photo by Oscar Keys
by Andrea Blundell
Are ‘energy vampires’ really a thing, from the point of view of psychotherapy? And is the term helpful, or is it possibly dangerous?
What is an ‘energy vampire?
An ‘energy vampire’ or ‘emotional vampire’ isn’t, evidently, a clinical term or a diagnosis.
It’s instead a modern shorthand for someone who leaves you feeling drained and takes but doesn’t give much, if anything, in return.
It’s certainly a term that has enjoyed popularity, and can be connected to the other popular tendency to label everyone we don’t like a ‘narcissist’.
There is something very satisfying in deciding someone is a narcissist or a vampire. We feel lighter, safer, resolved. Of course we do. Suddenly it’s all about them and nothing to do with us. But is it?
The real danger of emotional vampires
Yes, sometimes someone does a number on us. It happens. Ideally, we learn and move on.
But what if it keeps happening to you? And if your first thought every time a relationship leaves you tired is, “Ha! They are an energy vampire”?
The real danger of a strong belief in energy vampires is that you can use it to blind yourself to yourself.
If you never see your part, if you always make the other ‘bad’ and yourself ‘good’, then you are claiming the victim mentality.
And the more you are in the victim mentality, the more negatively you will view others, in a self perpetuating cycle. Researchers Rahav Gabay et al. discovered that if you have made victimisation a central part of your identity, you will not only over focus on what has been done against you, you will develop ‘moral elitism’, believing you know better than others. You will also, rather ironically, develop “a lack of empathy and attentiveness to the suffering of other individuals”.
But aren’t there selfish people in the world?
We all, at some point, in one way or another, take more than we give. We are unconsciously or even consciously selfish.
And yes, some people do have less interest in being a good human than others.
Other people have personality disorders, which means they see and experience the world differently than normal. This often includes not understanding social rules and boundaries.
So how can I be responsible for selfish people?
You aren’t. But you are, as an adult, free to makes choices. You choose who you spend time with. You can choose to learn from the first time someone uses you and leave you drained, and not let it happen again.
In the case of things like colleagues or bosses where you must know someone, you still decide how much energy you give the other person and, again, what boundaries you do and don’t set.
Of course some of us have unhealthy psychological patterns ourselves, that mean we really struggle to set boundaries. Saying no causes immense fear for us. We might blame it on being ‘sensitive’ or an ’empath’, but this can hide a codependent need to feed into others’ wants and needs to feel valued. Like a plug to a socket, giver to taker, we have the matching issues that leave us entangled.
And in this case what you can choose is to seek support to identify where in childhood these patterns developed, how to overcome them, and how to boundary set.
Ask yourself these important questions
If your life is an endless entanglement with one ‘energy vampire’ after another, it might be time to take a good hard look at your choices and ask some brave questions.
- Do I secretly love the drama?
- Do all these entanglements give me a sense of identity? Make me feel interesting?
- Do I have unresolved difficult childhood experiences or trauma that mean on a certain level I feel I deserve to suffer?
- Did the way I was parented teach me that love was suffering? Or that I had to be pleasing and over give in order to receive attention?
- Who would I actually be if I wasn’t always a victim? Do I even know?
- Am I always going on about my ‘energy vampire’ experiences, and actually draining people around me myself?
How to conserve your energy for you
This means learning how to recognise your own personal needs, and then how to communicate them clearly and firmly and to continue communicating them until they are respected.
If we constantly say yes to things we don’t really want to do in order to keep the other person happy, or ‘keep the peace’? Then no wonder we are drained all the time. Until you learn to say no then you are responsible for being drained.
3. Change your core beliefs.
Our core beliefs are the unconscious assumptions we make as children we then carry into adulthood and mistake as ‘fact’. Without realising it, we make all our decisions based on these beliefs. And if you have a limiting belief, like, say, ‘I don’t deserve good things’, you will constantly choose to be around others who enforce this.
4. Slow down.
Most people who get involved with emotional vampires are the same people who rush into friendships and romantic relationships. Or overshare their entire life with a new colleague before learning who they are and if they are a good person to connect with. Relationships are best built slowly.
5. Deal with unresolved traumas.
Again, all of the above can be really hard to do alone if we have unresolved trauma. Trauma or adverse childhood experiences can leave us afraid of setting boundaries and saying no, or unable to stop our impulsive need to believe in ‘soulmates’ and rush into things. We need help to break the psychological patterning we are stuck in.
Can therapy help me avoid energy vampires?
Yes. Therapy can help you change your approach to relationships entirely. You can raise your self-esteem and learn who you are and what you really want, making it that much easier to say no to what you don’t want, including being emotionally drained or used by others.
Ready to stop being drained and start feeling good again? We offer appointments with some of London’s best regarded and highly rated therapists. Or use our booking site to find UK-wide registered therapists and online counsellors you can work with even from another country.
Still have a question about energy vampires or want to share your experience? Use the comment box below.
Andrea Blundell is the commissioning editor and lead writer of this site. She’s written over two thousand psychology articles, some of which have been quoted in Google Scholar, Wikipedia, and various books and publications. She has done training in person centred counselling and personal coaching.