"If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars."—Rabindranath Tagore
If you've ever been around someone who leaves you feeling exhausted and drained, you have probably encountered an emotional vampire. These people don't drain your blood, but they do drain your vital energy. Emotional vampires can be found anywhere. Your best friend, coworker, or a stranger in the airport may be an energy-sucking fiend, and you may not even realize it.
"Emotional Vampires," a term defined by Albert J. Bernstein, PhD in his book Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry—are typically people that are extremely critical, controlling, narcissistic, or generally very negative and manipulative.
Who is your emotional vampire? Or are YOU one? Sometimes, when we are under enormous stress, we might unconsciously become quite emotionally draining of those around us.
Bernstien explains that most emotional vampires you will encounter do not have full-fledged personality disorders, but the ways they think and act do seem to fall into patterns of five types: Antisocial Vampires, Histrionic Vampires, Narcissistic Vampires, Obsessive-Compulsive Vampires, and Paranoid Vampires. He explains:
"If you see yourself among the vampires, take heart; it is a very good sign. We all have some tendencies in the direction of personality disorders. If you recognize your own, they are apt to be less of a problem than if you have no insight."
Here are some attitudes that apply to all emotional vampires:
- "My Needs Are More Important Than Yours."
- "The Rules Apply to Other People, Not Me."
- "It’s Not My Fault, Ever."
- "I Want It Now."
- "If I Don’t Get My Way, I Throw a Tantrum."
Learning to protect oneself from "emotional vampirism" and other toxic behaviors, which may be present in our daily surroundings and situations, takes intentional and constant effort. Since we are all "weak" to a certain extent, it is often hard not to succumb and become a negative emotional vampire ourselves.
Below are a few lessons I have learned over the years that may just get you started:
Emotions are a natural part of being a human being, and controlling them doesn’t mean becoming a drone. However, how well we control our emotions drives how we treat others and ourselves. Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki says,
"Your mind and body have great power to accept things as they are, whether agreeable or disagreeable."
Over the years, through practicing acceptance and gratitude (which came from years of studying Eastern philosophies), I have just begun to control my negative reactions. I understand now that only I can control my reactions. While the situation I am in may cause agitation and distress, in order to deal with it most effectively, I need to consciously choose my response. In doing so, it is important that I remain calm.
Today, I try to accept everything as it is. Bad things are going to happen, and I am going to have to deal with them. But I don’t have to dwell on negative emotions created by a situation. As a human being of course I feel them, I recognize them, but I get proactive about trying to release them. I try to be grateful and take time to do something that I am passionate about every day. The universe has provided me a way to tap into my own potential, and I must use that potential for a worthwhile cause. I acknowledge my negativity, flaws, and shortcomings and try to work on them as best I can.
I touched upon this in one my previous posts - Self-Improvement Strategies For Becoming A More Authentic Leader. The people we surround ourselves with make the difference between failure and success. It is important is to avoid people who bring us down, waste our time, take us backward, and have no interest in our suffering. If all else fails, reduce contact with them or drop them from your life. Rather than spend your time with negative people, focus on the positive people instead.
Our lives are ours to lead, and it’s up to us with whom and how we want to share it. We cannot always eliminate toxic personality types from our day-to-day lives, however we can be mindful of their toxic behavior and how it affects us. For example, you may have to work on project teams with John Doe, the Emotional Vampire, but you may not have to subject yourself to sitting through a lunch right next to him, which may mean sacrificing your serenity.
In the past, I have spent a lot of time with negative people, both in personal and professional settings. It drained a lot of my energy and was often futile. Today, I make a deliberate effort to spend time only with people who uplift me and make me stronger.
I try to look for a bright side in every situation. And those bright spots do exist. If we practice identifying these bright spots long enough, it becomes habitual, and it makes a tremendous difference in improving our positive energy.
Life isn’t always fair. As the saying goes, sometimes life just "is what it is." Our needs, wants, and priorities do not necessarily come before all others. If we waste our energy focusing entirely on the things we can't have right away, we end up creating a negative energy within and around us (i.e.; my life sucks because I can’t have the… car/vacation/promotion…I want).
Even when we don't get what we want, we gain valuable experience. Experiences are often much more valuable than a material outcome. Material outcomes slowly decay; experiences (positive or negative) can stay with us and create a foundation for the future.
Last week, I spent a number of hours with Dr. Marshall Goldsmith. As a student of life, those hours were invaluable to me. A practicing Buddhist, Dr. Goldsmith was recently recognized as the No. 1 leadership thinker in the world at the bi-annual Thinkers50 ceremony sponsored by the Harvard Business Review. One of the most insightful lessons I walked away with was his six daily questions:
"Did I do my best to:
- Be happy?
- Find meaning?
- Be fully engaged?
- Build positive relationships?
- Set clear goals?
- Make progress toward goal achievement?"
To slay the "emotional vampires" within us and to avoid the vampires around us, perhaps the answers to those questions can be our guide. It begins with ‘doing our best’ every day to avoid toxic emotions, even though we cannot completely get rid of the vampires from our lives.
[Image: Dracula (1931) via Universal Pictures]