Here’s a quick quiz for you to take. Answer the following questions. Be as honest as possible:
- Do you feel that people often don’t (or can’t) understand you or your problems?
- Do you feel that there are many barriers in your life which you have no control over?
- Do you often ask for help from others and/or feel like few people are willing to help you?
- Do you feel like you often don’t receive the attention or appreciation that you deserve?
- Do people often complain that you don’t listen to them, when in fact, you feel like they don’t listen to you?
- Do you feel like most other people have lives that are much easier than yours?
- Do you fight with close friends and loved ones often?
- If so, is it usually their fault?
- Do people suddenly drop contact with you with no explanation and refuse to communicate with you again?
- Do you often feel helpless, like you have little opportunity to improve your life?
If you answered “yes” to more than half of the questions above, then please read this post carefully. It could very well be the first step to turning all of the above problems around. Parts of this article may not be easy to read. But I implore you to keep an open mind and take it seriously.
If you did answer “yes” to at least half of the above questions, chances are you are an emotional vampire. Don’t take that the wrong way, it’s not your fault. It just means you’ve been hurt in the past. And as a result, you inadvertently hurt those around you, who in return, push you away and hurt you further. It’s a vicious cycle. But you can’t help it, because you aren’t even aware of it.
By now you may be saying, “Fuck this guy, what does he know? Where’s my back button?” Over the years, I’ve interacted with hundreds of people just like you. Emotional vampires are nothing new to me, and I feel that I’ve gotten good at spotting them. I’ve also gotten entangled with many earlier in my life and have the scars to prove it. So if you are experiencing many of the problems listed above in your life, or are close to someone who is, what’s there to lose in at least hearing me out to the end of the article?
Who Are Emotional Vampires?
Emotional vampires are called emotional vampires because they have a tendency to drain the emotional energy out of everyone they come in contact with. They’re exhausting. They need constant attention. They always have some crisis or major life event. They’re experts at eliciting emotional reactions out of others and then feeding off those emotions, regardless of whether they’re positive emotions or negative emotions.
All emotional vampires suffer from low self-esteem, but not all people with low self-esteem are emotional vampires. Low self-esteem comes in a number of flavors and manifests itself differently from person to person, and emotional vampires are people with a specific subset of self-esteem issues.
Emotional vampires exhibit three specific traits simultaneously: an excessive need for validation/attention from others, the belief that little to nothing that occurs is their fault, and the lack of self-awareness to recognize their self-defeating patterns. People who are familiar with Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden will recognize that these are three of the six pillars — or rather, a lack of three of the pillars.
This is a dangerous combination for two reasons: 1) these three traits reinforce one another and make each other stronger, and 2) they can often suck in and hurt otherwise good people around them.
And don’t be mistaken, emotional vampires are not all pathetic losers. They can be some of the most charming and successful people you meet. Men, women, beautiful, ugly, rich, poor, they come in many shapes and sizes. But they always create toxic relationships, both as romantic partners and as friends.
1. An Excessive Need for Validation/Attention From Others: Conversations with emotional vampires are invariably dominated by one person: them. It’s all about them, their problems, how so-and-so was such a dick to them, how so-and-so wants to get back at them, how awesome they are, how pathetic they are, how everyone wants to be like them, how everyone hates them, etc. The torrential outpour of self-centeredness from them is either delusional in how awesome they think they are (“Everyone on my team at work wanted to work with me, but I told my manager that I couldn’t stand to be around Dave”) or delusional in how pathetic and helpless they are (“Nobody on the choir trip wants to room with me. It’s because they’re all so stuck up and are prettier than I am.”). Often these delusions of grandeur and victimization happen back-to-back within the same conversation. Either way, it only takes an hour of conversation with an emotional vampire before one is inspired to slam their forehead against a hard surface repeatedly. Make the noise stop. Please, make it stop.
Emotional vampires are also apt to make grand public displays in order to garner attention. Again, these can be both self-serving or self-loathing. Think that annoying guy in the office who stands up and makes an inappropriate announcement just to get a few laughs. Or the girl at the party, who, when made fun of, throws a screaming fit and runs out of the room crying. As they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. And when you’re as attention-starved as emotional vampires, creating any sort of emotional reaction out of those around you — even if it’s indignation, pity, anger, or hatred — is worth it.
The excessive need for validation and attention is what pushes people away from the emotional vampire in the beginning. The constant need for affirmation drains people’s energy and patience. The emotional ups and downs, the dramatic successes and failures, they’re all tiring and most (self-respecting) people aren’t willing to tolerate it. Therefore, they’ll make a clear move to ignore the emotional vampire after meeting them, thus reaffirming to the vampire that people are mean, that nobody likes them, that they’re a victim and yes… it’s not their fault.
2. The Belief that Their Problems Are Not Their Fault: The excessive needy behavior of emotional vampires elicits negative reactions from others and drives people away from them. But instead of considering that people responded negatively towards them because what they said/did was offensive or self-centered or rude or whiny or obnoxious or upsetting, they prefer to believe that all of those around them are assholes, racists, bigots, stuck up, rude, cold, etc., etc.
