Prevention & Recovery

How to spot an emotional vampire

By: Katie Gougeon

Author: Canadian Living

Prevention & Recovery

How to spot an emotional vampire

By: Katie Gougeon
Something's strange about your friend Jerry. Every time you're around him he has this indescribable power over you: you feel weak, helpless and tired, and he effortlessly lowers your self-esteem using the power of conversation. You've been friends since elementary school, but lately it seems he's developed a dark side. Your friend Jerry is an emotional vampire, and he can drain the life right out of you.

Now, before you get your Twilight undies in a twist, know that this is not something to be excited about. These hellions are nothing like the mysterious, brooding characters we know and love from literature and film. UCLA psychiatrist Dr. Judith Orloff is the Van Helsing of emotional vampires, and she knows these creatures are far from mythical.

"They are self-obsessed and compulsively negative people. They love gossiping, passing judgement and they get a charge out of making you upset," she explains.

Falling victim to a series of these vampire attacks can result in overeating, anxiety and depression.

Friends that suck
Emotional vampires come in all shapes and sizes, so they can be difficult to spot. There are no dead giveaways like a lack of reflection, or an aversion to sunlight, but there is a good chance your brain-draining friends fall into one of the following categories.

The narcissist: Your sister calls and you hesitate to pick up. When she's not listing her latest accomplishments or bragging about her jam-packed social schedule and amazing boyfriend, she's tuning out everything you say that doesn't involve her. You wish she loved you as much as she loves herself.

The victim: Your co-worker spends so much time complaining about his life (including his recent divorce, his sick cat and your mutual superior) that he barely finds time to tend to his workload. You're left picking up the slack, but you really just want to pick him up and throw him out the window.

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The controller: The last time you and your high school best friend agreed on something, it was to go to a Hootie and the Blowfish concert, but she still thinks she knows exactly how you should run your life. She's never been wrong in her entire life, as far as she's concerned, and it's her way or the highway. You value her opinion, but you wish she would keep it to herself sometimes.

The criticizer: Your old roommate's sarcastic routine was cute back in college, but now his belittling remarks and judgemental attitude are wearing thin. He puts you down to boost his own self esteem, but you're tired of being a punch line.

The splitter: Your sister-in-law is one of the trickiest vamps of all. The Jeckyll and Hyde of the emotion-sucking world, she greets you with open arms at one family dinner, and then at the next she's dropping not-so-subtle hints that she thinks her brother married beneath him. You don't want your husband to pick sides, but her unpredictable behaviour is draining you of your will to spend time with his family.

Weapon of choice
Forget garlic and holy water, Dr. Orloff says the best way for a vampire victim to become a vampire slayer is to stay calm.

"Whatever you do, don't panic. Just breathe," Dr. Orloff suggests. "Don't blurt out something you'll regret and don't overreact, because that's exactly what they want you to do." If you want your friend to change his vampiric ways, you have to plan what you're going to say to him ahead of time.

"Approach your friend in a non-confrontational manner, communicate your issues with his behaviour and establish some boundaries for both you and him to avoid feeling victimized in the future," she says.

Most importantly, remember that vampires have to be invited in, so it's probably best to turn as many away at the door as you can. No need to drive a stake through your best friend's ego, because that relationship can be salvaged with proper communication, but any peripheral emotional vampires – acquaintances, hairstylists, dog walkers – are best left out on the front stoop.

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Dr. Judith Orloff's book, Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life, is a New York Times bestseller.

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Prevention & Recovery

How to spot an emotional vampire