realize you are setting emotional boundaries and won’t be controlled by their antics. If staying in relationship means choosing between betraying yourself or being accused of betraying them, you need to choose the latter. They will commit to whatever story they need to tell themselves to cope with the fact that they cannot control you. You’ll just have to be okay with that.

On the other hand, sometimes they will discard you when they realize you won’t keep pouring into them from your empty cup. They will move on to a new supply, often using you as the enemy from which to garner sympathy and attention. In these cases, the best you can do is not take it personally. Emotional vampires have one purpose: to fuel themselves from other people’s pity. It’s not about you, it’s about their hunger.

Lastly, remember that anyone can engage in emotional vampire behavior from time to time. We are all human; we all have bad days or even bad seasons. Don’t go around calling every person who is dramatic or critical an emotional vampire. Sometimes, people are just in a time of their lives when they need a little extra TLC. When it comes to deciding whether a person in your life is a true emotional vampire, you need to examine their patterns of behavior. Look at how they treat you, how they treat others, how they talk about people from their past, and how they tend to orient themselves toward their own challenges and setbacks. Take in the entire picture, and then decide how to best protect your peace.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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