THE BLOG
10/31/2013 08:24 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

4 Strategies to Survive Emotional Vampires

As an energy psychiatrist, I know that to come out ahead with drainers, you must be methodical. Emotional vampires can't savage your peace of mind or prick you to death with corrosive remarks if you're onto them. This survival guide from my New York Times bestseller, Emotional Freedom covers everything from recognizing an initial exposure to deploying techniques to deflect negativity. It will enable you to stay centered in difficult relationships.

The First Strategy: Am I Being Sapped by an Emotional Vampire?
Anyone who has ever shared an office, car pooled or attended a family dinner with a vampire can attest to experiencing some common emotional side effects. Even after a brief contact, you feel worse. They feel better. To find out if you've been bled, watch for these signs. Experiencing even one indicates you've met a drainer on the prowl.

  • Your eyelids get heavy -- you're ready for a nap.
  • You feel put down or like the rug was pulled out from under you.
  • Your mood takes a nosedive.
  • You have a yen to binge on carbs or comfort food.
  • You feel sniped at, slimed or agitated.

In addition, sometimes intuitive flashes and dreams can raise a red flag. Pay attention. For instance, following a dinner I attended where the guests had something negative to say about everything, I dreamed I was bombarded by a storm of leeches. Similarly, after a critical friend skewered one of my patients, she felt as if she'd fallen to the bottom of a well. Another patient dreamed that a pigeon pooped on her head. Splat, there it was: her reaction to a nasty altercation with her apartment's superintendent. Whether you're awake or asleep, notice telling imagery that conveys emotion. This will help you identify a vampire.

The Second Strategy: Practice These General Dos and Don'ts With Emotional Vampires
Whenever possible, eliminate drainers from your life. However, with those you can't or don't want to remove -- for example, friends going through a rough patch or relatives who are fixtures -- follow these tips:

Do:

  • Take a breath to center yourself
  • Listen for intuitions signaling danger (i.e., you get "the creeps," a bad taste in your mouth, a tired or tense feeling).
  • Stay calm and matter of fact instead of going for their bait.
  • Pause. Develop a plan to handle the situation before you react (refer to the fourth guideline describing these strategies).
  • Communicate clearly and firmly, with a neutral tone when setting limits.

Don't:

  • Panic.
  • Talk yourself out your intuitions or call yourself "neurotic."
  • Blurt out what you'll regret later or use an accusatory tone.
  • Fight with the person.
  • Overeat to medicate stress.

Also consider what kind of emotional vampires you're facing. We often attract what we haven't emotionally resolved in ourselves. If you're fearful, you may find yourself surrounded by legions of fearful people. However, once you've begun to heal an emotion, you're less likely to magnetize it towards you, nor does it possess the same ability to wear you out.

If you decide that the pros outweigh the cons of remaining with an emotional vampire, say a bullying colleague or mate, you must take responsibility for that decision and the way you respond. Ask yourself, "How can I stay in the relationship and not feel oppressed?" This means concentrating on the good and accepting someone's limitations.

The Third Strategy: Could I Be an Emotional Vampire? How Do I Know?
We've all got a smidgeon of vampire in us, especially when we're stressed. So, cut yourself a break. It's admirable to admit, "I think I'm emotionally draining people. What can I do?" Can't be free without such honesty. Then you can change. These are some common indications that you're becoming a drainer.

  • People avoid you or glaze over during a conversation.
  • You're self-obsessed.
  • You're often negative.
  • You gossip or bad-mouth people.
  • You're critical or controlling.
  • You're in an emotional black hole, but won't get help -- this strains relationships and won't free you.

The solution is always to own up to where you're emotionally stuck and change the related behavior. For instance, one patient in computer graphics kept hammering his wife with a poor-me attitude about how he always got stuck with boring projects at work. Instead of trying to improve the situation, he just kvetched. She started dreading those conversations, and diplomatically mentioned it to him. This motivated my patient to address the issue with his supervisor, which got him more stimulating assignments. Similarly, whenever I slip into vampire mode, I try to examine and alter my behavior or else discuss the particulars with a friend or a therapist so I can change. Don't hesitate to seek assistance when you're stumped.

The Fourth Strategy: Identify and Combat Emotional Vampires
To be free of vampires, you must know the nature of the beast. Each one has a special talent for emotionally disabling you. The good news is that vampires are predictable. Once you get their number, you won't be caught off guard. Understanding vampires from multiple angles gives you the upper hand. So does having empathy for their emotional wounds -- intuitively, these feel as real to me as physical injury. Think about it. No one becomes a vampire because they're happy! Whether or not they know it, vampires are driven by insecurity and weakness, infirmities that impede goodwill. This doesn't excuse their predatory acts. Rather, it allows you to show compassion for people you may not like while setting limits, a paradigm for emotional diplomacy that frees you and reduces drain. This framework will help clarify your relationships, but realize there's much more to a human being than any single definition. Stay focused: your aim isn't to rehabilitate vampires, merely to counter them with uncommon grace.

For more by Judith Orloff MD, click here.

For more on conscious relationships, click here.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.