This combination of behaviors is insidious. The excessive need for validation leads to anti-social behavior, which leads to negative reactions from others, which leads the emotional vampire to blame others and feel even more victimized, which then leads to an even deeper need for validation, and then even more anti-social behavior, and so on…
The ability of an emotional vampire to rationalize his or her anti-social behavior can be mesmerizing. It goes way beyond simply projecting negative qualities onto others (i.e., “my boss fired me because he’s a dick,” and not “my boss fired me because I walk around calling people dicks behind their backs”).
No, the rationalizations can go far deeper than that: all men are pigs and just want sex; all women are entitled and stuck up; no one can really appreciate how cool/smart/witty/attractive/kind I am because everyone else is so self-centered. All the while, it’s obvious to anybody else that these people have it so hard because their attitudes suck and they are self-centered.
There is only one type of person who will let themselves get close to an emotional vampire: other low self-esteem individuals. They are either are too dysfunctional themselves to notice the negative effects the vampire’s behavior has on them, or they are emotional vampires themselves who crave the endless drama, attention and victimization. Once again, we see that in emotional relationships like attracts like, and the old adage is true: that if everyone you date is crazy, then it probably means you’re crazy.
3. Lack of Self-Awareness: One would think that an emotional vampire would eventually begin to detect the pattern in which they live — certain behaviors lead to certain reactions from others, these reactions are not pleasant so perhaps we should re-examine our behaviors and beliefs, that the only constant in all of your relationships is yourself, and if all of your relationships suck or are fucking up, then maybe you should start with the one thing they all have in common.
This would seem obvious, but it rarely occurs to the emotional vampire. They are not capable of being honest with themselves and accepting responsibility for their lives. Psychologically, they need a scapegoat — whether it’s blaming their appearance, the racism towards others, an office conspiracy against them, how mom and dad never treat them right, or an endless array of other self-defeating beliefs. They’ve always been so focused externally that they never developed an ability to sit down and analyze their own thoughts and emotions and question their utility. Emotional vampires often hate to be alone. They also tend to cause conflict if there isn’t any already. The reason is that they need to distract themselves from, well… themselves. This lack of awareness keeps their blame game going. The blame game keeps the search for validation and attention going. And the search for external validation and attention keeps the lack of self-awareness going. One big shit spiral.
How to Break Out of the Pattern
“A loving person lives in a loving world, a hostile person lives in a hostile world. Everyone you meet is your mirror.”
– Ken Keyes, Jr.
So if you’re still reading this and thinking, “Oh crap, this is so me, I’m such a dick…” Relax. You’re not a dick. You didn’t know any better. And you can change things. Starting now.
Step 1: Begin paying attention to what you have control over rather than what you don’t have control over. You can’t control whether your boss is a dick or not, or whether the girls in clubs are stuck up or whatever, or whether your co-workers don’t have the same interests as you. Therefore, it doesn’t matter and you should immediately stop worrying about it and blaming it for your problems. Ask yourself: what can you control? You can control your conduct at work. So start there. You can control your productivity. You can control how well you dress when you go out. Start there. And if you fail because of something or someone else, ignore it. It’s not important. Focus on what you control.
Step 2: Practice gratitude and appreciation for what you DO have. Chances are, no matter how bad things are for you, they could easily be a lot worse. You could be disfigured, homeless, not have parents, have no education, etc. Make a point each morning when you wake up to look in the mirror and say one thing you’re thankful for, and feel it. Don’t just say it, actually feel the gratitude as you say it. “I am ridiculously grateful for my great education, it gives me a lot of opportunities that most people don’t have.” There. That wasn’t so hard. Make sure it’s something different each day.
Step 3: Show appreciation for others. Start practicing random acts of kindness for your friends, family and those around you. I know you’re cringing right now. But you get what you give, and that external validation you’ve craved so much for your entire life will only come to you when you start giving validation to others, and doing it randomly.
Try this as an experiment. Each day for a week, challenge yourself to do one of the following: give someone a compliment, thank someone close to you, or give someone a gift.
“Hey Gina, your dress looks really nice today.”
“Mom, I know we haven’t always gotten along, but I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me.”
“Hey Steve, they had a special in the cafeteria, so I bought you lunch.”
I know this feels all mushy and stuff, but try it. And don’t expect anything in return. This is the most important part. Don’t turn around three days later and say, “Steve, you fuckface, you never bought me anything! Oh God, everyone hates me!”
No… don’t do that. You may want to. But control yourself. Please control yourself.
The three steps dismantle the feedback loop of the emotional vampire. Focusing only on things you can control forces you to begin taking responsibility for what happens to you. Practicing gratitude forces you to step out of your victim mentality of blaming others and seeking more validation. Showing appreciation invites genuine validation from others rather than superficial attention.
And of course, consciously practicing these three things forces you to become more aware of your own actions and emotions. This will create a new, more positive feedback loop.
Now, I imagine that a few of you reached this point in the article and are thinking, “Man, some people are just so clueless. Great article. But my problems are real. I actually do have a problem that I have no control over. He just doesn’t get it. Just like nobody else gets it. Oh well…”
If you found yourself saying that at any point during this article, I’ve got some bad news. You’re one of them. And you may want to scroll back up to the top and start all over again.